The Breast Start: 5 Tips for Breastfeeding Success

Learning together

When I was pregnant with my son, like most moms, I read all the books everyone says you’re supposed to read about breastfeeding, I went to a breastfeeding class at the hospital and felt confident that when the time came, I would know just what to do.  After all, I even had the advantage of growing up in a family where I saw my mother breastfeed younger siblings (during the years that breastfeeding in this country was at an all-time low).  Yet, when the nurse placed my son in my arms for the first time, I suddenly forgot all the “rules” I thought I was supposed to know and I thought, “what the heck do I do with this thing?!” Well, in the long run, we got there (with some challenges) and two years later, we’re still riding the breastfeeding boat.

Since that time, I have learned so much more about breastfeeding, have become a certified lactation counselor and am working toward becoming an IBCLC.  The more I learn, the more I realize there are actually far fewer “rules” about breastfeeding than I initially thought as a new breastfeeding mother.  Here are my picks for 5 tips that I think will help mothers get off to a great start in reaching their breastfeeding goals.

5 Tips for Early Breastfeeding Success

1.  First 48 hours–Your baby is hardwired to breastfeed!  As it turns out, newborn humans, like other species of mammals have all of the reflexes they need to help them get to the breast and self-attach.  Babies are the most alert and ready to do this in the first hour or two after birth.  When this happens, your baby is telling your body to make milk.  The more you breastfeed in those first few days, the more you are setting the “program” for your body to make enough milk for baby for as long as you breastfeed.  Nurse whenever your baby “cues” that he or she is hungry (entering light sleep, mouthing, rooting with hand to mouth, alert or active behavior).  Lay back skin-to-skin, find a comfortable position and enjoy learning together.

2.  Frequency–As I said above, feeding your baby frequently, on cue ,  is the best way to tell your body to make milk (don’t watch the clock!).  Newborn babies will want to nurse every couple of hours because breast milk digests quickly and easily in your baby’s body.  This means that you will probably nurse as many as 10-12 times a day at first.  (Don’t panic.  This phase will not last forever!)  Nursing frequently will ensure that your body is receiving the hormonal signals it needs to make plenty of milk.

3. Feed the Baby–Sometimes things happen that can slow down this process:  a cesarean section or unexpected separation from baby, a birth defect, or other health concern.  The most important thing to remember is that no matter what happens we need to feed the baby and help mom build a milk supply.  If you are unable to nurse your baby at the breast, you should plan to use a high quality double breast pump as frequently as you would normally nurse to continue stimulating your breasts and removing the milk.  Also, if the decision is made that your baby needs supplemental feeding, remember that you have options.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended a “hierarchy” for breastfeeding substitutes.  They recommend that when milk from the breast is not available that we look first to mom’s pumped milk or donor human milk.  If those are not options, then formula becomes the next choice.  In the end, babies need to eat and no mom should feel ashamed if she has to feed the baby in some other way than besides at the breast.  And do remember, even if you have a baby that needs some supplementation in the beginning, with some work, most mothers will still be able to build a full supply that meets their babies needs.

4.  Find Help–If something doesn’t feel like it’s going well, ask for help.  This was the lesson I learned far too late when I became a breastfeeding mother.  If you are experiencing pain, difficulty getting baby to latch well, baby isn’t gaining well, or your something just doesn’t seem right, don’t suffer through it.  Most challenges can be overcome with help from a trained lactation professional (and the sooner you do this, the better).  Don’t know where to find an IBCLC, CLC or other trained help?  Try finding a breastfeeding support group at the hospital where you gave birth or go to a local La Leche League meeting. 

5.  Feel Confident–Parents receive so many conflicting messages about what they are “supposed” to do to care for their baby.  In our current information technology age, we try to find answers about what to do as parents from all kinds of sources:  social networking sites, blogs, best selling books, or if you’re a science nerd like me–the latest scientific journals.  In the end though, no amount of advice can make up for your own instincts and love for your child.  As you apply this to breastfeeding know that nourishing your child cannot bet wrong no matter how or where it happens.  Feel proud that you are nurturing a new, amazing human being.

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