Even though babies were born to be breastfed and breastfeeding has been around for thousands of years, in our culture in the United States many women have drifted away from breastfeeding their babies for various reasons. So when you decide you want to nurse your baby you may find yourself overwhelmed and needing some help, especially if you haven’t been around other nursing moms.
What are the current recommendations on breastfeeding?
- The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, and then receive nutritious complementary foods while breastfeeding continues up to two years of age or beyond.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and supports breastfeeding for the first year and beyond as long as mutually desired by mother and child.
From the Promom.org website, “Studies by anthropologists and comparative biologists have revealed that the probable natural weaning age (that is, the age at which no more nursing occurs) of the human species is over 2 1/2 years.”
I am happy to say that I have successfully nursed my son for 20.5 months (and counting); he’s never had a drop of formula. It definitely wasn’t without challenges, though, but I was able to find the help and support I needed to keep going. I have put together some tips to help you prepare for a successful breastfeeding relationship with your child, or tips that you can share with your friends and family who plan to breastfeed their babies. Knowledge and support really are important for a successful breastfeeding relationship.
I can’t say this enough; a nursing mom needs support! This tip is number one for a reason. There are many people that can give a nursing mom support and you should start finding them while you are still pregnant:
- Lactation Consultant: These professional breastfeeding specialists provide assistance and support to breastfeeding women, helping with a variety of breastfeeding issues including latching difficulties, painful nursing, low milk production, or inadequate weight gain. I would recommend finding a lactation consultant who is board certified; that is, one who has the initials IBCLC (International Board of Certified Lactation Consultants) after their name. We had a lactation consultant come to our house on day two as we were having issues. That was the best money we ever spent; I consider it an investment in a successful breastfeeding relationship! To find a Lactation Consultant visit International Lactation Consultant Association or ask your friends and neighbors. Many midwives and childbirth educators know experienced lactation consultants.
- La Leche League: La Leche League is an international non-profit organization dedicated to providing education, information, support, and encouragement to women who want to breastfeed. There are local chapters that have regular meetings; my local group met once a month at the library. I encourage everyone who wants to breastfeed to attend a local meeting when you are pregnant. It is wonderful to be around other moms who have breastfed their children; you can get information and just meet other like-minded women. And keep going to meetings once your baby is born; the leaders are wonderful and if you have issues, will even help you over the phone. I can’t stress enough how wonderful and important this organization is for supporting breastfeeding women.
- Spouse or partner: Having a husband who supported me was absolutely critical to our breastfeeding success. He was knowledgeable about the benefits, worked with me when I had issues and concerns, reminded me that what I was doing was important and that he was proud of me, burped the baby for me, made me meals and brought them to me in bed (while I was nursing), made sure I drank enough water and ate enough calories, was a shoulder to cry on when I was frustrated, and not once said anything negative. (Really, no nursing mom can be encouraged if her husband makes mooing sounds when she’s pumping!) So take your husband to the breastfeeding class and either have him read the breastfeeding books, or else share the information you find with him. Tell him how important this is to you and your baby. And be specific with what support you need from him.
- Friends: If you have friends that have nursed their babies, please call them for support! I’m sure they would love to help you and have probably encountered many of the same challenges you have. I know I am so fortunate to have many friends who have breastfed their babies. I especially appreciate my friend who gave me advice on dealing with a plugged duct; thank you Jenifer!
I also feel like I should caution you about the breastfeeding advice you may receive from your baby’s pediatrician. I am sure there are some doctors who are knowledgeable about breastfeeding and truly support it, but I have heard many stories about mainstream doctors offering advice that is counterproductive to a healthy breastfeeding relationship. Many mainstream doctors are influenced by formula companies, and if they aren’t knowledgeable about breastfeeding may promote formula as an answer to various issues that may arise – which might be the beginning of the end of your breastfeeding relationship. (Did you know that there are different growth charts for breastfed and formula fed babies? Please make sure your baby’s doctor is using the appropriate one when looking at their growth curve.)
I encourage you to become knowledgeable about breastfeeding so that if you receive breastfeeding advice (from anyone) that doesn’t resonate with you, please seek another opinion.
Take a Breastfeeding Class
Most hospitals offer prenatal breastfeeding classes for a small fee. This is a great opportunity to learn more about breastfeeding, to be in a supportive environment, and to ask questions personally. I suggest bringing your husband or partner to classes as well.
I also found this free online breastfeeding class. I haven’t taken it so I don’t know how good it is, but it can be a start!
There are many great breastfeeding books out there, and I highly recommend you get a few of them. In the early days, I read and re-read my books. And when I had challenges, I went to my book for help. Here are some popular ones:
- The Breastfeeding Book: Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Your Child from Birth Through Weaning, by Martha Sears and William Sears: This was my favorite breastfeeding book and I used it often.
- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, by La Leche League International.
- Bestfeeding: How to Breastfeed Your Baby, by Mary Renfrew.
- So That’s What They’re For!: The Definitive Breastfeeding Guide, by Janet Tamaro. Friends have said this is a great introduction to breastfeeding; it’s easy to read, filled with information, and is not preachy.
- The Nursing Mother’s Companion, by Kathleen Huggins.
Read Breastfeeding Websites
There are several fabulous websites dedicated to providing information to the breastfeeding mom. Here are some of my favorites:
- Kellymom.com: This is my favorite website for breastfeeding information. I have used it to look at the growth charts for breastfed babies, searched for help with issues I was having with breastfeeding, checked the safety of certain medications, looked up nutrition information, and found information and guidance on starting solids.
- La Leche League: Great site with great information.
- Breastfeeding.com: Another great site with great information, including a live Q&A with lactation consultants.
- Promom.org: Yet another great website with great information and articles. I particularly love the “101 Reasons to Breastfeed” and “10 Things Expectant Parents Need to Know About Breastfeeding” articles.
Gather a Few Breastfeeding Supplies
I really think that support and knowledge are the best tools for a successful breastfeeding relationship, but there are a few supplies that might help you as well.
- Nipple cream, like this Bella B Nipple Nurture Butter, is great for soothing tender, sore, or cracked nipples. It’s a lanolin-free alternative to other nipple creams and is made of plant-based ingredients. Of course, putting some breastmilk on those sore nipples will help them heal, too.
- Nursing pillows (My Brest Friend, Boppy, etc.) can provide support for comfortable nursing sessions.
- Breast Pads can be placed inside your bra to help with leaking.
- Slings, like the Moby Wrap, Maya Wrap, or Hotsling can help with hands-free nursing.
- Nursing bras, nursing tanks, and sleep bras provide support.
- Nursing covers, like the Hooter Hider or similar products help you nurse discretely (until you gain confidence and practice and no longer need one – HA!).
- A breast pump, like the Medela Pump in Style, is great for pumping milk if you need to be away from baby.
- Nursing necklaces are fun; I have one (the sage) from Preggers ‘n Proud. It’s not meant for baby to chew on, but as something to let their wandering hands play with and be entertained by.
Practice Excellent Nutrition
If you do any research by reading books or looking at websites, you will come across a few basic tips for your nutrition while nursing. You need to drink plenty of water to keep your supply up and you need to eat enough calories (and I will add that you need to eat enough healthy calories). Yes, breastfeeding does burn 500 calories a day and I’m sure you are anxious to lose the baby weight, but now is not the time to starve yourself or skimp on good nutrition. Your body needs high quality, nutritious food to make healthy breast milk for your baby. We found this diet for pregnant and nursing mothers from the Weston A. Price website and followed many of the aspects. You will notice the emphasis on healthy fats and the restriction (avoidance) of junk food.
A stress free life is ideal, but probably not too realistic these days. There is no doubt that stress is not good for your health. If you are pregnant, try to find ways to reduce stress in your daily life. Get some exercise, practice yoga, or meditate. A healthy you creates a healthy baby. And remember, it’s OK to say no sometimes to many of life’s requests. Are you stressing out about breastfeeding? Arm yourself with knowledge and support. And know that your body knows how to nurse a baby and your baby knows how to nurse; you were both meant to do this!
Once your baby arrives, your stress level will probably increase tenfold (speaking from personal experience). It really is important to find ways to relax and cope with the stress because it can affect breastfeeding. Try to relax your neck and shoulder muscles as you nurse. As you nurse, focus on your sweet baby and think positive thoughts. Take deep breaths and remember, this too shall pass. A few minutes to yourself might do a world of good as well, especially if you feel like you are chained to that newborn nursling who nurses around the clock (which is totally normal). Even if it’s just going for a walk around the block by yourself or going to the store on a small errand by yourself, that time alone can works wonders for rejuvenating yourself and reducing stress.
Get Adequate Rest
It is hard to get lots of sleep as a new mom but you really need to sleep as much as you can, especially in the early days. Like many people say, ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. I heard that. I *knew* that. But yet, I didn’t follow that advice; and I paid for it. I started out my motherhood journey incredibly sleep deprived and I wasn’t smart about getting caught up. So please hear me now: SLEEP WHEN THE BABY SLEEPS! Inadequate sleep is another thing that wreaks havoc on your body. If you are as rested as you can be, you will be better able to handle any breastfeeding challenges that come your way. You will be better able to make smart decisions. You will be better able to interact with your baby. You will be a happier person. And you will be able to save the world. OK that last one might be stretching it a bit, but that’s how important sleep is!
Here’s a tip: learn to nurse in a laying down position. I didn’t learn that right away and I wish I would have. I guess it might be easier to learn once you feel confident nursing in sitting positions, but nursing while laying down was so welcome at those 5:00am feedings – when I just couldn’t get up one.more.time.
I hope I’ve provided you with some information that will help you as you start on your breastfeeding journey. It is tough – but easy. Does that make sense? If not, it just might make more sense when you are at month 20 (and counting)! For all the challenges that came with nursing my son, I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. The wonderful bonding with my son and knowing all the benefits of breastfeeding are just a few of the reasons I am such a breastfeeding advocate. You can do it, too; I know you can!
Wendy – Parenting Tips 365