As a lactation professional and doula, I am often asked if I have any breastfeeding advice for new mothers. Below are some handy tips to help make the transition easier.
- Prepare ahead of time by taking a good prenatal breastfeeding class and reading a breastfeeding book such as The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding or The Nursing Mother’s Companion.
- There’s no need to wash your nipples with soap. They have special glands that secrete naturally lubricating, bacteria fighting oils and your babe is drawn to their natural scent.
- A supportive, comfortable bra is never more appreciated than when breasts are heaving with mama’s milk. I highly recommend Bravado Designs Body Silk Seamless Nursing Bra. If nipples are really sensitive, consider going braless as much as possible.
- An improper latch is the culprit for most breastfeeding issues. Ameda produced a wonderful video called “Your Baby Knows How to Latch-On.” I show it in my prenatal breastfeeding classes and you can watch it here.
- Demand = Supply. This is one of the biggest factors to help support a healthy production of breast milk. There is a stimulus/response system between the breast and the brain. When the baby suckles, the brain releases prolactin to trigger breasts to manufacture more milk. The more baby is allowed to suck, the more the breast is stimulated to produce milk.
- Breast milk comes in two courses: The initial offering is thirst-quenching and carbohydrate rich foremilk. Next is the fat rich hindmilk. If baby is switched from one breast to the other too soon before the first breast is drained, they miss out on all those extra nutrients that are important for growing babies. A good rule of thumb is to finish the first breast first and start on the opposite side for the next feeding.
- Accept help. Stress can affect a woman’s ability to produce breast milk. So when your well-meaning friends offer to bring over a warm meal, accept it with gratitude! In fact, when people ask if there’s anything they can do, invite them to toss in a load of laundry or do some grocery shopping.
- Nipples come in all shapes and sizes just like babies do. If they are inverted or flat, you can still breastfeed – and the more you do, the more they will “pop out.” If you’re having difficulties, seek early help from a lactation consultant.
- Even if you don’t sleep, rest whenever you have a chance. Your body has an amazing ability to recharge itself!
- In spite of what you may hear, babies can’t be spoiled. They are perfect in-the-moment beings whose very survival depends on their ability to communicate their needs. Babies cry when they need to eat. When they are born, their stomachs are about the size of a shooter marble, and it takes as little as 7 ml of milk to fill them up. Nursing when baby cries, nuzzles and roots keeps the supply and demand system in perfect balance without having a stuffed, regurgitating baby.
- Be gentle! Stay away from age-old advice to “toughen up” your nipples with a rough cloth or worse, a scrub brush. Think of your nipples as you would the soft palms of your hands when you first climbed the monkey bars as a kid. Sore nipples are to be expected in the beginning. Painful or damaged nipples are not and it is important to seek help immediately.
- Babies have an innate need to suck which actually sends a signal to mamas brain to produce more milk. It can get exhausting to pacify active non-nutritive suckers, but bottles and pacifiers can cause nipple confusion and interfere with the milk production process. For this reason, wait until nursing is well established (after about a month of successful breastfeeding) before offering baby a bottle or pacifier.
- Create a physical and mental space for your breastfeeding session. Start by setting the intention that you are nourishing your baby and the special bond you share. Set the mood by dimming lights, putting on soft music – whatever will help you and your babe relax. Be sure you have no distractions – put a privacy sign on the door and give an older child a special book, game or sippy cup during this time. Lastly, keep any items on hand you might want during a feeding session – a glass of water, a snack, a book, etc.
- Eat well, mama. Breastfeeding requires anywhere from 200-600 extra calories a day. What you eat is nourishing two people so make every calorie count with a well-balanced diet of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and plenty of protein. For more information, read this post Essential Nutrients for Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Beyond.
- Herbal galactagogues (Greek for ‘milk flow’) are nature’s gifts to lactating women, and have been used for centuries to help increase milk supply. Like other plants we eat, herbs serve to nourish a mama’s body as it makes nourishment for her baby. For a list of effective herbal galactagogues, read this post 10 Herbs for Healthy Breast Milk Production.
- Drink to thirst. Some mamas feel they are thirsty all the time, but many others do not drink more than usual. The mother’s body knows if she needs more fluids, and tells her by making her feel thirsty. You need to stay hydrated but don’t believe have to drink at least a certain number of glasses of water a day.
- There is no need to “pump and dump” breast milk after drinking alcohol, other than for comfort because pumping and dumping does not speed the elimination of alcohol from the milk. A rule of thumb is to drink in moderation and breastfeed at least two hours after consuming alcohol. Per Thomas Hale (2012), “mothers who ingest alcohol in moderate amounts can generally return to breastfeeding as soon as they feel neurologically normal. For further information on alcohol consumption and breastfeeding, please click here.
- What goes on your nipples goes right into your babe’s mouth and body. Use a nipple cream that is as pure as anything else you would put on or in your baby like a gentle plant-based balm. My favorite is Motherlove Herbal Nipple Cream (which is actually more of a salve than a cream) and a little bit goes a long way. It’s also great for chapped lips!
- The number one reason mamas stop breastfeeding is because they don’t think they have enough milk. A very small perentage of women actually don’t produce enough breast milk. Mamas usually stop breastfeeding at 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months which coincides with the most common infant growth spurts. Remember, demand = supply. Baby is sucking more so your body will produce more milk to accommodate their growth. Trust your body and your baby, mama!
- Breastfeeding is natural, but sometimes a new mama and her babe need some help and support. Find a trusted resource such as a nurse, La Leche League group, lactation consultant or counselor, relative or friend or has breastfed. I also offer in-person, phone and email consultations. To learn more about my services, click here.
New breastfeeding mamas: What have been your greatest challenges breastfeeding so far?
Seasoned breastfeeding mamas: What tips would you pass on to new breastfeeding mamas?
Please share by leaving a comment below!
Image used with permission by Nirrimi Firebrace.