Breastfeeding Tips for New Mothers

August 30, 2013
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After overcoming many breastfeeding challenges with my older son, I became a Lactation Educator and Counselor to help support other mothers and babies on their breastfeeding journeys.  In addition to my formal training, I learned a lot from experience, so when my younger son and I hit some bumps in the road, we were able to move past them quickly. Here are some tips for getting breastfeeding off to a good start!

  1. 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. Childbirth classes can sometimes gloss over breastfeeding and the subject really needs its own class.
  2. An improper latch is the culprit for the majority of breastfeeding issues. Your Baby Knows How to Latch-On is an excellent video that I show my students and clients. Nipple soreness is not uncommon in the first few weeks, but nipple pain or damage is not. If you’re having difficulties, seek help early on from a board-certified lactation consultant.
  3. A supportive, comfortable bra is never more appreciated than when breasts are heaving with mama’s milk. My top pick is Bravado Designs Body Silk Seamless Nursing Bra.
  4. 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 this natural scent.
  5. Don’t go too long in between feeds or end a session early. Breastfed babies should nurse between 8-12x/day or about every 2-3 hours. This is one of the most important factors to help support a healthy production of breast milk during the first few weeks when supply is being established. There’s a stimulus/response system between the breast and the brain so when the baby suckles, the brain releases prolactin to trigger the breasts to manufacture more breastmilk.
  6. Breastmilk comes in two courses: The initial offering is the 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, he or she misses out on all those extra nutrients that are important for growing babies. If you have an abundant supply, you can hand express some of the foremilk off the top.
  7. 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, do some grocery shopping, or hold the baby while you take a nap. Even if you don’t sleep, rest whenever you have a chance. Your body has an amazing ability to recharge itself!
  8. Nipples come in all shapes and sizes just like babies do. If they’re inverted or flat, you can still breastfeed and the more you do, the more they will “pop out.” Sometimes a little help from a board-certified lactation consultant can help you get started.
  9. Despite 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. Breastfeeding when your baby cries, nuzzles and roots keeps the supply and demand system in perfect balance without having a stuffed, regurgitating baby.
  10. 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 breastfeeding is well established (after about a month of successful breastfeeding) before offering baby a bottle or pacifier.
  11. 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. Dim the lights, put 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, snack, book, etc.
  12. 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 protein. For more information, check out Essential Nutrients for Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Beyond.
  13. If you have a plugged milk duct, this post is for you.
  14. 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, check out 10 Herbs for Healthy Breast Milk Production.
  15. There is no research indicating mother’s consuming “gassy foods” causes gas in babies. Breastmilk is made from what passes into mom’s blood, not what is in her stomach or digestive track, so gas in mom’s body can’t pass into breastmilk. The most common culprits are an immature digestive system that will develop with time or swallowing air from a forceful letdown, abundant supply or improper latch. Also, acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes can’t change the pH or acidity of breastmilk. and spicy foods and strong flavors don’t cause issues in babies. It actually helps to create an adventurous eater and develop your baby’s palette! 
  16. Drink to thirst. Some mamas feel thirsty all the time, but others don’t drink more than usual. The mother’s body knows if she needs more fluids, and tells her by making her feel thirsty. Stay hydrated but don’t believe you have to drink a certain number of glasses of water per day.
  17. Pumping and dumping doesn’t speed the elimination of alcohol from breastmilk. If you’re going to have a glass or wine or beer, a good rule of thumb is to breastfeed at least two hours after consumption. Per Thomas Hale (2012), “mothers who ingest alcohol in moderate amounts can generally return to breastfeeding as soon as they feel neurologically normal. Also, alcohol dehydrates so make sure you are drinking water. For further information on alcohol consumption and breastfeeding, click here.
  18. What goes on your nipples goes right into your babe’s mouth and body. Opt for a nipple cream that’s as pure as anything else you would put on or in your baby. Motherlove Herbal Nipple Cream (which is actually more of a salve than a cream) is my favorite and a little goes a long way. It’s also great for chapped lips!
  19. The number one reason mothers stop breastfeeding is because they think they don’t have enough milk. A very small percentage of women actually don’t produce enough breast milk. Mamas most frequently ustop breastfeeding at 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months – which coincides with the most common infant growth spurts. Demand = Supply. Baby is sucking more so your body will produce more milk to accommodate their growth, so trust your body and your baby!
  20. Commitment is essential to breastfeeding. Without it, well-meaning family members and the tempting formula samples you kept “just in case” can overcome you. Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s also a learned art. It’s always a good idea to be supported and encouraged. Find a local mother-to-mother group such as La Leche League, connect with a friend or relative who has breastfed, or seek professional support from a lactation consultant or counselor.

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