August is National Breastfeeding Month, and while the benefits of breast-feeding are being touted we wanted to provide some tips on how to make it a success for you and your infant. Every woman and every baby are different, so what might be easy for one mom and baby team may not be easy for another. The important thing to remember is that you and your baby are learning how to nurse together, and having information to support your instincts is the best way to achieve the beautiful bonding experience that breast-feeding can create.
If possible, do your homework before baby arrives. There is a wealth of information to be discovered online, and you can even find full books dedicated to the subject of breast-feeding. The hospital where you plan to deliver may offer classes for mothers who plan to breast-feed. Classes are an excellent way to learn first-hand what to expect, and they give you the opportunity to ask questions directly to a lactation specialist. Bringing your partner along with you to a class is a great idea because support throughout the process will start with their education too. Breast-feeding is truly a learned behavior, and baby and mom have to work together to make it work well.
You will need help and support to meet your breast-feeding goals. The best place to start is with your partner, family and friends. These will be the first people to help you through difficulties, give suggestions, share advice and provide encouragement. When you are selecting a hospital for delivery, make sure they have lactation specialists available to support you during your stay. It may feel uncomfortable, but having a lactation specialist observe you and baby in the days after delivery is the best learning experience available. Lactation specialists are skilled at identifying and correcting any issues you may face in those first weeks just through watching you and baby together. Before nursing becomes well-established, you may have new questions or issues that arise. Many hospitals offer continued support to mothers and provide lactation services and breast-feeding support groups at no cost well after your delivery.
Learn and master the latch
A good latch is everything, and proper positioning can set the stage for success. Your baby should be belly to belly with you, and their ear, shoulder and hip should be in alignment. Do not lean into your baby, but rather have them come to you. To secure a comfortable latch, baby must open their mouth wide which will allows them to take the nipple and tissue around it. To trigger this response, position your breast so your nipple is across from the baby’s nose. A good latch will lessen any discomfort you may experience. If you are feeling pain, use your pinky finger to break your baby’s latch and try again.
These signals indicate a good latch:
- You can hear swallowing, but no clicking or smacking sounds
- Baby’s chin is touching your breast
- Nipple is not flattened or misshaped when baby comes off the breast
- Nursing is comfortable after initial latch
- Baby’s cheeks are rounded and ears wiggle
- Baby’s tongue can be seen when her bottom lip is pulled down
Nursing is all about supply and demand. To keep your supply up, you have to drink plenty of water and get roughly 400 – 500 extra calories per day. To create demand, you must nurse often. When your breasts have been emptied, they are triggered to begin making more milk. So the more you nurse, the more milk you produce. Nursing on demand, at least until breast-feeding is well established, will help build supply. Crying is a late cue for hunger and can make positioning more difficult. Watch your baby for early cues like rooting, hands at mouth or sucking of tongue, lips and fingers.
In the weeks following your baby’s birth, you will nurse 10 to 12 times per day, and comfort will be important. Baby will follow your cues, so the more comfortable you are, the more comfortable they will be. Have a glass of water and a healthy snack close by so you can nourish yourself while nourishing baby. Make sure your back and feet are supported, and use a nursing pillow or any pillow to prop baby up. There are many ways to hold baby while nursing: cross cradle, cradle crossover and clutch are the most common.
Cross cradle: The hand and arm opposite the breast being used are cradling baby while the other hand is used to position the breast.
Cradle: The hand and arm cradle baby on the same side as the breast being used.
Clutch: This hold is also known as the football hold. Baby is tucked into the body with their rear touching the back of the seat you are using. Hold baby’s head in hand and body on arm along your side. Baby should be tucked slightly so that their feet cannot push on the back of the chair.
Not the time to lose weight
After delivery you may look like you are 5 months pregnant, but nursing will help the uterus contract to its normal size and decrease that pregnancy look. It will also help you drop pregnancy pounds, but do not skimp on foods. Eat nutritious foods – and plenty of them – to help support the health of your baby. You will need more calories per day to produce milk than were required in your third trimester of pregnancy. Additionally, eat the way you want the baby to grow up eating. Breast milk can take on the flavor of the foods mom eats, so include a variety of vegetables, fruits and other nutritious foods to prepare your baby for the solids you want them to enjoy.
Hold off on bottles and pacifiers
Sucking is a natural reflex for infants. It not only allows them to get the nourishment they need, but it is also a way in which they soothe and calm themselves. New parents will find this out quickly when they start to use pacifiers. The American Academy of Pediatrics says nursing should be well-established before the introduction of bottles or pacifiers because they can reduce breast-feeding success. To be safe, wait four weeks before the introduction of a pacifier.
In the first weeks of nursing your breast may be sore. To relieve pain, you can use a cold or hot compress on your chest and lanolin cream to moisturize your nipples. Breast milk also acts as a natural remedy for sore nipples. Allowing milk to dry on nipples after nursing will help relieve discomfort. If you find hard spots forming in your breast it could be the beginning of a clogged duct or mastitis. While you are nursing baby, massage any hard spots to break them up and allow the milk to pass. The more you nurse the easier it will get. You and baby will develop a routine, and nursing will become a special bonding time you look forward to. The initial discomfort will be worth the long-term benefits.
Dress for success
Nursing in public can be a difficult thing to do, especially for first-time mothers. Dressing appropriately will allow you to manage it more discreetly. Wear a button-up shirt or a cardigan with a nursing top. These provide easy access while giving you the ability to conceal your breast. You can use a blanket, scarf or nursing layette to help cover up. Also, be on the lookout for family rooms. Many retailers, malls and other public places offer family rooms where you can nurse in privacy.
Nursing may not come easy at first, but remember you and baby are in it together. Stay in tune with each other and together you will learn what works best.