Breastfeeding 101: Beginning the Breastfeeding Journeyby Elizabeth MacDonald
Pregnant with my first baby, I was shocked to learn that breastfeeding takes work, and I am so glad that I had help. After nursing five babies, I learned just how different every breastfeeding journey is.
The number one thing I will recommend to you is to seek out an awesome lactation consultant, preferably one that is board certified. She will be worth her weight in gold and every single extra penny you may spend on her.
You read that right: Breastfeeding takes work. If you put in the work upfront, you are in for a wonderful journey. Most women quit nursing because of nipple pain, having no support or help, and not knowing how to overcome breastfeeding obstacles. Knowing all of this from the start gives you a heads-up. I’m going to cover all of the basics here with more detailed breastfeeding posts to come in the future.
Best (Well, my personal favorite) Breastfeeding Resources:
- La Leche League: http://www.llli.org/ for more information
- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (Book – use as a reference more than a “read cover to cover.”)
- Anything by Dr. Jack Newman (I love following him on social media for quick reads and links to everything up-to-date in the breastfeeding world.)
- Milky Mommas
The key is to start learning before you give birth. Attend a few La Leche League meetings throughout pregnancy to ask questions, learn, and absorb anything and everything that comes from the mouths of the women there. They may become your sounding board, your first call for questions, and possibly your best friends. The leader of each local group knows A LOT, so don’t be shy with your questions and inquiries. Definitely attend any breastfeeding classes offered in your area, but know that most hospitals fully support formula feeding, so seek more information than what is taught there.
You will need to teach yourself how to teach your infant to latch. Watch videos and read about correct latch position. The latch is key to a pain-free breastfeeding experience. It provides baby with the correct amount of milk transfer, and keeps your nipples from becoming cracked and bleeding. The baby should never be sucking on your nipple, but instead be deeply rooted around your areola. You will feel the difference immediately when you succeed at a proper latch.
When latching baby to the breast:
- Gently touch your baby’s upper lip with the nipple.
- Wait for him to drop his jaw and tip his head up as he searches for the nipple.
- Bring him to the breast at the moment his mouth is wide open. (Bring the baby to the breast, not the breast to the baby.)
- Bring him to the breast in such a way that his lower jaw is far below the nipple, NOT at the base of the nipple.
- Get the nipple far back in the mouth, right at the PERFECT POINT. His chin, not his nose, should be pressed into the breast.
- Continue to hold onto the compressed breast until your baby has started sucking.
- After the baby begins nursing and seems to be latched on the right way, you can relax your fingers on the breast.
- If your baby is holding the breast in his mouth without a problem, you can slide your left hand out from below the breast and bring your arm to a comfortable place under his head.
- Holding your baby close to you, sit back and put your feet on the stool.
If at any time your nipple starts hurting, that probably means he has slipped off the right latch on position and has started sucking on the nipple only. Take your baby off by pulling the corner of his mouth to break the suction, and try again.
The baby’s stomach is the size of a marble on day one, and stays quite small for a bit. It makes complete sense: the stomach grows as your milk supply grows. Your body is working very hard during labor, birth, and days 1-5 to create the absolute perfect food for your baby. You will produce “liquid gold” or colostrum before your milk comes in – do NOT panic over this. Colostrum truly is the greatest breastmilk your baby can get, as your body created it to include all the antibodies needed to protect your newborn those first few days. This special milk is yellow to orange in color and thick and sticky. It is low in fat, and high in carbohydrates, protein, and antibodies to help keep your baby healthy. Colostrum is extremely easy to digest, and is therefore the perfect first food for your baby. It is low in volume – measured in drops instead of ounces, but high in concentrated nutrition for the newborn. Colostrum has a laxative effect on the baby, helping him pass his early stools, which aids in the excretion of excess bilirubin and helps prevent jaundice. Your colostrum provides not only perfect nutrition tailored to the needs of your newborn, but also large amounts of living cells which will defend your baby against many harmful agents. The concentration of immune factors is much higher in colostrum than in mature milk.
Do not panic on day 2, 3, 4, or even 5 if your milk has not come in yet. If baby is having wet diapers, passing meconium, and transferring colostrum, you are okay. If you are worried, contact your lactation consultant.
C-section mothers tend to have a delayed start to their milk coming in, so keep that in mind if you did not have a vaginal birth.
Nurse on demand, your infant may want to be at the breast every hour – and that is just fine! The more frequently you nurse, the more your brain will receive the signal to make milk.
Once your milk does come in, trust me you will know, you may need some relief. Most women go through 1-3 days of engorgement. This is when the body has decided to send in the milk, but the baby is still only transferring small amounts. Your breasts will be very swollen, hard, and painful. Using frozen veggie bags on them will help tremendously. You may also pump a bit to alleviate the pain and swelling, BUT breastmilk works as supply and demand. If you pump it all out, your body will replenish it!
This is the timeframe that your baby and your body are becoming synced. Over the next week, your body will realize how much baby needs and when. You will start to feel “let downs” of milk throughout the day and overnight. This is generally the same time that baby will signal he is hungry. (AMAZING right?)
Definitely stock up on cotton breast pads to wear because you will leak until the body has regulated itself. Just use them and throw them in the laundry. (So much more comfortable than the disposable ones!)
This is also the time that you will see your baby gaining weight. With a great latch and good milk transfer, baby will be back to birth weight (or surpass it) quickly. If baby is not gaining well, talk to your lactation consultant. If there is any pain at the breast, talk to your lactation consultant. Your baby may have a tongue tie. (Don’t freak out – this is more common than not and can be helped by the ENT doctor in a matter of seconds.) If tongue-tie is an issue, make an appointment for the following day, or as soon as possible. Your nipples will thank you – and so will baby!
Once you have figured out the latch and any issues that may be hindering it, it’s time to learn your baby’s hunger cues. Most infants have similar signs of hunger, but by really watching your baby, you will learn how she asks for milk. If you pay close enough attention, you will get to her before she cries.
Know that you cannot spoil your baby by holding and feeding him. Do not schedule the next feeding, but learn your newborn and know when he is hungry.
The ABC’s of Breastfeeding:
- Assistance: Your baby will need to learn how to latch.
- Breastmilk: The small amount of colostrum baby takes at each feeding is exactly right to meet his needs.
- Contact: Skin to skin promotes more sleep, successful breastfeeding, level body temperature, and increased milk production.
Something to keep in mind, there are many positions that you can breastfeed in – and over time, you’ll invent plenty you never thought imaginable. The key is finding a comfortable position for you and baby until you get the hang of things. Don’t worry about using a cover and pleasing all the crazy eyes around you. Stay in the mind frame of feeding your baby in a manner that works for you.
Some foods you eat can affect your newborn. If your baby is having tummy troubles after a feeding, try eliminating some foods from your diet to see if you can decipher the problem. Common culprits are:
- Cow's milk: all dairy. This is the first thing to try to cut from your diet. If you do not see a difference within two weeks, try cutting other foods.
- Spicy food
- Acidic foods (tomatoes, citrus)
- Chocolate (in large quantities)
- Onions, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, garlic
Common issues that most women encounter while breastfeeding include: