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  • Writer's pictureTaylor Kriseldi

5 Tips for Breastfeeding (that you instinctively already know)

Warning: this is a long post (mostly because I tend to get wordy, but also because I am passionate about this), BUT it will likely all simply confirm what you already know in your mom-heart to be true.

While we might spend a lot of time learning about pregnancy and birth, many of us often lack the information and resources we need for a successful start to breastfeeding. Part of the problem is that there is so much information swirling around these days regarding how to care for our babies once they are born, and sometimes it just seems easier to not think about it until the time has come to do it. And there is wisdom in this – the two best teachers you can find for caring for your baby are: You and your baby. There is wisdom in trusting our instincts both during birth and after! Unfortunately, this can sometimes leave us vulnerable to the well-intentioned but often mis-informed guidance so many are eager to give us, especially right after birth. But if you can go into birth and breastfeeding armed with solid, evidence-based information (which is usually exactly what your instincts would tell you), you can walk into this season of life with confidence and trust in how your body (and your baby’s) was made for breastfeeding!

Tip 1: Mindset

The first step to successful breastfeeding is simply believing that breastfeeding is normal, and that you can and will do it. For millennia, a baby receiving the entirety of his sustenance from his mother’s body was the norm, and introducing other substances is historically a new phenomenon. Your body was made to feed and nourish your baby, and your baby was made to seek nourishment from your body. This is normal! Be careful not to let others (including formula companies) cause you to doubt your ability to do this.

Tip 2: Be mindful of labor and birth

Research has shown that some types of medical interventions introduced during labor and birth may impact the experience of breastfeeding[1]. Any medications you receive will have an impact on your baby, and if medications are received toward the end of labor, your baby may not be as alert right after she is born. So, if you receive medications during labor, be mindful that the start to your breastfeeding journey may be a bit rockier – but not impossible! If you are planning to receive medications during labor (IV analgesic, epidural, etc.), find some resources to help prepare you for overcoming some potential obstacles at first. Le Leche League International is a great place to start.

[1] Smith, L.J. 2007. Impact of birthing practices on the breastfeeding dyad. J Midwifery Womens Health 52(6): 621-630.

Tip 3: Trust your instincts

Immediately after birth, you will likely want your baby on your chest right away, and this is for good reason! Research supports immediate skin-to-skin contact for up to 2 hours without interruption, and this practice is associated with better breastfeeding outcomes[1]. Talk with your care provider about the practices and routines regarding skin-to-skin contact where you plan to give birth, and trust your instincts on this one. Additionally, once your baby is on your chest, depending on the time of birth you had, some positions may be more comfortable than others. Many babies, if left on their mothers’ chests, will find the breast and latch on all on their own! So if lying in a semi-reclined position while your baby lies tummy down on your bare chest is the most comfortable position (it often is), there’s no need to move! If you need to readjust with pillows and find a better position, feel free! If others offer guidance or instruct you in how to sit, lie down, or position yourself for breastfeeding, or if and how you hold your breast, you can always politely decline their advice. The reason this is important is because as you and your baby are getting to know each other, feelings of comfort and ease will facilitate the process for both of you, and going with your instincts will facilitate your confidence! (Tip 3.1: If breastfeeding hurts at any point, find a new position or help your baby get a better latch - it shouldn't hurt!)

[1] Moore, E. R. et al. 2007. Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants. Cochrane Database Syst Rev18(3): CD003519

Tip 4: Ignore the clock

Imagine this: You are happily floating in a warm, soft, fluid environment that is the perfect temperature – not too hot, not too cold. Comfort is all you know. You have never experienced hunger, or isolation, or helplessness. Then, in a matter of minutes, you find yourself exposed, cold, suddenly aware that you are wet, and you’re looking for your mother, whose body has enveloped you throughout your entire existence. There she is! Finally, you’re warm again, you're close to your source of life and nourishment, and your first hints of hunger have been satiated while lying on your mother’s chest. Now imagine having to wait another 2-3 hours before the next time you can eat! Breastfeeding is not only a way to receive nutrition, it is the primary way newborn babies know how to be soothed, comforted, and calmed. If your baby becomes fussy, offer your breast before you offer a pacifier (or anything else for that matter). It may just be what he's asking for! So, throw away the feeding schedule and ignore the clock, and breastfeed as often as you or your baby want. Yes, want. Because a newborn baby’s wants are his needs. This will also help your breasts continue making plenty of milk; the more milk is removed, the more milk is produced. If you wait until your baby is showing late hunger cues (such as crying), he may be too stressed to latch on well, and your breasts may slow down your milk production. And don’t worry about spoiling your baby – that is impossible at this age! In fact, research indicates that newborns who are held and fed as often as they or their mothers desire, tend to become more independent and self-assured later in life.[1]

[1] Daly, S.E. and P.E. Hartmann. 1995. Infant demand and milk supply. Parts 1-2. J Hum Lact 11(1): 21-37.

Tip 5: Accept (or ask for) practical help at home

We tend to add all these items and supplies, that advertisements and the baby aisle at Target convince us we need, to our baby registry, but many seasoned parents will assure you that most of these things stay in the package during the newborn period. In fact, everything a newborn baby really needs comes from her mother’s body – warmth, food, medicine, her comforting presence. This means that your body will likely be “occupied” for what feels like 24/7, making other household tasks virtually impossible. In fact, you may find that all you want to do is spend time holding and feeding your baby. If your friends and family insist on newborn gifts, consider a “cleaning service” fund, a “personal chef” fund, or a postpartum doula fund instead. (Many couples are also opting for “honeyfunds” in place of wedding registries!) Or, perhaps those that live nearby might be willing to provide practical help in these areas, such as friends/family rotating cleaning days, dropping off ready-made meals, or even doing a few loads of laundry for you! This may make you feel like you’re not doing anything, but it actually frees you to do everything by meeting all your baby’s needs through breastfeeding - and you will both enjoy it more without the distraction of a to-do list! (Tip 5.1: One item that many women do find useful during the newborn period is a wrap or sling so you can hold and carry your baby more easily throughout the day - this is calming for most newborns and allows easier access to the breast.)

Happy breastfeeding!

*Bonus Tip: If you aren’t sure whether your baby is getting enough milk, keep a diaper log. Tracking your baby’s diapers is the best way to determine whether they are getting enough (What goes in must come out!). By the time he is 2-3 days old, expect at least 3 poopy diapers per day, with poop that has turned from black/brown and sticky to green/yellow and runny. If you’re seeing at least 3 of these per day, and you can tell he is latching (it shouldn’t hurt!) and swallowing (listen for gulps) well during feeding, he is doing just fine!

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