As a lactation specialist, I see many new moms who are anxious about breastfeeding but want to give their baby the best start. Breastfeeding is one of the best things mothers can do to give their infant a strong start in life, but is certainly a learning experience for mother and baby. It’s a natural activity, but it takes practice, which requires time and patience. Here are a few tips that I share with my patients.
Educate yourself and your support system on breastfeeding before your baby arrives. Ask your doctor about trusted sources of information to learn early about the benefits for moms and babies, how to get started, and incorporating breastfeeding into your lifestyle. Make sure the people around you are aware of your intention to breastfeed and verbalize your breastfeeding goals. Create a support system of encouraging people who will help you along the way.
Realize the importance of the first week of breastfeeding. It’s very important to get your baby to breastfeed within the first hour of birth – the benefits to you and your baby are numerous. Do not hesitate to ask for help/guidance when you nurse. The lactation team will support and help you through the breastfeeding process.
Learn your baby’s hunger cues. Babies should be fed when they indicate hunger. Crying is a late indicator of hunger – breastfeeding is much easier for both mom and baby if mom is able to pick up on the baby’s earlier hunger cues. Some newborns are excessively sleepy at first. A good rule of thumb is to wake your newborn baby to nurse if two hours (during the day) or three hours (at night) have passed without nursing. Once your baby is gaining weight well, and a few weeks old, you should expect your baby to remind you when it is time to feed.
Pay attention to your diet and nutrition. If you’re breastfeeding, you’re giving your baby nutrients that will promote growth and health. As your baby grows, you might need to eat a little more to give you the energy and nutrition to produce milk. Make sure that you stay well hydrated. Water is always a good choice for hydration. Limit yourself to no more than two to three cups (16 to 24 ounces) of caffeinated drinks a day. Caffeine in your breast milk might agitate your baby or interfere with your baby’s sleep.
Avoid seafood that’s high in mercury, including swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Occasionally, certain foods or drinks in your diet can cause your baby to become irritable or have an allergic reaction. If you suspect that something in your diet might be affecting your baby, avoid the food or drink for up to a week to see if it makes a difference in your baby’s behavior.
Recognize that most changes are normal. While changes in nursing patterns can be worrisome, most are very normal and can be tied to growth spurts. As long as the baby is gaining weight on mom’s milk alone, then the milk supply is good. Between weight checks, a sufficient number of wet and dirty diapers will indicate that the baby is getting enough milk.
Plan for the different stages of breastfeeding. Being away from your baby as a result of returning to work – or other activities – is a reality for most women, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can determine what works best for you and your baby. It’s also up to you how long you breastfeed, whether it’s a few months or more than a year.
Breastfeeding can be overwhelming at times, but putting these tips into practice will make the most of your time with your little one while breastfeeding. So, pay close attention to your little one’s needs, get comfortable, and relax. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from your doctor or others in your support network.
Pardee offers a free class, Art of Breastfeeding, which covers the basics of breastfeeding. To register for a class visit pardeehospital.org.
Joyce Maybin is an international board-certified lactation consultant at Pardee Hospital.