I have sweet visions of my mother nursing each of my siblings. Since I am the oldest of seven children, it was a sight that I grew quite accustomed to over the years of my upbringing. It was also never a question as to whether or not I would breastfeed. My mother did it, so of course I would. What other way was there? I planned on breastfeeding my children at all costs.
Watching my mother, one would think nursing a baby is effortless.
The thing I want women to most understand before endeavoring to breastfeed for the first time is this: it doesn’t just happen. There is an art to it. It’s a learned behavior. It is natural, but it doesn’t come naturally. And for many women, it is not easy at first.
Breastfeeding is a relationship that has to be established between you and your little one. Once it is well established, it’s easy. The two of you will nurse without thinking about it. You might even be able to nurse while making coffee, preparing lunch, reading to your baby, and unloading your washing machine. You will be able to whip out that boob in any and every situation. And you will love it.
When your baby is snuggled up to you and looking up at you with doe eyes over the crescent moon of your breast, you can feel the oxytocin being released and relaxing every part of your body. During those sweet times, you will fall in love with them over and over and over again. Those first few weeks or months establishing the nursing relationship will be so worth it when you get to that place where you can feed your baby without thinking about latch or supply or schedules. So don’t lose heart. Difficult doesn’t mean impossible.
The most important thing to do if you plan on breastfeeding, is to educate yourself on the matter. As I was constantly hearing, “I tried to breastfeed but couldn’t,” from one mom after another who felt nursing was the best thing for their child but had stopped for one reason for another, I realized that despite the easy image I had of my mother successfully nursing my six younger siblings (and me), it was probably a bit of a mirage because I hadn’t seen the whole picture as a young child. I wanted to know why all these strong women ended up formula feeding when they truly felt that breast is best, and I wanted to avoid whatever pitfalls they had fallen prey to.
Before I had my first child, the hospital where I planned to give birth had childbirth classes and handed out a resource book that explained everything from pregnancy, to delivery, and finally nursing. I read through that book like my life depended upon it, gobbling up every detail. I also talked with women who breastfed successfully to hear what steps they’d taken.
First of all, the best place to go for information is the experts. Books like Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin (a famed midwife) and Great Expectations: The Essential Guide to Breastfeeding by Marianne Neifert MD are good places to start if you’re looking to be thoroughly educated on the subject.
I’m just a mom who has successfully nursed three babies, and I am no expert. The following information comes from my experience and the knowledge I have gleaned from reading up on the topic over the past six years. This is a good place to start, but you really should investigate further if you want exhaustive information.
Colostrum Vs Milk
When you first nurse your baby, you won’t be giving them milk, you’ll be giving them colostrum. Colostrum is nicknamed “liquid gold” because it’s full of antibodies and other super good stuff. It’s yellow, and there isn’t a lot of it. It’s also easily digestible and helps babies pass meconium (the first poop which is black and sticky).
When you first nurse, you’ll wonder if the baby is even getting anything. I know I did. There was no milk dribbling down my first daughter’s chin after she latched for the first time and I didn’t feel that anything was different inside my breasts. However, her wet diapers and the fact she had dark, sticky stools in her diaper were good indicators that she was actually getting something. If you’re pregnant, you may notice that you leak some colostrum even now.
My children were all about three days old when my milk came in. With my first child, my breasts suddenly became huge and engorged, increasing about two cup sizes over the course of a day. They felt like giant, plastic melons. Milk spurted everywhere and my daughter and I had to learn how to nurse again because the milk came out in such a large volume compared to what she had grown accustomed to, and my nipples felt differently in her mouth. This is to be expected.
They say that if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong. That is often the case. Nursing a new baby has always hurt in my case, and my babies have terrible latches when they first start nursing. More importantly, if your baby is not latched onto your breast properly, they may not get enough milk and you, in turn won’t produce enough milk. Breastmilk is produced via supply and demand. Your body makes the milk that your baby needs and this production is triggered by how much the baby takes.
A proper latch happens with a baby’s mouth opened wide and the nipple inserted so that it points upwards toward the roof of the mouth. When the baby closes his or her mouth, most of your areola (the dark part of your breast) should be inside the mouth, as the pressure and movement on the areola is what causes the milk to come out. While you’re still with the medical professionals who helped you give birth, ask for someone to come help you nurse or just check your latch.
Video: Getting A Good Latch Every Time
Introducing a synthetic nipple to a newborn baby can cause them to latch incorrectly or to refuse the breast. If you are serious about exclusively breastfeeding, stay away from pacifiers and bottles until your baby has a good grasp of breast feeding. If you have to supplement for a serious reason such as taking medicine that will cross into the milk, then formula feed your baby with a syringe rather than a bottle.
Supplementation of breastfeeding with formula, especially in the first few days and weeks, will cause the mother to have insufficient supply. Again, your body produces milk based on supply and demand so if the baby is getting calories from another source, your body translates this as a need for less milk. Unless it’s medically necessary, you shouldn’t be supplementing. Unfortunately, many doctors, nurses, and pediatricians tell a new mom to supplement when it isn’t needed, so do your own reading and research and get another opinion before you do so.
If you’re baby isn’t gaining weight, talk to a lactation specialist to find some ways to increase breastmilk production. For some mothers and babies, formula supplementation may turn out to be necessary, but if your goal is to breastfeed exclusively, formula should be a last resort.
Your baby will lose 10% of their birth weight in the first week or two after birth. This is normal. It doesn’t mean you’re nursing incorrectly. Anything more than that is a problem that should be addressed, but it does not mean that you need to supplement with formula. It just means you need to increase your own milk supply and to make sure that your baby is getting all the milk from you that he or she needs.
When your baby is weighed by the pediatrician and then given a percentile, make sure they are being measured against other breastfed babies. Formula fed babies sometimes gain weight more quickly than breastfed babies because breastmilk is easier to metabolize and digest. If your pediatrician is comparing your baby to his or her formula fed counterparts, he or she may ask you to supplement with formula.
Pediatricians are not lactation specialists. I’ve been told many times by pediatricians and doctors to use formula and I always flatly refuse. It’s not best for my baby and I won’t do it. If this happens to you, make known your desire to breastfeed esclusively.
If your doctor won’t help you find ways to increase your supply, go to a lactation specialist. She will make sure you have proper milk production and your baby has a good latch. You may also need to check for things like a lip tie or a tongue tie. If you really can’t get your baby to gain weight at this point, then you may need to supplement with formula or donor milk.
If your baby is making lots of wet diapers, then they are getting enough milk. They say a baby should make one wet diaper for every day of life until they’re making six or more wet diapers.
In the first few weeks while the nursing relationship is being established, it’s good to keep a journal of when your baby nurses, what side they nurse on, and then of every diaper they have. This will help keep tabs on whether or not they’re getting enough to eat.
It is pretty rare that a women is unable to produce enough milk after giving birth, but it does happen. It’s called primary lactation failure.
“Marianne Neifert (a breastfeeding expert otherwise known as “Dr. Mom”) estimates that ‘as many as 5% of women may have primary insufficient lactation because of anatomic breast variations or medical illness that make them unable to produce a full milk supply despite heroic efforts’.”
If you have this condition, then all the breastfeeding tips given to nursing mothers won’t improve the situation and you will need to supplement with formula or donated milk for your baby to thrive.
There are also problems that the baby may have such as a tongue tie that interfere with nursing. If mom is producing enough milk and the baby still isn’t gaining weight, then you probably want to make sure there isn’t anything wrong with the baby.
There is much more to nursing than what I’ve mentioned here. I’ve only included the main points that have been pertinent to me as I nursed each of my own babies. For more thorough information about breastfeeding, check out good breastfeeding books. They are excellent sources from expert women with lots of experience and training.