Breastfeeding…. and all its beauty, and all the sweet moments, and how wonderful it feels to do what you think is best for your child, and then the confusion of the feeding schedule, and which side did I leave off, and the fatigue, and a poopy diaper right in the middle of finally getting a good latch, and the leaking (UGH, the leaking), and the middle of the night feedings, and…. Ahhhh, breastfeeding, wonderful memories. 🙂 Really, I was lucky. I worked in a birthing center for 3 years before I had my first child, so I knew all about breastfeeding when it was my turn… HA, the naivety of my pre-maternal knowledge! I have since admitted that I right out lied to those poor new mom’s struggling to breastfeed, and I didn’t even know it. Of course you cannot latch a newborn when you are sitting completely upright, you have to lean in a little bit, it just works best that way; then you have to sit back so that you don’t have chronic back pain for the next 12 months. I know that now. Yes, I know you are having cramps when you breastfeed, but it’s just your uterus contracting back down, that’s a good thing. Umm, hello, those cramps HURT, have a little sympathy lady! Yes, you have to feed your baby every 3 hours, well, you kind of do, but there are exceptions to every rule, and until you breastfeed, you don’t have the opportunity to figure them out. Breastfeeding can be the most wonderful experience, but it can also be the most stressful, and difficult time for many new moms. I’ve been asked by multiple friends that are breastfeeding to write a blog about the basics, sorry it took so long, but here it is…
- Newborn breastfed babies NEED to eat every 2-3 hours. This means they will have 8-12 feedings in 24 hrs. Babies need at least the minimum 8 feedings in 24 hours for adequate growth and development. My rule is wake them to feed every 3 hours when the sun is up, and they will reward you with more sleep at night. 😉 (This only pertains to babies that are gaining weight adequately. If your baby is having trouble gaining weight, please feed according to your health care provider’s advice.)
- Babies should nurse from each breast for approximately 15-20 minutes. This should adequately empty the first breast before switching to the other side. Breastmilk supply builds on demand, the more the baby nurses, the better your milk will come in, and you have to empty completely to be able to refill adequately. Once your milk supply is established (~2-3 weeks), your baby may only eat on one side at a time until he grows a little. Joshua only at on one side each feeding from about 3 weeks until about 6-7 weeks when he went through a growth spurt. *Growth spurts (the first few) happen at about 10 – 20 days, and again at 4-6 weeks. Your baby will eat more often during a growth spurt. This helps increase your milk supply to meet his growing needs.
- You know your baby is getting enough to eat by how content they are between feedings and if they can go the expected amount of time between feedings without showing signs of hunger. Adequate weight gain and between feeding contentment is the best indicator of optimal nutritional intake.
- Utilizing different positions during breastfeeding is important: 1. It helps to stimulate milk production and 2. empties milk ducts more completely. Also, during the initial stages of feeding, it helps change the position of the baby’s mouth on mom’s nipple to decrease the discomfort that can initially be associated with breastfeeding. The different positions are cradle, cross-cradle, football, and side-lying. Side-lying is difficult until your baby gets a little bit older, then it’s the perfect 5am position. For more information on positions and some great latching advice, please check out this link on KidsHealth.org.
- Speaking of discomfort, that initial “take your breath away” pain when your sweet little newborn first latches on is normal, and fortunately, a short-lived phenomenon. Keep in mind that nipple tissue is extremely sensitive. I don’t care what you’ve done in the past and with whom, no man can do the damage of a hungry newborn learning to breastfeed. This initial pain should last ~30-60 seconds, and then should subside. If the pain persists, the baby is not latched well, relatch (see above KidsHealth link for latching advice). This pain goes away after the first couple weeks, in the meantime, lanolin is helpful. Motrin can be helpful. A doc I worked liked a product called “Soothies” that were like a cool/second skin type pad to put over the nipple between feedings.
- Do not pump in the first couple weeks to build your milk supply unless you have been instructed to do so by your health care provider. Overstimulation can lead to too much milk, engorgement, and even mastitis. If you need to pump to help relieve that engorgement pressure you feel when your milk supply first starts coming in (3-6 days), that is fine, but only pump a little. Do not empty the breast completely, just enough for relief.
- SLEEP!!! Do yourself a big favor and get your rest. Sleep when your baby is sleeping. The chores can wait! You have other priorities now that you’re a mom. I beg you to do this, you will be so glad you did. If you don’t, you’ll understand why I begged you to try to slow down.
I breastfed both of my kids for the first year, Josh 13 months, and I had to cut him off. He was using me to go to sleep. The first night we didn’t feed, I put him to bed with a cup of water, and he was fine. So, again, got lucky with him. He was such a good baby! If you’ve read anything about Josh in my blog, you know he is anything but an easy child to raise now. I love him with all my heart, but he is the biggest challenge God has ever given me! I breastfed Drew Elizabeth for 11 months, and then she wasn’t interested anymore. She’s always been that easy, love my girl! 🙂
How long do you have to breastfeed? As long as you want to! It’s not a question for anyone but you. I wasn’t sure how long I would breastfeed until it happened. I didn’t really think I would breastfed for a year, but it was easier for me to keep breastfeeding. I enjoyed it. The recommendation is a year. The majority of mom’s stop between 4-8 months.
Breastfeeding provides so many health benefits for mom and baby, please visit the American Academy of Pediatrics statement on breastfeeding to read more. For a great link to all kinds of different breastfeeding knowledge, check out Lactation Education Resources.
So, that is my 2 cents on the basics of breastfeeding. I hope it is helpful. I was actually a Certified Lactation Consultant for a good part of my career. I’ve let the certification go, but the knowledge is golden. Please share with all the new moms that you know. If you have any questions or comments, as always, please let me know. I will compile a Breastfeeding Basics V.2 for followup. 😉
Breastfeeding is such an amazing part of the journey. I hope your experience is as good as mine. Enjoy! 😉