Eight Essential Breastfeeding Tips for New Mamas
Breastfeeding provides all of the nutrition that your baby needs to survive for the first six months of her little life. Which is really pretty amazing. When breastfeeding is going well it provides a special bond between you and your baby that no one else will ever experience with your little one.
The breastfeeding experience is different for every mom and baby. Most new mamas can successfully breastfeed their baby (or babies) for months (or even years!) if they have help and support. To get started off in the best possible way, I recommend several important breastfeeding tips further down the post.
I have personally had both challenging and very rewarding breastfeeding experiences. If you would like to read more about my personal breastfeeding experience, check out my post When Breastfeeding Backfires: Why fed is best.
Professionally, I have worked as a breastfeeding expert for many years. I have helped hundreds of women on their breastfeeding journey, good and bad. Breastfeeding is emotionally draining and yet incredibly rewarding. It can be hard, scary, frustrating, wonderful, easy, relaxing, and overwhelming!
A few interesting (and random!) things about breastfeeding.
- Not all babies can breastfeed due to contraindications with mom or baby. But most can.
- Breastfeeding has been around as long as humans have been. All cultures and races and ethnicities breastfeed. It is natural and it has sustained the human race. Your body is designed to feed your baby.
- The onset of milk production begins when the placenta separates from the uterus after the child is born.
- If your plan is to exclusively breastfeed your baby (or babies!) and you follow the recommendations then you should have enough milk. Your body produces milk in a cause and effect fashion. Your baby stimulates your breast and this sets off a cascade of hormones that in turn causes your breast to produce the right amount of milk. (This is obviously oversimplified, but lactation pretty much works this way). It is kind of crazy how it works.
- That being said there are MANY outside factors that can play into how much milk is produced, such as supplementation, illness of mom or baby, if your baby is premature, etc, etc. So it isn’t always as simple as I stated in the above point!
Eight Essential Breastfeeding tips for new mamas
- Give your baby colostrum. The first milk is called colostrum. It is high in important antibodies and fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. It also has important protective factors that promote gut health for your baby. Colostrum is the absolute best way to start out your baby’s life, if at all possible. Even if you decide not to breastfeed or you struggle for whatever reason, try to provide your colostrum to your baby (you can pump it too!).
- Watch for your baby’s hunger cues and observe your baby’s demeanor after eating. Your baby’s stomach starts out small and increases in size. There is some debate, particularly recently, regarding how big a baby’s stomach is at birth. We used to say that a baby’s stomach is about the size of a cherry at birth. But recent research is showing that it may be a bit more. The thing is, it doesn’t matter. The best way to give your baby enough milk is to watch for your baby’s hunger cues and feed your baby often. You will want to feed about 12 times a day for the first several days. But really, don’t get hung up on the number. Each baby is different. Your baby should be pretty content and relaxed after eating when she has had enough.
- Feed your baby when she wants to eat! You are in no way spoiling her or giving in if she eats when she is hungry. Even if she ate only 15 minutes ago! Babies cluster feed, especially in the evening. This means that they may eat several times in a few hour span. Think about it this way. Do you eat exactly every two hours? I know sometimes I eat several small meals a day and sometimes I eat snacks and a few meals. And sometimes I have a snack and then want dinner a half hour later! Babies are the same way. They need to eat more often because they have little tummies, but they don’t eat exactly every two hours like a robot. The only caveat to this is if she is just sucking to pacify but is not actually eating (transferring milk). This will likely cause sore nipples. So unlatch your baby if she is pacifying and not eating.
- Keep your baby naked (with a diaper) and snuggled onto your bare chest as much as you can. This will not only stimulate your hormones to encourage milk production, but it also allows for easy access for your baby to eat and she will eat more often. I tried to do as often as I could for the first several weeks after my son was born.
- Let your baby drain one breast before you switch to the other breast. Your milk switches from colostrum to more mature milk (usually referred to your milk “coming in”) between 30-72 hours after delivery of the placenta. Once this happens let your baby drain one breast until she comes off of the breast relaxed. Then switch to the other breast or start at the other breast at the next feeding. This allows for better milk production and for your baby to get both foremilk and hindmilk (which has different calories and fat components). Don’t worry about how much time your baby spends at a breast.
- Avoid using a pacifier. If at all possible avoid giving a pacifier until breastfeeding is well established (usually around six weeks).
- Don’t supplement with formula unless absolutely necessary. If you are planning on breastfeeding, and you are struggling at the beginning, try really hard not to supplement with formula. If your baby is fussy after feedings and you don’t know what to do, get help from someone before supplementing. There is nothing wrong with formula, but when you give formula instead of breastmilk you are not stimulating the breast which in turn leads to less milk and it often starts a spiral towards difficulty with maintaining milk supply and problems latching. So if you can avoid it don’t give formula.
- Ask for help. Get as much help as you can in the hospital and take advantage of any breastfeeding help offered to you! Nurses and breastfeeding professionals can evaluate your baby’s suck, can help you if your nipples hurt (which they likely will, at least at first!) and can show you how to tell if your baby is just pacifying or if she is actually eating. They can also tell you if your baby is getting enough milk and can show you how to read your baby’s hunger cues.
Here is a list of breastfeeding resources:
- If you receive WIC benefits, they almost always have breastfeeding help available. You can find out more about WIC here.
- Ask a nurse or lactation consultant at the hospital or your pediatrician, nurse midwife or family practice doctor.
- Call your local county health department to see if you can get a public health nurse.
- Find an IBCLC at ilca.org.
- Call a la Leche League leader or attend a la Leche League meeting. See llli.org.
- Check out the website KellyMom. This is my favorite breastfeeding website!
- Talk to a friend who has been through it. Friends can be a great source of support.
Take care of yourself
Take care of yourself! Taking care of your mental and physical health is really important when you have a new baby. You need to take care of yourself in order to take good care of your baby. Get rest when you can, take breaks when you feel overwhelmed, get some time to yourself to recharge. Ask someone you trust for some help. Try not to feel guilty about the choices you are making. Mamas want what is best for their babies and will do their best to provide for them. Whether you are breastfeeding, bottle feeding pumped milk, or bottle feeding formula your baby is getting fed and that is the most important thing!!! You are doing an awesome job! 🙂
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