When having a baby, we have countless decisions to make, from what baby gear to buy to the type of delivery you’re hoping to have and the way you’d like to parent. After having my daughter, one of the first questions asked by my nurses was about my plans to breast or bottle feed. I knew I wanted to at least try breastfeeding, but I quickly realized just how challenging it can be. Not only was my daughter struggling to stay latched, but I was in a lot of pain. Thankfully, I had great nurses to assist me, but it was at this time and the weeks following that I realized that just because something is natural and has been done for thousands of years, doesn’t mean it will necessarily come naturally to everybody. Luckily, there are countless resources out there for moms that are struggling, and it CAN get better!
So whether you’re in those early newborn days and just have questions and concerns about breastfeeding, are pregnant and trying to educate yourself on the topic, or just need to feel some support from a fellow mom, you’re in the right place! We’re going to go over everything you need to know about breastfeeding–from the science behind it, how to get started, and even what to do when you run into roadblocks along the way!
Benefits of Breastfeeding
We all know that breastfeeding is extremely beneficial for babies and moms alike. Not only does it reduce your own and your child’s risk of certain illnesses, but it provides amazing mental health benefits as well!
Here are some of the biggest benefits that can come from breastfeeding!
Developmentally appropriate milk at all times: As your baby grows, breast milk will change to meet your baby’s needs. In the first few days, your body will produce colostrum, which is packed with immune boosting components. It’s also lower in fat and lactose and higher in protein, which is easier on newborn bodies that are just learning how to digest. In the weeks and months following birth, breastmilk will continue to adapt and change, becoming more fatty and providing your baby, again, with exactly what they need to enhance where they’re at in their development.
Immune boosting: We know how fragile newborns can be, especially when it comes to sickness. They’re immune systems aren’t fully developed, so something that isn’t a big deal for adults can be super dangerous for their little bodies. Breast milk has amazing immune-boosting components already, but it also has the ability to change during illness! When your baby gets sick, their saliva interacts with the breastmilk. Your body responds by altering the content of the breast milk and giving your baby additional antibodies that will help them fight off the illness. Similarly, if mom has antibodies for an illness, many of these can be passed through breastmilk to your baby, which is why it is recommended that you get a Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy.
Lowers risk of other childhood illnesses: Along with helping your baby’s immune system to develop, exclusively breastfeeding has also been found to lower an infant’s risk of developing other childhood illnesses and problems later in life, such as ear and sinus infections, respiratory tract infections, gut and bowel diseases, asthma, leukemia, behavioral issues, and even SIDS!
Enhances brain development: Scientists have discovered that infant brain development is extremely sensitive to nutrition as well as other environmental factors. And the nutritional content of breastmilk enhances this brain development.
Weight regulation: Studies show that babies that are breastfed have greater ability to regulate their weight later in life. Although it’s still being explored as to why this is, some researchers have found that children that were breastfed are better able to regulate how much they should eat, and are less likely to overeat. This leads to a decrease in their chances of becoming obese later in life, and can help reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Attachment & bonding: Breastfeeding allows mom and baby to have lots of time together, and the skin to skin time that breastfeeding provides enhances this bonding. It has also been found that the act of sucking at the breast leads to a release of oxytocin in the baby that further increases your baby’s secure attachment to you!
*Note: Just because a baby is breastfed does not necessarily mean they will have more success later in life than those babies that are formula fed. Studies do show that breastfeeding benefits babies in a variety of ways, but formula fed babies can still lead very healthy and successful lives.
Attachment and bonding: When breastfeeding your baby, your body releases oxytocin. This helps with the let down of milk, but it also allows you to feel bonded and more attached to your baby!
Lowers cancer and diabetes risk: One of the best benefits of breastfeeding is that it reduces the mother’s risk of developing a wide variety of cancers, such as breast and ovarian cancers. This is especially important, as breast cancer is one of the biggest causes of cancer deaths among women in the US. Ovarian cancer is also common and deadly, but it’s difficult to treat once diagnosed. This means prevention is key, and knowing that breastfeeding can help reduce that risk is vital. Breastfeeding also reduces risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as it can actually improve your body’s ability to process glucose and insulin!
Lowered postpartum depression risk: Postpartum depression is a scary reality that many women face after childbirth. It can leave you feeling angry, hopeless, worthless, and can even lead to suicide if it’s not treated. But studies have found that breastfeeding can actually decrease your chances of developing it! (*It’s important to note that this is no guarantee. So if you’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, seek help. Don’t just assume that because you’re breastfeeding you don’t have PPD.)
Aids in recovery after delivery: After delivery, your uterus will continue to contract. This helps your uterus return to its normal size. The oxytocin released when you breastfeed helps with these contractions, which helps you recover more quickly.
Weight loss: Those that exclusively breastfeed often lose weight more quickly than those that don’t due to the high amount of calories burned during breastfeeding. This is not always the case for everybody, but many women have found this to be a great advantage!
Convenient: Breastfeeding is incredibly convenient. Not only do you have milk for your baby anytime and anywhere you need it, but there’s also no need to clean and store bottles, a huge plus for those that hate doing dishes.
Low cost/free: I love saving money. And one of the biggest perks for me that comes from breastfeeding is that it’s free/low cost. Formula can get extremely expensive, and it can be difficult to find a formula that is right for your baby. Although there can be some minor expenses from breastfeeding if you choose to purchase nipple cream or other supplies, you’re still saving thousands of dollars if you’re able to breastfeed.
Lowers stress: Oxytocin serves a wide variety of purposes within the body. But it can also lead to decreased anxiety and stress! Those that breastfeed exclusively have frequent surges of oxytocin throughout the day, leading to long-term stress relief!
Types of Breastmilk
Breastmilk comes in many different forms, and as your baby grows, the content of the milk will change. Knowing this can help you know what to expect once you start breastfeeding and can prevent you from feeling confused when you notice changes in your breasts and with what you’re expressing.
Before even having your baby, you may notice that you’re leaking a yellowish liquid from your breasts. This is colostrum, which is the first milk your body produces for your baby. Colostrum is packed with newborn essentials, and is easily digestible by their little tummies. Colostrum is high in vitamins and minerals, protein, and antibodies that will aid them in fighting off any viruses or bacterial infections they may come into contact with.
Some assume that if your “real milk” doesn’t come in within a day or two, that their baby is not getting enough. But this is simply not true. All your baby really needs in those first few days of life is colostrum, and, in most cases, you do not need to supplement. Normally by day 4, colostrum will start to be replaced with transitional milk.
Transitional milk is higher in calories, which is great for helping your baby stay chubby and cute! Transitional milk comes in after colostrum, lasts a few weeks, and, unlike colostrum, is high in fat and lactose.
After transitional milk, your body will produce what’s known as mature milk. It is high in water content, keeping your active baby hydrated throughout the day while also providing additional macronutrients like proteins, carbs and fats that help with growth and give your baby energy throughout the day.
Mature milk consists of both foremilk and hindmilk. Foremilk is released at the beginning of a breastfeeding session and is rich in water and proteins, while hindmilk is greater in fat content. Both are essential for your baby, which is why it’s important to empty your breast or not switch between breasts too early during a feed or your baby may not get everything they need.
Remember, your body knows exactly what it’s doing and will produce exactly what you need when your baby needs it. But if you have any concerns or questions at any time, reach out to your pediatrician or a lactation consultant for help.
Photo Credit: Verywell Family
Getting Started/How To Breastfeed
Getting started with breastfeeding can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time! From what positions to use to making sure you have a proper latch, here’s everything you need to know about how to breastfeed!
One of the the first things I was taught in the hospital was how to hold my baby while breastfeeding. Finding the best positioning for you and your baby is essential, and can make your breastfeeding experience much more positive.
Although you always see women breastfeeding in the traditional, cradle hold, I found this extremely difficult and found that I just couldn’t get a good latch this way. Changing it up and trying different positions helped me achieve better angles and control, which improved my baby’s latch.
Here are some of the most common breastfeeding positions you can try with your baby:
Cradle hold: The most common breastfeeding position, where you cradle your baby in your arms and hold their head and body with the arm that’s on the same side as the breast they are feeding from. (Ex. If the baby is feeding on the left breast, their feet will be pointing towards your right breast, and you will support their head and body with your left arm.)
Cross-cradle hold: Similar to the cradle hold, but you hold and support their body with the opposite arm of the breast your baby is feeding at. Use the other arm to hold and stabilize the breast. (Ex. If the baby is feeding on the left breast, their feet will be pointing towards your right breast, and you will support their body with your right arm. Use the left arm to stabilize the breast.)
Football hold: Baby’s body does not go across the front of your body. Instead, hold your baby’s body under your arm of the breast they’re feeding at. (Ex. If the baby is feeding on the right breast, angle your baby’s body towards your back, under your right armpit, and support their body and back with your right arm.)
Side lying: Lay on your side, and lay your baby facing next to you. Line your baby’s mouth up to your nipple and use your forearm to support their back.
Reclined/laying back: Similar to side lying, but your baby is on top of your body instead of next to you. Lie in a reclined position, and lay your baby on your stomach. Check to make sure their mouth is aligned with your nipple, and let them latch on.
Photo credit: Mommy Bites
When positioning your baby for breastfeeding, regardless of the specific position you use, it’s important that you check for the following things:
Baby’s mouth should line up with nipple
Baby’s neck should be in a neutral position, not twisted, leaned back, or tilted forward (Adjust their position to ensure their neck is always in this neutral state)
Their nose isn’t covered or pressed into your breast, preventing them from breathing well
Knowing when to feed your baby can be challenging at first, especially when we’re trying to feed them BEFORE the crying starts. Doing so makes breastfeeding sessions go much smoother, as waiting until baby is screaming to feed them makes it harder to get a good and effective latch.
Here are some things to look for that often signify that your baby wants to eat:
Rooting around (when your baby moves their head back and forth in an effort to find the breast, often opening their mouth as they do so)
Sucking aggressively on hands, pacifier or other objects (as if they were trying to extract something from the objects)
Opening mouth, smacking lips
Stretching, squirming or increased body movement
Crying (late feeding cue-try to feed baby before this point)
If you’re not sure what to look for at first, try not to worry. You will soon learn your baby’s cues, and know exactly when it’s time for a feed.
Getting a good latch is crucial. Improper latch not only causes pain, but it can prevent your baby from being able to extract much milk, which can lead to irritability and a low milk supply.
When helping your baby latch, start by tickling your baby’s lip with your nipple. You can also hand express a small amount of milk, then hold it under your baby’s nose so they can smell it. This will often cause your baby to open their mouth wide.
When they open their mouth, hold your nipple near their upper lip and point your nipple diagonally towards their nose.
Check to make sure your baby’s neck is in a neutral position (their chin shouldn’t be pointed towards their chest, as this impedes their ability to latch well). Also watch to make sure their bottom lip is low on your areola.
As soon as they open their mouth wide, push the nipple and breast as far as you can into their mouth. Check to make sure that their lips aren’t tucked under. If they are, you can normally use your finger to gently pull them out. The areola should be mostly covered with their mouth.
If it’s painful, your baby may have a shallow latch. Put a clean finger into the corner of their mouth to pop the latch, and try again. You can also try different breastfeeding positions, which may help you get better positioning for a good latch. I always found my baby’s latched best when I held them in the football or cross-cradle hold.
Some newborns just have tiny mouths and struggle to open their mouths wide, so you may notice they just can’t latch well. Try using a nipple shield and know that, as they get bigger, it should improve. You may also want to have your lactation consultant or pediatrician check for a tongue tie.
Frequency & Length of Feeds:
Every baby is different, and as your baby gets older, frequency of feeds and the length they will eat at each feed will change. In general, it’s best to let your baby take the lead! Feed them as often as they want to eat, and let them eat for as long as they’d like.
In general, babies will feed for about half an hour (about 15 minutes on each breast). As they get older, they may become quicker and only feed for 5-10 minutes on each side. What’s more important than the length of time is making sure you’re letting them eat until they’re done and following their cues.
Babies will normally indicate they’re finished by coming off the breast, but if they fall asleep while eating it can be difficult to know if they’re finished. If your baby is sucking several times and not swallowing, (normally 4 or 5 sucks for every swallow), this is a good indicator that they are sucking for comfort, not because they’re still hungry.
How often you feed your baby will also depend on their cues. Watch for those signs and let them eat as much as they want. Most breastfed babies will eat every 2 to 4 hours during the day, and every 4 or 5 hours during the night. If you have a newborn or your baby is going through a growth spurt, however, they may cluster feed, which is when they’ll want to eat frequently in a short amount of time. This is a baby’s way to naturally increase your milk supply to meet their needs. But keep in mind, every baby is going to be different. And things will change as they age. So ALWAYS follow baby’s lead.
Supply varies from person to person, and how much your baby feeds each time they’re at the breast influences this as well. Many women worry their babies aren’t getting enough or that they’re not producing enough. This is a normal concern, and it’s hard to know since we can’t see how much is coming out during a feed.
Most pediatricians, however, will say that there’s no need to worry that your supply is low if your child is gaining weight, following their growth curve well, if they have plenty of wet and poopy diapers, and they’re a generally happy baby. If this isn’t the case, you may have a low supply.
Some factors to look at that may cause short supply include:
Supplementing with formula, resulting in baby being at the breast less
Waiting too long after baby’s delivery to start breastfeeding
Not emptying the breast completely during a feed
Medications you’re taking
Dehydration, poor nutrition, or lack of sleep
Previous breast surgery
If you can pinpoint what’s causing the shortage, try to see if you can make some changes to improve it. If you’re struggling to pinpoint what might be causing it, reach out to a lactation consultant for help.
In general, try doing the following to ensure you always have a good supply:
Empty the breast completely during each feed, which will signal to your body to make more milk (Leaving hindmilk in the breast tells your body you’re making too much, and can result in lower supply)
Feed often (This is especially important in the first few days and weeks as you’re building your supply. The more your baby is on your breast, the more milk your body will produce)
Check for a proper latch with EVERY feed
Offer both breasts to your baby during each feed
Drink plenty of water & eat a healthy diet
Try pumping or hand expressing milk between feeds if you still have a low supply
It’s also important to note, that some women worry they have a low supply if they pump milk and don’t get much out. How much you get from the breast pump is NOT always indicative of how much milk you’re actually producing.
A baby is able to extract milk more effective than a pump, and can often get more than your pump ever will. Also, if your breasts feel soft or floppy, this does not indicate how much milk you have. As your body adjusts, your breasts will feel less firm, even though they’re full of milk.
How Long to Breastfeed:
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that moms exclusively breastfeed for the first six months. After that point, you can start introducing solids while still breastfeeding frequently and at least to the year mark. However, it’s recommended to continue to breastfeed to two years, as the benefits are still there even beyond your baby’s first bday.
Not all women will be able to exclusively breastfeed, so knowing how to pump and store milk safely is important!
If you’re going to be returning to work but still want to breastfeed, you’ll want to invest in a good breast pump! Check out our post on the different kinds of breast pumps to find which one is best for you. Pumping will allow you to build up a stock pile and also pump at work to ensure your milk supply stays up.
Most insurances will provide a free breast pump with every pregnancy, so make sure to contact your insurance company and see what your options are. Some companies only cover basic/standard pumps. This was the case for me, but they DID allow me to upgrade for a small fee. I went ahead and did this to ensure I’d have a better pumping experience.
Once you receive your pump, read all the instructions and make sure you know how to use it properly. It’s also important that the flange opening is not too big or small for your nipple. (Your pump instructions should explain this in detail so that you know what flange size you need.)
Some women choose to build supply during maternity leave by pumping between breastfeeding sessions. Just remember that this will increase your supply, and it can cause engorgement.
You can also build up a small supply without affecting how much you’re producing by catching your let down from the breast your baby isn’t feeding on with a Haakaa milk collector. This worked well for me, and didn’t lead to any engorgement or overproduction.
When storing breast milk long term, make sure to label the date you extracted the milk and avoid storing in the freezer door, as this can lead to greater temperature variations. It’s best to use frozen milk within 6 months, although you can use it up to 12 months later. If you produce a lot of milk–more than your baby can eat–consider these ideas of what to do with your extra supply.
When thawing frozen milk to use it, do NOT put it in the microwave, as it can destroy enzymes within the milk and cause hot pockets to form that can burn your baby. Instead, thaw in a bowl of lukewarm water, or let it thaw in the fridge overnight. After it’s thawed, use within 2 hours and do NOT refreeze it.
You can also store fresh breast milk in your fridge or counter if you plan to use it soon. When storing milk in the fridge, make sure to use it within 4 days, and when storing at room temperature it’s best to use within 4 hours.
Now that you know the basics of breastfeeding, it’s important to take a look at some of the challenges you might face along the way. Knowing about these things beforehand can help you be prepared so that you know what to do in those situations and combat them before things get more severe.
Although specialists say you shouldn’t be in pain when breastfeeding (which is generally true), many women, especially when breastfeeding for the first time, will experience some level of pain or discomfort.
Most of the time, this is caused by any of the following breastfeeding issues, such as cracked nipples or an improper latch, but it may just be that your nipples are struggling to adapt to the frequent feeds.
Our nipples are extremely sensitive, and it can take a bit of time to get used to the forceful sucking. However, if you’re experiencing extreme pain after the first couple days, it’s time to talk to your doctor or a lactation specialist to see if something else is going on.
The constant sucking at our nipples can quickly dry out the skin. This dryness can lead to cracks in the nipple and surrounding skin, which can lead to bleeding and pain, especially when your baby comes back to the breast to feed more.
To avoid this, use nipple balm or cream between feeds. Prevent cracking before it gets too severe by using the nipple balm from day one. You can also get in the habit of hand expressing a small amount of milk after each feed and rubbing it into your nipple and areola, as breast milk can help heal and moisturize the area as well. For more tips on caring for sore nipples, check out this post.
As talked about earlier, a proper latch is essential for a positive breastfeeding experience! An improper latch can cause you pain, while also preventing your baby from getting enough milk. Getting a proper latch can be challenging at first, especially with tiny newborns that can’t open their mouths very wide. If you’re struggling to get a good latch, you can try using a nipple shield. If you’re still struggling, reach out to your lactation consultant.
Sometimes a baby cannot latch due to a tongue tie, so if you’ve tried everything, have your lactation or pediatrician check to see if this is the case.
In the days after delivery, your body will be figuring out just how much milk it needs to produce to support your baby. In an effort to provide enough, most women (around day 3 or 4 as you transition from colostrum to transitional milk) will experience what’s known as engorgement.
This is when the breasts get extremely hard and full, which can lead to severe pressure and pain. Avoid pumping out all of the milk in an effort to relieve the pressure, as that will signal to your body to keep producing that much milk. Instead, hand express just enough to relieve pressure, and use ice packs to help decrease pain and blood flow to the area. (Avoid heat, as this will increase milk production.)
Engorgement can also happen as you’re weaning, or anytime you drop a feed, as your body is used to feeding your baby more than they are actually eating at that time. Again, just hand express small amounts. Your body will adjust and it should improve within a few days.
Milk blisters, also known as blebs, are tiny white dots that form on the tip of your nipple. They are caused by clogged pores, and hard/dried milk is often the culprit. They can be painful or painless, and will often go away with successive breastfeeding sessions. Warm compresses can help as well. If they don’t go away, they can lead to clogged ducts, so increase feeds or try pumping if they aren’t going away. Avoid picking at them with your finger, as this can make things worse and lead to infection.
Clogged ducts are pretty common, especially in the first few weeks after your baby is born when you’re more likely to get engorged. You may feel a hard lump in your breast, pain, or itchiness. If left untreated, clogged ducts can lead to mastitis.
To treat clogged ducts, it’s important to get that milk flowing! One of the best ways to do this is to have your baby suck them out. Point your baby’s chin or nose in the direction of the clog, then have them latch and feed like normal. If that doesn’t work, try using a breast pump or a warm compress to further help the milk flow.
Some people have also found that having their spouse suck them out works great, as sometimes your baby or breast pump just can’t suck hard enough.
Another way to ease the discomfort and help dislodge them is to massage that area of the breast.
Mastitis is when the breast tissue becomes inflamed. This is often associated with an infection, and can be extremely painful. Signs of mastitis include redness of the breast, swelling, pain, a breast that is warm to the touch, clogged ducts, achiness, fever, and tiredness.
To treat from home, try to sleep more, feed your baby often, and apply warm compresses. You should continue to feed your baby on the effected breast, even though it may be painful. This can help get rid of any clogged ducts and prevent further engorgement that can make swelling worse. Some worry doing this, as they’re concerned they’ll pass it to their baby. But this is not the case.
If things don’t improve, you may have an infection, and you will need to see your doctor for an antibiotic.
Not producing enough milk can be extremely disheartening–especially when you’ve tried everything. It’s important to know that, although most women can produce enough, there are still a LOT of women that struggle and physically cannot produce enough.
Low or lack of supply can be a result of a myriad issues, such as supplementing too much, not feeding on demand, dehydration, poor nutrition, a bad latch, as well as taking certain medications, health conditions, and sickness. Some of these things we can control and adjust (see supply info above) but there are lots of things we just cannot control.
When my son was almost a year old, for example, I got extremely sick. I noticed my supply tanked after my sickness, even though I was feeding him the same amount while I was sick. After I recovered, I noticed my son got extremely frustrated every time he fed, and I could tell that my milk supply was down.
If you feel like you’re not producing enough, reach out to a lactation consultant. They can explore options with you. But remember, if you still cannot produce milk, you’re not a bad mom and you’re not a failure!
Fussy Baby After Eating:
What we eat goes directly into our breastmilk! And sometimes, babies just can’t tolerate the same diet that we can. Food sensitivities are common, so if you notice your baby is extremely fussy after breastfeeding, you may need to adjust your own diet.
Start by eliminating one food group at a time and see if you notice a drastic difference. But remember, it may take a few weeks without that specific food before you notice anything. Giving it a day or two will not be enough, but 2-4 weeks will normally give you a pretty good idea if that food is effecting your baby negatively. Common food sensitivities for babies that you may want to try eliminating include dairy, soy, and eggs.
Other foods such as caffeine and chocolate can make your baby irritable or fussy as well, so avoid those if you can.
Tips for a Healthy & Positive Breastfeeding Experience
Drinking water is always so important for your health. But it’s especially important when breastfeeding! Water is essential for breast milk production, as breast milk is rich in water. Drinking enough water will also keep you from dehydration, which can be dangerous for your own health.
Research shows that you don’t need to intake excessive amounts of water, but many providers will recommend drinking about 16 cups per day. If you feel thirsty, that’s a good indication that you need to drink more.
What to Eat While Breastfeeding:
In general, having a healthy diet and making sure you’re taking in enough calories throughout the day will be enough to ensure you have a good milk supply and that you stay healthy yourself! But it may be beneficial to incorporate a few lactogenic foods into your diet as well. These foods can help your body with milk production, although it’s important to remember that there are no miracle foods (even though some companies claim to have the magic solution with their breastfeeding cookies or brownies.)
Some great lactogenic foods include oatmeal, leafy greens, nuts, garlic, fennel, barley, and foods rich in healthy fats/oils.
It can be tempting to try to limit calories so that you can lose weight you gained during pregnancy, but this can definitely hurt your supply. When you don’t eat enough calories, your body goes into survival mode, and it will prioritize other things to breast milk production.
What to Avoid:
Just like when you’re pregnant, there are a lot of things you should avoid consuming when you’re breastfeeding. This is because much of what you eat or drink can go to your baby through your breastmilk, and some things can also cause a decrease in supply.
Some things to avoid include:
Caffeine (sometimes even small amounts of caffeine from things like chocolate can make your baby irritable and unable to sleep at night)
Mercury-rich fish (such as swordfish, shark, mackerel, etc.)
Some herbs and teas
Certain medications (always ask a doctor before starting a new medication, and always read the labels!)
Estrogen or combination birth control (For what birth control methods you CAN use while breastfeeding, check out this article from Cleveland Clinic.)
Improving Long Breastfeeding Sessions:
Breastfeeding takes a ton of time, and can often feel like your life is absorbed in constant feeds! In fact, a year of breastfeeding is about 1800 hours or more, which is basically the amount of time you’d spend at a full time job! It can quickly become overwhelming, but there are things you can do to make yourself enjoy it, such as:
Making yourself a comfortable space for breastfeeding sessions with your favorite snacks, pillows and blankets
Finding something to do during feeds that you enjoy, such as new books or a good TV show
Pump and store milk occasionally so that you can have a break from time to time
Involving Dad in Breastfeeding:
Some dads want to be as involved as possible, and they want to help when they can. When it comes to breastfeeding, however, there’s not a whole lot they can do. This can cause some dads to feel helpless or discouraged.
But there are some great things that dads can do to help support breastfeeding moms and feel connected to their baby, such as:
Spending time doing skin to skin with baby
Changing diapers throughout the day and getting up to change diapers during the night
Help mom stay comfortable by getting her blankets, refilling her water, and ensuring she’s eating enough throughout the day
Feed pumped milk (Occasionally pumping milk allows moms to have a break while giving dad an opportunity to feed. I’ve also had some friends that pump between feeds during the day and have their husband use that milk to feed the baby during the night from a bottle, which allows mom to sleep more through the night. Although this isn’t something that we wanted to do in our family, it may work for yours!)
Breastfeeding with Older Kids Around:
As talked about before, those that exclusively breastfeed spend countless hours breastfeeding. If you have other children, this can leave them feeling neglected or bored, which can cause them to act out or exhibit attention seeking behaviors. But there are some things you can do, such as setting up a fun reading nook, building an activity corner where they can find and do crafts independently, and spending time with them as much as you can during baby’s naps.
Keep in mind, you should never blame the baby by saying, “I can’t do that with you because the baby needs to eat.” This can cause older kids to feel frustrated, and may even make them resent their new baby sibling. Instead, use a non-blaming statement such as, “It’s time for me to breastfeed, but I would love to do that with you in a few minutes! Do you think you can be patient for a few minutes?”
Need more ideas? Check out this awesome blog with 9 tips for pumping or breastfeeding when you have a toddler!
Breastfeeding as Your Child Ages
As your baby grows out of the newborn phase and later into toddlerhood, you’ll start to notice that breastfeeding changes drastically. This can cause new challenges to arise and require you to adapt frequently.
Let’s take a look at some of these changes, as well as some tips to help you along the way!
Breastfeeding Once Teeth Come In:
Ah, those dreaded teeth! And if you have a biter, you may be tempted to stop breastfeeding altogether! Our nipples are extremely sensitive, and getting bit can HURT! But it’s important to remember they’re not doing it to hurt you!
Some babies bite down in an effort to slow down a powerful let down that’s difficult for them to handle or in an effort to get more milk. Some babies may also bite because they’re bored, have a cold, or they’re getting additional teeth!
Luckily, you don’t have to be done breastfeeding just because your baby bites. If your baby starts to bite down, gently break the latch by inserting a clean finger into the corner of their mouth. You can also try different breastfeeding positions, or take them off the breast for a few seconds during let down.
Breastfeeding Once You Introduce Solids:
If you follow the American Academy of Pediatrics‘ recommendation, you will likely start introducing solids once your baby is about 6 months old. It can be difficult to know how to do this, as some moms swear by starting with purees while others recommend baby led weaning. There’s no right or wrong choice, just make sure you do what you feel most comfortable with.
It’s important that, after introducing solids, you don’t introduce cow milk, whole water, or juices too quickly. Cow milk can be really hard for your baby to digest, and their tummies are just not ready for it before age 1. Similarly, whole water can actually be harmful for your baby, especially if you introduce it before 6 months. Remember, your baby will stay hydrated from their breastmilk, and before age one, they get nearly all their nutritional needs filled from breastmilk alone.
Introducing solids at this time is mostly to expose them to new flavors and textures, and can aid in allergy prevention as well.
Distraction While Eating:
As your baby gets older, you may notice he gets distracted much more easily by every little thing happening in the room, resulting in unlatching from the breast often. Although this can be frustrating, you don’t have to stop breastfeeding. Try using a cover or blanket, and reduce noise by turning off the TV during feeds or asking your older children to choose quiet activities to do in another room.
Weaning can be a challenge, especially if your baby or toddler loves breastfeeding and relies on it for comfort. However, some moms cannot breastfeed long term, whether it’s due to work or other responsibilities, and some moms just do not want to breastfeed once a child reaches toddlerhood.
Once you are ready to wean, start slowly. Try to avoid cutting off your baby cold turkey, as this will be hard on your baby and can lead to engorgement and pain for you. Instead, start by eliminating a single feed. A few days later, drop another, and so on until you’re only feeding once a day.
When weaning my babies, the entire process of weaning took about two months, as I personally wanted it to be a slow and gradual process. I kept the bedtime feed last, as both me and my babies enjoyed it. Once we were ready, I’d drop that feed as well, and they were officially weaned.
Some moms will notice that, as you gradually drop feeds, your baby will show less and less interest overall to breastfeed. This was the case with my daughter, who one night just didn’t want her nighttime feed anymore.
You can also wean quickly and cut off all feeds at once, just keep in mind this will likely be a challenge for you and baby. Some women recommend using cabbage leaves in your bra to help dry milk, and cold compresses to reduce pain.
Although weaning is common around age 1, there are still plenty of benefits for you and baby if you choose to breastfeed beyond that age! If you’re okay continuing to feed, don’t feel like you have to wean at this point. You can breastfeed as long as you and your baby would like.
Breast Pump: Breast pumps can be a great tool, even if you’re not planning to go back to work or build a stockpile of milk. During the first few weeks breastfeeding my daughter, I got constant clogged ducts that would become extremely painful, and the only way to get them out was using the breast pump. They can also be a great tool for relieving just a little bit of pressure in those first few days, where overproduction and engorged breasts are common. However, it’s important that you don’t empty the breast completely, otherwise overproduction will continue (as doing so will signal to your body that it should continue to produce that same amount).
Comfortable Nursing Bra: After having my daughter, I discovered just how many uncomfortable nursing bras there were out there. As soon as I switched to something more comfortable, my nursing experience was so much better, and it was easier to feed my baby as well.
Nipple Shield: If your baby is struggling to latch, nipple shields can be a great tool! They provide greater length than your own nipple, which may make it easier for your baby to latch on. If you’re having a lot of pain from breastfeeding or if you have inverted or flat nipples, nipple shields may be a great help to you as well.
Nipple Cream: Breastfeeding can be extremely hard on our nipples. Dryness and cracking are extremely common, so using a good nipple cream or spray can help keep them moist and nourished so they don’t get painful and dry. I liked to keep travel sized nipple cream packets that I got as samples in my diaper bag, car, and around the house so I always had some no matter where I was breastfeeding. I would always apply it immediately after breastfeeding as a preventative measure, and it always helped.
Feeding Covers: Breastfeeding can be incredibly convenient, as you can literally do it anywhere. However, sometimes babies decide they want to eat while you’re in a public place. Sadly, many people can be extremely judgmental of moms who need to feed their babies in public. That’s when a feeding cover can be extremely helpful–plus they offer us a little much needed privacy and keep babies from getting distracted while trying to eat.
Nursing Pillows: One of the most popular baby shower gifts is the Boppy nursing pillow! Not only do they make breastfeeding easier and more comfortable during long feeding sessions, but they’re also great for when your baby grows, providing a great support pillow for littles learning to sit up independently.
Breast Pads: Leaking breasts are extremely common for breastfeeding moms! Luckily, there are some great products you can use to avoid those embarrassing leaks. You can get both disposable or reusable/washable breast pads that fit comfortably in your bra and can absorb any leakage that may happen. My skin always reacted poorly to disposable breastpads, so I ended up purchasing some soft, cotton breast pads and would keep extras in my diaper bag and car just in case.
Lactation Consultants: Lactation consultants are those specifically trained and certified to help you with your breastfeeding journey. Most hospitals will have them on staff to help you immediately after delivery and can be incredibly helpful for first time moms. If you’re still having trouble and difficulty after leaving the hospital, schedule an appointment to get additional help. Don’t feel embarrassed if you feel like you can’t figure things out-many women feel that way. In addition, nearly every health insurance plan in the US is required to provide resources and support for breastfeeding moms, so you shouldn’t have to pay a lot out of pocket to see a specialist. Just reach out to your insurance company ahead of time to verify what they cover and what they don’t.
When Breastfeeding May Not be Right for You
Although breastfeeding has it’s advantages, I’m a firm believer that, when it comes to motherhood, there’s never one right way to do things. Something that works well for you may not work well for others.
Breastfeeding can be extremely difficult, and for some moms, it’s just not the best choice for them or their baby. If breastfeeding is detrimental to your mental health, becoming too overwhelming, or you’re just struggling to produce anything despite trying everything, it may be time to explore other options! Some women may also need to stop breastfeeding if they have health issues that require surgery or medication that is not safe to use when breastfeeding. Regardless of the reason, do not let yourself feel guilty if you decide the best choice for you is to formula feed.
We all need to support one another. And at the end of the day, it’s most important that you love and adore your baby. We need to show less judgement and more love and support for other moms. I’ve seen too much division when it comes to this topic, both from moms that criticize those that formula feed, as well as formula feeding moms that judge those that breastfeed. It’s important to know why breastfeeding is beneficial, but do not let that be used as ammunition to attack other moms.
Additional Breastfeeding Questions
Is breastfeeding supposed to be hard?
Learning to breastfeed can be a bit of a challenge for a lot of moms! And there is a bit of a learning curve! So if it feels difficult for you at first, try not to get discouraged and know you’re not alone!
After I had my first baby, I cried every time I went to feed her. I was in pain, and it wasn’t getting any better, leading me to almost give up multiple times. Luckily, her latch improved, my ducts stopped getting clogged, my nipples that were cracked healed, and overall my experience improved. It took over a month to feel like things were better, but they DID get better!
Sometimes you just need to give it a little time. Be patient and ask for help if you need it!
If I couldn’t breastfeed with my first baby, does that mean I can’t with my future babies?
We know that every child is different and that every pregnancy is likely to differ as well. I would also add that your experience breastfeeding will likely vary from child to child as well!
My first experience breastfeeding my daughter was not great. But my experience with my son was completely different. I never had the same problems that I had with my daughter, and his latch was so much better from day one. So if you couldn’t breastfeed with your first or just had a lot of difficulties, don’t assume that will be your experience with your future children.
It’s also important to note, though, that just because you could breastfeed easily with one does not necessarily mean you won’t run into challenges or difficulties breastfeeding future babies. Just do your best, and do what works for you and that baby, even if it’s different than what you did with your other kids.
I absolutely LOVED my experiences breastfeeding both of my babies. Not only did those moments force me to slow down and gave me hours of precious one-on-one time with my babies, but it also helped me to gain greater joy as well, despite the challenges I faced along the way.
Good luck in your own breastfeeding journey!
For more info about breastfeeding, be sure to visit our blog at babycubby.com!