First, congratulations on choosing to learn more about breastfeeding! Getting educated on breastfeeding will help you get off to a great start. Read books, talk to friends and professionals and ask questions; you are going to do great at this!
You probably already know that breastfeeding is the biological norm. This is how we have nourished our babies since the dawn of time. In recent years, however, we have gotten away from feeding at the breast. Unfortunately, in our western society moms-to-be are often inundated with misinformation and horror stories as they prepare for breastfeeding. With these myths in mind and sometimes being located far from traditional family support, moms go into breastfeeding with tightly held fears and concerns. This can derail the plans of even the most dedicated mothers and cause undue early cessation of breastfeeding. Education and support are the keys to a happy and healthy breastfeeding relationship. As an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), my goal is to give you the real scoop so you can go into breastfeeding with an open mind and optimistic view.
Low Milk Supply
Low milk supply worries are one of the number one reasons moms struggle with breastfeeding. It is certainly a number one concern I hear in my practice every day. The reality is, though, that true low milk supply (hormonally driven, for instance) is the exception, not the norm. If your baby is gaining well at the breast (about an ounce a day or five to seven ounces in a week), your breasts soften after feeds, your baby is swallowing (which sounds more like an “ahh” and less like a gulp) and has lots of wet and dirty diapers (6+/day wet and 4+/day dirty in the first month), then all is likely well. For instance, maybe you heard about a woman who fed her baby at the breast and then pumped an extra four ounces after that. This is not the norm, it’s just that one woman’s experience. If you have concerns about your milk supply, seek help from a lactation professional who can clinically approach and assess the situation. Just remember, most women make enough for their babies.
Have you heard stories of bleeding and cracked nipples? Have you heard from well-meaning friends or family that breastfeeding is too painful and bottle feeding is easier? You know what? Breastfeeding should not hurt! Mild discomfort from frequent feeding in the early days is one thing, but toe-curling pain is something else entirely and definitely a reason to seek help! Again, I recommend seeking out a lactation professional like an IBCLC to assess breastfeeding to find out what the underlying reason is for pain. Sometimes it’s a tweak in positioning or sometimes there are other reasons that can be remedied. I repeat; it should NOT hurt and if it does there is a reason. Don’t stop until you get help.
How will I know if my baby gets enough?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have ounce lines on my breasts. That would be handy, but I just wasn’t made that way. So, how will you know if your baby is getting enough at the breast? A misunderstanding of typical newborn feeding behavior often leads to feelings of inadequate milk transfer. A baby who feeds frequently is exhibiting typical newborn behavior. They have very small stomachs and need to eat frequently. We look for frequent feedings (8-10x/day), softened breasts after nursing, lots of wet and dirty diapers and a growing and thriving baby; these are the things that tell us that our baby is getting enough at the breast. Measurements provided by bottles can distort our view of the natural pattern of feeding and growth. Watch your baby instead! And if you need a little extra reassurance, a lactation professional can also provide you with some piece of mind by doing a pre and post feeding weight assessment that can determine (down to .1 ounces!) how much your baby gets at a feed.
The bottom line: Create a strong support system and grow your breastfeeding knowledge
You are not alone in this. I encourage you to find your support system while you are still pregnant. Find out how your family and friends feel about your feeding goals. Have an open discussion and think about how to structure your support network based on those who provide positive input and best align with your goals. Research has found time and time again that partner support is crucial to the success of breastfeeding. Get your partner on board! Find your mom tribe. Friends will be your cheer squad through breastfeeding and through the challenges of parenthood.
Take a breastfeeding class.
Learn more about the common myths and “booby” traps so you can better overcome them once baby is here. Attend a support group in the community; surround yourself with breastfeeding moms and listen to their stories. Read books! “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding,” “Breastfeeding with Confidence” and “The Nursing Mother’s Companion” are three of my top picks. Breastfeeding is natural, but not always instinctual. Education goes a long way to having a positive breastfeeding experience.
Also, think about the first few days once your baby is here.
Do you plan to have immediate and uninterrupted skin to skin after birth? What is your hospital’s policy on breastfeeding and supplementation? Is your pediatrician knowledgeable and supportive? At Buddha Belly Birth, you can feel confident that your doula has breastfeeding counseling training to get you off to a great start. And in the event she or the Buddha Belly team can’t help you with a more complicated issue, they have contacts in the community (like the North Tampa Breastfeeding Center) where you can get clinical lactation support to meet your goals. Best of luck… we have confidence in you!
Mary Unangst, BS, IBCLC
Director, Sweet Songs Breastfeeding
Partner at Tampa Breastfeeding Center