August in National Breastfeeding Month and we’re here to bring you information on all things breastfeeding, from benefits of breastfeeding to milk supply to tips and tricks to help you ease into the process.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 83.2% of babies born in 2019 started out breastfeeding immediately after birth. Just six months later, only 55.8% of infants were still breastfeeding.1 The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a baby exclusively breastfeeds for the first six months of its life, as breastmilk contains all of the nutrients a baby needs. Breastmilk helps strengthen a baby’s immune system and decreases rates of things such as severe diarrhea, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome, and respiratory tract infections, among others.2
Breastfeeding is even recommended beyond a baby’s first birthday to prolong those benefits, and the AAP reports that breastfeeding for up to two years is also beneficial to the mother’s health. It’s associated with lower rates of diabetes and high blood pressure as well as breast and ovarian cancer.2
But while the benefits of breastfeeding extend to both mom and baby and is a special opportunity for bonding, know that it is a personal choice that’s often based on several factors. While we fully admit that it isn’t always easy, if you do choose to breastfeed, here are some tips to help make the process easier.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare! Get ready for breastfeeding with all of the supplies you’ll need. Nipple balm can be a saving grace to painful, cracked nipples that aren’t yet used to baby’s mouth. As it’s safe for baby, apply before and after to help sooth any pain. Nursing pads provide protection from inevitable leaks both day and night. Find a nursing bra that’s most comfortable to you to help feedings go smoothly and efficiently. Get a breast pump, bottles, and storage bags for those times baby isn’t ready to feed but you are ready to nurse!
- It’s probably going to hurt. Breastfeeding may be painful initially, but know that the pain won’t last. It’ll take time for baby to learn to latch and for you to get the hang of it, especially if it’s your first baby, so be patient. Learn the different options for holdings your baby during feedings — like the cradle hold, football hold, and side-lying position — so you’ll have some options if you’re having trouble getting started or if baby isn’t comfortable in a certain position.
- Know how to deal with engorgement. Your breasts may become engorged — when they feel tight or hard and have swelled and overfilled with milk — when you’re starting out. To help ease the pain and encourage milk flow, there are a few things you can do. Take a warm shower, place a warm washcloth on your breasts, massage them before feedings, or use a breast pump to ease the pain and boost the milk flow.
- Have baby feed from both sides equally. You may find that your baby has a preference in sides, so try to get them to switch it up. If they won’t, pump from the breast they’re not nursing from as often to make sure both breasts are being emptied. Pumping can also help build up a stash of milk for when you’re away from baby at a feeding time.
- Be patient with your supply. It can take time for milk to come in and you may not feel like you’re producing enough. If this is you case, try pumping between nursing sessions. Your body works on a supply-and-demand basis when it comes to breastmilk, so teach it how much it needs to make. If you skip feedings, that can signal to your body that you don’t need all that it’s making, so pumping will help increase the supply.3
- Let your baby lead the way — even if when you feel it’s never-ending! You’ll learn when baby is hungry, and they’ll let you know it. It may seem like you’re always nursing in the beginning, but that’s a normal sentiment among mothers. It’s common for baby to nurse every few hours at the beginning, but as they grow, that will change and the number of feedings will lessen.
- Prepare yourself to breastfeed in public. Especially during your baby’s first few months, they’re going to want to eat every few hours. This means you’re inevitably going to find yourself out in public when they’re hungry. If you’re going to breastfeed in public, prepare yourself with any supplies that will make you feel most comfortable while nursing — a nursing bra, easy-access nursing clothing, a nursing cover. If you’d prefer to feed your baby from a bottle during those times, make sure you have bottles prepared instead.
- Keep yourself full and hydrated. By now, you’re probably used to the increased amount of food you ate throughout pregnancy, and that amount probably won’t change much yet while you’re breastfeeding. Typically, a mother needs around an extra 300-500 calories per day when breastfeeding.3 But be aware that just like when you were pregnant, whatever you eat now can still be passed to your baby through breastmilk. While it’s okay to loosen up the easting restrictions you had while pregnant, it’s best to still stay away from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine while breastfeeding. Eat healthy foods to keep you satisfied and full of energy. Also, keep an eye out for any reactions baby has after feeding that may alert you to an allergy to something you ate. And don’t forget to stay hydrated! You lose fluids through nursing, so continue to drink water. Keep a bottle of water next to your favorite nursing spot so you’ll remember to drink water while your baby is nursing.
- Encourage your partner’s help! While your partner can’t be of much assistance in the actual breastfeeding, they can be there for support in other ways. They can grab you a snack or drink of water while you’re nursing. They can be ready to burp the baby after it has eaten. It’s also helpful for them to be present at any meetings with a lactation consultant. That way they can be a second set of ears, support when you’re struggling, or help remember important things you may have missed — we all know mom brain is a thing!
- Don’t be afraid to get help from a professional. If you’re still struggling with any part of breastfeeding, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor or lactation consultant. They’re going to have the best recommendations for your specific situation.
Don’t forget that the first few weeks of breastfeeding are going to be the toughest. Between you and your baby getting the hang of it together and your body getting used to this new process, give yourself the time, space, and grace to pull it all together. The benefits of breastfeeding to both you and your baby are worth it. You can do it!
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding Report Card. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/reportcard.htm
- American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics Calls for More Support for Breastfeeding Mothers Within Updated Policy Recommendations. https://www.aap.org/en/news-room/news-releases/aap/2022/american-academy-of-pediatrics-calls-for-more-support-for-breastfeeding-mothers-within-updated-policy-recommendations/
- All About Your Breast Milk Supply. https://www.parents.com/baby/breastfeeding/breast-milk/all-about-your-breast-milk-supply/