There are many ways to breastfeed successfully, but these five best practices will kick-start your journey and set you up for breastfeeding success.
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1. Try to breastfeed whenever possible.
Breastfeeding is a natural way to feed your baby and provides many health benefits for both mama and baby. The best way to set yourself up for success breastfeeding is to try to breastfeed whenever possible once your baby is born. Many hospitals encourage breastfeeding within the first hour after birth – known as “the golden hour.” But if your baby is delivered via C-section or needs to visit the NICU, don’t stress. You can still have a successful breastfeeding journey.
Breastfeeding is a supply and demand process and breastfeeding frequently helps initiate breastmilk production. The more milk that is removed from your breasts, the more milk you’ll produce. When baby feeds frequently it signals to your body to make more milk.
A quick tip about breastmilk production
DID YOU KNOW?! A baby’s belly is only the size of a grape at birth and grows to about the size of an apricot during their first week.
A baby’s belly is only the size of a grape at birth and grows to about the size of an apricot during their first week. For this reason, babies do not need very much milk in the early days.
The early milk you produce is called “colostrum”. Colostrum is yellow in color, rich in antibodies, and helps protect your baby against infections.
Because babies bellies are so small at first, colostrum is often enough to sustain your baby. In fact, it can take 2-5 days for breastmilk to come in and up to two months for a mama’s breastmilk supply to regulate. This is all completely normal.
How to know if your baby is getting breastmilk
You may feel a tingling or pins and needles sensation in your breasts within 1-2 minutes after your baby starts to nurse. This is called a “letdown” and is your baby’s way of triggering to your body that they are ready for your milk. Your breasts may feel fuller as they start to fill with milk and you may notice that your baby’s quick suckling turns into productive swallowing.
One of the most reliable ways to know whether your baby is getting enough to eat is by the number of dirty diapers they produce, and their weight loss and gain. It is normal for babies to lose some weight during their first week. However, they should begin to gain weight after their first few days and continue to gain weight.
Your pediatrician may recommend weighted feeds if they are concerned about weight gain. If they bring up supplementing with formula, you can always seek the second opinion of a lactation consultant. Do not feel pressured into formula feeding if it is your preference to breastfeed.
2. Feed your baby frequently and for as long as your baby wants to breastfeed.
Feeding your baby frequently helps maintain milk production and milk flow. Your pediatrician will likely encourage you to nurse your baby every 2 to 3 hours during the first few days after birth. But babies are babies and will latch whenever they want, for however long they want. Finding a breastfeeding position that is comfortable for you and your baby will help. You may also experience very sore nipples! (I highly recommend Silverette Nursing Cups to help alleviate discomfort.)
As your milk production begins to increase and your baby is getting more milk per feed, you may only need to nurse your baby every 3 to 4 hours.
If your baby is a great sleeper and your pediatrician isn’t concerned about weight gain – hooray! You may find yourself sleeping longer stretches more quickly. However, you’ll want to continue removing milk from your breasts overnight to continue encouraging milk production and to prevent uncomfortable engorgement, which can lead to mastitis.
It’s also important to acknowledge that breastmilk production is highest at night. Babies often want to nurse (and frequently) at night. Don’t get discouraged or think there is anything wrong with your baby if they aren’t sleeping through the night by a certain age, or continue to want to breastfeed to sleep. You’re doing great, and this is perfectly normal!
One common mistake new breastfeeding mamas make
New mamas may mistake a baby’s continued fussiness after a nursing session for hunger, when there are many reasons a baby could be fussy. Nursing is comforting for your baby. So it is completely normal for a baby to want to cluster feed, or use you as a pacifier even if they aren’t hungry. Removing this source of comfort will cause fussiness!
Remember! Breastfeeding is supply and demand. Therefore, limiting how frequently your baby latches or supplementing with formula can signal to your body it needs to reduce its milk production. This can become a slippery slope for maintaining or improving breastmilk production.
3. Practice your latch.
Did you know that after delivery, a newborn baby will instinctively crawl toward your nipples? (It’s true!)
Babies are born with an instinctive desire to nurse, but it takes practice to make breastfeeding successful. Newborns (and you!) will require A LOT of assistance latching correctly at first to help prevent nipple damage. It’s not as easy as many breastfeeding photos make it out to be. Getting the correct latch often takes multiple hands, breastfeeding support pillows and lots of practice finding the right position!
A good latch is so important for avoiding nipple damage for you, and for encouraging easier milk production. Lactation consultants who work at the hospital or the Mother/Baby Unit nursing staff can teach you how to latch your baby correctly. They also can demonstrate position suggestions based on what’s comfortable for you, your baby’s preference, and your breast size.
When you think you have your latch perfected, it’s a great idea to confirm you’re doing it correctly. Ask to see an LC immediately, or with any trouble to prevent frustration and nipple damage. Incorrect latches can cause blood blisters, sore nipples, and other unnecessary pain.
Is your baby latching correctly?
Your baby’s latch is deep enough if the spot between their nose and your breast forms a tiny triangle. It might seem as though your baby’s face is smushed. Don’t worry, your baby can breathe!
4. Consider using a breast pump.
Pumping can help alleviate engorgement for over-producing breasts. It also offers a way for mamas to provide breastmilk to their babies if they can’t breastfeed right away.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts or intentions, we’re unable to breastfeed right away. Or, we’re unable to produce the amount of milk we need. Other times, we may overproduce and suffer uncomfortable engorgement that we would do anything to alleviate.
Pumping with a breast pump can help all of these situations. Pumping:
- supplies breastmilk to a baby who can’t immediately breastfeed (e.g., a baby in the NICU)
- supplies breastmilk to a baby who may have difficulty latching (e.g., tongue, lip, or other oral tie)
- gives you the opportunity to increase your milk production through “power pumping” without having to rely on formula supplementation
- allows you to create a stash of milk that you can use to bottle feed your baby
There are so many types of pumps you can use. The most basic are milk collection cups, which catch milk that leaks from your breasts and would otherwise be wasted. Manual pumps gently suction to your breast and either catch your letdown milk hands-free, or have a manual squeeze-and-release lever. Electric pumps (I use the Spectra) are covered by insurance and most efficiently remove larger quantities of milk. Wireless, hands-free pumps offer working mamas in limited-break professions the opportunity to pump with less hassle.
- Milk collection cups have no suction, help prevent waste, and are best for collecting what already leaks.
- Manual pumps have limited suction and are mostly used for drawing out letdown milk.
- Electric pumps are “workhorse” pumps, usually used by working mothers who are away from their babies for long stretches and need the most efficient way to remove breastmilk regularly, and in large quantities.
- Hands-free electric pumps are a good option for mothers who work in professions where pump breaks for traditional electric pumps won’t work (e.g., healthcare professionals, military, teachers, first-responders).
5. Find a support system.
For as normal of a process as breastfeeding is, society sure has a lot of opinions about it! While breastfeeding is a cultural norm and widely supported in many countries, in the United States women frequently face criticism for breastfeeding. Breasts are often oversexualized in the media (and rarely depicted for their actual purpose). For mothers who fall into minority ethnic groups, breastfeeding negativity is rooted in systemic racism and lack of access to education and health resources.
Breastfeeding can be a difficult journey for a mama who feels unsupported by her partner, mother, mother-in-law, sisters, friends, and other members of her usual support system. And new mamas can be particularly vulnerable to criticism that question our parenting decisions, or make us feel as though we’re doing things wrong because we’re choosing to parent differently.
This is why it’s critical to find a breastfeeding support system of some kind, whether in a virtual community or through educational resources. La Leche League, lactation consultants, hospital support groups and even breastfeeding support groups on Facebook are all helpful ways to find other mamas who will support your breastfeeding goals.
Good luck, mama! I wish you all the best for a successful breastfeeding journey!