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Introduction To Breastfeeding
- There are a lot of important things to think about once you discover you are pregnant. You have all of the excitement surrounding the pregnancy to deal with, maybe a few errant hormones, morning sickness or even a multiples birth ahead of you! But as you go through the early days of pregnancy, then you progress to the middle stage where the newness has worn off and it is time to make some decisions. Will you go back to work or can you stay home and take care of your baby? Will you breastfeed or will you bottle feed once the baby is born?
- There are a lot of opinions on how to raise your baby out in the media. But no matter what every expert thinks or says, or what your mother in law says, you and only you can decide what is the best option for you and your baby. Breastfeeding your newborn is one decision and practice you should research several months before delivery so you can make an informed decision.
- Breastfeeding is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a mother for your child. But that is not to say there might not be blips in the road. For some mothers there will be challenges in the breastfeeding journey, but when one is educated on how the process works, who to turn to for support and how to get support, it can be more fulfilling than anything else.
This article will provide some basic information on what breastfeeding will entail for you and your baby. It will include where you can go for more research, who to turn to for professional support and even the supplies you will need on hand in order to start breastfeeding successfully.
Choosing to Breastfeed
- There are some women who just know the minute they are pregnant that they will breastfeed their baby. Whether it has been a decision influenced by friends, family members or just how they were raised, it is never a decision to make. However, for other women who don’t have friends with babies yet, who were never around much growing up or don’t have anyone close to them who is an advocate of breastfeeding, then there might be a lot to consider first before making the decision to do so. What are some of those considerations?
- Time. Breastfeeding will take a lot of time. Even though breast milk is the best thing for your baby, breastfeeding can prove to be quite challenging for a mother. Between the time needed for feeding, then you will need to consider the time needed to pump if you are at work or away from the baby. Each baby is different, but on average there will be a feeding every 2 to 3 hours that will last 25 to 45 minutes. And the feedings continue around the clock, every day.
- Comfort. Even though breastfeeding is a natural thing and has been done for thousands of years, some women are not comfortable with doing it. Especially in public places or in front of other people, even if they are friends or relatives. Breastfeeding can usually be done in the privacy of your own home, but there could be times where baby is hungry at church, while you are out shopping, when you are traveling or when you are just away on a visit. Getting comfortable with nursing is half of the battle for women who are undecided about it.
- Ability. There is a lot to learn with breastfeeding, from getting the baby to latch on correctly to keeping the milk ducts regularly emptied to keep the milk production high. It takes patience, stamina and a bit of pain tolerance in order to make it through the first couple days of breastfeeding after the baby is born. If there are other children to deal with or if patience is running low, then sometimes a mother doesn’t have the ability to breastfeed. And if the body doesn’t cooperate, whether from low milk supply or the baby doesn’t latch well, breastfeeding isn’t the best option for the baby.
- Deciding to breastfeed isn’t really a decision you can wait to make until after the delivery. The doctors will ask what your decision is, because some of your post-delivery care will revolve around the breastfeeding decision. From the medicines you can receive to the time the nurses need to bring your baby to you, they need to be alerted. You can always change your mind and opt to breastfeed, but if you make the decision ahead of the delivery it will be a little easier on everyone around you after the delivery so they know what to do.
There will be supplies you need to purchase ahead of time if you do decide to breastfeed. If you make the decision right at delivery you can always manage with minimal supplies until you get to the store, but having them soon will make the process easier for you as well. The supplies could also be an expense you need to pay for gradually, so making a decision earlier rather than later can be a help to the budget too!
Resources for Education
- To help with your decision to breastfeed or to educate yourself after you have made the decision to breastfeed, you will need to read. There are all kinds of information to look at to learn more about breastfeeding and all that it entails. The more you educate yourself, the better informed your decision will be. And the more educated you are ahead of time, the easier time you will have learning how to breastfeed when it comes time to do so. Following are some suggestions for getting all of the information you need to have a successful breastfeeding experience or to make a decision.
Chapter 1. Books
- There are all kinds of books on every aspect of breastfeeding. From making the decision to breastfeed to how to increase your milk supply, a woman can learn all kinds of tips and tricks. There are books written by doctors who are experts in the field, nurses who are specialists in the lactating field and even by mothers who have nursed multiple children for a lot of years. Read the book reviews online and buy some of the books that look of interest to you. If you don’t want to spend money, there are lots of books available at the library.
Some of the most popular book titles out include:
- The Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen Huggins
- Successful Breastfeeding by the Royal College of Midwives
- Breastfeeding Made Simple by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett and Nancy Mohrbacher
- Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality by Laura Jana and Jennifer Shu
There are literally hundreds of titles to choose from, so find as many as you have time to read and try them out. You can never have too much knowledge!
Chapter 2. The Internet
- The Internet has become the fastest source for any answer you have on a question. When you want to know about breastfeeding from someone who has done it before, find a website that deals specifically with mothers or breastfeeding. On parenting websites, they will have forums where you can read posts by other members to find information. There are also sites dedicated exclusively to breastfeeding which also have forums that are especially helpful. You can also post your own questions and see what helpful answers you get. Some Internet pages that are helpful include:
- Llli.org – La Leche League
Chapter 3. Groups
- For those who prefer to meet in person to get their questions answered, there are organizations that meet in regions to provide answers. The groups could be an International group like the La Leche League, where they have both Internet resources and regional support groups for mothers. Check their webpage llli.org and see if there is a local group that meets where you can attend.
- There are other groups that are smaller in nature that might meet locally, so check the phone book, the local hospital or even do a search online with your city to see what resources you have in person. The groups could be sponsored through a church or non-profit organization that encourages mothers to breastfeed.
- The hospital where you are going to deliver your baby might also offer classes on breastfeeding for expectant mothers. Your doctor or nurse should be able to give you a schedule of the classes or meetings or else direct you to a website of the hospital where they might be listed. The classes might be educational or instructional in nature.
Chapter 4. Support Groups
- The above groups will probably also offer support groups for women who have started breastfeeding. The groups might meet frequently to discuss anything that is related to breastfeeding. They could also be social groups where babies are allowed and it is a combination of a social gathering and educational type setting. The purpose of a support group is to get you with other mothers who are in the same situation of breastfeeding their baby. You can seek out a first time breastfeeder to match your needs, you can find someone else having troubles with clogged milk ducts or you can even find another person who might be struggling with the decision to wean. There are many women who are in your shoes, you just need to find them so you can share thoughts and ideas and help each other out.
- La Leche League offers lots of support groups throughout the country, but you have to go through their website to find the meeting locations. They can offer support groups, classes or even a counselor if you need one on one support.
Your county health department website should also list the options available for breastfeeding women who need support in your region. They could have classes, workshops or simply advertise the breastfeeding support groups offered through all of the local hospitals in the region.
- Even though breastfeeding a baby will be much less expensive than buying formula, there is some expense involved with the process. Depending on how you breastfeed will also determine exactly what you need to buy. For example, if you are going back to work but still want to supply breast milk, then you will need to invest in a breast pump in order to pump during the day at work while you are away from your baby. Following is a list of supplies that may make the breastfeeding experience easier for any mother.
- Breast pads – these are the inserts that go in between the breast and the bra to absorb any leaking that occurs between feedings. Stock up in the beginning as you will be using a lot of these in the first few days.
- Cover – any blanket or specially designed cover to drape over the shoulder and feeding baby. Keep an extra cover in the car, the diaper bag or even at Grandma’s house just in case you forget your main one.
- Breast pump – can be manual or electric, and used to express milk.
- Milk bags – these are one time use bags that work with certain bottle systems in order to store collected milk. Keep a box on hand in case there is ever extra milk left and can be pumped and saved.
- Pillow – a specially designed breastfeeding pillow to rest baby on and take weight off the arms.
- Bottles – there are hard sided bottles that work with certain breast pumps in order to collect milk.
- Bag balm or lanolin – to use on sore or cracked nipples.
- Breast feeding bra – has easy access openings designed to breastfeed.
- Breastfeeding shirts – specially designed shirts with openings and easy access for a baby to feed through.
There are many different brands and models for each type of supply needed. Review the types and see what makes sense for you to use and what is not needed for your situation. If you will be staying at home with your baby after it is born, then you might only require a manual hand pump to express milk instead of an electric one with a built in cooler. Working mothers will require a heavy duty pump that is quick, quiet and efficient to do while at work.
Going to a support group or seeking the advice of a breastfeeding counselor will also help you to learn what supplies you will need. They can provide recommendations on models and brands that will work within your budget and for your situation. Not every type of insurance will cover the cost of a breast pump, so you will need to be aware of that fact too.
The Milk Comes…Now What?? (How to)
- You’ve made the decision to breastfeed, you’ve delivered the baby and…holy cow! You went to sleep for a quick nap and woke up in a different body! Actually, it isn’t a different body but one that looks completely foreign to you. In some cases, the milk will literally come in a rush, and be very heavy in the beginning. Your breasts may be very full. So full, in fact, that they hurt from the pressure and feel like they might explode. What do you do?
- Find the baby and start to breastfeed. A nurse will come in and help out the very first time you are getting the baby to latch on. Some babies will instinctively know what to do and latch on correctly the very first time. Others will need a little guidance to get on the nipple correctly in order to get any food. Unfortunately, if it is their first feeding or one of the first, they might not be very hungry. If they are not hungry, the pressure in your breasts will not be relieved very much. In order to really relieve the pressure, you might need to use a breast pump or manually express some of the milk.
- The first milk that comes in will be in large quantities. If you can, pump as much as possible and put it in the freezer for future use. You never know when the extra milk will come in handy. And if you pump excess milk, then it will keep the milk ducts producing (though not as much as in the beginning) so that you will have an adequate supply for the baby.
- In the first days, since baby’s appetite might be small, nursing might need to happen every two hours. And if your baby takes their time with sucking, then you might spend 30 minutes each time feeding. It might seem like that is all you do for a few days and you are right! But baby will begin to drink more at each sitting and be able to go for longer without feeding. On average, feedings will be every three hours and last between 25 and 40 minutes.
- When you start out each feeding, make sure it is with the different breast from the last feeding. For example, the first feeding of the morning start on the right breast. Have baby completely empty that breast before you move to the other side. Burp them and switch to the other side and let them finish. When they feed the next time, they start on the left breast. That way, the milk ducts are regularly being emptied and will continue to produce high levels of milk. If you want to ensure that production stays high, express any leftover milk and store it in the freezer for future use.
- Gradually, over the first week or two, there will be less milk produced because your body will get used to the supply and demand from the baby. But in those first days and weeks you will need to have breast pads on hand to catch any leaking that goes on between feedings. As your body gets used to breastfeeding, there will be less leaking and letdown will only happen after baby latches on and begins to nurse.
- Sometimes there are problems that creep up with breastfeeding. Those can include clogged ducts, mastitis and even cracked or bleeding nipples. All need to be treated promptly so that you can continue on with breastfeeding and so that baby will continue to receive breast milk after the fact.
- Cracked and bloody nipples can result from baby not latching on properly. They can also happen simply because the nipples are used to such frequent use in the beginning. Using lanolin (food grade safe) on the nipple after each feeding will help with the skin chafing and get it up to snuff for heavy use!
- Plugged milk ducts can occur at any time when you are breastfeeding. This simply means that for one reason or another, the duct is plugged and milk is getting backed up behind it. Using over the counter pain medication will help with the discomfort. Using a hot compress or soaking in a hot tub and placing a warm cloth over the area milk help relieve the duct. Having baby nurse from that side might also help to unplug the duct.
- Mastitis is an infection within the milk ducts. This will require an antibiotic from the doctor in order to overcome. Nursing through this will be difficult, but try and breastfeed as much as possible to keep the milk ducts open and for baby to continue on with breast milk. Mastitis is one of the main reasons why many mothers have to stop breastfeeding their babies. It is painful and sometimes it can dry up the milk as well.
Once you get in the hang of nursing, it will seem like old hat to you. Before you know it, you will be giving out advice to mothers on what breastfeeding requires.
Expressing Breast Milk
- Expressing breast milk simply means you use a pump to get it out instead of having baby suckle directly from you. There are dozens of types of breast pumps available, so you will have to review them all to see what style fits you best. There are electric ones, manual ones, open systems, closed systems, ones with built in storage units and all kinds of accessories.
No matter what type of pump you buy or rent, there are several tips you need to follow:
1. Always use a sterile container to store the milk. If the milk is going directly to a hard sided bottle, make sure it has been cleaned and sanitized after its last use. If you are using the disposable bottle bags, make sure it is a clean one straight from the box.
2. Wash and sanitize and part of the pump that comes in direct contact with the milk or your skin after each use. Germs can easily spread to the milk and contaminate it, therefore baby could get sick.
3. As soon as the milk is expressed, store it in the freezer or the refrigerator in a sealed container. The bags can be folded and clipped and the bottle should have the nipple and the cap placed over the top. Germs and airborne particles like dust and dander can quickly get in to the bottle if left open.
4. Label each time you collect. Use a marker and note the date and the time the milk was collected on the bottle or the bag. If it is in the refrigerator, it should be thrown out after 24 hours of not being used. If it is placed in the freezer, it will last for several weeks.
5. Don’t feel pressured to hurry. When you are feeling stressed out or worrying about how long it is taking you to pump at work, it will only make the process that much harder. Relax, read a magazine or a book and take your mind off what you are doing so your body can just do it.
6. Express milk in a sterile and clean environment. If you are only allowed a small room where you wouldn’t want to touch anything yourself, then it probably isn’t a good room to get out the breast pump and collect milk. Find a different location that is sanitary so you are worried about the safety of the milk going in to the bags.
- Expressed breast milk can be given to a baby later that night when you get home or it can be used the next day if there is someone feeding it via a bottle. If the baby is going to day care or being cared for by a relative, they can just as easily provide the breast milk through a bottle in your absence. If dad is feeling left out, he can also use a bottle to feed the baby without having to switch over and use formula.
Using expressed breast milk will enable you to keep baby on the breast milk longer, since anyone will be able to feed it to them. You can continue to nurse directly when you are at home at night or on the weekends. You can then pump additional milk after each feeding to keep the freezer supply high.
Know Your Rights
- Women who breastfeed are sometimes the target of other people simply because they aren’t comfortable looking at a mother doing it. Therefore, groups were formed, such as the La Leche League, that campaign to educate the public and to provide laws that will protect a mother and her right to breastfeed her baby. Some of these laws apply to public breastfeeding and others apply to working conditions of the breastfeeding mother.
- Not every mother can stay home with her baby after six weeks. Therefore, if she wants to continue with providing breast milk, she will have to express it at least once during the work day. Breastfeeding advocates have gotten laws passed where breastfeeding is now considered a medical condition and one that requires attention throughout the day. Since it is a condition, employers have to allow a woman a certain amount of time where she can go and express the breast milk through the day. She cannot be punished or fired for being a breastfeeding mother and needing time away from the desk or job to pump.
- There are also laws that require businesses to provide a quiet, private and clean place for a mother to go and pump. Large businesses might have set aside just for nursing mothers to go and pump, making it very easy to do so while at work. However, smaller companies might have a very hard time providing facilities for this use alone. In this case, a bathroom will most often have to work. If it is clean, if it can be made private, then it will work with the law.
- A mother can also breastfeed in public places. In the instance of a mall, restaurant or even a church, sometimes a baby needs to be fed. Laws were created so that a mother can feed her baby in public without it being considered public nudity or exposure. Even though there might not be a law, one breastfeeding in public should always use a cover so as to not offend anyone who might walk by or be seated by a breastfeeding mother.
When you are about to return to work or when you know you will continue to breastfeed after returning, you might want to consult with them to know your rights ahead of time. If there is a human resources department, they will be able to offer instruction on what your rights and limits are for expressing milk throughout the day. They might even offer a room that you were not aware of beforehand. It is worth it to talk to any employer and make sure the communication is open on both sides to know what the expectations are so they can be agreed upon before any difficulties arise.
Deciding to Wean
- All good things must come to an end sometime. Don’t decide to wean your baby because someone told you it was time. It is your decision for how long you will breastfeed your baby. Typically, women will breastfeed until 6 months or age, but experts show that babies up to two years old will get benefits from drinking breast milk. However, nursing older children isn’t a practice accepted very well for whatever reason.
- If you are having a good experience with your baby and don’t want to stop breastfeeding at six months old, then don’t. Feed your baby from the breast as long as you are able and comfortable doing so. When you are ready to stop, then you should start the weaning process and only then.
- Weaning is best if it can be done gradually. It can be done cold turkey overnight if the situation calls for it, but it might be a bit harder for both the mom and the baby to go through. There could be physical discomfort, as the milk ducts will still produce milk and wait for it to be used up. The pressure at weaning isn’t usually as bad as the pressure initially when the milk comes in, but it can still be painful until it is absorbed back in to the body.
- When you begin to wean, switch the baby to half breast milk and half formula or whatever you are switching to, depending on baby’s age. Cereal and food can fill them up more, meaning they require less milk anyway. After a week or so, then take it down to 25% breast milk and 75% formula or cow milk. After another week, then do not breast feed any more. If there is still milk left in the freezer, it can be used up, however stop your body from giving your baby any more milk so the ducts stop producing and dry up.
For babies who have been given breast milk through a bottle and are used to other feeding methods, they might not have any problems with weaning. For those who have only been given the breast, they might have more problems adjusting to getting it from other means, like a cup or a bottle. If it is possible, make sure to try out the bottles early on with your baby so they will readily take the milk in any form.
- Breastfeeding in a very normal, natural and enjoyable thing to experience for any mother. However, it isn’t for everyone. By reading about the process, finding out what it will entail and then making an informed decision on doing it, then you will know if it is right for you. If you do try and find you do not like it, then you can be satisfied that you did give it a try and now you know for sure.
- Women who do breastfeed and find it enjoyable will likely do so again for future pregnancies. And since breast milk is about the best source of nutrition on the planet, they can know that they are giving their baby the best start possible at having a long and healthy life ahead of them. Research shows that babies who were breastfed have lower instances of diabetes, cancers and other chronic diseases over those who were not breastfed as infants.
Breastfeeding your baby for any amount of time should be considered a major accomplishment. You are giving them the best possible start in life by providing milk and you should be proud of it. Breastfeeding is not a simple task, but it is one filled with many rewards that far outweigh and problems encountered in the very beginning of the process. Good luck on your journey with breastfeeding.