If you could give only five pieces of breastfeeding advice to a new mother, what would you say? Here’s what I’d tell her.
Breastfeeding is hard. Bottle feeding is hard. Pumping is hard. Doing it at home by yourself or in public with others watching is hard. Transitioning to solid food and dealing with spilled cups and little hands that always have peanut butter on them is hard.
No matter how you do it, infant feeding is frequently a trigger of headaches. So, try to relax! (Also hard).
There is much evidence that shows the inability to feel comfortable and calm can inhibit the necessary letdown response that releases milk. From my post on the Milk-Ejection Reflex:
Oxytocin, the hormone associated with Milk-Ejection Reflex (MER or let-down), does not require baby’s sucking action to be released. It’s the ‘love hormone’ that floods the body when a mother holds her baby, thinks about her baby, hears her baby, smells or sees her baby. These are also the things that cause the MER to get things flowing in mama’s milk moats.
Dr. William and Martha Sears say that when a mother believes she ‘doesn’t have enough milk,’ usually it’s not actually a supply problem — it’s a MER problem, as in her milk-release reflex just isn’t functioning properly.
Why would this happen? Problems with the MER can signal an interference with proper concentrations of oxytocin in the mother. Kelly Bonyata lists the possible culprits of a weak let-down: anxiety, pain, embarrassment, stress, cold, caffeine, smoking, alcohol, some medications, nerve damage from prior breast surgery, and adrenaline produced in the body in response to extreme crisis situations (learn more about working with a slow let-down).
This is why nursing in public or around less-than-supportive people (anxiety and embarrassment) can literally put a temporary lockdown on mother’s ability to release milk right when her baby needs it.
Are you a ‘nervous type’ or especially affected by anxiety? Though stress can inhibit MER, remember that the Milk-Ejection Reflex is supposed to be a natural relaxant.
2). Find Your Breastfeeding Support Person.
A breastfeeding support person is vital for many reasons, including:
Cheerleading – Involves reassuring you; expressing enthusiasm for your efforts; cheering you on when you reach your goals (and when you don’t); reminding you that you’re doing a great job trying your best to nourish your baby.
Commiseration & Company – Involves listening to your frustrations and venting; coming over to sit with you when you’re stuck in the house cluster-feeding; laughing and crying with you because the struggle is real; checking in on you during the day with a text or phone call.
Physical Assistance – Involves tending to your basic needs (offering a glass of water, snacks, time for a nap or shower) so you can better tend to baby’s; setting you up with a comfy nursing/pumping station (all the pillows!); holding baby to your breast or helping to hold your breast in special scenarios.
Expertise – Involves lending accurate and up-to-date breastfeeding advice; being the go-to lactation expert OR the person who helps facilitate communication with one; doing whatever is necessary to make breastfeeding work for you instead of ‘solving’ problems with the alternative.
Safeguarding – Involves acting as a protector when you’re nursing in public, especially if you’re uncomfortable; standing up for you when family, friends, employers, or strangers have something negative to say; openly educating others about breastfeeding so you don’t have to.
3). Sleep Next To Your Baby.
Ah, sleep. Between the topics of how one feeds her child and how one medicates her child, somewhere we find the ultra-controversial topic of -– dun dun dun (really wish I could say zz, zzz, zzzz) -– infant sleep.
Recently you may have read about breastsleeping: “There is no such thing as infant sleep, there is no such thing as breastfeeding, there is only breastsleeping,” or so goes the title of this widely-shared peer-reviewed commentary piece.
Your heart says to keep your baby close at all times (it’s only natural) … but your head may hesitate with concerns about safety. Some are convinced that co-sleeping contributes to infant deaths, while others insist it’s crucial for exclusive breastfeeding. Somehow, “co-sleeping” has become a dirty word in our culture.
It’s difficult to make a blanket (ha!) statement recommendation for all families given the vast variances in nighttime behaviors. A good way to tell which sleeping arrangement (bed sharing, baby in sidecar crib, or room sharing) is ideal for your family is to honestly and realistically evaluate your own sleeping habits.
“Critics of co-sleeping in the form of bed-sharing declare, ‘cribs are designed for babies while adult beds are not,’ and to a certain extent this is true. But since pediatric models of infant health, disease and illness are necessarily derived from human biology, it is appropriate to remember that the only true ‘baby-designed’ sleep object or environment, is the mother’s body… To assume a priori that the normal, sober, attentive sleeping body of a human mother represents a risk to her infant, reveals an appalling lack of understanding of how natural selection shaped maternal sleep physiology in relationship to infant needs and vulnerabilities.” – Dr. James McKenna
What are the benefits in regard to breastfeeding?
- Breastfeeding mothers are the recipients of many short-term benefits. Babies can breastfeed more often, resulting in more sleep overall for the mother and baby. The mother does not need to get up to access her baby for nursing, and often she can begin nursing before her baby has the opportunity to get too upset and cry.
- Nursing during the night will help maintain milk supply.
- Continued night nursing can further delay fertility and help with child spacing.
- Parents can respond to their baby quicker. They are also able to monitor a newborn’s breathing (something that makes many a new parent quite paranoid).
- Babies may wake up more often, but will return to sleep sooner, more easily, and with less (or no) crying.
- Parents who work during the day and have limited time with their baby can enjoy nighttime bonding by co-sleeping.
- There are long-term benefits for families who don’t separate during the night, too.
- Click here for more reasons to sleep next to your child at night from The Natural Project.
Also check out:
- This list of excellent articles on co-sleeping by Dr. James McKenna, who wrote Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping.
- Excellent commentary of infant sleep by Kathy Dettwyler
4). Finish The First Breast First & Don’t Watch the Clock.
Does this ‘schedule’ sound familiar?
Nurse, nurse, nurse… switch sides. Nurse, nurse, nurse.
Nurse, nurse, nurse… switch sides. Nurse, nurse nurse.
Nurse, nurse, nurse… switch sides. Nurse, nurse nurse.
And so on…
First problem: a baby’s appetite is regulated by his growth and metabolism, not by a clock! No schedules for breastfed babies (or any babies, really). Feed on demand and learn hunger cues as well as cues for seeking comfort, affection, attention, warmth, sleep, and other needs satisfied by breastfeeding.
Second problem: stop with the constant left/right switcheroo! There’s no requirement to feed from both breasts at each nursing session. In fact, switching too often can negatively affect milk supply and/or result in baby receiving too much foremilk instead of the full-course meal. Finish the first breast first — even if it takes several nursing sessions, or even if it means changing nursing frequency.
5). Capture The Moments.
How long will you breastfeed? Well, as hard and long as you can plan for the end, it’s not a given that you’ll know exactly when it’ll come.
Many mothers regret not taking enough pictures or videos; I’ve yet to hear of one who bemoaned having taken “too many.”
The baby rolls will continue to multiply, the nursing sessions will become more active and less sleepy, your baby will stop gazing at only you and become easily distracted by the bright, noisy world around him. These moments cannot be replicated!
Also, if your heart implores you to proudly share your photos, go for it! (Here are 5 reasons why I share mine).