I remember being pregnant with my first and knowing I wanted to breastfeed but not having a clue where to start or really the true benefits of breastfeeding.
Internet searches led me down all types of wild goose chases. I learned that supply was important, and it seemed impossible to have a good one. I learned the exact conditions to thaw milk and all of these fancy things I should take or do in order to produce milk but had no idea how milk suddenly appeared when it was time to nurse.
NONE OF THIS HELPED ME. In fact, it probably just caused way more stress than I needed as a new mom. Working with lactation consultants at the hospital after birth and then throughout those early months, I learned what I really needed to know to breastfeed. THANKFULLY!
According to AAP, it is recommended to breastfeed until at least one year and yet only 25% of moms make it to a full year of nursing. This statistic is now not shocking to me since I learned just how badly prepared I was. I have successfully breastfed my first child past one year and it is because I received the right help before it was too late.
So this post is to you, mama to be, here is your guide to start learning about eventually feeding that newborn of yours. I want to save you from the unnecessary stress and worry as you begin your breastfeeding relationship. Breastfeeding truly has given me the best memories and cuddles with my baby and I want that for you.
What are breastfeeding goals?
Where do you start? Start by simply knowing your breastfeeding goals and why you want to breastfeed. To help you with determining these, consider how long do babies breastfeed and what is recommended.
- Babies need only breastmilk (or formula) for the first 4-6 months of life.
- Somewhere between 4-6 months, babies start to include other foods in addition to breastmilk.
- The AAP recommends breastfeeding exclusively for baby’s first six months and then continuing breastfeeding for at least the first year of life.
- Benefits of breastfeeding are seen throughout toddlerhood.
When deciding on your goal, know you can always adjust it as you need to, but it is good to have a goal in mind. This gives you direction.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
Next, why are you breastfeeding? Most women breastfeed because of the immense benefits to baby and to mother. Breastmilk is a living substance unlike formula. It contains antibodies, white blood cells, and digestive enzymes.
Benefits of breastfeeding to mother:
- Lowered risk of ovarian, uterine, and breast cancers
- Lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and postpartum depression
- Can be up to 98% effective as a contraceptive
- Burns 300-500 calories a day
- Can save $500-$3000 a year on formula depending on how much you breastfeed
- Gives you a natural high due to the release of oxytocin leading to bonding and stress relief
Benefits of breastfeeding to baby:
- Decreased risk of infant death, diabetes and asthma
- Decreased risk of allergies, some forms of cancer, and ear infection
- Decreased risk of lactose intolerance, eczema, and obesity
- Protects against pneumonia, stomach flu, diarrhea, and high blood pressure
As you can see, this stuff is liquid gold. Any amount you give to your baby is truly a gift. In fact, breastfeeding in the first hour of life lowers infant mortality rate by 50%.
How does breastmilk work?
Before getting into all the details about how to increase a milk supply or trying to find out how and when to pump, the only thing you should be focused on is learning to breastfeed. This requires you to know how producing breastmilk works.
Simply put, breastmilk is a supply and demand system. When baby nurses, your body is told to produce more milk. It is the frequency not the duration that increases supply. This is why newborns want to nurse SO OFTEN. They know what they are doing, small amounts at very high frequencies. Never go for more than two hours between feedings in the beginning. For more details on how breastmilk works, read the complete guide to the first week of nursing.
The biggest mistake that leads to poor supply down the road is NOT nursing often enough in the beginning. Every time your baby shows hunger cues, nurse them. You cannot over feed a breastmilk fed baby. Additionally, your baby is the only one who can tell you they are hungry so listen to them and you won’t have supply issues.
Know what’s normal
In those first few days, weeks and even months, baby will be continually trying to increase your milk supply when they are going through a growth spurt. A typical type of nursing that happens a lot is called cluster feeding or Velcro baby.
Baby is essentially attached to your breast because all they want to do is nurse on and off every 20 minutes or so for hours. They might even want to nurse continuously for hours but continually change sides. This is normal, and it is baby’s way of increasing your supply.
When you are new to breastfeeding, you might think there is no way baby is still hungry and by not listening to baby’s cues, your supply doesn’t keep up with baby.
What surprised me about nursing?
Here is my list of 10 things I didn’t know until going through the breastfeeding learning curve.
- Getting a good latch (attaching to the breast) is very important for nursing to not hurt.
- Baby doesn’t get any milk while nursing until a “letdown” occurs and your milk starts to flow.
- Sucking causes a letdown.
- You can have multiple letdowns if baby stays on and keeps sucking. This means the milk flows then stops and starts to flow again.
- Nursing for hours on end is normal in those early weeks as baby grows a crazy amount and is working on establishing your supply.
- You produce more milk during the night and in the morning since that is when your “milk” hormones replenish.
- Babies love to nurse at night because 1) they need to, 2) it is the best way to increase your supply and 3) there is more milk during the night.
- Crying is a late hunger cue and can actually make you leak milk. Your body knows baby is hungry and can have an automatic letdown. I can still remember trying to change L’s diaper and leaking milk everywhere. Don’t worry, this will get much better as you continue nursing.
- Refusing the breast never means baby isn’t hungry. Baby especially during those early weeks WILL ALWAYS nurse and is ALWAYS hungry. Get help! Baby most likely has acid reflux or a food intolerance and is in pain.
- I never knew that after you figure it out, it can be enjoyable. I didn’t know how wonderful it would be to sit in L’s nursery and cuddle her while she nursed. Breastfeeding truly was the hardest and yet best part of L’s first year.
Breastfeeding and sleep
At some point, someone will tell you that if you just gave your baby formula, they will sleep through the night. This isn’t true. Breastmilk is 100% digestible and digests in 60-90 minutes. Formula isn’t fully digestible and therefore takes at least 3 hours to leave their system. Therefore, you start to think that if you only gave your baby formula, they will sleep. The logic that is used here is that baby’s tummy will stay fuller longer.
I know plenty of people who switched for this reason and guess what, their baby still didn’t sleep. Before you get there, read about breastfeeding and sleep. In fact, read about sleep so you know what is normal on that front too. For example, the definition of sleeping through the night is 5-6 hours not 12 hours. If baby went to bed at 6 pm and slept till 11pm, baby technically slept through the night.
Also know that until about 4 months, babies do not sleep through the night. They don’t produce melatonin and only start producing little amounts at around 4 months. Breastmilk contains a lot of substances that help babies sleep such as melatonin, which is why they usually fall asleep breastfeeding.
Have a support team
Breastfeeding has a learning curve just like anything you learn for the first time. Having a support team in place and knowing resources in your local community will greatly benefit you when you run into any issues. Even if you don’t have any issues breastfeeding, it will be a great way to get out of the house in those first few months and bond with other new mamas.
To find that support team, start searching online and asking your OB/midwife and your pediatrician. Take our FREE Nurse Smart Email Course geared towards expecting mamas for help with your support team and preparing to breastfeed.
Prepare Your Other Half
You might think breastfeeding is just about mama. However, having your other half be on board will help significantly. Spend some time having dad get educated about breastfeeding. For example, he might want to help so he will offer to bottle feed. He thinks by taking some of the feedings, it will be easier on you. Unfortunately, every time he bottle-feeds instead of your breastfeeding, you are hurting your supply. For more on why to avoid bottles and pacifiers in those first six weeks, read here.
Instead, have your other half be involved in different ways such as diaper changes, burping, and holding baby. To help you succeed at breastfeeding, other good options include getting you water and snacks while breastfeeding, helping you get comfortable while nursing, holding baby so you can set up to nurse, helping with night diaper changes and providing as much support and encouragement as possible.
Find ways to bond as a new family
While baby nurses A LOT, you can still find ways for your other half to bond and for all of you to bond as a new family. Take walks together and have either parent carry baby in a carrier or push the stroller. Outside time will help everyone’s mood. Enjoy tummy time together or just enjoy baby’s small awake times together. We would all lay down and read a book to baby. Bath time is a fantastic way to bond as bath time can make even a colic baby happy. Take turns being the photographer and get a lot of photos. You have no idea until months later just how fast baby changes.
What to do next?
As you learn, write down all of your questions and ask them all to the lactation consultant on staff at the hospital you deliver at. Utilize all the help you can get.
One of your questions for the lactation consultant at the hospital should be do you know of any free breastfeeding support groups or services that I can utilize?
Continue learning all you can, we have a whole section of content just on breastfeeding. The more you learn, the easier learning to breastfeed will be. Remember that it is a learning process for both you and baby.
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Dr. Trina Fitzpatrick is a wife, mom, blogger, and a breastfeeding advocate. She is the co-author of the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook. She attributes her success at breastfeeding her own children into toddlerhood with working with lactation consultants in the hospital in the early stages and on a weekly basis afterwards. By writing at MomSmartNotHard, she educates mamas-to-be on all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Read more about Trina.