Okay, I’ll be the one to admit it: Nursin’ ain’t easy. Am I right, ladies?
When I was pregnant I read everything I could get my hands on about pregnancy and childbirth. I had no idea what to expect and I was going to be prepared! (Ha!) The breastfeeding, though, I took that for granted. I’d know what to do when the time came, right? (Ha! Ha!) Turned out I needed the help of the hospital staff and a lactation consultant, advice from my mom and mama-friends, and the support of my husband to figure out how to feed this squirming hungry tiny human and to keep feeding him as he grew and grew.
It was work, but in my experience, it was worth it and I was glad to do it (most of the time). If you’re determined to give it your best go, here are some tips that should help you with breastfeeding.
Top Tip: Get Close
A growing body of research provides evidence that the #1 way to get breastfeeding off to a great start is for baby and mommy to have immediate and continuous skin-to-skin contact after birth. It’s even been shown that given the chance, a newborn will crawl to their mom’s breast and self-attach on their own within the first hour.
Even if baby must be separated from mom – to go to the neonatal intensive care unit, for example – getting back to skin-to-skin contact as soon as they are reunited increases the chances for successful nursing.
Breastfeeding Tips: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby
- Eat well. Just as during pregnancy, what you eat still goes to your baby while you’re nursing. Aim for a balanced diet full of whole foods and choose organic options, when possible. In those first months, with all those sleepless nights, it’s easy to rely on high-sugar and high-salt convenience foods but eating a healthy, high-protein and fiber-rich array of foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables and high-quality protein will not only help sustain your energy but their nutritional benefits will also get passed on to baby through your milk.
- Stay hydrated. Milk production can drop if you experience dehydration, and it can also drop if you drink too much water. Instead of relying on a number, it’s recommended that you drink to thirst. It’s easy to get super-focused on your baby’s needs and forget your own needs. Keep water on hand, like in a diaper bag or near the spot where you nurse most often, and try and take time for soothing herbal teas.
- Keep taking your DHA. This Omega-3 fatty acid is vital for brain and visual development. It turns out that breast milk contains DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) but it’s still important to keep your dietary levels up in order for your baby to get adequate amounts. Fatty fish is a great source of DHS but the FDA has advised that women limit their intake of some fish due to its high mercury content. As an alternative, look for fish oil that has been purified (often called "molecularly distilled"). Whole Foods Market®’s Whole Body department offers vegetarian options for DHS supplements, as well.
- Keep taking your prenatal vitamin. Although producing milk is a natural part of having a baby, it does require increased energy and nutrients from your body. Eating well, staying hydrated and resting are all important aspects for healthy milk production, and getting an extra nutritional boost from a quality prenatal supplement is incredibly helpful as well. During breastfeeding getting enough calcium, vitamin D and iron is important.
- Nap when your baby naps. This was by far one of the best bits of advice I got when I had my babies. It’s easy to be excited in those first few weeks postpartum and want to get things done while the baby naps. But napping when your baby naps and getting the rest you need has been shown to support healthy milk production, help with your own energy levels and to even decrease the chances of postpartum depression.
Your breast milk has many ingredients that help baby grow and thrive – it actually changes depending on your baby’s needs. It nourishes and supports a healthy immune system, builds good intestinal flora, helps protect against allergies, and many other benefits that are still being uncovered. It’s an all-natural super food!
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend feeding baby breast milk only for about the first six months and then continuing to breastfeed for at least a year, and longer as baby and mom want, while solid foods are being introduced. Ultimately, how long you choose to breastfeed is up to you and your situation. Any amount you can give your baby is a bonus.
Sometimes, breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally. If nursing your baby hurts (it shouldn’t), you’re having problems positioning baby, or you’re having other difficulties or concerns, don’t grin-and-bear it. Seek help. There are resources you can turn to for help: Certified lactation consultants in your area, a local La Leche League support group, and perhaps the hospital where you delivered. Your OB, midwife or pediatrician may also be able to recommend more resources in your area.
And, returning to work doesn’t have to mean the end of nursing. Though it can be quite challenging to keep up with nursing and pumping, under Federal and some state laws employers have certain legal requirements to support their breastfeeding employees.
What helped you succeed at breastfeeding? Were there any challenges you overcame? Share with us in the comments below.