Your new baby is here. A sense of relief washes over you as your newborn is placed in your arms for the first time. It feels like you’ve reached a finish line.
But as any mother will tell you, the challenges of motherhood replace the challenges of pregnancy. One of the first challenges many new moms face is breastfeeding.
From a young age, many women envision themselves becoming a mother and breastfeeding. This kind of long-held vision can lead mothers to feel like failures if they aren’t able to breastfeed. It can diminish the joy of becoming a mother.
Don’t let breastfeeding challenges define you as a mother.
The reality is, breastfeeding difficulties are very common, and many things can happen that prevent a mother from being able to successfully breastfeed. All mothers who attempt to breastfeed should be commended for trying.
At William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, we recommend breastfeeding your baby for the first year of life. Our goal is to send each and every mother home with the possibility that she will breastfeed.
In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, here are five breastfeeding tips to help you along the way:
1. Start off right – skin-to-skin contact immediately after delivery stimulates milk production
We encourage mothers to hold their babies skin-to-skin for the first hour of life. In addition to the special bonding experience, hormones released during skin-to-skin contact promote milk production. It also encourages babies to feed more often, especially when they might be a little sleepy.
2. Reduce stress and get enough rest when breastfeeding
I know, I know. This is much easier said than done. But if you want to breastfeed your child, it’s in your best interest to do what you can to stay calm. If your stress level is high, your baby will sense it and won’t be relaxed – and your milk production can diminish.
Find a comfortable position to breastfeed where you feel peaceful. Skin-to-skin contact with your baby can help. If you feel stressed, try taking a warm shower, listening to soothing music, or breathing deeply.
Exhaustion hinders milk production – it’s one of the most common breastfeeding problems that mothers face.
Do everything you can to get enough rest. Nap as often as possible, especially when your baby is sleeping. Consider limiting visitors for the first two weeks. Don’t feel bad about asking your partner, friends, or family members for help with other tasks.
Working hard on breastfeeding your first child will pay off – breastfeeding subsequent children will be easier after successfully nursing your first child.
3. If at first things don’t go well, try, try again
Incorrect latching and nipple pain are common for mothers who are trying to breastfeed. Your resiliency may be tested. It may not happen perfectly right away, and that’s OK.
To get started, place your baby’s belly on your belly, and then align the baby’s nose with your nipple. Allow the chin to lead first into the breast, so the baby’s head tilts up. This will make the mouth open wider and make latching more likely.
Make sure the baby’s lips are flanged out (picture duck lips) and the chin is buried in the breast. The baby’s mouth should cover as much of the areola as possible, with your nipple farther inside the baby’s mouth.
Try different positions to see which is most comfortable for you and your baby. The more comfortable you are, the more natural breastfeeding will feel.
At UT Southwestern, lactation consultants are available to help during your hospital stay and even after you return home. Take advantage of those available resources!
4. Optimize milk production
New moms often have the urge to lose their baby weight right away. But too much exercise can hinder your milk production. Some exercise is good – your body will release endorphins that can improve your mood and reduce stress – but don’t overdo it.
Eating a nutritional diet and staying hydrated are two of the best ways to encourage milk production. Drink one 8 to 10 oz. glass of water every time you breastfeed. Herbal supplements that can help milk production, such as fenugreek, also are available over the counter. Mothers who are breastfeeding should consume an additional 500 calories per day. That’s more than the 300 additional calories we ask women to eat when they are pregnant!
Supplementing your breastmilk with formula may be helpful in some circumstances. If you’re not able to breastfeed, exclusive pumping may be an option. Some breast milk is better than no breast milk.
For some mothers, “power pumping” can help the breasts produce more milk. Power pumping is when mothers use a breast pump to collect breast milk after they’ve nursed their child. I tell women who want to try power pumping to use the breast pump for about 20 minutes after nursing. Another common method of power pumping is when you use a breast pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, and repeat the cycle for one hour each day. A lactation specialist can also help with a care plan to maximize breast milk production.
5. Ask for help
While it’s perfectly OK to get advice from your friends and family, don’t compare your breastfeeding experience to theirs. Every woman is different, and as I referenced earlier, there are many factors that can affect your ability to breastfeed.
Don’t feel like you’re alone when you’re trying to breastfeed. Your Ob/Gyn and our lactation consultants, nurses, and prenatal classes can help answer your breastfeeding questions. Your pediatrician may also be able to answer questions. There are a lot of pediatricians in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who embrace that role.