Your Ultimate Guide to Breastfeeding
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Nursing a newborn baby is such a special time! And although it’s combined with major hormonal shifts, sleeplessness, recovery from childbirth, and changes in relationships, breastfeeding can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Let’s help get you started on the right foot! And while breastfeeding may not be the right choice for everyone, 96% of Canadian women initiate breastfeeding and the following is a helpful guide to establish and maintain breastfeeding for those who are able and choose to do it. Don’t be afraid to seek out help to reach YOUR breastfeeding goals which may include a balance of different factors to make it the right fit for your family.
For those who are breastfeeding or planning to, The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of baby’s life for optimal health of both baby and mama. Complementary food is added in-and-around the six-month mark, but mothers are encouraged to breastfeed to two years and beyond.
Tips for Establishing Joyful Breastfeeding
Tip #1: 1 hour of uninterrupted skin-to-skin time
Breastfeeding is the biological norm and, believe it or not, babies have inborn reflexes that allow them to crawl up towards the breast! Using their incredible strength, they pull and push and bob their way towards the darkened areola and can self-attach with very little help. Allowing babies time to achieve this breast crawl, which takes between 10 and 60 minutes, should be encouraged. It’s important to advocate for this special skin-to-skin time and add to your birth plan that baby be placed directly on your chest after birth.
Continued skin-to-skin contact after birth and well into the first few months continues to be beneficial for baby’s overall development. A good wrap or soft-structured carrier can be a great way to achieve skin-to-skin in the days, weeks and months after baby’s birth.
Tip #2: Aim for exclusive breastfeeding
To establish a robust milk supply that meets babies needs and provides the best health outcomes, it’s important to aim for exclusive breastfeeding. As soon as we begin to displace breastmilk, we send messages to the brain that less milk is required. And while in some circumstances, formula is an absolute necessity, it can often be minimized or avoided.
If baby is not latching onto the breast, it can be important to hand express colostrum and then begin to pump once the milk transitions to more mature milk. Pumping each time the baby feeds will keep up a robust supply for baby. While pumping during the breastfeeding experience is not always necessary, it can be helpful to help mothers provide exclusive breastmilk for their baby. Get more details on pumping here, including which type of pump to buy and when to pump.
Beyond breastmilk, the only supplement that breastfed babies truly need is Vitamin D-400 IU’s of Vitamin D per day in addition to all the breastmilk baby needs is the perfect mix. In and around the 6-month mark, baby’s iron stores begin to deplete so introducing solid foods rich in nutrients (skip the infant cereals and go straight to real food!) adds the additional vitamins and minerals that baby needs. Remember that breastmilk should make up the vast majority of baby’s nutritional needs for the first year, so it’s important to make sure that solids do not displace breastmilk.
Tip #3: Breastfeed on demand
Each individual baby develops their own unique language to tell their mother they are hungry. Taking their hands to their mouth, licking their lips, stretching, and turning their heads towards a stimulus are just some of the ways that babies demonstrate hunger.
It’s important to breastfeed on demand whenever baby requires a feed. When a baby is breastfed on demand, they better manage the composition of milk that they receive throughout the day and they benefit from being fed when they are hungry. In turn, this leads to a happier baby with less digestive concerns.
If it seems that your breastmilk supply is not meeting baby’s needs, adding milk-making foods and herbs to your diet may be beneficial (click to read or watch for more info). Be sure to do this under the guidance of a Lactation Consultant to ensure you’re also getting help with the deeper, underlying issues as to why supply may be low.
Keys to Continued Breastfeeding Success
Approximately 90% of Canadian mothers initiate breastfeeding but only 26% of them reach the goal of breastfeeding up to the six-month mark. Once we’ve taken steps to best initiate breastfeeding, there are a few keys to achieving long term breastfeeding success. As a Lactation Consultant who helps mothers and babies reach their breastfeeding goals (whatever those may be!), these are my top tips to help meet these goals.
Key #1: Get good support!
I feel that perhaps the most important influence for mothers to reach their breastfeeding goals is good, consistent help.
In my practice, I see many mothers who have received advice from a few different nurses in the hospital, their midwife or doctor, friends, mothers, “Dr. Google,” and the list goes on. By the time that I see them at home for breastfeeding concerns, there is a great deal of confusion and exasperation. I truly believe that compassionate and consistent advice is the most empowering.
I urge mothers to seek out an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) that they trust. Getting good help as soon as you feel things are not going well is so important.
Key #2: Breastfeeding should not be painful!
Many mothers have been told that breastfeeding will be painful and to expect that pain to last for a certain period of time. Forget this! Pain is NOT normal! Some sensitivity may be felt but any sensation that can be classified as sharp, shooting, burning or piercing is a sign that baby is not latching on well to the breast.
They key to a good latch is to work to get the nipple very deeply into baby’s mouth; however, this doesn’t mean getting the nipple centered in the mouth. Rather, we want the baby to be coming from underneath the breast and reaching for it from there, therefore taking more of the lower areola in their mouth than the upper areola. Looking down at baby, mother should see the chin in deeply to the breast while the nose is away from the breast.
If the nipple is sensitive while mom and baby learn to breastfeed, using coconut oil or a natural nipple butter can be extremely soothing. If there is pain in the breast, from engorgement or blocked ducts, then using a cold or heat pack can provide relief. If pain in the nipple or breast does not resolve, then it is so important to get good help!
Key #3: Watch what baby is doing at the breast
The most effective way to be able to tell that baby is getting enough at the breast is not simply via diaper output and weight gain, but rather by watching what he or she is doing at the breast. I encourage parents not to become consumed with timing feeds and tracking feeds on various apps. Instead, watch for a deep pause in the chin, different from the small movement of the chin that is a suck.
Asking your doctor, nurse or midwife to show you the difference between a suck and a drink can be empowering, as knowing that your baby is getting milk from the breast is reassuring and can help you to better manage the feed. Once again, if you feel that you are still unsure then definitely get good help!
Breastfeeding can be a joyful experience and, with the tips above, we hope that you and your baby reach your breastfeeding goals! Happy nursing!!!
Taya is a International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in the Toronto area. She is passionate about prenatal breastfeeding education and sees mothers at home, the hospital and in a clinic setting postpartum to help them to reach their breastfeeding goals. She also teaches pre and postnatal pilates and really can’t get enough of babies! She has two daughters, whom she wishes were still babies! Alas, they are growing up too quickly!