8 Expert Tips on Breastfeeding That Every New Parent Should Know
"Breastfeeding requires patience. It requires persistence. It requires work."
Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant, RNC and Advanced Practice RN Angela Westfall with Covenant Children's has been a guiding light for new moms in their breastfeeding journeys and wants to help educate others so that they too can achieve success.
She stresses that this is a process that shouldn’t be entered into lightly, but if you do choose this route, "it is an absolutely wonderful thing." For those looking to give their babies this magical gift, here are some of Westfall's top tips and how to avoid common issues along the way.
1) Understand the Commitment
One of the things that truly surprised me the most about breastfeeding was the actual time commitment. No one really stresses the fact that your baby will feed eight to 12 times every 24 hours. While this will become more spread out after the first few weeks, motherhood begins with a lot of sleep deprivation.
"It really helps to do some homework on what to expect from breastfeeding in the first couple days and weeks because it is very labor intensive and the first couple days are extremely crucial to building a good milk supply. Unfortunately, that's right when you're exhausted because you just had a baby and you're not sleeping," Westfall notes.
While this amount of feeding may seem excessive to a new parent, your baby will lose up to 10 percent of their body weight during this window of time and it's your job to help them gain it back. The good news is that once your milk supply comes in and you start to find your rhythm, most moms discover that this amazing bonding experience is well worth the effort.
2) Power Pumping Is Not Just for the Gym
"Power pumping is the single most important thing that you can do to build your supply. When your nipples are stretched, it sends oxytocin and prolactin to your brain, and that tells your body that you need more milk," Westfall stresses.
The process is actually quite simple and requires just one hour each day. "You're going to start out by pumping for 20 minutes [on both breasts simultaneously]. Then, you're going to rest for 10 minutes and then pump for another 10 minutes." She notes that you will repeat 10-minute rest and pump increments one more time.
After just a few days you'll be amazed at the results. While lactation cookies and herbs can help, this is a far more effective method for significant milk production. Plus, it gives you a stockpile of food for when dad wants to take a turn at feeding. Just remember to invest in a good breast pump to allow you to get the most out of this activity.
3) Remember That This Is a New Skill
Giving yourself some grace is one of the hardest things for any mom to do. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, but nothing in life is perfect. Westfall noted that "the biggest struggle that we're seeing right now is anxiety about breastfeeding." However, she also gave a great analogy for new moms to keep in mind when they are struggling.
Would you "give a five year old a bike, and say 'I'm only going to give you a couple tries to ride this bike and if you don't make it, we're getting rid of it'? No. We would never do that to our children, but we do that to ourselves with breastfeeding," Westfall says. She also emphasized that there can be a steep learning curve and this process is not just new for you. It is also a new experience for your baby.
Be patient, and know that there will be good feedings and bad feedings. Always look at the big picture.
4) Listen While You Work
Babies soothe themselves by sucking. That is why pacifiers are so popular with little ones. Unfortunately, breastfeeding moms can find themselves becoming a pacifier if they don't pay attention. This can lead to vasospasm, dry and cracked nipples and even bleeding.
Westfall notes that the difference between nutritive (active) and non-nutritive (passive) sucking can be easily determined by just listening to your child.
"When your baby is nursing, you should be hearing audible swallowing. Just like if you were to grab a bottle of water and drink it, you can hear yourself swallowing and gulping," she says. "You need to hear your baby swallowing and gulping, and if they're not, that's a huge red flag that your baby is not transferring milk at the breast." This is the time to get them unlatched.
For those looking to soothe their baby in the first month without sacrificing their comfort or causing nipple confusion with a pacifier, Westfall has a simple solution: "Wash your hands really well and have your baby suck on your pinky finger with the padded side up towards the palate."
5) Eat More!
Another big factor in producing enough milk is having the right tools to complete the task. You can't make a cake without all of the ingredients, right? "We really recommend 400 to 500 extra calories per day because that's about how much a mom is going to burn making the milk. We also recommend consuming at least 60 grams of protein a day to support that milk supply," Westfall states.
She also notes that you need to continue consuming at least 12 servings of non-caffeinated beverages each day, preferably water. Focusing on your nutrition will not only benefit the baby, but it will also help you in your recovery and aid in lessening your chances of having postpartum depression (when colorful foods and a well-balanced diet are prioritized).
6) Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
"The key is that you understand yourself. You have to understand your own boundaries and when you have hit your limit." Westfall wants people to know that there is no shame in asking for assistance along the way. You cannot do it all, and as the saying goes, it takes a village.
Moreover, this should not just include family and friends. Covenant Children's has an amazing team of lactation specialists who can give you guidance that is tailored to help remedy your specific problems. Best of all, they offer these services while at the hospital as well as in the weeks after you leave. If you're struggling, don't be afraid to reach out or attend one of their free classes before you give birth.
7) Learn to Say No
We all love having people dote over our beautiful bundle of joy, but in the first few weeks of postpartum, you need your rest. Not only are you and your baby adjusting to a new normal, but you are sleep deprived and healing from a trauma. This means that YOU come first above all else.
Moreover, the main priority in this time frame is for your baby to bulk up, and surprisingly having lots of guests can hinder that.
"The more babies get passed around, the more calories they burn and the more weight they lose in the early days. So it's wonderful that people want to be around for support, but what mom [and baby] really need in those early days is a calm, peaceful environment and then to go to sleep afterwards," Westfall stresses.
Thus, create some space until you're ready. Don't be afraid to say 'no' to visitors. Be open and honest about your need to heal and that you will let them know when they can come and love your little one.
8) Know Your Limits
Breast milk is an extraordinary gift that has so many incredible benefits for a baby. However, some women will not find success in this venture. And that's okay. Westfall's final note to new moms was that sometimes things don't work out the way we plan and there is nothing wrong with that.
"The most important thing is that we are making the best decision for us, our families, and our babies," she says. "The best decision is going to be different for every person. You should not feel any shame about that. The name of the game here is to empower moms and help them to feed their babies. If that's breastfeeding, great. If that's bottle feeding, great. We're going to help you feel confident in your motherhood journey. That's our goal."