By Dr. Carleen Hanson, M.D., Pediatrician
It’s important for new moms to know that breastfeeding is different for everyone and while sometimes it goes smoothly from the start, for other moms it doesn’t click right away (think of all the other things in life that take time to learn, such as learning a language or riding or bike, plus successful breast-feeding is dependent not only on the mother, but on the infant as well). My advice would be to try for at least two weeks before deciding that it’s not for you, as it really can take that much time to get the kinks worked out (and sometimes even longer). I think that it’s also important to try to focus on what is working and go from there. Some women feel so much pressure to breast-feed (often self-imposed) that when it’s not going smoothly, negative feelings take over instead of focusing on enjoying your new baby. Finally, I can’t overemphasize the importance of having continued support for breast-feeding once you leave the hospital, whether it’s through your newborn’s doctor or a lactation consultant as there is so much that changes with breast-feeding in the first few days after birth.
Breast-feeding provides so many benefits for you baby. For instance:
- Easier digestion — We know that breastmilk is better digested/tolerated than formula for most infants.
- Customized for your baby — Most parents aren’t aware of the fact that breastmilk actually changes in its composition as your baby grows, so it truly is custom-made for your baby.
- Immune boosting — There are other benefits to the infant including less infections and lower incidence of SIDS.
- Obesity Risk Reduced — Studies have also shown less risk of obesity for breast-fed infants.
- Good for mom too — There are a multitude of benefits to moms as breast-feeding has been shown to help with recovery after delivery, decrease the chance of postpartum depression and lower the risks of some cancers.
There are some classes or books you can read about breast-feeding ahead of time, and while I don’t discourage new moms from preparing, I think the majority of “learning” about breast-feeding occurs once you have your baby, since the infant plays a huge role in how breast-feeding goes.
- Feed often — Newborns have very small stomachs, so regardless of whether they are breast-fed or bottle fed, they eat very frequently — initially a baby usually feeds about every one to three hours, for 8-12 feeds a day.
- Follow babies cues — While it’s very tempting to try to “schedule” feeds, once a newborn is gaining weight well, I generally tell new moms to nurse their baby when he/she is acting hungry; as long as an infant is gaining weight, it’s better to follow a baby’s cues than to “schedule” feeds.
- Wait to set a schedule — Typically, as an infant gets older, the feeds become more predictable in their spacing and duration. Most commonly the feeds space out a little more, closer to three to four hours, but again, every baby is different.
Because you’ll be spending so much time with your baby breast-feeding, you’ll want to devote time to ensuring your baby has a good latch. For new breast-feeding moms, I think issues related to latch are the stem of many breast-feeding problems; sometimes it’s hard to know what a good latch is and what isn’t. The main way to help with this is to get help when in the hospital and don’t be afraid to ask your baby’s doctor to assess breast-feeding after you leave the hospital if there is a concern.
What about discomfort?
I’d be lying if I said that breast-feeding is completely pain-free, as there often is some discomfort as your breasts get used to breast-feeding; however, this should only last for a few days. You should know that if breast-feeding is continually painful, then this is a sign that something is likely wrong, whether it be the latch or possible infection of the nipple or breast. If this is the case, then you should be in touch with your infant’s doctor or else a lactation specialist to have them evaluate what may be happening.
I often get asked why many women give up on breast-feeding, and I think discomfort due to latch issues is a huge factor. I think other times, women worry about not having enough milk. Because there isn’t a great way to measure how much milk a breast-fed infant gets (wouldn’t it be great if breasts came with gauges to help with this?), parents have the tendency to attribute fussiness to hunger, which can be the case, but not always. Finally, despite all the pro-breastfeeding messages out there right now, our society still doesn’t go the extra step to help working moms continue to succeed at breast-feeding, so it’s not uncommon for a new mom to breast-feed for the first two or three months, and then stop when they have to return to work.