When I was pregnant with my first child, I wasn’t sure I would breastfeed. I started to learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding, so I knew that it was something I wanted to try. After my son was born, I learned that while breastfeeding is natural—it may not always come naturally to you. Breastfeeding is a learning experience for both the mother and the baby, so it is important to be prepared and seek help when you need it. I have now breastfed four children, and although not each experience was successful, I have learned a lot about breastfeeding and how to have a more successful start.
Learn as much as you can before your baby arrives.
This may seem self-explanatory, but it is important to read books that are related to successful breastfeeding. I read a large amount of pregnancy books, and some simply scared me by saying that it would be painful and it may not work, so a lot of women supplement with formula. After having my first child, I did supplement, which I later learned was actually causing more problems. Milk production works on supply and demand, so the more a baby expresses the more milk you make. This is critical during the first six weeks as you establish a supply, so you are able to produce enough milk for your baby. Every supplement takes away a feeding session at the breast, which can negatively impact your milk supply. If I had known that at the beginning, then I probably would have had an easier time when I first started breastfeeding and dealt with a low supply. So, I do think it is important to read a lot of books on breastfeeding, meet with a La Leche League group, and even attend a breastfeeding class.
Try to avoid formula or artificial nipples.
One of my children did experience nipple confusion, since we introduced bottles too early. I was never really aware that nipple confusion was so real, but it definitely can be challenging. Instead of using a bottle, consider using a feeding syringe or dropper for supplements. If for some reason you do need to supplement, try to pump your milk and give that to the baby instead of formula. A baby has a sensitive digestive system and formula is not digested in the same way as breast milk, so some babies do develop sensitivity to certain formulas.
Don’t put your baby on a schedule.
I know how tired new parents are, so putting your new baby on a schedule may seem like a good idea. Unfortunately, schedules and breastfeeding really don’t mix well, at least not for the first few months. Some babies really do need to nurse every two hours, because breast milk is easily digestible. Babies also use breastfeeding as a source of comfort. It is important that a newborn nurse at least 8 to 12 times per day. Some babies may even nurse more often than that, but once your supply regulates a baby will usually start to go longer in between feedings.
Don’t let your baby sleep through feedings.
I know this one well from personal experience. I had always heard that a sleeping baby will wake to eat, and babies know when they are really hungry. When my third child was born, I expected her to nurse as often as her older siblings and to need to nurse at least once every two to three hours. She surprised me by being a very sleepy baby. She rarely woke up to eat, and by the time she did, she was incredibly hungry. When a baby becomes hungry enough to cry, it is actually a late sign that they are hungry and it can make it more difficult to get a good latch. The goal is to watch for cues that your baby needs to nurse, and not wait until your little one is crying from hunger. Some cues are rooting (when the baby appears to turn his or her head from side to side, searching for the breast), putting fingers in their mouth, or making sucking movements. To keep a sleeping baby awake, try rubbing his or her back, removing a layer of his or her clothes, and wiping his or her head with a cool washcloth. Skin-to-skin contact is excellent for promoting breastfeeding and helping a baby feel safe, so I do recommend trying to hold your baby close to you or wearing your baby in a carrier as much as possible.
Surround yourself with support.
One of the most important things for me was having a strong support network. Breastfeeding is a beautiful bonding experience, but you may have to deal with certain obstacles during your breastfeeding journey. If you have a strong support network, it is easier to overcome those obstacles. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask your pediatrician or regular doctor, but I definitely recommended seeing someone who is trained in lactation. A Lactation Consultant (LC), Breastfeeding Counselor, or a La Leche League Leader can provide good advice. For difficult challenges, such as nursing a preemie, a low supply, or improper latch issues, I recommend going straight to a LC. Sometimes you may need a few minutes just for yourself as well, so having a strong support system will ensure you have someone you trust who can watch your little one for a few minutes while you take a nap or just have a moment of down time.
My youngest child is now over a year old and through my past experiences and learning more information, I was able to exclusively breastfeed him—without giving supplements or introducing bottles. Breastfeeding is a wonderful bonding experience between the mother and the child, but there can be obstacles or challenges during the journey. I have learned that sometimes it doesn’t work out, but becoming more knowledgeable about breastfeeding and finding the right support has helped me successfully breastfeed.