Whether to breastfeed is the first and most important nutritional decision you make for your children.

Research into the benefits of breastfeeding clearly indicates that human breast milk is the optimum choice of feeding by mothers for their babies. Breast milk contains crucial immune properties that translate into long-lasting health benefits. It is recommended that babies breastfeed soon after birth, in order to promote emotional and physical bonding.

Because breast milk provides protective factors and a unique composition of fat, protein and carbohydrate, compared to formula-fed babies, breastfed babies have:

  • less gastrointestinal illnesses and diarrhea.
  • fewer respiratory and ear infections.
  • a decreased risk of developing allergies.
  • an improved fatty acid profile in their blood.
  • some protection against cancer.
  • better bone health.
  • protection against inflammatory bowel disease.
  • possible protection against celiac disease.

What about Mom? Compared to mothers who feed babies with formula, breastfeeding mothers benefit from:

  • better psychological well-being.
  • facilitation of bonding and attachment.
  • protection against breast and ovarian cancers.
  • reduced risk of osteoporosis later in life.
  • easier weight loss after delivery.
  • ecological, economical and convenience factors.

The changing flavors of breast milk versus the single flavor of infant formulas also offers babies an advantage. Mom’s own diet flavors breast milk through her food choices. This probably aids her baby in adapting to different tastes, perhaps encouraging more variety and acceptance of cultural foods later in baby’s diet.

Solid foods should only be introduced after 6 months, with breast milk remaining as the milk of choice until at least 1 year of age.

When educated about breastfeeding before having a baby, a mother is are better equipped to handle any related challenges that may arise. It is in the first six weeks of breastfeeding that some moms may need help and look for advice. If you need help with any aspect of feeding, seek assistance early on from a reliable professional, such as a registered lactation consultant.

The establishment of an early milk supply is vital to ongoing breastfeeding success. A correct and comfortable latch, the ability to provide feeding whenever baby indicates hunger, an awareness of baby’s proper urine and stool patterns and a baby’s weight gain help to tell mothers that feeding is going well.

Let’s explore some common breastfeeding predicaments new mothers face to alleviate potential challenges.

Case Study: Teresa was concerned her 5-day-old baby was waking to breastfeed nearly every hour in the afternoon and evening. She was worried her baby was not getting enough breast milk.

This is a frequent concern for new mothers. Most mothers make more than enough milk for their infants, and it is normal for newborns to breastfeed eight to 12 times in 24 hours. Newborns may want to feed every hour for four to five hours, and then sleep a long stretch before the next feed.

When the baby is latched well, you should hear the baby swallowing every suck to every other suck for the majority of the feeding. The baby should come off the breast looking full and content. Feed on the first breast until your baby no longer swallows before offering the second breast. This ensures your baby receives the high-fat milk near the end of the feeding that helps baby to feel satisfied. As an indicator of adequate milk production, watch for six to eight heavy wet diapers and a minimum of two bowel movements in 24 hours once your baby is 6 days old.

Contact your medical caregiver if your baby has fewer bowel movements or wet diapers, the baby’s mouth is dry or the baby is disinterested in breastfeeding. Your medical caregiver will monitor your baby’s weight.

Case Study: Sally’s nipples are so painful that she doesn’t feel she can breastfeed her 6-day-old baby at the next feeding.

Sore nipples often cause an early and unnecessary termination of breastfeeding. Most women feel nipple tenderness in the first week as their infant latches, but the feeling fades as the baby breastfeeds. It is not normal to feel pain throughout baby’s feeding. A poor latch is the probable cause of sore nipples.

Latch describes the way a baby’s mouth and tongue attach to your nipple and areola, the dark area around your nipple. With a good latch, the tongue cups the nipple and a good amount of the areola. This draw mother’s breast to the back of the baby’s mouth, where the hard palate at the top of the baby’s mouth meets the soft palate. As the soft palate is soft, the nipple is unharmed there.

To facilitate the latch, hold your baby close. Have your baby face you with your nipple opposite his or her nose. Touch the nipple across baby’s lip from one side to the other side and wait for baby to open wide, similar to a yawn. Move baby toward the breast quickly. This way, your baby’s chin, then lower lip, should touch the areola first, and the upper lip closes over the nipple last. Generally, mothers get a better latch if the areola is covered more by baby’s lower jaw than upper jaw.

Wash your nipples once a day only with water. Soap removes the natural oils from the nipple and areola. Applying breast milk to the nipples and letting them air dry for ten minutes also helps.

If you are not able to correct the latch yourself and achieve comfortable breastfeeding, seek help the same day from a breastfeeding expert.

Case Study: Josie notices her breasts are hard and her 4-day-old baby cannot latch on. She has been giving her baby formula by bottle for some feedings and breastfeeding other feedings.

Whether or not you decide to breastfeed, breastmilk naturally increases in volume usually two to five days after your baby is born. The breasts are then full of milk, and increased fluids exist in the breast tissue. If the milk is not regularly removed, the breasts continue to fill, and even the areola gets hard and flattens out the nipple. This is called engorgement. Engorgement makes it difficult for the baby’s tongue to draw the areola well back into the mouth where the wave-like motion of the tongue removes the milk from the breast. Instead, the baby can only get the nipple in the mouth, causing the mother discomfort and poor emptying of the breast.

Experiencing engorgement? Here are some recommendations:

  • Always try breastfeeding first.
  • Take a warm shower or apply warm compresses to help milk flow.
  • Use a cold compress between feedings to relieve discomfort and swelling.
  • Soften the areola by expressing some milk.
  • Breastfeed your baby until you no longer hear swallowing.
  • Use breast compressions to help soften the breast.

If for any reason you are unable to latch the baby to the breast, such as due to illness, separation or a return to work, you should buy or rent a hospital-recommended breast pump. Pump (express) your breasts every three hours for ten-15 minutes each breast or total, if both breasts are pumped at the same time, to maintain a good milk supply. Your baby may be given your expressed breast milk by bottle or an alternative feeding method that’s recommended by your lactation consultant or pediatrician.

Breastfeeding is a supply-and-demand system. During growth spurts, babies want to feed more often— which increases your milk volume— before settling back into the previous routine. Growth spurts tend to occur at ages 3 weeks, 6 weeks and 2-3 months. This increased feeding demand does not mean that your milk supply has decreased; the baby just needs the supply to increase.

How To Find Support While Breastfeeding

Although all new mothers face challenges, you may feel especially misunderstood and alone if you are breastfeeding.

Can’t Breastfeed? Formula Isn’t Your Only Option

While formula can provide adequate nutrition, there are other feeding options worth exploring.

Mothers and Healthy Babies
Mothers and Healthy Babies

Breastfeeding support from La Leche League.