Breastfeeding has amazing benefits for moms and babies – it gives them both immediate and lifelong health benefits. The one-on-one time also supports bonding, and both mom and baby feel the relaxing effect of oxytocin while breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding gives your baby antibodies, antioxidants, enzymes, immune properties, and nutrients. Overall, breastfed babies often have stronger immune systems and fewer illnesses.
For women who are able to breastfeed, it’s a great choice, but that doesn’t make it easy. Here are some tips to help you get off to a good start.
1. Take a breastfeeding class
Breastfeeding classes provide education on how lactation and breastfeeding work, and how to support your and your baby’s health while breastfeeding. You can also learn about potential difficulties breastfeeding and how to approach them. Taking a class before your due date can help you feel prepared and confident when your baby is here.
2. Tell your healthcare provider early on in pregnancy
Tell your healthcare provider your plan to breastfeed early in your pregnancy. They can help ensure you have information, resources, and support throughout pregnancy and after birth. They can also share information about how nutrition and medications affect breastfeeding.
3. Breastfeed as soon as possible
For several days after giving birth, your body makes a concentrated form of breast milk called colostrum. This early milk contains antibodies, protein, salts, and other protective properties to help prepare your baby’s digestive and immune systems for life outside the womb.
Breastfeeding also triggers the release of oxytocin and helps you bond; skin-to-skin contact helps stabilize your baby.
4. Try different positions
There are several different breastfeeding positions. You may find that some work better for you and your baby than others. Some women are more comfortable in a rocker or recliner, with a breastfeeding pillow, or holding their baby in a sling or other carrier. It may take time for you and your baby to get the hang of it. Remember, it’s new to both of you!
5. Use both breasts
You or your baby may find breastfeeding more comfortable on one breast, but it’s a good idea to alternate. Breastfeeding or pumping from both breasts relieves the pressure on both sides and keeps your supply from tapering off.
6. Avoid engorgement
Engorgement happens when increased blood flow and milk supply in the breasts cause uncomfortable swelling. You might experience engorgement when your milk initially comes in or later due to infrequent feedings. Feeding or pumping regularly can help keep engorgement in check.
7. Follow baby’s signals
Your baby’s appetite may differ from other babies and change over time or during growth spurts. Don’t feel like your baby has to be on a predetermined schedule. Newborns typically eat every 2-3 hours. Your baby will show you signs when hungry, which may include putting their hand to their mouth, sucking on their fingers, whimpering, moving their arms and legs, or turning toward your breast. You’ll learn to recognize your baby’s clues that they’re hungry.
8. Consider using a breast pump
A breast pump is a valuable investment, even if you plan to breastfeed exclusively. There may be unexpected circumstances when it’s difficult to feed your baby or when you need to store extra breast milk. Your partner may also want to bond with the baby by feeding them. A breast pump can also help decrease the pressure of engorgement or keep your milk supply from slowing down if you must stop breastfeeding for a time.
9. Plan for feeding on the go
At some point, you’ll want to take your baby out to meet friends and family, go shopping, or for recreation. It can help to prepare for breastfeeding without the home-field advantage. Depending on your comfort level in public, you may want to breastfeed in a sling or use a light blanket or scarf to cover with. Or you may want to plan ahead and locate a quiet, private area to breastfeed before you need to.
10. Take care of yourself
Your body does amazing things! Carrying and giving birth to a tiny human, and now feeding that little human, is nothing short of miraculous. But it does require the proper nutrients and adequate rest. Your body needs about 450-500 extra calories per day when breastfeeding. Take care of yourself with a healthy diet, plenty of water, and as much sleep as possible.
11. Avoid risky habits
When breastfeeding, you share what you eat and drink with your baby. The same healthy habits you probably followed while pregnant apply while breastfeeding too. It’s best to avoid or limit caffeine and seafood high in mercury. Caffeine can make the baby irritable and disturb her sleep. Mercury can affect the brain and nervous system development.
When it comes to smoking or alcohol, however, there is no safe amount. If you occasionally have a drink, wait several hours for the alcohol to be out of your system before you breastfeed. Smoking affects your baby’s health and sleep and increases her risk of illness or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). If you need help quitting, talk to your healthcare provider.
12. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally to every mother and baby. It takes practice, and sometimes the mother or baby runs into difficulties. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions or ask for help. Your healthcare provider, the hospital, lactation consultants, doulas, support groups, and organizations can all offer advice and assistance.
Begin your pregnancy care today and discuss breastfeeding with an OB/GYN – schedule an appointment now!