10 Things You Need to Know About Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding can be one of the most rewarding, natural, and beautiful parts of motherhood. While breastfeeding can involve controversial topics, such as breastfeeding in public, for most women, the benefits far outweigh the concerns. We teamed up with Patty Siegrist, Lactation Specialist at Lifecycle WomanCare (LWC), to get the expert knowledge you need to gain a better understanding and make breastfeeding work for you.
1. Research the Benefits
Taking time to look at the research can help you decide to make the effort to breastfeed, as the medical benefits are now nearly unanimously agreed upon. Breastmilk contains long chain fatty acids, as well as specific antibodies against the bacteria and viruses of infant’s unique environment, that are not found in formula and are highly beneficial to the baby. The Natural Resources Defense Council attests that formula cannot match the health benefits of breast milk. Health benefits to the baby include less susceptibility to respiratory diseases, infection, and heart disease. Benefits to mothers include fewer risks for breast and ovarian cancer, quicker weight loss, and reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.
2. How Breastfeeding Works
Breastfeeding is really a miraculous process, and for most mothers and babies, your body will produce what your child needs. Breastmilk and its nutrients change over the course of feeding and during the growth of a baby. But it is key to have support and education before and during this process, and that is where Lifecycle WomanCare can be a big help, with their one on one care, lactation classes, and breastfeeding support groups in the community. For example, many mothers worry that they will not be able to produce enough milk, or that latching difficulties will arise. What we learned from LWC, however, is that in fact the great majority of women will produce plenty of milk and will be successful if they get off to a good start and feel informed and supported throughout the process.
3. Set Realistic Goals
Start with one day at a time! Setting long-term goals for breastfeeding can be overwhelming and is unnecessary. Start with Day 1, and be sure you are getting some sleep and eating and drinking enough. Once you’ve gotten through one day, try a few more, and then try a week. Most women find that breastfeeding is going effortlessly by 6 – 8 weeks, but do make sure to sustain yourself as well! Generally, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months, then breastfeeding with complementary food through the first year. The World Health Organization promotes the same practice, adding that you may continue breastfeeding for two years or longer with complementary food. You can breastfeed for as long as feels right for you and your family.
4. Trust Your Instincts
“Do. Not. Google. Your. Baby,” Siegrist says. So many mothers second guess themselves when their child cries. “Babies cry, it’s how they communicate,” Siegrist says. Don’t worry too much about how your actions (what you eat, your stress levels) are affecting your milk. “You have to believe in yourself that you can produce enough milk for your baby.” How much is enough? If your baby has 6 or more wets a day, if they are pooping regularly, if they’re gaining 5 to 7 ounces a week, everything is fine. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and also keep in mind you need a break at times. If you pump, other family members can feed the baby your breastmilk and can take care of the baby to allow you to rest and have time to yourself.
5. Get Support
There are multiple new-mother support groups in the area, and among them are Lifecycle WomanCare’s three New Mother’s Groups, which meet in West Philly, Rosemont, and Phoenixville. There are also private online new mothers groups, where mothers who are going through the same things (and are awake at the same hours!) can help you immediately with any questions you have. Talking to like-minded people who are able to empathize with you and support you can motivate you to keep going and believe that you really can do it!
6. Know Your Rights
Under the Freedom to Breastfeed Act in Pennsylvania, you are free to breastfeed in any public place at any time, whether your breast is concealed or not. You don’t have to hide away in the bathroom, and people should not be asking you to. While society is taking its time to catch up with the fact that babies need to eat, you need only know that your child’s health is far more important than a stranger’s discomfort. No employer, stranger, friend, or family member can force you to stop feeding your child in a public space.
7. The Transition from Breast to Bottle
Eventually, even though you may adore the bonding experience you share with your baby when breastfeeding, you will appreciate and need some time to yourself! To enable your ability to take breaks and/or return to work outside the home, while still ensuring your baby gets the nutritional benefits of breastmilk, it’s a good idea to start to pump so that others can feed breastmilk via bottles to your baby. “There is a key window in the first 4 — 6 weeks of life in which the baby can easily learn to take the bottle. After that they may refuse, so this period is very important for familiarizing the baby to the bottle,” says Siegrist. She suggests nursing mothers have someone else give the baby a bottle at least two or three times a week so the baby gets used to it. Lifecycle WomanCare’s programs provide additional support and training on best approaches for this transition.
8. Pump It Up
Mothers often worry that when they pump ahead of time, they won’t have enough milk to feed their baby when the time comes! But in fact, your breasts are never empty, and they will produce what is needed as they become used to your routine, whatever it is. Typically, on average mothers produce at least an ounce of milk an hour. Siegrist’s advice is to start pumping 2 — 3 weeks in advance of returning to work or other plan to be away from the baby. This will give you a little stockpile of milk in the freezer – yes, you can freeze breastmilk for months! Generally, moms can, as needed, pump as often as needed to replace a baby’s breastfeeding time, or approximately every 3 – 4 hours depending on the age of your baby when you begin. You should expect to pump for about 10 – 15 minutes each pumping session – and a double electric breast- pump makes it a lot quicker! You should also know that your right to take a break at work and pump in private during your workday is protected under federal law.
9. It Gets Easier
You should know that the first two to three months are typically the most challenging, especially for new mothers. But after that initial passing of time and beginning to understand and learn the rhythms and needs of your baby and your body, it gets much easier. Most women feel that being persistent really pays off. The satisfaction of a contented, healthy baby is totally worth the effort. And get together at LWC groups with other women going through it at the same time, and you will not only boost your support, but you will also make life-long friends!
10. Get to Know Your Lactation Consultants
Having a lactation specialist to consult before and after the birth of your baby can play an essential role in successful breastfeeding. At Lifecycle WomanCare, a typical lactation consultation lasts an hour. Your baby will be weighed before and after a feeding to see how much milk is being consumed by the baby. All concerns, questions, and any discomfort you have will be addressed, and they will examine the baby and help you learn the most effective and comfortable techniques for you and your baby. And it’s even covered by insurance! Lifecycle WomanCare nurses and midwives are trained to help your baby latch as soon as possible, with home visits 24 to 48 hours after the birth to make certain things are going as planned.
Interested in learning more? Read about The Transformative Experience of Birth Center Birth & Midwifery Care over on our sister site, Main Line Parent.
Special thanks to Patty Siegrist, Kathryn Boockvar, and Julie Cristol for making this article possible!
Lifecycle WomanCare, previously known as The Birth Center, has been providing exceptional healthcare services for women of all ages, regardless of income, since 1978. We were the first licensed birth center in Pennsylvania and are one of the oldest continually operating birth centers in the United States. We have changed our name to Lifecycle WomanCare (LWC) to illuminate and highlight the breadth of high-quality care we provide to women over the course of their entire lifetime—from adolescence through post-menopausal years.