We get it - breastfeeding is hard! We’ve got answers to your questions to help make your nursing journey easier.
Some moms have every intention to breastfeed, but get really nervous and give up too quickly.
We asked Wendy McHale, BS, IBCLC, with Nurturing Lactation at the Cincinnati Breastfeeding Resource Center about how to make the breastfeeding experience successful.
US: What are the top reasons moms get discouraged before they even start breastfeeding?
WM: The number one reason women quit nursing or don’t want to try, nursing is pain! It could be from nipple damage (from a shallow latch), engorgement, a plugged duct and, occasionally, from getting an infection. Other reasons women quit is the feeling (real or perceived) that there’s not enough milk. These are almost always easily overcome with the help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who can give information and support to get past these problems. Another reason is the fear that you’ll have to do “so much more work” because you’re the only one who can breastfeed. Having a newborn baby rocks your world — breastfeeding or bottle feeding!
US: What can moms do to prepare their minds so they don’t get discouraged so easily?
WM: Find out as much as possible about breastfeeding. Take a class; read a book (or a few); surround yourself with others who will support you, not tear you down; attend a parent-to-parent support group so you can know what’s normal and what’s not; try to set up your support system before Baby arrives if possible. If you run into breastfeeding problems, reach out and ask for help before giving up. I always recommend finding a GREAT breastfeeding class during the last couple of months of pregnancy and having a resource to call sooner rather than later if problems do arise. Research shows that families who get the right information and good support at the right time, are far more likely to be successful compared to families that don’t reach out for help.
US: Does breastfeeding ever really get easier?
WM: Hands down, the first six to eight weeks of breastfeeding are the most difficult and the time when most problems arise — as well as when most mothers quit. I usually suggest understanding that if you can get past the first two months, breastfeeding actually becomes easy and by three months postpartum, many mothers find that they not only enjoy breastfeeding, but that it becomes great “lazy-mom” parenting.
US: What MUST moms who want to breastfeed know before Baby comes?
WM: Breastfeeding is natural, but it is also learned. We live in a society where many of us have never seen a newborn breastfeeding before we give birth to our first baby. Expect this new skill to take time to learn for both you and your baby. You may or may not have heard this one before, but it is a normal part of becoming a new parent to wonder, “How does anyone do this?”
US: What are the benefits of breastfeeding for Baby?
WM: Any breast milk is better than no breast milk. However, the “benefits” are dose dependent, so the longer a baby breastfeeds, the more the benefit to Baby as well as the mother. The current recommendations by the World Health Organization are “at least two years and as long thereafter as both the mother and baby are comfortable,” based on when the human immune system starts maturing (around age 2). I truly believe that each mom will figure out what works best for her and her baby.
- Breast milk is free or nearly so, as a new mother just requires a little bit more food each day to produce the milk.
- Breast milk contains target specific antibodies to fight against viruses to which mother and baby are exposed, this can be especially important heading into cold and flu season.
- Helps a baby develop the normal human immune system over the first few years of life.
- Contains roughly 700 different types of healthy bacteria that colonize an infant’s gut and helps get the digestive system ready to ingest solids at around six months or after.
- Breast milk poops are not very stinky. There is an odor, but few parents find it to be offensive. Eventually, once solids are introduced, this all changes. At least this gives parents about six months to get used to changing diapers.
- Breast milk is always available and at the right temperature.
US: It’s exhausting and you can feel like you’re always feeding. What are the rewards?
WM: Breastfeeding is the first communication system between a mother and baby. First, a baby shows hunger cues, and then a mother puts her baby to breast. The more this happens every time, the baby begins to trust that his needs will easily be met every time he asks.
Breastfeeding a baby requires that he is being held, is receiving skin-to-skin contact and is getting his parent’s physical warmth.
Breastfeeding requires oxytocin to be released from the brain into the mother’s bloodstream in order to make the milk come out of her breasts during the “let-down.” This oxytocin not only makes the milk flow, it also makes both the mother and baby feel all warm and fuzzy as well as makes both of them a little sleepy.
US: Where can you get nursing advice and tips?
WM: Families and friends can best support the new family by taking care of the breastfeeding parent — so she can take care of herself and the baby. No one else can breastfeed, but everyone else can do EVERYTHING else: burping, diaper changing, cooking, dishes, laundry, cleaning, etc. The first couple of months are so intense that the new parents often need to learn to let everything else go except basic care of themselves, the baby and the breastfeeding.
If a family is seeking breastfeeding support, they can find their local IBCLC at the ILCA (International Lactation Consultants Association) website. There is even a “find a Lactation Consultant” tab that makes it easy.
Another great resource for new parents are mother-to-mother support groups. These groups have experienced breastfeeding parents helping inexperienced breastfeeding parents and can greatly help families succeed with breastfeeding. Three to try are La Leche League, Breastfeeding USA, and the WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counseling Program (if a mother is a part of WIC).