Commitment is the key to a rewarding breast-feeding experience.
Shortly after his birth, my hungry second child latched on immediately. I knew he was latched on because there was no pain whatsoever; the feeling of a perfect latch is like a very firm clamp around your areola – only it doesn’t hurt. I was determined to make breastfeeding work this time, and we were off to a good start.
During the first days before your supply comes in, the baby, if properly latched on, is feeding on the very dense colostrum, or pre-milk, which is filled with all-important nutrients and antibodies. But breastfeeding can be a tricky thing, especially at the beginning once your milk has come in. Stress is detrimental to your supply, yet the first few months with an infant are naturally stressful.
You can become painfully engorged (when your breasts are over-filled with milk, making them hard and painful) if you happen to make a lot of milk. You need rest, you need replenishing, and yet your baby needs you. Many factors impact the breastfeeding experience, but you CAN do it if you give in to it and commit yourself. The good news: If you can get through the first few weeks, you’ll start loving it and you’ll know that you’ll be giving your baby the very best nutritional start there is.
Establishing Your Supply
If you nurse as often as your baby desires, without limiting the amount of time he spends at the breast, your milk supply will be just fine. Some women make more milk than others, though, so pumping may be in order.
It takes about six weeks for a woman’s milk supply to become established, and during that time, your baby may want to eat every hour or hour-and-a-half. You may feel that all you do all day long is breastfeed, and it may be true. You may wonder why the baby keeps rooting around every time you hold him … latch him on! Take your time. You won’t always feel like a milking machine, and soon the tough nursing days will be over. Meanwhile, give in to it, and try to enjoy the process along with the baby.
If you should happen to become engorged, your baby might not be able to latch on since the nipple becomes flat as it is overfilled with milk. Express a little breastmilk with a pump or by hand, whichever is most comfortable for you, and get back to nursing.
If you’re worried about whether or not your baby is getting enough to eat, keep this in mind: by 5 days of age, the baby should be feeding eight to 12 times, have six to eight wet diapers and two to five bowel movements every 24 hours. If during the first few days home from the hospital your baby isn’t wetting enough diapers, or you are not sure that the baby is latched on properly, seek help.
In fact, whenever you’re concerned about your breast-feeding ability or just need answers to questions, contact the lactation consultant from the hospital where you delivered or your local La Leche League.
When to Feed
Many pediatricians feel that the best way to feed your baby from the start is when he demands it. Slowly, the baby will start to exhibit a schedule, and you’ll find that, like clockwork, your baby will want to eat every two hours, then every three and so on. There will be times when your baby cries to be fed earlier than you might expect, however, and when in doubt, you should nurse.
Some people might suggest that you try to “stretch” your baby in between feedings so that he is vigorously hungry when you latch him on. To do this without affecting your milk supply, you can pump your breasts before the baby feeds. Your breasts will never stop making milk as long as it is regularly expressed.
You must be committed to your breastfeeding ability in order to stick with it when others around you provide doubt or conflicting input about what your baby wants. You know your baby better than anyone. Listen to your instincts, and learn what your baby means when he communicates to you with different cries.
Growth Spurts and Pumping
At approximately 6 weeks of age, and then again at 2 and 3 months, your baby will go through growth spurts, meaning he may demand more than he previously did. It’s time to do more pumping to increase your supply. In two or three days, with this additional pumping, your supply will work its way up to your baby’s needs.
Any time you are going to be apart from your baby for longer than four hours, you will need to pump in order to keep your milk supply up. Since your breasts are constantly producing milk based on the supply your baby demands, if you don’t express it, your body will react by decreasing milk production. When in doubt, nurse or pump! And above all else, take your time and enjoy your baby’s infancy. It will be over before you know it.
Susan Day is the editor-in-chief of this publication. She has four children, ages 12, 10, 7 and 3.