Tips for successful breastfeeding

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By Jennifer Steffen, Nurse Practitioner, InterMed Women’s Health

Breastfeeding is the optimal food for infants, with many known health benefits for both baby and mother. Organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of age. The CDC’s 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card tells us that although 83 percent of US women initiate breastfeeding at birth, just 58 percent continue at 6 months with only 25 percent exclusively breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding can be challenging, especially in the first weeks. Here are several tips to support successful breastfeeding:

Nourish the mother first
Attention to adequate nutrition and hydration helps maintain an adequate milk supply. Breastfeeding takes time and energy, making it much harder if mom is depleted.

  • Eat 1-2 healthy snacks per day, as 300-500 extra calories are needed daily to maintain your milk supply.
  • Stay hydrated by paying attention to your body’s thirst signals.
  • Continue your prenatal vitamin daily while you breastfeed.

Benefit from education
Research has shown that education and support is crucial to sustaining breastfeeding. In addition, well-informed and supportive partners are directly connected to breastfeeding success.

  • Take a breastfeeding class together. This is a great way to learn techniques and tips such as positioning, recognizing proper latch, managing sore nipples, and establishing your milk supply. Partners will learn ways to support the breastfeeding mom and baby.
  • Attend a breastfeeding support group. These groups are usually facilitated by a lactation consultant or a doula ready to provide in-person assistance. As well, this is a great way to normalize the breastfeeding experience and make connections with other new mothers.
  • Classes and groups not for you? Visit one of the following websites:

Avoid early separation
Infants are very alert, calm and ready to learn in the first hour after delivery. Maintaining skin to skin contact and initiating breastfeeding during this time:

  • Helps baby regulate temperature, respiration, heart rate and blood sugar.
  • Provides the baby with colostrum which is rich in nutrition and immune support.
  • Facilitates bonding.

Consider lactation consultants
This is a healthcare professional who is trained to assist with breastfeeding. They can be extremely helpful in navigating the first few feedings in the hospital, establishing pumping and troubleshooting hurdles. In addition, you can schedule appointments with a lactation consultant after you are discharged home to continue this work.

Know the signs that your baby is getting enough
One of the biggest reasons mothers resort to supplementing with formula is that they fear the baby is not getting enough milk.

  • Recognize hunger cues. This includes licking or smacking lips, sucking on hands, moving head toward cheek stimulation.
  • Remember crying is a later sign of hunger.
  • Breastfed babies eat often. In the first week of life, expect 8-12 feedings/ 24 hours. By week 4, this decreases to 7-9 feedings/ 24 hours.
  • By day 5, expect 6-8 wet diapers/ 24 hours and 3+ yellow, seedy bowel movements.
  • It is normal for babies to lose up to 10% of their birthweight. A baby who is getting adequate breastmilk will regain this weight by 2 weeks. Monitor your baby’s weight by visiting your pediatrician regularly in the early weeks.

Have a back-to-work plan
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows for 6 weeks of leave. Taking less time is associated with cessation of breastfeeding and supplementing with formula.

  • By law, your employer must provide you with a functional space and adequate time to pump. Discuss this before your maternity leave.
  •  Most insurances will cover a high quality electric breast pump. Ask your healthcare provider for a prescription.