Hear about the fundamental things you need to know before your baby is born and what to expect when they arrive and start breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is so important and one of the best things you can do for your baby. There is no formula that comes close to mimicking breastmilk. Your milk is customized just for your baby and contains every vitamin, mineral, and nutritional element they need. Babies who are breastfed are at a lower risk for ear infections, intestinal upsets, respiratory problems, allergies, dental problems, and their immune system will be stronger. Breastfeeding produces prolactin and oxytocin, which are hormones that foster a connection to your baby and help you recover from birth better. By understanding the basics you will have a solid foundation to start building a successful breastfeeding relationship with your new baby.
Article and Resources
The Importance of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is arguably the best thing you can do for baby. There is no formula that comes close to mimicking breastmilk. Your milk contains every vitamin, mineral, and nutritional element your baby needs. It contains living cells to inhibit the growth of bacteria and viruses. Did you know that if your baby picks up germs, they communicate those germs to your breast, and your body immediately starts producing antibodies. Babies who are breastfed are at a lower risk for ear infections, intestinal upsets, respiratory problems, allergies, dental problems, and their immune system will be stronger. Breastfeeding also produces prolactin and oxytocin, which are hormones that foster a connection to your baby and help you recover from birth better.
The World Health Organization, and many pediatric associations around the world recommend exclusive breastfeeding (with no other drinks or solid foods) for the first 6 months, and adding in solid foods gradually after that point with continued breastfeeding for two years. I know two years sounds like a really long time and any amount of time your baby is getting breastmilk will benefit them greatly. If you do stop breastfeeding before the first year you will need to supplement with formula and introduce a bottle. If you do use formula I really urge you to read the ingredient list carefully and you may want to consider an organic formula. Because you listen to this podcast, I am sure you will do your due diligence and look into what you are feeding your little one as their primary source of nutrition.
The Keys to Breastfeeding
You can do two key things to make sure you are successful with breastfeeding. Number one, learn. Learn what the benefits of it are, some techniques and troubleshooting. There is a book that I think should be mandatory reading. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is a complete guide on everything you need to know from the moment your baby is born until the end of your breastfeeding relationship. This book is the first thing I buy and send to a friend when I learn they are expecting. I will say that this book is intense and thick and it is extremely biased to exclusive breastfeeding. I support the decisions you make for you and your baby regarding feeding, and I want to make sure that you have accurate information on breastfeeding and support to be successful.
The second thing you can do to ensure you get breastfeeding off to a good start is to get help as soon as there is any issue or even proactively go check out a breastfeeding support group before you encounter any issues. La Leche League is a great group for some free help and support and has meetings in communities all over the world.
Getting Off to a Good Start
The best way to get breastfeeding off to a great start is to be skin to skin with your baby. This means your little one is either naked or in a diaper and you do not have a bra or shirt on. You can place a blanket over your baby if it is chilly, or wear a button up shirt that you can open up. There are many benefits of skin to skin contact. The biggest are that it stabilizes your baby’s heart rate, breathing and temperature and reduces stress in both you and your baby. Your new baby instinctively wants to breastfeed and being skin to skin with you will foster that. It also increases your interactions with your baby and increases the likelihood and length of breastfeeding.
During your pregnancy your body starts producing colostrum. This first milk has immunological properties. Most importantly colostrum contains high concentrations of secretory immunoglobulin A, this is an anti-infective agent that coats their intestines to protect against the passage of germs and foreign proteins that could create allergic sensitivities. Another ingredient is pancreatic secretory trypsin inhibitor which protects and repairs the infant intestine. Colostrum basically helps seal your baby’s intestines. It may not seem like very much but at birth your baby’s stomach is the size of a marble. Colostrum is nature’s perfect food until your milk comes in.
By day 3 or 4 your milk will come in and you will know this happens when your breasts feel huge. If your breasts feel so full that they are uncomfortable and your baby doesn’t want to nurse at the moment you can hand express a little milk out just so you aren’t so uncomfortable.
Milk production works on a supply and demand system. This principle is the cornerstone of breastfeeding. The amount of milk your body produces depends on how much is removed. The first two to three weeks are really important for establishing your production so you will want to really be on top of nursing for the first few weeks.
Each breast is calibrated separately so you will want to be sure to use both sides. If one arm is sore and you need a break, switch your baby to the other side. Or maybe your baby is ready to switch. You do not need to obsess over equally splitting the time between your left and right breasts but make sure you are using both throughout the day. In general you will nurse your baby whenever they want to nurse. In the very beginning, if your little one sleeps a ton you may need to wake them up every 3 hours to nurse. This is usually recommended until they reach their birth weight. You can always check in with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant for their recommendation.
Babies will naturally lose weight after birth before they start gaining. In general, your care provider doesn’t want to see your baby start loose more than 10% of their birth weight, and your baby should be back at their birth weight within two weeks. If you did have IV fluids, chances are your baby was born with some additional fluids and it may appear that they are losing too much weight as a result.
One good way to know how much milk your little one is consuming is by their diapers. For the first 24 hours you will probably just see meconium, which is the thick, tar like, black poop. The second 24 hours you should see two or more brown sticky poops. On days 3, 4, and 5 you should see 3 poopy diapers a day starting out green on day 3 and getting to yellow by day five, this will be the norm moving forward.
You may hear over and over again, breastfeeding is not supposed to hurt. I have yet to meet a mom who completely agrees with that statement. Your nipples will be super sensitive in the beginning, however, they should not be cracked or bleeding. The best thing you can do is make sure your baby is latched properly. Making a small adjustment to your position, your baby, or their latch can make all of the difference.
The latch is everything and you will be so much more comfortable if your baby is latched properly. This means that they have their mouth open pretty wide and have your breast in their mouth. If they only have your nipple in their mouth you won’t be comfortable and they won’t be getting much milk. When your baby latches on they start out with quick short sucking motions, this triggers your milk release, sometimes referred to as a letdown, and once milk is flowing their sucking will slow down.
If you need your baby to stop sucking so you can readjust, you put a finger in the corner of their mouth, between their gums and turn your finger and that will break the suction and you can easily pull your nipple out of their mouth. You do not want to pull your nipple out of their mouth without breaking the suction.
Taking care of yourself
You will probably be starving when you first start breastfeeding. You are burning a lot of calories (like 300-500 a day!) so make sure you eat. Also make sure you are drinking tons of water and staying hydrated. You may find yourself eating a lot of meals with one hand, as you nurse or hold your baby with the other so find some meals and snacks that are easy to prepare and eat.
When you breastfeed in the first few days, your uterus will contract in response to the oxytocin released by the baby suckling, and you may also get a gush of blood each time. These pains will fade over the first week and just keep in mind that this is a sign that your uterus and body are getting back to normal.
If you are exclusively breastfeeding (including at least once at night) you most likely will not get your period for at least 6 months. Keep in mind that can and will vary from one person to the next. Exclusively breastfeeding can act as a form of birth control, but please talk to your care provider about the specifics before relying on it.
Burping your baby may be necessary and can reduce some spit up. Each baby is different. You can hold them against your shoulder and gently rub or pat their back. You can hold them in a sitting up position in your lap and lean them slightly forward while you gently pat their back. Burping your baby after eating may help reduce the amount of spitting up they do. This is where those burp cloths come in handy and you will probably go through a lot. Also keeping them upright for a bit, rather than immediately laying them down may reduce the frequency of spitting up. Usually this doesn’t bother your baby much and it looks like more than it really is. Spitting up is common so don’t get stressed out about it.
Nursing clothes. Every list of must haves includes nursing bras and nursing tanks. In my opinion these are not mandatory. Nursing bras and tanks can be convenient and may make nursing your little one in public places more discreet. The truth is, you could get by without them. Whether you go with a nursing bra or just a regular bra, make sure it is comfortable and not too tight.
If you are concerned at all about leaking, which happens, you will want to use some nursing pads. There are disposable and washable pads. I started out with disposable ones and ended up switching to washable ones. Bamboobies are my favorite.
Another thing you will want to get in preparation from breastfeeding is a breast pump. At the time of this episode breast pumps are covered by insurance, hopefully this will not change. Even if you are not sure you will use one, get one. It’s free and can really come in handy when you need it. I used Aeroflow for a pump in my most recent birth and had a great experience.
If you are planning on building a stash of milk you will need breast milk storage bags. I have used hundreds of the bags from Lansinoh and have maybe had one that leaked. They are high quality and work great.
Tips for Success
First, educate yourself. You are already doing a great job just by reading this article. As I mentioned, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is an incredible resource.
Get help, as soon as everything isn’t going splendidly. Take advantage of birth center and hospital staff to assist you with breastfeeding before you go home. You can use a lactation consultant or attend a breastfeeding support group. Often you will be able to find these resources for free. Even if breastfeeding is going well it can be nice to go to a support group to meet other parents in your boat.
Surround yourself with people who are supportive of breastfeeding. Let your partner know how important it is so they are on board with it. Remember, the first few days or weeks may be challenging but breastfeeding will keep getting easier and more comfortable.
Thank you to the amazing companies that have supported this episode.
Mommy Steps makes insoles specifically for pregnancy. They have insoles for athletic shoes and ones for flats or boots. You can even heat them in your oven and mold them to your own feet to make you more comfortable. Most importantly, these can prevent common foot issues during pregnancy. Mommy Steps is offering an exclusive 20% off for listeners of the Pregnancy Podcast. Click here to check them out and enter the promo code FEET when you checkout.
Aeroflow is a company that helps you get a breast pump through your health insurance. There can be some hoops to jump through to get a breast pump through your insurance. Thankfully, Aeroflow makes this process so easy and does all of the work for you. All you need to do is fill out a form that takes just a minute. Aeroflow will contact your health insurance company and get the necessary paperwork from your doctor or midwife. Then they will get in touch with you to help you choose the right breast pump. Click here to get started.
Zahler makes a high quality prenatal vitamin that has the active form of folate plus omega 3s and DHA. This is my favorite prenatal vitamin, the one I take everyday and the one I recommend to all expecting moms. Zahler is offering an exclusive discount to listeners of the Pregnancy Podcast. To check out the vitamin and find out how you can save 25% when you buy a one month supply on Amazon click this link Zahler Prenatal + DHA.