We are strong advocates for breastfeeding whenever possible. Whether you breastfeed your baby three days, three months, or three years, you are giving your child a precious gift in the form of nutrition, immune system support, and comfort.
Breastfeeding is the natural, biological way our species was designed to survive, yet much of the American population uses artificial milk from another animal to support the growth and development of infants. Mother’s milk is far superior because it provides nutrients, comfort and a whole host of other substances that can’t be replicated in a lab. Children who are breastfed are at decreased risk for many health issues, including SIDS, diabetes, and childhood obesity. Mother’s milk contains:
- Nutrition – Mother’s milk actually changes with the age of your baby to give him or her exactly what he or she needs at every stage of development, for as long as you choose to breastfeed. It is a complete nutritional food that provides everything your child needs to survive in the first year of life.
- Antibodies – Breastmilk contains all sorts of antibodies that prevent childhood illnesses like colds, diarrhea, ear infections and more. If you breastfeed into toddlerhood, your milk will continue to provide these benefits, which will help keep the daycare bugs to a minimum!
- Development – Breastmilk contains a complex mixture of items that help your child’s brain to grow and thrive. These components, plus the security and comfort of being at mom’s breast, typically help breastfed babies have a greater IQ and more independence than non-breastfed babies.
- Digestive enzymes/probiotics – Babies’ stomachs are not designed for anything except breastmilk in the first six months. During that time, the breastmilk actually helps create a protective lining in your baby’s stomach to help him or her when you finally start introducing solids.
- Stem cells/DNA – That’s right, stem cells. If you breastfeed, those cells help ensure that your child is developing properly and can reduce the risk of come cancers, like leukemia, down the road.
- Long chain fatty acids (DHA) – Your child needs the unique long chain fatty acids like DHA to support brain development, and in fact some studies have indicated that the brain needs these until around age 5. The long chain fatty acids produced in breastmilk are unique and so far have not been replicated in a lab
- Comfort – Okay, so it’s not the breastmilk per se that provides comfort. However, the mother’s breast operates as a sort of home base for infants and children in the early years. You may find that as your baby gets older, he will come to you when he is hurt, scared or just needs a little comforting. This kind of healthy attachment in the early months will let your child know that the world is safe, and eventually help your child to become much more independent later on.
- Attend a breastfeeding class before the birth, or better yet, attend a birth class that includes breastfeeding education as part of the course.
- Connect with other breastfeeding moms before your birth. For most of human history, children grew up surrounded by breastfeeding babies and women with breastfeeding experience; that simply isn’t the case for most people today. But it really does take a village. You can expect to need support from knowledgeable peers at some time during your nursing relationship. This can be as simple as picking a friend’s brain, or it can mean going to a breastfeeding support group meeting. Organizations like La Leche League and Breastfeeding USA are a great place to connect with local resources. (If you’re in the Athens, Ohio area, click here to connect to our local LLL group.)
- Read – and if possible own – the books The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (the current 8th edition is much better than earlier editions and is worth seeking out) and/or Breastfeeding Made Simple. These are great resources that you can turn to any time you have questions.
- Watch videos about initiating breastfeeding in the first moments after birth. We recommend this one (NSFW warning: there are naked people, gooey babies and [of course] breasts in this video).
- Find a board certified lactation consultant and put her number on your fridge. In fact, just set aside money equivalent to a month’s worth of formula for any necessary lactation consultant visits. Under the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for Women’s Preventive Services, insurers are required to provide “Comprehensive lactation support and counseling, by a trained provider during pregnancy and/or in the postpartum period, and costs for renting breastfeeding equipment”; however, interpretation of just what comprises “comprehensive lactation support” varies.
- Choose a pediatrician who is breastfeeding friendly. If you can find a doctor who is also a lactation consultant, that is awesome (and will be easier to get your insurer to cover). If you can’t, then find a doctor who knows a good lactation consultant, so you can get assistance instead of samples when you run into trouble.
- Hire a doula for your birth. Yes, doulas are primarily labor support, but it is also in their job description to help you establish breastfeeding in the first few hours after birth. I [Rachel] would not be breastfeeding today if it weren’t for my doula. Doulas. Are. Worth. Every. Penny.
- Bookmark kellymom.com. This website has so much good information and so many resources that you will be glad you have it at your fingertips. A great Kellymom page to begin with is this list of resources about how to get a good latch. Also consider following the Kellymom Facebook page and/or joining its related groups; these pages are full of people who are experienced with and support breastfeeding.
You might have heard that you will need to “prepare” your nipples for breastfeeding, by doing things like rubbing sandpaper on them (yowch!), or coating them with lanolin in the third trimester of pregnancy. Well guess what? Breastfeeding should not hurt at all! When I (Jackie) was first nursing, I described the sensation to my midwives as “like breaking in a new pair of shoes, but they’re the best-fitting shoes I’ve ever owned”; they told me this was exactly the level of tenderness that was appropriate. A good latch should feel like nothing more than a tug.
If it does hurt, make an appointment with a lactation consultant to resolve any issues. The sooner you get help the more likely you can avoid sore, cracked or bleeding nipples, so don’t wait! Schedule an appointment immediately.
The short answer is: breastfeed as long as you can. Any time you spend breastfeeding gives your baby so many benefits, so whether it is six weeks or six years, you are giving your child one of the most wonderful gifts she will ever receive. The right time to wean will be different for each mom, but know that the longer your child breastfeeds, the more she will benefit.
The AAP, WHO and UNICEF all strongly suggest (and probably wish they could require) exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months (no cereal, formula, solids, etc). A baby’s stomach is not designed to handle any substance other than breastmilk until around 6 months or a little thereafter. The WHO (as well as the British and Australian health authorities) recommends continuing to feed solids alongside breastmilk until the age of two or as long mother and child wish to continue breastfeeding. (AAP says one year and beyond as desired.)
Although it is hard in today’s busy world to breastfeed this long, breastfeeding until your child self-weans helps him to become more secure, reduces the likelihood that he will get sick, and promotes better dental development. Do keep in mind, though, that toddler/preschooler nursing habits are quite different than nursing an infant: older nurslings usually demand just a couple of short nursing sessions a day. The longer you breastfeed, the more benefits it confers to your child. Here is a great article debunking some myths about extended breastfeeding: http://www.iamnotthebabysitter.com/toddler-nursing-myths-debunked/
If you are a little squeamish about extended nursing, that is okay. Nurse as long as you can, and know that what milk you were able to give your baby was amazing.
Nope. There have actually been a couple studies on this topic, and they have found that after you are done breastfeeding your breasts pretty much go back to normal (albeit one or more years older than before you conceived). Add in a reduced risk of breast cancer, and we’d say your breasts will be better off than before you breastfed!
You may hear that giving your baby an artificial nipple will cause “nipple confusion.” Some recent studies have brought this theory into question. Certainly, giving your baby a bottle of breastmilk is far better than giving him nothing at all, so in the case where your baby is unable to latch, pumping into a bottle is a good alternative until you can get some help from a lactation consultant. (And remember, babies keep the rooting reflex for about 6 months, so you have plenty of time to get nursing down.)
Pacifiers are a little bit of a different story. In the early weeks of breastfeeding, your baby’s suckling helps to establish your own milk supply. If your baby is suckling on a pacifier and not your breast, then your breast is not getting the right level of stimulation to produce the amount of milk your baby may need. Some babies have very strong sucking needs and a pacifier may be necessary to help mom get a break, but try to avoid a pacifier for as long as you can, preferably until at least 6 weeks. And if you ever find you’re having trouble producing enough milk, you may wish to decrease or discontinue pacifier use until the problem is solved.
You can still breastfeed when you go back to work.
Some hospitals and WIC offices offer classes for moms going back to work. If you can take one of these, you will have a lot more success keeping your supply up while you are away from your baby.
If you have a lactation consultant in your area, we strongly suggest you meet with her to discuss your going back to work plan and learn how to use a pump. Pumps, as well as professional lactation services, are covered by the Affordable Care Act. Just what “covered” means varies from one insurance company to another. Be sure to give your insurer a call to verify coverage – preferably before baby’s arrival.
The ACA further requires employers to provide break time and a suitable location for the pumping of breast milk for the first year after baby’s birth. In general this means a break every 1.5-2 hours, or about as often as baby would have nursed if you were together. The average breastfed baby requires 16-30 ounces of milk per 24 hours, so as a rough average you should plan to leave 1 ounce of pumped milk for every hour you’re away from baby.
After your return to work you may find that your baby actually takes somewhat less pumped milk than this, preferring instead to nurse more when you do get home from work. This will help keep your supply up (babies are more efficient than pumps), but it might be helpful to room-in with your baby so you can get an easier night’s sleep.
A lot of dads think they can’t bond with the baby if they can’t give the baby a bottle, and this couldn’t be farther from the truth! Dads can burp the baby and snuggle after mom nurses, giggle and coo with the baby during diaper changes, read bedtime stories, cuddle skin-to-skin during naptime, or throw baby in the carrier for a nice long hike!
Keep nursing. J Suckling does not involve teeth, and in fact you will notice that your baby’s tongue actually covers her bottom teeth while she is nursing. You may find that your baby wants to use you as a teething ring when she is teething, but you can consult kellymom.com or your lactation consultant for some good suggestions on how to break that habit. Nursing is the first form of gentle discipline.