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Breastfeeding: A Getting Started Guide

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Relax. Breathe. Sit back. Put your feet up. It's time to feed your baby. Oh, and breastfeeding really is all it's cracked up to be!

Breastfeeding for at least the first six month’s of my son’s life was my goal.

I was determined to make breastfeeding work with the birth of my second child since my nursing experience with my first born had been so difficult. So successful breastfeeding became my mission.

My hungry second child latched on immediately just moments after his birth.  What is latching on? It’s that clamped down sensation but without pain — I knew he was latched on because there was no pain whatsoever; latching on is like a very gentle clamp around your areola.

During his first night, my nurse brought Noah to me every three hours for nursing as well as to help stimulate my breasts to encourage milk to come in.  So 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.

Basically, once the baby knows how to latch on, you’re well on your way to breastfeeding success.  But breastfeeding can be a tricky thing.  Say you’re the type of woman who gets stressed out easily; you might have to work at keeping your supply up since stress affects milk production.  What if your baby isn’t latched on properly and signs of dehydration occur (like no wet diapers)?  Or, what if you become engorged early on and need to express milk just so your baby has a place to latch on?  There are all kinds of different scenarios that will affect your overall ability to breast-feed.

Establishing Your Supply

Insufficient milk supply is a myth brought about by women who are not willing to nurse as often as a young baby might want and without limitation. If you nurse willingly, 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, but all women make enough.

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!  Once you get the hang of breastfeeding, it will become easier and easier, and a completely natural and rewarding experience.

Take your time.  Breastfeeding is supposed to be fun. You will not always feel like a milking machine, and in a very brief time 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 – when your breasts are over-filled with milk, hard and painful – you might not be able to latch your baby on since the nipple itself will be flat from the engorgement.  You should express a little milk from your breasts 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 five days of age, the baby should be feeding 8 – 12 times, have 6 – 8 wet diapers and 2 – 5 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, you should seek help.

In fact, whenever you’re concerned about your breast-feeding ability or just need to ask a few questions, you can 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.  You can be fairly certain that your newborn will demand to eat every one-and-a-half to two hours from the start.

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 there is a demand for it.

You, the baby’s mother, must be quietly committed to your breastfeeding ability in order to stick with it when so many other voices give you inaccurate or even accurate information about what your baby wants.  You know your baby better than anyone.  Some are fussier than others; some are a piece of cake.  No matter what though, the nursing mother is bonded to her infant in ways completely natural and rhythmically timed.  Listen to yourself, 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.

The most effective pumps are the electric ones.  You can contact the La Leche League about renting or buying a pump, or you can talk to your lactation consultant after you deliver about getting one from your hospital.  Basically, battery operated pumps are inefficient – a good electric pump will make all the difference in the world.

Pumps also come in very handy for those occasions when you’d like to get away from it all.  If you’ve pumped and stored breast milk in your freezer, there will be plenty for the caregiver to give your baby if you should happen to get a rare night out.

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.

It may seem that if you don’t nurse, milk will build up and you’ll have plenty for the baby when he’s hungry.  But this is a fallacy. Since your breasts are constantly producing milk based on the supply your baby demands, if you don’t express it, your breasts will react as though your baby doesn’t need it.

The accurate theory is the less you nurse (or pump) the less milk you will make; the more you nurse (or pump) the more you will make.  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.

Breastfeeding Support

La Leche League in Nashville
Franklin: 794-3357
Nashville: 298-3259
Murfreesboro: 895-2080

Breastfeeding Beginnings
662-2290

Expressly Yours (pump rentals)
776-5025 or 791-6311

Pumps A Plenty (pump rentals)
833-7802 or 834-6432

The Nursing Mother’s Center
Murfreesboro: 867-4200

Further Reading

So Thats What Theyre For! Breastfeeding Basics
by Janet Tamaro
(Adams Media Corp.; $9.95)

The”ˆWomanly Art of Breastfeeding
by Gwen Gotsch and Judy Torgus
(Plume; $15.95)

The Nursing Mothers Companion to Breastfeeding
by Kathleen Huggins
(Harvard Common Pr.; $12.95)

Getting Breastfeeding Right For You: An Illustrated Guide
by Mary Renfrew, Chloe Fisher and Suzanne Arms
(Celestial Arts; $14)

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.

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