Booby Blunders

From caving in to bad advice to trying to force a schedule, the top five nursing pitfalls—and how to avoid them.

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Though you and your partner may be thrilled at your breasts' morphing form, their fundamental, most basic purpose is to provide sustenance to your offspring. Alas, the irony is that while nursing may be the most natural act in the world, it isn't always easy.

But that doesn't mean you can't do it. In fact, the majority of women are able to breastfeed their babies successfully—and happily. "Ninety-seven percent of women are capable of nursing 100 percent of the time," says Corky Harvey, M.S., R.N., IBCLC, co-owner of the Pump Station stores in Southern California. The key to success, she says, lies in preparing for challenges and having a plan for sidestepping them. We're here to help, with info on the five most common breastfeeding pitfalls and how to avoid them.

1) Giving in to bad advice

As well-meaning as your relatives undoubtedly are, they may have different ideas about how a baby—your baby—should be fed. "It's a confusing dynamic when a new mom wants to nurse and her own mother fed her children formula," says Sue Huml, IBCLC, a professional lactation consultant to Lansinoh Laboratories, a maker of breastfeeding products in Alexandria, Va. "Often the message she receives is, 'Bottle-feeding was good enough for you,' as if the choice to breastfeed is a personal insult."

In the days and weeks after you've given birth, your body aches, your hormones are going nuts, and you and the baby are both sleepier and weepier than you ever thought possible. An anxious family member insisting that your baby is starving may be all it takes to persuade you to stop breastfeeding. "The last thing a new mom needs to hear is, 'Are you nursing again?' or 'Are you sure the baby is getting enough to eat?' " Huml adds.

So educate your postpartum posse. Invite them to attend a breastfeeding class with you, or ask them to be present when you meet with a lactation consultant. Explain how important nursing is to you and that you need their support. "Once everyone understands what 'normal' is, they can relax," says Huml.

2) Assuming you can't do it

You may be convinced that your barely-A cups couldn't produce enough milk to feed a newborn mouse or that your pancake-flat nipples will prevent your baby from latching on. Fear not. "Smaller breasts can make the same amount of milk as larger ones," Huml says, "although the capacity to store large amounts of milk may not be as great." That means you may need to feed more often if you're tiny up top, but your baby will get all the milk he needs.

If you're the owner of flat or inverted nipples, they can make it difficult for your baby to latch on properly. However, your nipples may extend naturally as you reach the end of your pregnancy; also, pumping immediately after giving birth often helps to draw them out.

Don't despair if that doesn't work: Using nipple shields almost always solves the problem. These soft, pliable, plastic devices have holes in the tip and are worn over your own nipples, giving the baby something substantial to latch on to. If you're a candidate for nipple shields, it's important to get help from a lactation consultant.

3) Forfeiting feedings

"Honey," your husband says sweetly one morning, putting his hand on your exhausted shoulder, "why don't you pump some milk today and I'll get up with the baby tonight so you can sleep?" Music to your ears, no doubt—but not a terrific plan. "If a mother consistently sleeps when her baby needs to be fed, her milk supply will drop," Harvey says. If your spouse extends this generous offer, thank him profusely and suggest a compromise: He can retrieve junior, change him, bring him to you and then return him to bed once the feeding is over. And when you're craving a delicious slice of slumber, keep your eye on the prize (untold health benefits for your baby and you) and remind yourself that it won't be long before the midnight buffet closes permanently.

4) Trying to force a schedule

As convenient as it would be to plan out a day's worth of feedings, a newborn doesn't wear a watch. He doesn't care if it's been 15 minutes or four hours since his last meal; when his tummy rumbles, he wants to eat. And you need to let him—if you don't, you risk poor weight gain for him and decreased milk production for you.

5) Sacrificing your sanity

In a perfect world, new moms wouldn't be allowed to go back to work for at least a year after giving birth. These extraordinary, people-making creatures would lounge about contentedly, tickling tiny toes and supplying milk on demand while generous volunteers assumed their unpaid chores and responsibilities. (Mothers in general would also be forced to endure daily foot massages and drink magical thigh-toning milkshakes, but I digress.)

Modern-day moms balance more responsibilities than the busiest CEOs, and it can be hard to muster the energy and enthusiasm to feed your baby breast milk exclusively, especially if you return to work full time and need to fit pumping into your already hectic day. Yes, breast milk is undeniably the best food for all babies, but if finding the time to pump is stressing you out and you decide to give your child an occasional bottle of formula, pat yourself on the back for what you've already given your baby—a healthy dose of the most perfect food in the world—and move on. Keep in mind that what your child drinks is only part of his overall health picture; genetics and environment also play a role.

"I try to be sympathetic to women's situations," says Harvey. "Some breast milk is better than none."

Got enough milk?

Many nursing moms throw in the breastfeeding towel when they see their baby's weight drop a few days after birth. Hear this: Some weight loss is normal in your baby's first days of life. He should return to his birth weight within two weeks of delivery; after that, he should gain about 1/2 to 1 ounce a day until about 4 months of age. If he doesn't and you suspect he's not getting enough milk, see your pediatrician.

Be a milk maven Want more information to help you become a breastfeeding pro? Visit fitpregnancy.com/breastfeeding.

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