The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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When Cheryl Hendricks learned she was pregnant with her first child, she had no doubt that she’d adore being a mother. What took her by surprise was how much she loved breastfeeding. “It was such a powerful feeling to be able to do something for my daughter that no one else could do,” says the mother of three from Fishers, Ind.
Hendricks knew about the many benefits of breastfeeding even before she had her baby. But her child’s health wasn’t the only reason she continued nursing Libby for 12 months. There was also the support she got from her husband and friends, as well as a pediatrician, all of whom encouraged her to continue breastfeeding.
Such support is too rare in the United States, according to Jeanne Raisler, Dr.PH., a certified nurse-midwife and assistant professor of nursing at the University of Michigan School of Nursing in Ann Arbor. “Almost everybody, even the poorest women in our society, knows about the benefits of breastfeeding, such as the protection breast milk provides against illness. But knowing isn’t enough,” says Raisler, who studies and promotes nursing among low-income women. “A woman who wants to breastfeed will be more likely to do it if she has encouragement from people she is close to.”
In addition to finding support, learning some basic skills is essential for success. “In the best of all worlds, women would sign up for a breastfeeding class at the same time they sign up for a childbirth-education class,” says Wendy Haldeman, R.N., M.N., a certified lactation consultant and co-owner of The Pump Station, a breastfeeding support center in Santa Monica, Calif. While we can’t cover an entire class’s worth of material here, Haldeman does offer 10 tips that will help you get off to a good start.
Most women know about the benefits that breastfeeding offers to babies, but there are many benefits for moms that we don’t hear so much about. For starters, nursing releases oxytocin, the ‘love’ hormone, which promotes bonding. You end up forming a unique bond because you’re giving your baby something that no one else can. It’s priceless.
>JEANNE RAISLER, Dr.PH. Assistant professor of nursing, university of michigan school of nursing
10 ways to make breastfeeding work
1 Make the commitment “In the early postpartum period, you can feel so overwhelmed that you start to doubt if you can breastfeed,” Haldeman says. Make a list now—before you even have your baby—of the top five reasons you want to breastfeed, whether it’s for the health benefits to the baby, the special bond it creates or the help it gives you in getting back to your prepregnancy weight. When the going gets tough, pull out that list, read it slowly and then pat yourself on the back for giving your baby and yourself these gifts.
2 Nurse within an hour of delivery Research shows that breastfeeding goes more smoothly for women who nurse within an hour of giving birth. If you can’t breastfeed immediately—for instance, if you had a Cesarean section—request that you do so as soon as possible. But also know that if breastfeeding is delayed, even for several days, you will still be able to do it. It just may take a bit more effort on your part, including pumping frequently to maintain your milk supply.
3 Get a good latch This can be tricky for many women. When you position your baby at your breast, make sure she is directly facing you, with her belly touching yours. Also ensure that your nipple is well inside her mouth and behind her gum line. If the latch is too shallow, she’ll pull on your nipple, which will make nursing painful. Even worse, your baby may not get enough milk.
4 Request that your baby “room in” The only way you can prevent well-meaning hospital staff from feeding your baby formula or giving her a pacifier (both of which can contribute to less-effective nursing) is to keep her in your room around the clock. This also gives you the opportunity to nurse whenever your baby wants (see tip No. 5). Sleep close to your baby when you get home, too.
5 Establish a good milk supply The breast makes milk fastest when it’s empty, so the more often you nurse, the greater your milk supply will be. “During the first six weeks, it’s essential to let your baby nurse whenever she wants, even if that’s every hour at times,” Haldeman says.
6 Take your pain medication Nursing is easier if you aren’t in pain, so be sure to take any medication prescribed after childbirth (especially a C-section). Many pain medications are safe to use while breastfeeding; just be sure to remind your doctor that you’re nursing.
7 Care for yourself, too Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day (or enough that your urine is nearly clear), eat nutritious meals and get as much sleep as you can. “Excessive stress and not taking care of yourself can affect milk production,” Haldeman says.
8 Don’t use bottles or pacifiers for at least two weeks “Issues with nipple confusion aren’t so problematic if you nurse exclusively for the first two weeks and breastfeeding is well established,” Haldeman says.
9 Learn the signs that your baby is getting enough milk Many nursing moms supplement with formula because they’re concerned about their babies getting enough milk. If your newborn has six to eight wet diapers a day, plus at least three stools, she’s getting enough to eat. But if you’re still worried, call your pediatrician’s office and ask to schedule a weight check. Your doctor will let you know if and when you need to supplement.
10 Get help If you’re having any problems breastfeeding (many women do), schedule an appointment with a lactation consultant as soon as possible after delivery. If your insurance company won’t pay for it, here’s how to justify the expense: One visit with a certified lactation consultant can cost less than a month’s worth of formula. If you don’t know of a specialist near you, call the International Lactation Consultant Association for a referral at 919-861-5577 or visit www. ilca.org. If you have an urgent question, locate a local La Leche League leader by calling 800-525-3243. Also invest in a good breastfeeding book, such as The Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen Huggins, R.N., M.S.