How To Breast Feed (and Still Have a Life)

Answers for five oft-asked questions about nursing

When my daughter Willa was an infant, she loved to nurse. Every hour on the hour. And never more than a nip at a time. She also hated to nurse in public, preferring a quiet room alone with me. With my second baby, I was luckier and smarter. I nursed my son at coffee houses, bookstores, even the beach. I also bought an electric breast pump, so I could go to the gym without worrying that he would starve. Because I had more of a life the second time around, I felt better about breastfeeding and was proud of what I had done for both children. Breastfeeding created an intimate bond, and breast milk — with its perfect balance of protein, fats, carbs, vitamins and minerals — gave them the best possible nutritional start. I also passed along a healthy dose of immunities and disease-fighting agents that, studies show, can result in fewer ear infections, allergies and diarrhea. If you're a new mom, you probably have a lot of questions about breastfeeding. Here are some common ones with answers from the experts.

If I breastfeed, do I have to eat all the time? Nursing mothers need to drink more fluids and eat about 200 more calories a day than pregnant women — or about 500 more than nonpregnant women. But all that eating doesn't mean you'll gain weight. Betty Crase, B.A., I.B.C.L.C., director of the La Leche League's International Center for Breastfeeding Information, says the opposite is often true. Breastfeeding not only helps women shed postpartum pounds, says Crase, but it also chews up the fat that accumulated in their hips and thighs late in pregnancy. The best way to lose weight, Crase advises, is to make every bite count: If you eat nutritiously — fresh fruits, grains and greens, calcium-rich snacks like frozen yogurt and fruit shakes with milk — everything will help produce milk for your baby and energy for you. And make sure you're consuming eight glasses of water and sufficient calories to maintain the weight you need. Keep in mind La Leche League's guide: "Eat to hunger, drink to thirst." If you're losing more than a pound or pound-and-a-half a week after the initial loss, you're losing too much to breastfeed successfully.

Can breastfeeding moms exercise? Yes, but you need to plan your workout around your baby. "Nurse before you leave so your breasts won't feel full and you won't leak," says Jeanne Wilton, R.N., M.S., I.B.C.L.C., an obstetrician-gynecologist nurse-practitioner at All Saints Medical Center in Racine, Wis. Be sure to wear a supportive bra, but not one that binds the breasts so tightly that milk ducts become clogged, causing painful infection. If you wear a sports bra to work out, take it off when you are finished. And don't worry if your baby shuns the breast after you exercise: Although one study found that babies turned up their noses at the "lactic acid taste" of post-exercise milk, the link is unproven; just wait awhile and try again.

How do I get out the door (minus baby) to go to the gym? If your baby has a predictable schedule, you could try to squeeze a workout in between feedings, but more likely, you'll need to leave a bottle of expressed milk (pumped from your breast) with your caregiver. Crase advises parents to wait a minimum of three weeks after delivery to introduce baby to bottle — and then to let someone other than mom handle the bottle feeding. A baby may refuse the bottle if she can smell you. To express milk, you'll need to rent or buy a breast pump. The least expensive but most labor-intensive method is manual pumping. The easier, but more costly, option is an electric pump. Once a pumping schedule is established, a double pump can drain both breasts in about 10 minutes.

What is the best way to breastfeed in public? If you want to keep a life of your own, you probably will be toting your baby all over town, and eventually, your baby will be hungry. Not to worry: It is possible to nurse discreetly in public. Wear clothing that is roomy and easy to pull up or unbutton. If you unbutton from the bottom up, you won't bare your entire breast. If you still feel self-conscious, throw a receiving blanket over your chest and your baby. You also may want to try nursing with your baby in a sling. By changing the position of the sling, a baby can nurse almost invisibly.

Can I return to work without giving up breastfeeding? Yes. Thanks to breast pumps, it's possible to work and nurse both. But you'll need to do some planning. Try to nurse your baby at least once — twice, if possible — before leaving for work. While away, pump on your baby's schedule or, as Crase suggests, when your breasts feel full. To avoid embarrassing leaks, slip nursing pads inside your bra (reusable fabric pads are best). You can store expressed breast milk in the refrigerator for up to about eight days, according to La Leche League, and in the freezer for six months. Then, find a caregiver who understands that breastfed babies need to eat more often and who is willing to hold off on feedings at the end of the day until just before you come home from work. That way, you can nurse as soon as you get home. At the end of the workday and on weekends, try to feed your baby on demand. That will replenish your milk supply and maintain that special bond between you and your baby.