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5 Things You Should Know About Breastfeeding NOW, Before the Baby Is Born

1. Babies Don’t Suck On The Nipple

New mothers will hear lots about getting a “good latch” in the first weeks of breastfeeding. There are some finer points to this, but the main thing is that babies do not “latch onto” (suck) the actual nipple. They suck on the pink part around the nipple which is called the areola. The full milk ducts are under the areola. When these are squeezed by the force of the baby’s sucking, the milk comes out through the nipple. If the baby sucks on the nipple, no milk ducts are being squeezed and soon mom will be in AGONY. And the nipples will become sore and even chapped and bloody. So get as much of that areola into the little baby’s mouth as you can.

2. The More You Feed, The More You Make

If you feed frequently, your body will make lots of milk. If you feed infrequently and supplement with formula, your body will make less milk. It’s the simple law of supply and demand. Your body is smart: if the baby sucks (from hunger), it makes milk (to sate that hunger).

But there’s a little more to it than that: Early, frequent feeding is crucial to establish supply in the first place.

During the several weeks after birth, your body is getting some important information about what’s expected of it. Think of it like this: the milk factory is being built. If there’s a need for lots of milk — because the baby is constantly feeding — a big factory will be made. If there’s scant need, a small factory will be made. This is one key reason why all breastfeeding experts insist on feeding breastmilk exclusively for the first few weeks.

No matter when you imagine yourself weaning the baby, if you’d like to have the option of feeding breastmilk for some period of time, it’s important to build the milk factory early on. It’s easier to switch to formula later, not so easy to switch to breastmilk if you’ve been feeding formula in the first month.

If you want to breastfeed, make sure everyone in the hospital/birth center knows to let you feed “on demand” and “exclusively.”  If the baby is in the nursery and starts to cry or fuss and suck, looking for a food, the nurses should bring him immediately to you for a feeding. Another option is to have the baby “room in” (sleep in the room) with you.

3. Babies Nurse 8-12 Times In 24 Hours, But Not At Even Intervals

The idea of a feeding schedule can be so appealing to a new mother who realizes full-well just how much her days and nights are going to be dominated by another person’s needs. However, when it comes to breastfeeding in the very early weeks, trying to get everything super planned can end up making a mother feel even more out of control. The fact is babies feed about 8-12 times in a 24 hour period, sometimes in what are called “cluster feedings,” or feedings that take place in quick succession. Since each feeding can take about 45 minutes, those periods of cluster feedings can make a new mother feel like she’s pretty much chained to the nursing chair for hours when they happen. So prepare: Have a book, water (always water!), the remote, snack, phone and whatever else you need at arm’s reach when you sit down to nurse. And try not to worry to much if your tiny newborn isn’t snapping to our adult schedules right away; they’re on baby-time for a while, so let it be.

4. If You Want To Breastfeed, Do Not Introduce Bottles Or Pacifiers In the First Few Weeks

Babies can develop what’s called “nipple confusion” if they are fed from both an artificial nipple and a real one too early on. Nipple confusion should really be called Nipple Preference (and sometimes is) because the baby begins to prefer one nipple to the other. And the bottle is usually the winner. Artificial nipples are a little easier to suck from and babies can get used to that. They may adamantly reject the breast if they get too much bottle time too soon. An infant can be re-trained to enjoy nursing, but it’s not always easy. If you plan to nurse, leave the artificial nipples out of your baby’s mouth for the first few weeks.

5. Breastfeeding Is Hard At First

I cannot emphasize this enough: it’s so different for the first few weeks than it is later on. There is a big learning curve for mother and baby — you both need to get into the rhythms and motions of feeding. Sure, it’s the most innate thing in the world — babies were born to suck and our bodies were made to produce milk.  But getting into the groove of holding your baby to the breast, and making sure she’s sucking in the most efficient way, can take some time. You both want it to work, but there’s always some trial and error along the way. And error usually results in sore nipples.

Get lots of support from lactation consultants in the hospital or via neighborhood breastfeeding groups. Some pediatricians don’t know nearly enough about breastfeeding, and your OB/GYN or midwife is not seeing you anymore. This is unfortunate, because good support early on makes a big difference. La Leche League doesn’t charge a thing and they have meetings nation-wide. Lots of childbirth education centers offer postpartum/breastfeeding groups. Look up these resources now so you’re ready when the baby is born.

photo: Alessandro/flickr

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