Disclaimer: Let me just start off by defining success in breast-feeding: Reaching your own personal goal. Newsflash, FED IS NOT BEST. This phrase gaslights new moms, and completely glosses over any disappointment they may feel at unmet expectations. BREAST IS NOT BEST. Not very mother wants to breastfeed, and she shouldn’t be held to another person’s expectations about what is right for her child and herself. You want to know what’s best? Educated is best. Informed is best. Supported is best. Whether a mother wants to formula feed from Day 1, or breastfeed until age 2. What matters most is that she has the education, support, and professional help to reach her OWN personal goals. And if you are feeling defeated or breastfeeding has not worked out the way you had hoped, I hope you hear me when I say that you have not failed. You have been failed. And my prayer is that our society and Health System grows to better support moms in the future.
So let’s begin! Here are my top tips for breastfeeding success. It’s important to note that you can be successful in your breast-feeding journey without all of these things. This is just a good starting point to troubleshoot and help prevent any potential problems.
1. Research! I’m not saying go out and buy every book there is, but maybe one or two to educate yourself on the basics. Also trusted websites, which I’ll link below. Know what colostrum is, what are cluster feedings, how frequently you should nurse, helping with engorgment, and SO much more.
2. Talk to your Partner A well known predictor for a woman’s breast-feeding success is positive support and active engagement from her partner. Have conversations prior to the baby being born about what support will look like for you and how they can best help you reach your breast-feeding goal.
3. Review your Birth Plan Study and know the risks of intervention and medication during labor. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a scheduled induction, use Synthetic Oxytocin to augment labor, or choose not to have an epidural. A Cesarean birth may be the best option for the health of mom and baby. But it’s important to be aware that research has shown that these interventions impact breast-feeding. It’s important to know your options and weigh the risks and benefits of each choice, and to look at alternate options if desired. Such as Bupivacaine versus Fentanyl for an epidural. Knowledge is power. So even if you plan to have an epidural for example, you can already be prepared and thinking of ways to ensure breast-feeding success despite these variables.
4. Look up Local Resources I suggest not waiting for breast-feeding issues to arise. During pregnancy, look up local resources such as LLLI meetings, or free “Milk Bars” for support. That way, when you realize you need help you already have a list of places to turn to to get the support you need sooner rather than later.
5. Hire a Doula According to the Healthy Children’s Project, the frequency of exclusive breast-feeding at one month was higher if a mother had a Doula and labor. The frequency of exclusive breast-feeding at one month was higher if a mother had a Doula and labor. Doula’s are not only great support systems during labor and delivery, but can help establish breast-feeding during this crucial first hours after birth.
6. Nurse Frequently many mothers hear that they should nurse 8 to 12 times in a 24 hour period. This leads moms to stop at eight feedings and assume that things are “fine”. Breast-feeding works on supply and demand. The higher the demand for milk, the greater supply your body will produce as a result. This is especially important in the first day through the first few weeks after baby is born. It’s also important to remember that babies are individuals. Someone might like to eat bigger meals less frequently, and some might like to snack at regular intervals. When in doubt, nurse the baby more.
7. See a Lactation Consultant IBCLC’s and CLC’s (plus many more) are qualifying credentials that let you know someone has been educated in Lactation. Appointments can range in price, and the number of sessions depends on how much help you need. Their support could be absolutely essential if you are struggling to reach your breast-feeding goals. Lactation Consultants can help you nurse longer, with weaning advice, advice on formula supplementation, and so much more.
8. Plan for a Return to Work or School or Daycare This will likely require quite a bit of research and depend on how old the baby is when the separation occurs. This is where Lactation Consultant‘s advice will come in handy. Although it’s important to note, if your baby won’t take a bottle there are several other options. Even newborns can be fed using cups and syringes, so don’t despair! Also, breastmilk changes in composition as a baby grows, so a good rule of thumb is that your baby will only need 1.5 to 2 ounces of milk for every hour that you were apart, regardless of their age. Make sure that your caregiver knows how to pace feed, to protect the breastfeeding relationship.
9. See the Right Professional It’s likely that your pediatrician has very little knowledge of breast-feeding. If you need help, be sure to seek out a lactation professional. Likewise, a lactation professional is not qualified to diagnose tongue or lip ties. Although they can refer you to a pediatric dentist who has the expertise. Physical Therapists and Chiropractors can also be helpful professionals depending on how stressful birth was for your baby. Broken clavicles (common in birth) or strained muscles can impact an infants ability to breastfeed successfully.
Links & Further Reading
Birth interventions and breastfeeding
Breastfeeding After Cesarean Birth