| by Meg Nagle, IBCLC
I can remember the first few months of motherhood with a clarity that surprises me: sitting up in the middle of the night feeling as though I was the only woman awake in the whole world, receiving advice from many well-meaning friends and family members, questioning almost every single thing that I did and feeling an exhaustion that weighed heavily on my mind and body.
The irony is that most every piece of advice given is usually something which makes us go against our instincts as a new mom. Our babies fall asleep at the breast yet we are told to teach our babies to fall asleep on their own. Our babies sleep best when in our beds yet we are told to buy a crib and put them in it while lying on a sensor. We carry our babies around as they are happiest that way, yet we are told to put them down as we will spoil them. Our babies cry so we breastfeed them yet we are told to let them “cry it out” so they will learn to self-settle. So what is a new mom to do?
The following are some suggestions to all of the new moms out there who are being questioned (or questioning themselves) and are overwhelmed with all of the conflicting information out there. Breastfeeding can be challenging, it can be stressful, but it is mostly wonderful when you can get the help and support you need and can follow what your motherly instincts are telling you.
Trust your instincts, trust your instincts, trust your instincts. And follow the lead of your baby.
1. Breastfeed your babies as often and for as long as they need to.
Your breasts work on supply and demand; they are the ultimate milk making machines! The more your baby breastfeeds, the more milk you will make. This is why babies tend to breastfeed A LOT. It is not uncommon for babies to breastfeed for a few minutes, come off for a bit of a break and then go straight back on! This is not only normal but important for your milk supply during the early months. It will also help you prevent plugged ducts and mastitis. You might not be able to get anything done around the house which takes more than two minutes to accomplish, but have no fear! Your baby will go for longer stretches as he gets older. Eventually, you will be able to pee, shower and cook without having a baby latched on!
2. How do I know I have enough milk?
Often times moms worry about their milk supply. Some common worries relate to how their breasts feel (if they are “empty” feeling), if they have a cranky baby (is he hungry?) and if their baby cluster feeds in the afternoon (he is feeding so much he must be starving!). La Leche League International (2012) states the following five things to look for to know your newborn baby is doing well: weight gain, diapers, your breasts, nursing behaviour, and disposition. Is your baby gaining weight as expected? Does your baby have at least six wet diapers every day and at least three poops every day? Can you see or hear your baby sucking and swallowing milk and finishing within a half an hour at most feeds? Is your baby generally content after he feeds? If you can answer yes to these questions, then great! Your baby is getting enough (p. 110). Things that do NOT matter include: how “full” your breasts feel at the end of the day, how many minutes your baby feeds for, how much you can pump with a breast pump or hand expression, or if your baby cluster feeds (feeds very frequently within a short period of time). Babies tend to cluster feed in the late afternoon and many babies have a cranky time during the day. This is not an indication that your milk is low.
3. Cuddle your baby as much as you can.
Babies who are carried tend to be happier. This is because they want two things in life, a breastfeed and a cuddle. Try out different baby carriers. There are many different styles and it just depends on what is most comfort-able for you. Breastfeeding in a baby carrier is also a great way to settle your baby and gives you the op-portunity to breastfeed in a different position which can be helpful for some babies who have difficulty latching on. Also, some babies will be more likely to breastfeed while they are in motion.
4. Keep it simple!
If your baby is having trouble latching on, keep trying the following: skin to skin and settling your baby BEFORE you try to breastfeed. Do not stress about you or your baby’s position, how wide their mouth is or what style bra you are wearing. Simply get into bed with your baby, hang out skin to skin and encourage your baby to find your nipple while lying back in a relaxed, semi reclined position with your baby lying on your chest. Oxytocin (sometimes called the “love” hormone) is one of the hormones involved with breastfeeding. When oxytocin starts flowing, your milk starts flowing! Buckley (2005) wrote, “Oxytocin helps us in our emotional, as well as our physical, transition to motherhood. From the first weeks of pregnancy, oxytocin helps us to be more emotionally open and more receptive to social contact and support. As the hormone of orgasm, labour and breastfeeding, oxytocin encourages us to “forget ourselves,” either through altruism — service to others — or through feelings of love.” If we can just focus on getting skin to skin with our baby, resting and asking for help with our other children, cooking, cleaning etc. then we can simply be with our babies. Al-low the oxytocin to flow, which will in turn relax us and our babies, and allow for an easier transition into breastfeeding and mother-hood in the early days and weeks.
5. If you are thinking of introducing a pacifier, try to wait until after the first couple of months.
Pacifiers take the place of your breast. A baby who is sucking on a pacifier is one who would otherwise be stimulating a breast. Babies need to breast-feed frequently to help establish and build your milk supply. It is crucial for some babies to breastfeed every few hours. For other babies it will not be an issue, yet the important thing to remember is that you will not know what category your baby will fall into. It might make sense to play it safe and avoid them if you can. Instead of settling your baby through the use of a pacifier you can try: breastfeeding, carrying your baby in a baby carrier, taking a walk with your baby or giv-ing them a bath.
6. Babies will breastfeed frequently at night.
Although at times this is exhausting, it is also normal and important.There is an article written by McKenna, Ball & Gettler (2007), which supports the safety of co-sleeping and the importance that frequent breastfeeding plays in reducing a baby’s risk of SIDS. Babies are not physically ready to sleep through the night, and have a biological need to be with their mothers. A toddler who is breastfed on demand will also most likely wake a few times per night (or a million depending on who you talk to!) and this is also completely normal. Many moms find that by co-sleeping (baby sleeping in the same room) or bed-sharing (sleeping with their baby in the same bed) enables them to get more sleep while breastfeeding through the night. Sleep topless and just roll over when your baby wakes up. Brilliant! You can find safe bed-sharing guidelines on Dr. James Mc-Kenna’s website. There was a study published in 2001 which looked at ba-bies’ sleep patterns between the ages of birth and twelve months. They found that “most infants woke during the night at all ages observed” and that “even in the 12-month-old group, 50% of infants typically required parental intervention to get back to sleep after waking.” (Goodlin-Jones B.L., Burnham M.M., Gaylor E.E. et al, 2001, pp.226-233). Parental intervention for many of us simply means breastfeeding!
7. Breastfeeding should not hurt!
If breastfeeding is painful, seek help.Often times a woman who is experiencing nipple pain will have a baby who is not latching on properly. Once a baby’s latch is fixed, the pain should go away. Pain can also be caused by a baby who has a tongue or lip tie, or a baby with a high palate. Thrush can also cause pain and for some women this will be the only symptom. If you feel as though something is not right, seek help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) as soon as possible.
8. Find your tribe!
Find the group of women who mother like you do. Finding supportive and encouraging moms who mother through breastfeeding, will understand where you are coming from and encourage you to listen to your instincts. Finding your group of women can be just what you need to get you through the more challenging times of motherhood.
You know your baby best. You may be pregnant and getting ready to start this journey or have just started and have so many questions. Remember to trust your instincts and follow the lead of your baby. Ask for help from an IBCLC if you are concerned.