You're expecting a baby! As you count down the days, there's so much to think about. You've heard about the benefits of breastfeeding. Some moms seem to do it naturally. But you're wondering, can you?
"Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to connect with your baby. And your breast milk provides the perfect nutrition and strengthens your baby's immune system," says Beth VonLuehrte, RN, BSN, IBCLC, a International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at The Christ Hospital. "It's a rewarding experience, but it's also a learning experience. So be patient with yourself and your baby."
Read on to learn about five common breastfeeding challenges – and how to plan for success.
#1 Learning your newborn's feeding patterns
Babies are unique. Your newborn's feeding patterns may differ from those of your friend's baby or other babies you've had. Give yourself time to learn your baby's hunger cues and adapt.
How will you know when your baby is hungry?
You don't have to wait until your baby starts crying. Hungry babies will give you some of these early cues:
- Put their hands by their mouth
- Suck on their hands
- Smack their lips
- Stick out their tongue
- Turn their head to look for the breast
- Lie in a quiet, alert state
If your baby seems too sleepy or does not show hunger cues, talk with your doctor and lactation consultant.
How often will your baby breastfeed?
Many newborns feed frequently – as much as 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. And of course, expect to feed your baby during the overnight hours too.
"When the baby gives hunger cues that often, many families are surprised and think something is wrong – maybe the baby is not getting enough milk. But frequent feeding is a perfectly normal pattern, especially in the first few days of life," explains Ms. VonLuehrte. "It's called cluster feeding."
Frequent feedings help to increase your milk supply. As your baby nurses, your body releases hormones that help you make more milk – enough to meet your baby's needs. As time goes by, your baby might also cluster feed when going through growth spurts.
"Breastfeeding is not based on the clock. It's based on baby's cues. There are periods when baby wants to feed more frequently. And then there are other periods when baby is resting for a longer stretch of time and isn't interested in eating," explains Ms. VonLuehrte.
How long does a breastfeeding session last?
Typically, your baby's feeding will last 20 to 30 minutes, maybe a little shorter or longer. Plan to feed your baby about 10 to 15 minutes on each breast.
How do you know your baby is getting enough milk?
Initially, babies drink colostrum, the first milk you make during pregnancy and after giving birth. Colostrum helps your baby's digestive system grow and function. Your regular breast milk becomes more abundant by day three or four, with just the right amount of nutrients and antibodies.
To know if your newborn is drinking enough, look at the big picture of your baby's feeding patterns:
- Is your baby feeding eight to 12 times in 24 hours?
- Does your baby's feeding session last 20 to 30 minutes?
- Is your baby having enough wet and dirty diapers?
- Is your baby gaining weight?
To tell if your baby is making enough wet and dirty diapers, Ms. VonLuehrte offers this guide:
- Day 1 – Newborn has one diaper with urine and one diaper with stool.
- Day 2 – Newborn has two diapers with urine and two diapers with stools.
- Day 4 or 5 – Newborn has six to eight wet diapers and at least three or four diapers with yellow, seedy stools (as mother's milk becomes more abundant).
Regarding weight, the nurses will monitor your baby's weight in the hospital. Typically, healthy babies lose a little weight soon after birth and then regain it.
"After the first two weeks, we're looking for baby to gain somewhere in the range of four to eight ounces per week," says Ms. VonLuehrte. "It's beneficial to schedule appointments with your healthcare provider to check your baby's weight."
Will I need to pump?
If your breasts feel too full, you might pump a little to soften the breast, help baby latch on, and help you feel more comfortable.
If your newborn is not feeding well for some reason, your healthcare team may show you how to express milk and feed it to your baby another way – possibly with a syringe or, if needed, a slow flow nipple.
But usually, if baby is eating well, you won't need to pump in the first week or two.
Should I supplement with formula?
If your baby is breastfeeding well, supplementing with formula is not necessary.
Some mothers decide to breastfeed and provide formula because it's the best choice for their family and lifestyle.
In other cases, supplementing with formula is medically necessary. For example, when a baby has difficulty feeding, the baby's doctor may recommend additional milk to supplement the breastmilk the mother is producing.
#2 Recognizing a good latch
Another challenge you may face in the early days of breastfeeding is getting a good latch. Some babies latch onto the breast easily. Other babies need a little time to learn.
Signs your baby has a good latch include:
- Baby's tummy rests against your body
- Baby's mouth opens wide around the breast, with lips turned out
- Feeding feels like a strong tug, but doesn't hurt you
- Baby sucks in a rhythmic pattern
- You hear or see swallows, which indicate the baby is drinking milk
Whenever possible, try to respond to your baby's early hunger cues. If you wait until the baby cries, it may be more difficult to get a good latch. A lactation consultant will suggest ways to hold your baby to help get a good latch.
#3 Planning a place for breastfeeding
Breastfeeding at home
Designate a comfortable spot to feed your baby at home – maybe a bedroom or family room. Sit in a good chair or couch that allows you to relax and offers support for your back. You'll need a few pillows to bring your baby up to breast level. And you might like pillows for your back as well. You might also like music, a TV and a side table to hold a glass of water.
Breastfeeding in public
As you build confidence with breastfeeding, you might take your baby with you on longer outings. Some stores, malls, churches and airports have dedicated lounges where moms can nurse their babies.
Expressing breast milk at work
Planning to work outside the home? Talk with a lactation consultant about when to start expressing milk to store for your baby's feedings. At work, your employer may offer designated spaces where you can pump milk during your workday.
#4 Physical impacts of breastfeeding for you, the mother
In the first few days of breastfeeding, you'll be captivated with your precious newborn – but don't be surprised if you also feel exhausted and sore from all the feedings. Just know – there are solutions.
"Sore nipples are not uncommon," says Ms. VonLuehrte. "Work closely with a lactation consultant to relieve soreness by making sure baby latches onto the breast correctly."
Your baby should not suck on just the nipple alone. Instead, your baby should nurse from the areola, the darker-colored area around the nipple.
To soothe sore nipples, you can rub a little breast milk on them. Breast milk has natural healing properties. You can also use special ointments that are made for breastfeeding mothers and won't hurt the baby.
After you give birth, you may need extra rest. Try to sleep when your baby is sleeping. Plan ahead so family members and friends can help with meals, errands and laundry. Ask your spouse or other family members to help change diapers and enjoy time with the baby too.
When your milk first comes in, your breasts may feel swollen and full. To reduce the fullness, give your baby frequent feedings. If your baby is not ready to drink, you can use a pump to express a small amount of the milk to reduce the pressure in your breasts.
Plugged ducts or infection
If you feel a sore lump in your breast, you may have a plugged duct. Plugged ducts and inflammation are very uncommon in the early days of breastfeeding, and you might never get them. If you feel any symptoms – such as redness, fever, headache or extreme fatigue – call your healthcare provider for advice.
#5 The emotional impacts of breastfeeding
Giving birth to a new baby and starting to breastfeed is a beautiful time. Breastfeeding gives you a special chance to bond with your baby. Yet, you're filled with many emotions.
"You know the benefits of breastfeeding. Yet, you may feel tired from the delivery. And at first, nursing may be frustrating and different than you expected," says Ms. VonLuehrte. "So, take advantage of your time at the hospital. Learn from the nurses and lactation consultants. We work to develop a unique plan to help each mom and baby. We want you to enjoy a rewarding breastfeeding experience."
And your spouse, family and friends are there to support you as well.
If you have breastfeeding questions
After you leave the hospital, feel free to call our lactation consultants at 513-585-0597 at The Christ Hospital main campus in Mt. Auburn or 513-648-7671 at The Christ Hospital Medical Center – Liberty Township.
We check our phone lines each day between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. If you have questions after hours, we'll return your call the next day. You can also email questions to lactation@TheChristHospital.com. Of course, if you have an urgent question, call your healthcare provider.
Breastfeeding support groups
If you'd like to meet other women who are choosing to breastfeed, you're welcome to join our breastfeeding support groups. We meet on Tuesdays at The Christ Hospital main campus in Mt. Auburn or at The Christ Hospital Medical Center – Liberty Township, alternating locations each week. You can check times and register at the Childbirth Education link below.
If you're expecting a baby, you can sign up for our childbirth education and breastfeeding classes to learn what to expect.