Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Top Ten Things Every Breastfeeding Mother Needs to Know

Welcome to the March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Natural Parenting Top 10 Lists
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared Top 10 lists on a wide variety of aspects of attachment parenting and natural living. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Nursing Bubby. Pacific City, OR. 2010
I've been helping a few friends who are expecting in the coming months, trying to arm them with information and empower them to have successful breastfeeding relationships with their new little ones.  The majority of new moms, nearly 76%, breastfeed initially, but breastfeeding rates at three and six months are disheartening at best. The reasons moms quit breastfeeding are many, but when a mom really wants to breastfeed but is unsuccessful it can often be attributed to one of the Booby Traps, as outlined by Best for Babes. Unfortunately, misinformation and lack of support can be commonplace for breastfeeding moms.

Knowledge is power. These are good reminders for those who consider themselves breastfeeding "pros" and great tidbits of information for those who are just beginning a breastfeeding relationship. Here is my list of the Top 10 Things Every Breastfeeding Mother Needs to Know (in no particular order).

10. Breastfeeding works based on supply and demand. Remember Economics 101? Your milk supply works the same way. In the beginning, you will likely feel like you don't have enough milk. Keep putting baby to your breast; nothing stimulates milk production like skin-to-skin contact and nursing. Just when you feel like things are getting regulated, your baby may hit a growth spurt. It will feel like all you do is nurse. It will feel like your baby is always hungry. Keep nursing. Your baby is nursing so often to stimulate your milk supply. It works the other way too, sometimes you may feel like you have too much milk. Just keep nursing, follow your baby's cues and your supply will regulate. I really think the supply and demand relationship is somewhat magical, it's amazing how it works when the breastfeeding dyad is allowed to do their "work" unimpeded.

9. At birth, your baby's stomach is the size of a marble. It will seem like you don't have any milk and, at first, you don't! Colostrum is specially designed for your newborn; it's the perfect first food and it's all they need. It can take up to a week for your milk to come in, especially if baby was early or born via c-section. Keep nursing; it's the fool-proof way to stimulate production.

8. Get support. My biggest supporter, by far, has been my husband. He's been my cheerleader in hard times. Tell your friends you plan on breastfeeding and enlist the help of friends who have had successful nursing relationships in the past. Make sure extended family knows you are breastfeeding. It can be hard for new moms whose mothers and grandmothers didn't breastfeed; they don't have the familial support or knowledge they might seek. Find a La Leche League (LLL) meeting close by and attend.

7. There is a learning curve to breastfeeding, even for moms nursing their second (or third or fourth...) babies. As a first time mom, don't expect to get it right immediately. It takes time. You have to learn and so does your baby. I considered myself a seasoned breastfeeder when my son was born, but it took some time to get used to nursing a newborn again -- way different than nursing a toddler! Give it time.

6. The breast pump is never an accurate indicator of how much milk you are producing. Ideally, as the mom of a newborn, you should ditch the pump. Unless your situation dictates that you must pump, put it away until your supply regulates. The pump is never as efficient as your baby, so looking at the ounce or two that you pumped can be defeating if you think that is all your baby is getting when they are nursing.

5. Nurse on demand. Watch for your baby's hunger cues and feed him them. Babies indicate hunger by smacking their lips, sucking on their hands, rooting around, squirming, the list goes on and on. Watch your baby, not the clock. It may seem like he just nursed, and maybe he did. Nurse him anyway. Nurse your baby on demand whether it's 3:00 A.M. or 3:00 P.M. Babies need to eat often; their stomachs are small, breastmilk is easily digested, they don't understand day and night, and their sleep cycles are shorter than adults'.  Nighttime nursing is necessary for babies and for your milk supply. Nurse on demand (I can't say that one enough!).

4. Ditch the free formula samples. Since the WHO Code for the marketing of breastmilk substitutes is routinely violated by formula companies and isn't enforced in the United States, many expecting mothers are given formula samples. Don't accept them. Donate them to the food bank. Whatever you do, do not have it sitting on your kitchen counter as you initiate your breastfeeding relationship! I promise you, there will be times you doubt that your supply is adequate. Your baby will act like she wants to nurse, but you will have difficulty getting her to stay latched (awake, focused, etc). That little can of formula on your counter is going to help that doubt grow in your mind. It's going to call to you. That is exactly why you can't have it sitting there! I assure you that if there really is a need to feed your baby formula, then someone can head to your nearest grocer and get you some. I've always said that breastfeeding (especially the first time around) is a mind game. You have to trust your body.

3. Trust your body. The nice thing about breastfeeding is that you were made to do this! It's hard sometimes. You can't see how much milk your baby is drinking. Bottle-feeding mothers can say "My daughter eats x ounces of milk x times a day." You can't and that's okay. Nurse on demand. In the vast majority of cases mom makes enough milk and baby gets enough milk. You have to trust that it's happening.

2. If your doctor, nurse, lactation consultant or pediatrician says you don't have enough milk, your baby isn't getting enough milk, etc, then make sure to get a second opinion. The sad but true fact is that many nurses, doctors and pediatricians aren't all that knowledgeable about breastfeeding. See an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant. A good measure of your milk supply and your baby's milk intake is whether or not they have adequate wet and dirty diapers -- watch the diapers. Make sure your pediatrician is using the WHO growth standards (based on breastfed babies) and not the old CDC charts (based on formula-fed babies). Breastfed babies gain weight differently than their formula-fed counterparts. There's a bell shaped growth curve for a reason -- by definition, some babies will be at the high end of the growth curve and some will be at the low end of the growth curve. That's how a bell-shaped distribution works.

1. "Never quit on your worst day." A friend gave this advice on an online forum when I was first nursing Beanie and I thought it was great. There will be bad days, frustrating days, tiring days. Vow to stick with it for one more day. Then one more week. See how things are going then and reevaluate. It's funny how an easier day (or even just a new one) can give a whole new perspective on things.

Did I miss anything? What is one piece of advice you always give to new breastfeeding mothers? 


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 8 with all the carnival links.)


  1. Great blog, Kristen. This is very helpful information for new parents and very relative to what my wife and I are going through. I would also add that it's very important for the partner or dad to bring water to the mother each time she breastfeeds and that the mother be comfortable when she does it. It's a great bonding experience, one that both she and the baby should enjoy.

    Also, it's so important to get good sleep so the mother's milk can come in. I spent many nights in the living room with our daughter so my wife could get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Due to a long labor, she was sleep deprived and was not producing much milk resulting in a very hungry baby. Our pediatrician was very supportive too recommending skin-on-skin contact and fenugreek as a way to stimulate milk production. Things are looking great now though.

  2. I think this is a fabulous list. The information that I wish I would have had when I started out with nursing is that if breastfeeding is really painful that is NOT normal. When I started out nursing my son, it got extremely painful, and everyone kept telling me that it will hurt for about six weeks, so I kept trying to just deal with the pain, but it just got so excruciating. By the time I finally did go see a lactation specialist, I found out I had thrush, a bacterial infection, severely cracked and bleeding nipples, and nipple blanching. It was the WORST pain I have ever experienced, but I'm proud to say that I stuck with it, even in the worst of it, and I nursed that baby into his second year. I just wish that I would have sought help from a professional earlier. The lactation specialist was an angel, and helped me with my positioning and getting healed up very quickly. She was so soothing and supportive to me. I still can't think of her without tearing up.
    I'm so glad I stuck with it. After the pain was over, I found it so fulfilling, and so bonding. I loved nursing!

  3. What a great list! I've had 2 babies who had trouble getting started, and this list was completely accurate - even compared to that experience. Thank you so much!

  4. What a great, supportive list. I really think tip #9 is so misunderstood. The nurse in the hospital after Mikko was born was trying to convince us he was starving, even though I had colostrum and my milk came in after only 2 days.

    I love how often you repeat "nurse on demand," too — so important, and I get so frustrated when I hear contrary advice.

    I guess my one other breastfeeding tip is to cosleep and learn to nurse lying down. Saves so much sleep deprivation!

  5. What a great list! As a breastfeeding counselor I have seen so many mommies "give up on their worst days" and trust doctors when they say that their milk supply just isn't enough. . . it's painful sometimes.

    I would agree with Lauren, that co-sleeping (or at least keeping the baby near your bed) as long as possible is another good tip. Moms just don't know how much their prolactin levels change when baby is near them - it really helps to boost production if your baby sleeps near you. Same with babywearing instead of using a stroller all the time.

    And I'd add that any nursing position that works for you and your baby is a good nursing position. Lots of moms get really frustrated, thinking that they have exhausted all of the "real" nursing positions, and they still can't get a good latch or are still having pain, etc. It's good to remember that thinking outside of the box or allowing your baby to show you how he likes to nurse is OK, as long as it works (no pain, good transfer, etc).

    Thanks for supporting nursing moms!!!!!

  6. Great list! Thank you so much for compiling it all. It is full of great info.

  7. Such a great, HUGE, amount of help and resources. So awesome of you to put it together. Even though I'm not currently nursing, I'm sure I'll have another little one in the future and these are all good to know and be reminded of. Plus, I've got a lot of friends and family whom I will be send this link to. Thanks!

  8. @Rob - Glad to hear things are going well now!

    @Jane - We struggled with thrush too. And good point...a little pain or discomfort can be expected, but not anything too horrible.

    @Lauren & Amyables - Oh yes, cosleeping and nursing sidelying have helped me not be a zombie!

  9. Great advice! I wish someone had told me these things from the get-go, rather than having to slowly and often painfully figure them out on my own.

  10. One of the most comforting things to me in those early days was finding out how small newborns' stomachs are. Wonderful list - thank you for sharing!

  11. Great list! These are important things new mamas need to know- Thanks for sharing! :)

  12. Great list! I still remember in the hospital how painful it was. Every time she latched, my toes curled. What helped was making sure her bottom lip was out, fish-like. It was still painful, but it was better when she was in the proper position. I was also recovering from a c-section, where I had complications and needed a blood transfusion. I was going on four hours of sleep at night and frequently someone came in to draw my blood, etc. After the blood transfusion, I was so dizzy; in fact there were many times that I was so overwhelmed with the recovery that I didn't want to nurse, but I was so determined to avoid giving her a bottle that I always did. After that four-night nightmarish-ordeal, being at home was easier.

  13. I nursed all four of my babies, and was thrilled when my oldest daughter (Big Sis/Little Mom) opted to breastfeed her own baby. She says it just seemed the logical choice.

    Our advice to new moms: as soon as you can, store a milk supply in your freezer for emergencies. Little Mom ended up hospitalized for three days for a severe stomach issue, and couldn't nurse for 24 hours after her release, due to medications (she had to pump and dump until she got a fresh supply).

    The hospital nurses were great with encouraging her to use a pump to keep her supply up, and they all seemed impressed that a young mom was breastfeeding.

    Sadly, she didn't have a supply stored, and baby had to use formula, which wasn't tolerated well. Thankfully, all is well and baby is back on breast milk. Little Mom is working hard to get a supply in the freezer...just in case.

  14. You are on a roll, mama! ;-) This post was featured at one of The Best of The Best for March 11th :)


  15. I have to thank Branson for featuring this post! I am expecting in August and I plan to breastfeed even though it scares me to death! I appreciate all the advice I can get. Thanks for such an informative and encouraging post!

  16. I love this list. I had such a hard time in the beginning with Little Man and it was because of poor support from health care providers. Thankfully I didn't give up and we are still going strong at 12 months. Thank you for sharing your hard earned wisdom with us.

  17. What a great list! I love love love #1. On day 3, I had plenty of milk, but a bad latch, hormones racing, and bleeding nipples. Luckily, I was committed, had an amazing husband supporting me, and was able to cry over the phone to a BF support line for 20 minutes, which made a huge difference. But I can understand why people would quit when, for me, everything felt so much more manageable in the morning.

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