Before You Breastfeed:  
7 Things Mothers Need To Know!

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Breastfeeding is the most natural way to nourish your baby. But there's a learning curve and it might not always be smooth. As a Certified Lactation Counselor, La Leche League Leader, former Bradley Method Instructor, and breastfeeding mother myself, I've had years experience supporting breastfeeding mothers.  There are a few things I wish mothers knew before beginning their breastfeeding journey to make the experience easier and even more enjoyable.  

#1.  Learn about breastfeeding during pregnancy!

Studies show women who take a breastfeeding class and/or read a breastfeeding book during pregnancy have much higher breastfeeding rates.  All mothers are encouraged to attend a breastfeeding class during pregnancy to learn the basics, however, if you’re unable to take a class, then reading at least one book will help give you a foundation for breastfeeding.  The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding covers everything from pregnancy to weaning.  The quick reference sheets make it easy to find the information you need quickly throughout your breastfeeding journey.  Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding is another fantastic book packed with information and very confidence-inspiring.  I recommend buying a copy of the breastfeeding book you like rather than checking it out from the library.  It’s nice to have information handy at 3:00AM your first night home or if something pops up weeks or months later.  

#2.  Breastfeeding is a group effort!

When we talk about breastfeeding, it’s normally about mom and baby.  But breastfeeding is a group effort.  I saw a cute sign that said, “friends don’t like friends breastfeed alone.”  And for good reason - breastfeeding support groups (like La Leche League) have shown to improved mental health, increase self-esteem or confidence, increase parenting skills, improve family diet, and breastfeeding sustainability.

Mothers are encouraged to attend in-person breastfeeding groups during pregnancy.  Breastfeeding is a learned skill, and one of the best ways to learn is to be around breastfeeding mothers.  Watching mothers breastfeed, learning what is normal, and building a community are crucial to successful breastfeeding.  Lack of support is one of the main reasons mothers stop nursing before reaching their goal.  Having support is one way to help ensure you’ll meet your breastfeeding goals.  There are many local La Leche League groups in the area that hold regular meetings.   

Partners can be the most important role in breastfeeding, by taking care of the mother to helping her connect with help when needed.  And partners can bond with baby without having to breastfeed or give bottles.  To learn more:  Read An Open Letter to Partners, and Mothers, Partners, and The Breastfed Baby.

#3.  It gets easier!

Being a new mom is overwhelming!  Recovering from birth, lack of sleep, and getting use to the demands of a newborn can take a toll on anyone. Working through the challenges of breastfeeding can add stress to this overwhelming time. But it does get easier!  I remember many people saying that to me in the early weeks, and they were right. It did get easier with time. Even if you get off to a rocky start with breastfeeding doesn't mean it will be difficult the whole time. Many moms go on to nurse for months, even years!  Seek support and spend time around other mothers.  

#4.  Breastfeeding should not hurt! 

It’s not uncommon for nipples to be sensitive and breasts to be tender when you first start breastfeeding, but it should never hurt.  Get help right away if you’re experience intense or excruciating pain; pain that continues through the entire feeding; pain in between feedings; skin damage including cracked, blistered, or bleeding nipples.  One bad latch can lead to tissue damage so it’s important to seek help early on.  If the nurse at the hospital does not have breastfeeding training (and many don’t) ask to see a lactation consultant or call your local La Leche League.  

#5.  Babies don't watch the clock!  (And neither should you!)

Babies nurse when they’re hungry or need comfort.  For some baby that means every 3 hours, and for another baby it might be every 90 minutes or more.  Watch for signs that baby is hungry and nurse on demand.  Scheduling feedings can result in poor weight gain, a fussy baby, and low milk supply.  During a feeding, when baby pops off the breast on their own, then offer the other side.  If baby nursing more, that’s great, if not, just start with that breast the next time.  

#6.  Know the reliable and unreliable signs that your baby is getting enough milk.

It’s important to know that the feel of the breast, the behavior of your baby, the frequency of nursing, the sensation of let-down, or the amount you pump are not valid ways to determine if you have enough milk for your baby.  

So how do you know?  First is weight gain.  If baby is gaining well on mom’s milk alone, then baby is getting enough. A 5-7% weight loss during the first 3 or 4 days after birth is normal. Baby should regain birth weight by 10 to14 days.  Second is number of wet  and dirty diapers.  Expect one wet diaper on day one, increasing to 6 or more by day 4. To feel what a sufficiently wet diaper is like, pour 3 tablespoons (45 mL) of water into a clean diaper (if baby wets more often, then the amount of urine per diaper may be less). Urine should be pale and mild smelling.  Baby should produce 3 or more dirty diapers per day (by day 4).  Stools should be yellow (no meconium) by day 5 and the size of a US quarter or larger. The normal stool of a breastfed baby is usually yellow and is loose (soft to watery, may be seedy or curdy).  Any time you have concerns about your milk supply, seek help right away.  

#7.  Take what works for you and leave the rest. 

Many mothers get conflicting advice about parenting, especially breastfeeding.  All babies have different personalities, feeding and sleeping habits. Some babies like to be held constantly, others are happy to lie down on their own. Some babies drink from both breasts at each feed, others drink from one, others sometimes drink from one breast at some feeds and from both at other feeds. Some babies sleep long stretches while others are cat-nappers.  

Mothers can put a lot of pressure on themselves to do everything “right.”  You are the expert on your baby – no one knows you or your baby better.  So when it comes to parenting information, take what works for you and leave the rest. My role in working with families is to support and provide information to help parents make their own fully informed decisions, whatever that may be.

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Flourish Baby is committed to diversity and inclusion. Amanda Dean supports all birthing, breastfeeding, chestfeeding, and human milk feeding families, inclusive of their race, ethnicity, immigration status, national origin, creed, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, family structure, primary language, ability, or socio-economic status.

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