Here’s a secret about breastfeeding: it can be hard in the beginning. Some moms experience pain, some don’t feel they’re getting their baby enough milk and others are just exhausted.
But there’s great news here: it can be an incredible experience for both mom and baby, and for those experiencing issues, there is a lot of help available.
To help start you on the right foot we spoke to one of the lead experts on breastfeeding, Dr. Jack Newman of Canada’s International Breastfeeding Centre, to clear up some myths and set you and your baby on a path to success. Below, read his answers to commonly asked questions.
What are the most common misconceptions about breastfeeding?
“This in itself could be a book! For starters:
If I’m having trouble breastfeeding in the beginning, why should I continue?
“Because breastfeeding is worth it. One thing that is not frequently mentioned is that breastfeeding is good for the mother as well as for the baby. [Some studies show that breastfeeding can] decrease the mother’s risk of breast cancer and also of risk of stroke and cardiac problems later in life.
But breastfeeding should not be hard during the initial days. Breastfeeding is ‘hard’ partly because it can be hard to get adequate help before leaving the hospital. In fact, an extreme undermining occurs frequently in hospital with mothers receiving nipple shields to help with a baby who is not latching on, or if the mother has sore nipples. However, we see nipple shields leading to a decrease in milk supply.”
I’m experiencing a lot of pain during breastfeeding; what I can do to help?
“Get good help with latching on. Painful nipples means a less than adequate latch. The sooner the mother gets help, the easier it is to fix the problem.”
Many cities have chapters of La Leche League, where new moms can get advice and find support groups to answer any questions. Private lactation consultants are also available nationwide; many will come to your home to watch you feed your baby, weigh the baby to see how much milk they are consuming in a given nursing session and help with getting a good latch or proper hold. Though they can be pricey, if you call your insurance company before scheduling an appointment you may be able to find someone covered in-network.
How can I establish a healthy milk supply in the early days?
“Have the baby skin to skin immediately after birth, and not just for five minutes. Give the baby time to latch on, which may take an hour or so. Get the best latch possible as soon as possible after the birth.
To maintain supply, learn how to determine if the baby is getting milk. Use breast compression, if necessary, to help the baby get more milk from the breast. Offer both breasts at each feeding.”
Is it okay to breast and bottle feed?
“Some mothers choose to do both, usually because of all the issues noted earlier. But of course, using bottles more than occasionally could result in the baby not latching on well, not getting milk as well as he could, and quite possibly causing the mother nipple soreness. Which frequently leads to more bottle feeding instead of the mother getting help. Supplementing a baby with a lactation aid at the breast can help overcome the breastfeeding problems for which many mothers use bottles.”
How can partners be supportive to a breastfeeding mom?
“By helping the mother know she is doing the best for her baby, and letting her know how much you appreciate her efforts. By learning the signs of positive breastfeeding above, so that if things are not going well, the partner can encourage the mother to get help early on. If there are problems, the earlier they are dealt with, the easier it is to make things work well. And to offer to let her get rest whenever she is not breastfeeding, so she has the energy to continue to do it.”
For more from Dr. Newman, check out his new book, Breastfeeding: Empowering Parents. His International Breastfeeding Centre also provides a free email answering service seven days a week; to help support his work, donate through the Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation.
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