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Finding Your Way through the Breastfeeding Process

Though breastfeeding is natural, it does require effort.  In fact, it would be better categorized as a learned skill. Previous generations of women learned how by seeing other women, mothers, sisters, friends, breastfeed.  Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to have never seen a woman breastfeed until it’s your turn.  So if your goal is to breastfeed, you will want help to learn how.  At Women’s Health CT, many of our divisions have lactation consultants on staff and all of our divisions are affiliated with hospitals with easy access to lactation support.   I recently sat down with one such lactation consultant, Lauri Hober, IBCLC, of Greater Hartford Women’s Health Associates to find out how she helps women successfully breastfeed.  She believes support is the most important aspect of successful breastfeeding.

Before Delivery

Long before you deliver your baby, start building a support system. First, discuss this with a partner. Explain your goal and need for help to get there.  Take this person to a breastfeeding class so you can both learn the basics and what to expect.

Next, find a health care provider with a Lactation Consultant on staff.  If your obstetrician does not have one, try to find a pediatrician that does.

Before you take maternity leave, talk to your employer about your need to pump when you return to work.  As of March 23, 2010, employers with over 50 employees are required to provide time and space for this.  Sometimes the need has not arisen for an employer, so they have not set up a designated area.  You will want this addressed before you return to work.  To learn more about your rights as a breastfeeding mother click here.

At home, prepare for breastfeeding by creating a “nursing zone” in advance.  A comfy chair and side table close by with healthy snacks and water bottles and burp cloths are a good start.  It’s not necessary, but a breastfeeding pillow is nice, too.

Finally, find a breastfeeding support group before you deliver.  You’ll need the most support the first couple weeks so the sooner you join a group post-partum the better.  You can find information on local groups at breastfeedingusa.org or lllusa.org.

In the Hospital

The minutes and hours following delivery are critical to successful breastfeeding.   You should have your baby placed on your chest, even before he/she is cleaned off.  Once the baby is cleaned, weighed, measured, he/she should latch to your breast within the hour.   This is all dependent upon the health of you and your child.  Sometimes medical intervention is necessary which may delay these events.  This is when the hospital staff, IBCLC's and nurses will help you start breastfeeding successfully based on your circumstance.

The first 24-48 hours are critical for your future milk.  Watch for feeding cues and offer your breast to your baby any time he/she shows interest.  The more you nurse your baby in the first 48 hours, the faster your milk will come and the more milk you will produce in the following months. 

Before you leave the hospital, be sure you meet with a lactation consultant and have a proper latch.  The lactation consultant will also help you with positioning the baby.  There are a several nursing positions to try to see which works best for you and your child. Ideally, your milk will come in before you leave the hospital, but as long as your baby hasn’t lost significant weight since birth, the colostrum your body has been producing since you were pregnant, is enough for your baby until it does.

At Home

After leaving, the most common complaint from mothers and the number one reason they stop breastfeeding before they meet their goal, is the fear they’re not producing enough milk because the baby seems constantly hungry.  Cluster feeding is completely normal and not a sign of low milk production.  As long as your baby has at least six heavy, wet diapers and 2-3 bowel movements a day, he/she is getting enough to eat.  If you want reassurance, most doctors will provide free weight checks.  Also, most breastfeeding support groups (like the ones you found before delivery) have an infant scale for you to check baby’s weight. 

Another common issue every nursing mother faces is nipple pain.  While some discomfort is normal, extreme pain and cracked nipples could be a sign of improper latch.  In that case, get from a lactation consultant (either through your OB/GYN, pediatrician, or hospital). 

The third most common issue is engorgement which usually occurs when your milk comes in and lasts a couple days, if managed properly.  You want to take measures to keep your breasts “comfortably full.”  This means emptying your breasts just enough to ease discomfort but not so much that your body keeps producing extra milk.  If you nurse on demand (as you should) but you’re still uncomfortable, try these tips.  Untreated engorgement can lead to plugged ducts and mastitis.  If you are experiencing any breast pain, call your doctor to prevent further problems.

If you’ve taken all the steps before, during and after your baby’s birth and you’re still feeling discouraged remember these two things:  It gets better and you are doing a good job!  Hang in there. Ultimately, your baby will get the nutrition he/ she needs whether it’s from breast milk or formula.  You’re a good mother no matter what your baby eats!  If your goal is to breastfeed, whether it’s for a month or two years, we hope these steps will help you get there.

If you plan to breastfeed in the near future, consider using an obstetrician-gynecologist at Greater Hartford Women’s Health Associates who have Lauri Hober, IBCLC on staff and ready to help you meet your goal.  You can call to schedule an appointment at (860) 561-7222.

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