Doc Talk: What to Know Before You Start Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding can be a wonderful and rewarding experience for many women. Breastfeeding provides the best nutritional start for your newborn and the experience of breastfeeding is special for so many reasons. However, breastfeeding is not always easy and can take a mental and physical toll on postpartum mothers. To help you in your breastfeeding journey, we spoke with Lori Theisen, IBCLC, a lactation consultant with Nest Collaborative, a collection of International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) who conduct online, video appointments to help guide moms through the breastfeeding process. Women’s Health Connecticut has partnered with Nest Collaborative to provide expectant mothers with better prenatal consultations and personalized education, with the goal of improving breastfeeding outcomes.
How should expectant mothers start their breastfeeding journey?
Information is power. Before you start breastfeeding, you should educate yourself on the benefits of breastfeeding and how to breastfeed. The more information you have, the better decisions you can make when it comes to nursing and caring for your baby. There are many resources and ways to learn about breastfeeding, such as reading breastfeeding books or blog articles, follow breastfeeding organizations on social media, list to podcasts, talking about breastfeeding with other women in your life that did well breastfeeding, and definitely taking a prenatal breastfeeding telehealth course from Nest Collaborative.
Why is breastfeeding important?
Breast milk is the PERFECT food for your baby! It is everything your baby needs to grow and be healthy. There are so many reasons why breastfeeding is important and beneficial, but one of the biggest reasons is it helps newborns develop immunity. Our immune systems are constantly fighting infections and building up antibodies to a slew of diseases. Our breastmilk contains white blood cells, which are part of the body's immune system that helps fight infection. So breast milk has all of the mother’s immune system and antibodies that are going directly to your baby. This is how newborns develop gut health and build an immune system.
Viruses and bacteria travel from the baby's saliva through the mother's breast to her bloodstream. Her immune system makes antibodies that are then passed back to the baby when feeding at the breast. Because of this, milk is constantly changing, feed to feed, day to day to exactly what the baby needs whether it is nutrition or to help fight off illnesses.
What are some common issues postpartum moms might experience while breastfeeding?
First, we want to make sure you are in a comfortable location, with all the necessities like pillows, blankets, food, and water. The baby's mouth should be wide open aiming the nipple to the roof of the mouth. This is called the asymmetrical latch and ensures the baby's chin is tucked into the breast and the nose is free. Baby should also be belly to belly with mom, being close helps with a deep latch.
Breastfeeding should never hurt. Your nipples may feel sore or chapped the first week or so because you and the baby are learning. If you have pain it could be because the baby has a shallow latch that can improve with better positioning or due to mom or baby’s anatomy, which needs to be evaluated.
Breastfeeding with a cracked nipple is painful and may bleed during feeding or pumping. While it is safe to breastfeed with cracked or bleeding nipples, avoid infection and care for them like any other open wound.
Some nursing women develop clogged milk ducts. Clogged ducts occur when milk sits in the breast too long or if it is not emptied fully with feeding. Thickened milk then causes hard painful areas in the breast tissue which can be difficult to relieve. If unresolved, this could lead to mastitis a painful inflammatory process, or infection of the breast. Mastitis signs are redness, heat, pain, and/or flu-like symptoms. You need to rest, keep breasts soft, eat well and hydrate. If you don't feel better in 24 hours you may need to be seen by your Women’s Healthcare Provider and start an antibiotic.
Painful feeding, difficult latching, nipple damage, clogged ducts, and mastitis are not normal parts of breastfeeding- make an appointment with an IBCLC to help get to the root cause!
What are some tips you can give to mothers trying to breastfeed?
The first two weeks can be more challenging because you have labored and given birth without sleep for an extended period, you are having a lot of fluctuating emotions, and there is a newborn baby that needs you. All of that can be very overwhelming to new moms. You need to rest and heal your body, but your baby may want to nurse every hour. I recommend finding a place in your house that is the most comfortable for you and stock it with all the supplies you may need and stay there as long as you need. Ask for help. People love to help when there is a cute baby involved.
Newborns need to nurse frequently, at least every 2-3 hours, and not on any strict schedule. This will stimulate your breasts to produce plenty of milk. Feed baby at the first sign of hunger, don't wait for baby to cry. Babies that are just waking up, smacking their lips, putting their hands to their mouth are much easier to latch. Allow your baby to nurse as long as they want on the first side or when swallowing slows down, then burp and offer the second side even if baby seems sleepy. Offering both sides ensures they get a full feed, if they are truly full they will not feed. Avoid bottles and pacifiers for the 1st month of life to ensure that latching and milk supply are going well.
What advice would you give to new mothers, who may not have a partner or support system?
As a single parent, it is important to educate yourself and talk to other women who have had babies to find out the techniques that worked for them while nursing. I suggest while you are pregnant to create a support group, whether that’s your friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers. Take a prenatal breastfeeding class. Consider meeting with a doula. It is important to ask for help when you need it. Everyone needs help, and reaching out to your support system can be crucial during this time.
Also, connect with women who are also breastfeeding like in Latch Lounge, which is our peer-to-peer support group led by one of our IBCLC. Nest groups women whose babies are at the same developmental milestones or have a common need for support. We meet on Zoom and discuss any issues, concerns, and triumphs.
How can Nest Collaborative help breastfeeding women?
Nest Collaborative can help women through their entire breastfeeding journey. We can prepare you and your partner prenatally before the baby is here. We can meet again right after birth to make sure everything is going well. We can meet before going back to work and navigate what pumping for daycare is like. We can help you with starting solids and how to navigate breastfeeding with introducing food, and of course when you are ready to wean.
If you need breastfeeding support, speak with your Women’s Health Connecticut provider. They can help connect you with an on-staff IBCLC or a Nest Collaborative lactation consultant.