Practical advice for first time parents
According to the CDC, 75% of women start breastfeeding immediately following birth. However, the number of babies who are exclusively breastfed at ages 3, 6, and 12 months remain consistently low with little improvement. This low level of continued breastfeeding indicates a lack of support and education for women about the benefits of breastfeeding.
Looking at cost benefits alone, if breastfeeding levels were increased from current rates to the U.S. Surgeon General's recommendations (75% at hospital discharge and 50% at 6 months postpartum), then at minimum 3.6 billion dollars could be saved just in cost savings for treating three of the most common childhood illnesses (otitis media, gastroenteritis, and
necrotizing enterocolitis). This number does not include costs for for formula or treatment costs for maternal disease prevention (breastfeeding reduces risk of breast and ovarian cancers).
Breastfeeding may be totally natural and have been practiced for tens of thousands of years, but it does not always come naturally. In fact, I know of no one who has had a flawless experience from beginning to end. And formula companies make it so easy to throw in the towel! When I left the hospital with each of my kids, I was given no less than two bags full of formula plus other formula supplies despite my stating up front my birth plan that I would be breastfeeding exclusively. Also, each local pediatric office here in my town is are stocked from floor to ceiling with formula. The formula propaganda is incredible. Add to this, many work places are less than friendly to breastfeeding women when they return from maternity leave.
In breastfeeding there are so many other struggles that have to be met along the way. Reflux, tongue-tied, GI disturbances, latching issues, etc, etc. Most are manageable. These issues just takes time and support. I find that often when breastfeeding does fail it is the that education and support are lacking. My hope is to provide some of the educational component to preparing to breastfeed for the first time.
- Breast pads (either reusable or disposable) - both types are usually available at the local grocery store
- Breast cream - in case of sore or cracked nipples or to prevent them, too. (Lanolin which is usually the main ingredient does stain so make sure you don't get it on that favorite nursing bra.) Here is a popular brand that I've used and it's available at most local grocery stores. However, I enjoyed using Earth Mama Angel Baby nipple butter, too, but you'll likely have to find it online or at a local boutique.
- Nursing bras - two or three should get you started. Then you can figure out which style and brand you prefer. Bravada was my favorite brand but I also enjoyed using Medulla sleep bras as well. For the first several months you'll need to wear a bra 24/7 so ensure you have some conformable ones for night time, too.
- Breast pump and associated supplies (consider back up parts, too) - We purchased a Medulla Pump in Style off eBay with a 24 bottles for about $50 (new these run about $250). I replaced the tubing for $2 and it has been going strong through two kids and 33 months of breastfeeding (and still counting). A really good breast pump can make a big difference
- Nipple shields - I never used these but it is nice to have them on hand in case you do have a sore nipple and need to give it a rest. However, you cannot use these all the time because the nipple does need the stimulation from the baby's sucking in order for supply to be maintained.
- Milk storage containers - either disposable bags (Lansinoh or Gerber bags) or storage bottles
- Bottle (if you plan to pump and feed breast milk)
- Breastfeeding pillow - I borrowed a Boppy but I did not find it necessary. Some women do find these devices are really useful.
Consider taking a breastfeeding class with your partner. (I would recommend taking the class even if he will not be attending). Dad might not be feeding the baby but studies show that when the dads hear the educational component they are more supportive, can offer trouble shooting suggestions, and encouragement, and women are more likely to continue exclusive breastfeeding for longer periods of time. For example, one of the most common reasons women stop breastfeeding is because they think they don't have enough milk. When babies go through growth spurts, the supply might not be able to keep up with the demand. However, if she pushes through and feeds baby more frequently, milk supply will generally catch up in 24-36 hours. If fathers know this, they are more likely to be supportive during those low milk times and encourage moms to keep going.
Additionally, if you have friends or family with breastfeeding experience, talk to them.
Also look into your local chapter of LeLecheLeague. This can be an amazing support structure especially when you might be having some issues, concerns, or just want some support.
When I asked T Rex Dad about breastfeeding from his perspective, he said it simply makes life SO much easier - no bottles to heat in the middle of the night, none to clean, no carting bottles or formula in a diaper bag, an instant soother for baby especially at 2 am when NOTHING else will work, 6 extra IQ points (if breastfeed exclusively for 6 months), and non-stinky poopy diapers. Did I mention 6 extra IQ points?
Yes! T Rex Dad insists I mention the IQ benefits. Children can gain up to 6 extra IQ points if exclusively breastfed for 6 months (basically one for every month). Add this to 6 points that can be gained if mom took DHA during pregnancy. That's 12 points total. Do this at your own risk. "Risk", you ask? Well, we did all this with T Rex and let me tell you he is one precocious kid. I don't know how we're going to keep up. We are doing it with T Rex Princess too! Watch out world!
Once baby is born, get him/her to the breast as quickly as possible. Research all shows that if baby is at the breast within one hour of birth, breastfeeding outcomes are better than if it is delayed (this can be tough if you have a baby that goes to the NICU).
Get your nurse to help with proper latch technique and call for help as much as you need or want. I taught plenty of women how to get their babies latched on, but I still had my recovery nurse check my latching technique frequently for me with both my kids. Do this especially if you don't know what it should feel like. It's helpful to have someone else take a look. Baby's mouth needs to be around the entire areola (brown round part of the breast). I know that seems like a lot but if you knew how the baby sucked from the breast, you would understand. This is an amazing video of ultrasound imaging of a baby sucking along with a description of the mechanics. Really cool and explains so much.
Remember, the first 2-6 weeks are the toughest. If you can push through those, you will have a high probability of success. And even if you just make it to the 2, 4, or 6 week mark, you are doing you and your baby a whole lot of good. Breastfed babies have fewer illnesses, fewer GI disturbances, less spit up (less stinky spit-up, too), and a lower incidence of obesity. There are benefits for moms, too - lower incidence of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers, decreased incidence of osteoporosis, offers some child spacing through ovulation suppression, lower incidence of postpartum depression and anxiety, speeds the process of the uterus returning to pre-pregnant state, and aids in losing that baby weight. And there is the added cost savings - American Academy of Pediatrics says it saves about $400, however, I would say the savings is significantly more than that. Check the price of formula next time you're at the store.
Something I feel that is important to mention is the effect of drugs on breastfeeding. Before you take any drugs, ensure that it is safe for baby AND for milk supply. For example, antihistamines are not harmful if passed to baby in breast milk, however, they can have a very negative effect on milk supply. Even eye drops can be absorbed and pass to baby in milk so check all drugs before using them. This is the site I use when prescribing medications for lactating women. As far as alcohol, generally only one serving per day or less is recommended. And if you do plan to partake, feed baby first, and then have that serving.
So, how did I achieve success? First, I had the best support from T Rex Dad and our wonderful pediatrician. In addition to that, when T Rex was born, I set goals - 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 1 year, 18 months...you get the point. I found that if I started with realistic goals I could see myself reaching them. And always when I reached one of those goals I would evaluate - How is the working for me? How is this working for the baby? Is he gaining weight, growing and thriving? When the answer to one of these was "no" and there was nothing I could do about it or if it was harmful to continue, I stopped.
With T Rex, I was forced to stop due to dehydration from being pregnant with Bebe Sister. I was vomiting 3 - 5 times a day and lost 10lbs in 4 weeks. T Rex was 19 months at the time of weaning. For some, "no" might come sooner rather than later - just ensure you are at peace with your decision because once you stop, it is very likely you will not be able to get going again. Milk supply can be that sensitive.
Breastfeeding is an acquired skill. It takes time, patience, and the support of those around you. However, there is just something truly wonderful about providing the nourishment and seeing your child grow as a result of that. And the bonding experience is incredible.
Giveaway #2 - Sponsor is me, T Rex Mom. I'll make you anything you've seen posted on my blog or my Etsy shop. Comments contributing to the discussion will be entered into the giveaway and I will be randomly selecting a comment as the winner. If you leave a comment on another Live and Learn posting, let me know and I will give you an extra entry for this giveaway. Only topic related comments will be considered.
What would you like to add to this discussion? What have your experiences with breastfeeding been like? What suggestions would you offer?
Disclaimer - none of this information is intended to replace that of your health care provider acting in an official capacity and I am NOT acting in an official health care provider capacity but rather offering advice from the perspective of a lactating woman.