10 Things to Know About Breastfeeding

October 5, 2018

Before you have a baby, the idea of breast-feeding can seem strange, at best. Like most aspects of parenting, nursing can be a rollercoaster experience—from blissful snuggle time to uncomfortable engorgement. Still, breast-feeding is almost always worth a try. Here’s what you need to know about lactation so you’ll be nursing like a pro in no time.

Breast milk is oh-so-healthy.

Nursing your baby has numerous benefits. Breast milk contains antibodies that can’t be engineered—to help your little one catch fewer colds and ear infections. Breast-fed babies also have less diarrhea and constipation and a decreased chance of allergies.

Mom, you might end up healthier, too.

Over the long term, breast-feeding can help ward off breast and ovarian cancers. In the short term, the physical contact is a great way to bond with your little one. You’ll experience a surge of hormones like prolactin (to help  keep the baby blues at bay) and oxytocin (to help your uterus contract). Oh, and breast-feeding burns calories, too!

Nursing is tough in the beginning.

To prepare yourself, consider taking a breast-feeding class. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to seek help once baby arrives. Early on, you might feel what experts call “extreme tenderness.” But once your baby is properly latched, discomfort should diminish and eventually disappear. Don’t ignore shooting pain, though: a knot in the breast accompanied by soreness and redness could be a plugged milk duct (which can lead to mastitis). Fortunately, lactation consultants make house calls, hospitals host clinics and the Internet offers resources, too.

Breast-feeding can save money.

If you primarily nurse and use formula only in a pinch, you should be able to pocket at an extra $400 (or more) in your baby’s first year. That’s even if you buy a breast pump!

You’re the food supply, so be sure to care for yourself.

Keep taking prenatal vitamins, get ample calcium and drink at least 64 ounces of water a day while nursing. Stay fed: you’ll need an extra 300 to 500 calories daily. Stress can affect letdown (the start of your milk flow), so focus on nurturing yourself and your little one. Take a warm shower, sink into a chair and remember to breathe as you help your squirmy baby latch on.

Check with your doctor before taking any medication to be sure it won’t affect your breast milk. If you have a drink, be sure to finish it least two hours before a feeding so the alcohol can leave your system.

Breast-feeding can be blissfully convenient.

No frantic runs to the store, no cleanup and no mixing formula in the middle of the night. Breast milk is instantly available and delivered warm. Plus, feeding supplies are one less thing to shove into that bursting diaper bag.

Travel can be easier, too. Stuck on a plane for hours? Your baby will never run out of food. And once the two of you find a groove, nursing in a carrier can be particularly handy, especially if you have older siblings to chase.

Breast milk + formula is an option.

If you’re working and have an extra-hectic schedule, your baby could have formula during the day and then nurse when you’re at home. Just know that when you combo-feed, your milk production will dip, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Many mothers pump milk, and for all kinds of reasons.

Some women pump either to encourage their milk supply or to relieve engorgement. If baby has a good night’s sleep and you wake up full of milk, you may as well bottle it for future use.

Others are occasional pumpers. Fill a bottle and sneak away for a baby-free date, or have your partner take care of the midnight feed. For this, you may need only a single manual pump.

Finally, there are working moms who take two or three short breaks during the workday to pump breast milk to bring home. If you’d like to do this, discuss your intentions with your boss to make sure you’ll have space and privacy. A special hands-free bra allows you to multitask so you can answer emails or read while you pump. Invest in a double electric pump to speed things along.

Eventually, it’s over.

Sometimes a baby loses interest; other times Mom burns out first. Get someone else involved in feeding to ease the transition to bottle or cup. Once your baby is happily eating solids, she may wean herself off breast milk in favor of the new flavors and textures big-kid food has to offer.

We’re all different.

Want to try breastfeeding? Go for it! Let go of any pressure or expectations. Do your best and go with whatever works for you and your baby.

© Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved. Used with permission.