Breastfeeding basics

Your baby is due in a few weeks, so now’s a great time to start thinking about breastfeeding. Lactation expert Teresa Pitman shares her top tips for success.

1. Be prepared
Plan ahead while you’re pregnant to free up some time once your baby is born. If your baby nurses 10 times a day, and each feeding takes roughly half an hour, that’s five hours a day – and you won’t even have changed any diapers, or had a shower. It will eventually get easier and less time-consuming, but first you have to get through those early days. If you can stock your freezer with easy meals, or arrange to have dinner delivered, or bring someone in to do housework (even if it’s your Mom), you’ll be able to focus on getting breastfeeding well established.

2. Get advice
If there’s a La Leche League Group (LLL) in your community, go to a meeting – or a full series of four, if possible – while you’re still pregnant. Learning from other mothers who have “been there” is a great way to get practical advice that works.

3. Be aware of the impact of interventions
Pain-relieving medications, such as epidurals, and other interventions in labour and birth can make breastfeeding a little more challenging. A 2009 study in Sweden found that significantly fewer babies of mothers who had epidurals during labour were able to breastfeed during the first four hours after birth, and significantly fewer were fully breastfed at discharge from the hospital. There are times, of course, when inductions, IVs or a Caesarean section are essential, and many mothers do breastfeed successfully after these interventions. Don’t hesitate to ask for extra help. You may need to hand-express milk for the first few days until your baby is able to latch and nurse effectively. If you’ve had a C-section, ask for help to find a comfortable position for feeding the baby, perhaps using a pillow to protect your incision. Be patient with your baby, and with yourself!

4. Allow your baby to self-attach at the breast
Babies, as it turns out, know a lot more about breastfeeding that we used to think. Given the opportunity, your newborn can move to your breast and latch on effectively. These instincts are strong right from birth and seem to last for at least four to six weeks. Here’s how to do it: Lie on your back, or get comfortable in a semi-reclining position or sit upright, supporting the baby’s shoulders and bottom as he lies vertically (head toward your head) on your chest or abdomen. Then just follow his lead as he moves toward one breast or the other.

5. Watch your baby, not the clock
Rules like “feed the baby for 20 minutes on each side” or “wait four hours between feedings” don’t mesh with what researchers tell us about how breastfeeding works. The only way your baby can increase your milk production, if he needs to, is by feeding more frequently, and in the early days those frequent feedings are essential to establish the “milk factories” you need. Only your baby really knows how much milk he’s getting and how long he needs to stay at the breast. Guidelines like “20 minutes” are based on averages, and neither you nor your baby are average.