Surround Yourself for Breastfeeding Success

Woman breastfeeding while man is hugging her

Breastfeeding. It’s what breasts are for. Just knowing that basic fact doesn’t guarantee you will know what to do when it comes time to feed your baby, though. You need familiarity, experience (not necessarily your own but also experience that others share with you), and support.


You Need Familiarity

Before you will even choose to breastfeed, you need a general awareness of what that means. If you haven’t been around breastfeeding before, you might not even know what you want and need to know. It’s difficult to articulate specific questions until you have a basic familiarity with breastfeeding.

For me, seeing an older cousin breastfeed her babies just fixed that image of motherhood for me as a teenager. I understood how breastfeeding worked before I even knew what questions to ask.

Once I anticipated having children, I had questions like, “How am I going to do this without flashing my breasts at the world?” Seeing mothers in my circle of friends easily lift their shirts and continue their conversations while feeding babies helped me understand that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be the focus of all attention.

Once I was pregnant, I had plenty of questions along the lines of “Now what do I do?” Taking a class through my healthcare provider and practicing with a teddy bear helped me understand how to encourage a baby to suck and how to make sure the baby latches on widely enough. The one point I remember really clearly from that class was to rub or tap a just-born baby on the chin to show them what to do. I used that when my daughter was minutes old. I remember this because I found myself saying, “How do I make her suck?” but I remembered that one little point from my class, and it worked. Simple.

When I was pregnant with my second child, seeing a photo of a tandem nursing mother was a revelation to me—answering questions I didn’t realize I had. Stack them up! I learned to hold my toddler on my lap while I held my newborn on my toddler’s lap.

In each of these situations, I didn’t really know what my questions were or even that I had questions, but being in situations where breastfeeding was around me gave me enough awareness that became conscious of my own questions. Ideally, just being around breastfeeding creates this kind of familiarity because you learn so much from non-verbal communication and your own observation. If you don’t have that option, there are still many ways to gain that familiarity. Many women have learned that basics of breastfeeding from The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, the La Leche League’s breastfeeding guide.


You Need Experience

There are right and wrong ways to breastfeed, and there is plenty of variation in both. You adjust as you go. You gain experience. You learn the beautiful relief of a cold cabbage leaf in your bra—and if you have never needed or felt this relief, you can’t imagine how great it feels. But, who first knew to put a cabbage leaf in her bra? That’s experience.

You need experience, but it doesn’t have to be your own experience. If you have experienced breastfeeding mothers around you, you can draw on their knowledge. If you don’t have friends and family who can share experience, you can talk to a La Leche League Leader, your midwife or doula, or a breastfeeding consultant. You can pick up a book and accumulate knowledge others have shared over time. Often I turned to Dr. Sear’s Baby Book for quick advice.


You Need Support

Beyond just someone to give you advice, you need a supportive environment. To start, you need to avoid being around people who question breastfeeding in general or you in particular. Sure, you could just stay quiet and feed your baby in private. That’s not ideal, though.

Just the absence of criticism isn’t enough. You need to be around a husband or partner who will say, “Let me get you a glass of water while you are nursing” or “If you pump some milk, I will watch the baby while you take a nap.” I cannot overstate the benefit of having a partner who looks out for you and understands what you need physically in order to breastfeed successfully but also what you need as a person to be whole. Breastfeeding mothers can certainly go it alone, but life is much richer surrounded by people who value and support the breastfeeding relationship.

If you are preparing to breastfeed for the first time or anticipating breastfeeding in the future, set yourself up for success by making breastfeeding part of the fabric of your life, by seeking out those who are willing to share their experience, and by surrounding yourself with those who will support you and your baby during this time.

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Breastfeeding Without Stuff

Breastfeeding mother

If your focus is natural parenting, you might be trying to figure out how to navigate all of the stuff of parenting without letting the material stuff become the focus. How much stuff do you really need to breastfeed successfully? Not much. Really.

The key to keeping your stuff simple is an honest assessment of your needs. Don’t let others tell you what you need. Don’t buy a double electric breast pump, for example, if you are staying home with your baby most of the time.

Last week I was exploring a baby store, and I was just astonished by the breastfeeding aisle in particular. First of all, I want to say that I’m really glad to see so much support for breastfeeding. It should be the norm, and seems to be a realistic choice for most families. That is excellent. Along with widespread practice and publicity come the products. Yes, most of these products were created to support breastfeeding, but most breastfeeding mothers don’t need most of the products. Do you see the twist?

The person I want to hear this is the first-time mother who isn’t sure yet what she needs. The person I really want to reach is me when I was pregnant with my first child. I was so excited, and I let that excitement lead me to the baby store—a lot. I didn’t really know what I would need, so I bought a lot of extras just in case. Then, I left a lot of those extras on shelves, in closets, and in boxes. I wanted to jump into everything babies, and so much of what was available was commercial. I hope just one pre-spree parent reads this and says, “Maybe I’ll wait and see if I need those baby things.” You might need them, but they will probably still be available when you do. If you don’t end up needing them, you’ve saved yourself money and simplified your parenting.


What Do You Really Need for Breastfeeding?

When it comes to any breastfeeding products, make sure you start with a clear understanding of the need you are trying to meet so you don’t get caught up in buying for someone else’s needs. What is the rub? What would fix it? Is the need long term? Could you borrow anything that would fix it? Could you make anything that would fix it? Do you have something already around the house that could be re-purposed to fix it? Don’t go shopping until you are sure that is the only way to meet your need.

Start with good nutrition, and you could be all set. If you are going to stay home with your baby and feed on demand, you don’t really need any extras at all.

Breastfeeding book? Actually, I think this is a really good idea for the first-time parent (not just for mothers), but it isn’t essential if you already have a lot of support to get your questions answered. If you want extra information, how about reading Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding or the LLLI guide The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding? If you have a local parenting group, both of these are the kind of books that could be passed around among group members.

Nursing tea? Some kind of nutritious tea, like nettle, is always a good idea. Whether you need tea that will boost your milk production depends on your milk production. Don’t buy it unless you need it. Then, ask yourself again whether you really need it. If your milk production exceeds your baby’s need, you might find yourself engorged and needing breast comfort supplies. Find the balance and be aware of whether your baby is getting the milk needed for normal growth.

Nipple cream? You probably will need to use some kind of nipple cream at some point, but you may not need it much. Start with a very tiny (sample) size if you can find it. If you find that you get cracked nipples often, it is time to invest in a larger size. Also, ask how you might prevent irritation. Perhaps softer breast pads or nursing bra? Don’t just treat the symptoms, but look for a cure.

Nursing bra? Whether you need a nursing bra depends what you are wearing already and how you will be nursing. Support your breasts. They will be bigger and heavier, so you will probably need a new bra. A nursing bra can make things easier, but it isn’t an absolute necessity. A stretchy bra like Bravado can adjust as your breast size changes. Add at least one to your list unless you really need to keep your budget down.

Nursing shirts? This is one place I over-thought and over-bought. I thought I needed a whole new wardrobe. I didn’t; you don’t. Lifting your shirt works. If you will be breastfeeding in public, and you are modest (remember, not everyone is), having nursing tank tops to wear under your regular clothes can be enough. Start without and see if you need a nursing top. If you do, start simple with a tank.

Absorbent breast pads? You probably will need nursing pads at some point, especially if you are going out. They can be simple, though. If you sew, you can easily make them yourself. What kind of pads you need depends on when and how you need them. Are you away from your baby for 9 hours a day? You need pads—and perhaps a small wet/dry bag to keep them in as you switch during the day. Do you have tight or thin shirts? Look for pads that don’t create a giant boob target look. Thicker isn’t always better. Fiber matters, too. Pads with two different layers of fabric—cotton/wool nursing pads, for example—could be used either way, so they give you more flexibility. Start with a couple of pairs of simple pads and only get more if you find that what you have isn’t working for you.

Soothing breast pads? If you are at home, a nice, cold cabbage leaf will soothe hot, sore breasts. A multi-use rice bag could provide warm comfort. You probably don’t need breast pads that are specifically made for hot and cold relief. Try the simple solutions first to see if they do the job.

Nursing necklace? As they find their hands, babies use nursing time to explore. A nursing necklace can keep the exploration focused—keep their hands from your hair quite so often. Nursing necklaces can be very beautiful, but this isn’t a necessity.

Nursing bracelet or tracker? If you track feeding, you might want to put a small notebook at your main nursing station (where you keep a glass of water and a book). If you move around a lot and nurse on the go, you still might not need a specific tracker. I just remembered which side I was on. Swollen breasts have a way of letting you know which is next. If you find that you just forget and you don’t always sit in the same place, you might want a simple tracker. Does it need to be a bracelet? Probably not.

Nursing pillow? I had one. I didn’t use it for breastfeeding. I used it to prop up the baby when I left her sitting on her own. I had a great chair with cushy arms. You probably will need something to prop up your tired arms while you sit with your baby, but you might already have a pillow or furniture that will do the job. Start with the pillows you have and see if they work. If they don’t, ask yourself not just which nursing pillow is cute or which one your friends like but what you need the pillow to do and which will work best for your specific need.

Nursing covers? This is one thing I’ve never really understood the need for. There are a lot of nursing covers available, though, so this tells me that there are mothers who wanted and even needed these enough that they created covers for themselves and then for others. Try breastfeeding in public and ask yourself if you feel the need to cover up. If you don’t, skip it. If you do, start with a simple cover, like a blanket. Multi-purpose stuff will serve you better in the long run that single-purpose stuff. If you find yourself frustrated with the blanket, maybe you do need a cover. It’s worth waiting to figure it out first with this one.

Breast pumps? Most mothers will leave their babies for at least short periods of time, and some mothers still breastfeed full-time even if they are away from their babies for long periods. Simple hand expression works for some. I didn’t get much milk that way, so I used a hand breast pump for the time I was away from my babies. If you do get a breast pump, make sure it matches your needs.

Storage and bottles? If you are pumping, you need a storage system and bottles to feed your baby with the pumped milk. If you won’t be pumping, you don’t need to worry about this at all. But, consider this: even if you don’t think you will be away at all, it might be a good idea to have an emergency supply of milk in the freezer. Most breastfeeding mothers will want at least a simple, safe system for breastmilk storage.

Hands-free Pumping Bra? If you are pumping a lot—because you work full-time, for example—you might find that you lose a lot of time stuck to your pump. A hands-free pumping bra can free up that time for you. If you aren’t in this situation, you don’t need a special pumping bra.

You want to succeed in breastfeeding your child, giving her or him the needed nutrition and comfort while keeping yourself healthy and happy. You don’t need much in order to do that. You might be able to make do with simple solutions, but don’t keep yourself from finding solutions when you need them. If what you have isn’t working, fill the need, even if it means buying stuff. This caution isn’t meant to tell you never to buy anything but to clarify your needs before you buy—or perhaps to make or borrow before you buy new.

Support this beautiful relationship between you and your baby. If you run into problems, you will almost certainly find that someone else had the same problem, and some clever mother probably created a product to solve it.

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The Business Case for Breastfeeding

Working mother with baby

If you could convince your employer that a program would help retain experienced employees, reduce sick days, and lower health insurance costs, would your employer jump to find out more? The program is The Business Case for Breastfeeding, a comprehensive U.S. government program to educate employers and human resource managers about the value of creating lactation support programs in the workplace.

The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration has lined up the business savings with numbers that make it easy to see the benefit of companies supporting breastfeeding mothers. The numbers come from companies who have programs in place because they have studied the benefits for their bottom lines.

  • Twice as many absences to take care of sick children with formula-fed babies.
  • CIGNA found health care savings, fewer prescriptions, and fewer absences from work with lactation support.
  • Several companies found higher retention rates post-maternity leave with lactation support.
  • Even predominantly male workplaces have found an increase in loyalty of both male and female workers with introduction of lactation support programs.

The materials available include a brochure for managers, a brochure with easy steps to support breastfeeding employees, a tool kit (flyers, posters, forms, and other resources), employee guide, marketing materials, and a training webinar.

If you anticipate wanting to return to a breastfeeding-friendly workplace, you can also use many of the educational materials in The Business Case for Breastfeeding kit to give your employer reasons to consider lactation support as a small business move.

Business Case for Breastfeeding

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What Is the Sucking Reflex?

newborn sucking breastfeeding

A newborn will suck on anything that touches the roof of his mouth. This infant sucking isn’t voluntary but a reflex that is replaced at about 4 months old by voluntary sucking, a conscious action.

The rooting reflex, when a baby turns toward a brush on the cheek, and the sucking reflex help infants survive since they have the ability to breastfeed before they learn how to do so.

For a mother, breastfeeding is neither instinct nor reflex. She must learn how to breastfeed, and her baby’s reflexes are important to that process since the newborn responds predictably to stimuli. If you brush your baby’s cheek with your nipple, she will turn toward the breast. If you touch your nipple to the roof of her mouth, she will suck.

We are continuing to answer breastfeeding questions asked by our customers. If you have a question, please comment or contact bynature.ca.

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