Breastfeeding Basics

Breastfeeding BasicsAs a new mother, one of the best things that (only) you can do for your baby is to breastfeed for the first year of his or her life. Breastfeeding is more than a lifestyle choice — it is an important health choice. Any amount of time that you can do it will help both you and your baby. While breastfeeding isn’t the only option for feeding your baby, every mother has the potential to succeed and make it a wonderful experience. Use our resources to find out how breastfeeding can be one of the most important things you do for both you and your baby!

Nearly every nursing mother worries at one time or another about whether her baby is getting enough milk. Since we can’t measure breast milk intake the way we can formula intake, it is easy to be unsure about the adequacy of our milk supplies. The perception of insufficient breast milk production is the most common reason mothers give for weaning or early introduction of solids or supplements. Although there is a very small percentage of women who can’t produce enough milk no matter what they do, this is very rare.

The first thing to determine is whether your supply is really low or not. There is a tendency for a nursing mother to blame everything on her breast milk. Be careful not to get into the habit of attributing everything your baby does to nursing. All babies, formula or breastfed, have laid back, easy and fussy days.

Many mothers worry about inadequate milk supply if:

  • The baby nurses often, or seems hungry soon after being fed. Remember it is normal for babies to feed often. They have a strong need to suck, and love to be held close. Breast milk digests faster than formula, so nursing babies tend to eat more often. The baby will nurse more frequently during a time of rapid growth and not seem satisfied. After nursing frequently on demand for a few days, most babies will level off and go back to their old schedule.
  • The baby spends less time at the breast, he takes one breast rather than both at a feeding, or your breasts feel softer and don’t leak as much as they did in the early weeks of nursing. These changes are normal and just mean your body is adjusting your supply to meet your baby’s needs.
  • You compare your baby’s nursing patterns, weight gain, or sleep habits to other people’s babies, or even your previous baby. Remember each baby is an individual, and the same rules don’t apply to everyone, just as the same rules don’t apply to formula-fed and breastfed babies.

If your baby is losing weight or not gaining rapidly enough, you need to determine why your milk supply is low, and take steps to increase it.

The following factors can contribute to an inadequate milk supply:

  • Not getting enough sucking stimulation. A sleepy, ill or jaundiced baby may not nurse vigorously enough to empty your breasts adequately. Even a baby who nurses often may not give you the stimulation you need if he is sucking weakly or ineffectively.
  • Being separated from your baby or scheduling feedings too rigidly can interfere with the supply and demand system of milk production. Nursing often is the best way to increase your supply.
  • Limiting the amount of time your baby spends at the breast can cause your baby to get more of the lower calorie foremilk and less of the higher fat content hindmilk.
  • If you are ill or under a lot of stress, your milk supply can decrease. Hormonal disorders can also cause problems. Many mothers find their supply goes down when they have a cold, or when they return to work.
  • Using formula supplements or pacifiers regularly can decrease your supply. Babies who are full of formula will nurse less often, and if you need to supplement with formula, try to pump after feedings to give your breasts extra stimulation.
  • If your nipples are very sore, pain may inhibit your letdown reflex, and you may also tend to delay feedings because they are so unpleasant. See your doctor or lactation consultant for causes and treatment.
  • Previous breast surgery can cause a low milk supply. Generally, breast implants or breast biopsies cause fewer problems than breast reduction surgery.
  • Taking combination birth control pills (those containing both estrogen and progesterone) and getting pregnant while nursing can alter your hormone levels and cause a decrease in your supply. Smoking heavily, and taking certain medications can also adversely affect your supply.

If your milk supply is low, here are some suggestions to increase it:

  • Monitor your baby’s weight often, especially in the early days and weeks. In general, the longer your supply has been low, the longer it will take to build it back up.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat well and drink lots of fluids, usually 6-8 glasses a day. Don’t try to diet while you are nursing, especially in the beginning while you are establishing your supply. You need a minimum of 1800 calories each day while you are lactating, and eating high quality foods and limiting fats and sweets, will help you lose weight.
  • Offer both breasts at each feeding. Try “switch nursing”. Watch your baby as he nurses. He will nurse vigorously for a few minutes, and then start slowing down and swallow less often. Try switching him to the other breast as soon as his sucking slows down. This switch nursing will ensure that he receives more of the higher calorie hindmilk, while also ensuring that both breasts receive adequate stimulation.
  • Try massaging the breast gently as you nurse. This can help the rich, higher calorie hindmilk let down more efficiently.
  • Make sure that you are using proper breastfeeding techniques. Check your positioning to make sure that he is latching on properly. If the areola is not far enough back in his mouth, he may not be able to compress the milk sinuses effectively in order to release the milk.

Your baby’s health:
The most important thing to consider when dealing with an infant who is not gaining weight is your baby’s welfare. You need to work closely with his doctor, and monitor his weight carefully. It is often necessary to supplement with formula while you are working to increase your supply. Often, supplementing with formula is just what you need to put weight on the baby quickly so that he can nurse more vigorously and effectively. Once your baby is gaining weight appropriately, you can go back to nursing totally at the breast again. Don’t be afraid to use a bottle or supplement with formula if that is what works for you and your baby.

For more breastfeeding information, check out these helpful links:

This is the most comprehensive, user-friendly site on the web. An A+ resource if you are having trouble breastfeeding or just want to learn more.

The La Leche League website has information on every breastfeeding topic imaginable, including adoptive nursing, biting and colic.