The joy of being a mother to a newborn is indescribable. Despite the feeling you get when you've just given birth, motherly concerns arise, and one of them is breastfeeding. Thanks to biology, women have a natural food source for their babies stored right in their breasts.
Breastfeeding is natural as well, but many mothers get frustrated and overly concerned about it. A few common questions that mothers ask about breastfeeding include:
- “Is my baby getting enough milk?”
- “Is my baby latching on well?”
- “Does it hurt to breastfeed?”
- “How long should I breastfeed, and when should I breastfeed?”
- “What if I have a low supply of breast milk and my baby's not getting enough?”
What You Need to Know About Breastfeeding
Let's kick off your breastfeeding education by learning about how breastfeeding works and other information through the mini guide presented below:
Breast milk – nature's go-to baby food – is an essential part of your baby's growth. Breast milk starts to produce during your pregnancy. The changes you go through during pregnancy aren't just to support your baby in your womb.
Your breasts are one area of your body that changes the most, and the bumps on your areola become larger and more prominent. These bumps secrete oil so that your breasts and nipples stay protected from drying and cracking while you're breastfeeding.
Your breasts are made up of fatty tissues and milk making glands called alveoli. When your body is ready to produce milk, it does so in the alveoli. When your baby begins to breastfeed, the alveoli release milk into a series of milk ducts, this is called the letdown reflex.
The milk travels through the ducts to the nipple openings, where your baby draws it out. As your baby removes your milk, the cycle starts all over again to replenish your supply.
Position and Latch
Breastfeeding isn't as simple as placing your nipple in your baby's mouth.
Positioning and latching are crucial parts of breastfeeding, and, to help you out, here are steps to getting the perfect position and latch:
- Find a comfortable spot, and lay your baby between your breasts while you're lying down or sitting up. This position comforts and relaxes your baby, so this would be a good start to breastfeeding.
If possible, remove your shirt and your baby's clothing for skin-to-skin contact, making breastfeeding a more intimate moment for you and your little one.
- Guide your baby gently to your nipple while supporting his or her head with one hand and your breast with the other.
- Use your hand to guide your breast toward your baby's upper lip, tickling it with your nipple to signal that it's time to feed. You can also brush your nipple across your baby's cheek to let him or her know that it's feeding time.
- Bring your baby to your breast when he or she opens his mouth. Some mothers lean in toward their babies when they open their mouth, but bringing your baby to you is more effective; you'll also get a better latch on. Your baby should have his or her mouth around your areola, which is a sign of a good latch.
- Hold your baby close to you, and make sure his or her nose is touching your breast.
- Make sure your baby has a good latch by feeling his or her mouth and tongue pulling your breast. If you feel him sucking on your nipple only, then that's a sign of a bad latch.
Readjust if you need to by gently inserting your pinky finger between your breast and your baby's mouth. If breastfeeding starts to feel painful and sore, that's also a sign that your baby doesn't have a good latch on your breast. Readjust the position as needed.
Getting a good latch will take practice, but remember to be patient. You'll get the perfect latch soon enough!
Determine a permanent nursing area in your home, whether it's in the nursery or in the living room.
Not only will a designated nursing area set the mood for your breastfeeding session, but it'll also become a familiar place for you and your baby, making it easier to relax. Be sure to keep the area safe and clean.
FAQs About Breastfeeding
Every mom who is new to breastfeeding will naturally have questions about it, and answers to the most commonly asked questions are below.
Be sure to go through them even if you know the answers already so that you can get the information to stick in your mind.
FAQ #1: How long should I breastfeed my baby?
A mother and her baby should breastfeed for as long as they wish to breastfeed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends you should breastfeed (exclusive) for at least 6 months and then continue breastfeeding combined with solid foods for 12-24 months or for as long as mother and baby desire.
As solids are introduced, your baby will shift his/her primary source of nutrition from your milk to other foods.
FAQ #2: Is it easy to breastfeed?
Every mom is different, but, if you have a hard time with breastfeeding in the beginning, that doesn’t mean that you’re incapable of doing it.
Breastfeeding does take practice, and countless moms struggle with it. Before your baby is born, you can practice how you’ll hold your newborn and plan out how you’ll get him or her to latch on to your breast perfectly. You can also practice during the times your baby isn’t breastfeeding.
Be patient in your practices so that your baby gets all the breast milk possible. Also, find online and offline communities in your area that center around helping moms who have newborns.
The support of others can help you get through the tough times with breastfeeding as well as other obstacles you’ll face as a mother.
FAQ #3: How do I prepare for breastfeeding?
The first step is to keep yourself healthy. Your breast milk is made of nutrients found in your body, so make it a habit to eat healthy meals and drink plenty of water.
The second step is to familiarize yourself with breastfeeding and feeding your baby in general so that you know how to handle the situation better.
FAQ #4: Is it okay to breastfeed in public?
This is a tricky question with a gray area. Society and mothers have controversial views on breastfeeding in public. To answer this question simply, it depends on where you live.
Some locations may have a law against breastfeeding in public, so it’s best to check country, state or city laws to ensure that you can breastfeed in public.
Your decision to breastfeed in public also depends on how you feel about it. If you’re afraid that your baby will be hungry while you’re going out, you can breastfeed before you go, or you can take a light cloth with you, such as a muslin, to cover up your baby while you breastfeed.
Make sure that your baby can breathe easily, though, so he or she doesn’t feel stuffy. You can also breastfeed in your car rather than outside if you’re running errands.
If you’re told you can’t breastfeed somewhere, don’t feel discouraged – just know your rights.
You may feel that someone doesn’t understand that you’re a mother and you have a hungry baby, but don’t let anyone bring you down or make you feel insecure about breastfeeding. It’s completely natural – at least, to you it is.
FAQ #5: How do I know when my baby needs to be fed?
Several signs will tell you that your baby is hungry and needs to be fed. Here are the main signs that you should watch out for:
- Not sleeping soundly and tossing and turning.
- Frequently placing hands around the mouth.
- Making sucking motions with mouth while asleep or awake.
- Mouth opening when you touch your baby’s mouth.
- Sucking on hands, fingers or lips.
- Your baby turns their head toward you breast or chest (this is called “rooting”).
Pick up these hunger cues so that you can feed your baby right away. It’ll also be easier for you to get a good latch when you notice hunger cues early on.
Common Myths About Breastfeeding
Since breastfeeding can be considered a controversial subject, and many mothers have shared their varied experience with breastfeeding, myths about this natural practice have popped up over time. But it’s time to lay these myths to rest and set the record straight.
Learn about these myths and their truths to help you understand breastfeeding better and reassure yourself that it’s completely okay to breastfeed.
Myth #1: You need to prepare your breasts for breastfeeding.
Since breastfeeding is a natural part of being a mother and a woman, you don’t need to do anything to prepare milk in your breasts.
During pregnancy, your body is already producing and preparing the milk you’ll need to feed your baby. You don’t need to worry about getting your breasts ready for breastfeeding.
Myth #2: It’s normal to feel pain while you’re breastfeeding.
This is probably one of the top myths to be spread around in the breastfeeding world. The truth is, if you feel pain, it means that your baby isn’t latched on to your breast properly.
Many times sore or cracked nipples can be improved with better latching and positioning techniques. However, it’s normal to feel discomfort – not pain – when you begin to breastfeed.
Myth #3: Your breasts will sag if you breastfeed.
Sagging breasts seem to be a major fear among women and mothers, but you don’t need to worry about your breasts sagging when you breastfeed.
In fact, unless your breasts cover your whole stomach and they’re flat as pancakes, they aren’t sagging at all. They’re becoming fuller; due to gravity, however, your breasts may seem to look like they’re sagging if the nipples are pointing downwards.
During pregnancy, your breasts become bigger due to the ligaments stretching. When you nurse, your breasts enlarge because of the milk glands, a condition known as engorgement. But your breasts won’t be like this forever.
Once you’ve gotten off breastfeeding, your breasts will return back to its pre-pregnancy stage. However, that can change if you’ve lost or gained a lot of weight. Exercise can help the elasticity in your breasts become stronger and tighter, so post-pregnancy workouts will be good for your body image and health.
Myth #4: You should never breastfeed your baby if you have a cold.
Actually, if you breastfeed while you have a cold or a flu, the breast milk produced during this time will have antibodies that fight off the illness.
The cold-combating antibodies will transfer to your baby and give him or her more protection against these common conditions. Your baby will end up not getting sick or at least have a mild version of a common sickness.
Myth #5:Pumping is a good way of knowing how much milk the mother has.
Pumping only tells you how much you can pump. The baby who breastfeeds well can get much more milk than what you can pump.How much milk can be pumped depends on many factors, including the mother’s stress level.
Now you know the myths out there as well as the truth, so don’t easily fear common breastfeeding rumors. Do your research before you accept any myths or beliefs about breastfeeding.
Top 10 Breastfeeding Facts and Benefits
To continue your breastfeeding education, let's go over the top 10 breastfeeding truisms that you need to know. These 10 benefits will help you realize how great breastfeeding is for you and your newborn:
- Breast milk is healthier than formula.
Your breast milk is filled with antibodies and nutrients that your baby will need after just arriving in the world. Since your newborn is still growing and adapting to his or her surrounding environment, your breast milk will help protect your baby from infections and illnesses.
Breastfeeding baby formula doesn't have the same protection that breast milk does, so it's best to start breastfeeding first before moving to formula.
Also, the first time you breastfeed, the milk is thick and loaded with antibodies. This milk is called colostrum, and it's crucial that you breastfeed right away to give your baby the necessary nutrients he or she needs.
- Breastfeeding helps save you money over time.
Having a baby is going to put some stress on your wallet, but not having to buy formula because you've opted to breastfeed instead is a great way to provide nutrition to your baby and save you money. You can use the extra money saved to buy diapers – you'll need it!
- Breastfeeding does good for you, too, moms!
Breastfeeding helps your baby stay nourished and healthy, but it helps you as well. From reducing the risk of breast cancer to making it easier for you to return to your pre-pregnancy weight, breastfeeding can aid in maintaining your health, too.
- Breastfeeding helps you relax and sleep.
When you breastfeed, a hormone known as oxytocin releases, creating a sense of calm and relaxation within the body. It's perfect for mothers who haven't been getting enough sleep!
Oxytocin not only helps relax you, but it also helps prevent hemorrhage. The blood vessels that fed your baby while he or she was still in your womb close up due to the contractions that oxytocin stimulates.
- Breastfeeding strengthens the bond between you and your baby.
Babies need love and affection to grow – not just breast milk – and breastfeeding is one of the best ways to provide that for your newborn. Enjoy the moments you cradle your little bundle of joy when you're breastfeeding and know that you're giving him or her more than nutrients.
- Breast milk is easier on your baby's sensitive digestive tract.
Breast milk has a special enzyme only found in humans that help your baby digest it easier. Formula, which is made from cow's milk, is harder for the baby to digest since it takes time to adjust to.
- Breast milk won't ever burn your precious newborn.
Getting formula-made milk to the right temperature can be challenging and increase the risk of your baby being burned. But breast milk is always at the right temperature, so you won't have to worry about hurting your baby.
- Breastfeeding helps improve your baby's jaw development.
Suckling milk from your breasts strengthens the jaw and promotes healthy, strong teeth later on. Since babies use up to 60 times more energy to suckle at your breast compared with sucking on a bottle, the exercise will aid in your baby's jaw development.
- Breast milk increases your child's IQ.
Who knew suckling at breasts throughout the day can make you smarter? Studies have shown that children who were breastfed when they were babies have higher IQ scores compared with babies who have been on formula.
- Breastfeeding gives you less housework to do.
Making milk from formula requires more time, effort, materials, and cleaning. With a baby on your hands, you'd rather have fewer things to do around the house, and breastfeeding is your way to avoid more household chores.
As you can see, breastfeeding offers more than food for your little one. It may be intimidating at first, but, as long as you know the basics, you'll become a natural at breastfeeding in no time.
Understanding the Biology Behind Breast Milk
Here’s something you already know – your body goes through a lot when you get pregnant. Hormones are in the air and it feels like every part of you changes dramatically.
Preparation for breastfeeding, however, is pretty late in the game. The cells in your breasts change gears and generate a large amount of what makes up breast milk – lactose and immunoglobulins (there’s a reason why it’s named that!). When the baby comes, your breasts are fully prepared to give sustenance. This is caused by a dramatic fall in pregnancy hormones.
The first two to three days after delivery are when it feels like someone just opened a tap inside you, and your breasts start feeling “full”. Soon after, you may start lactating whether you’re breastfeeding already or not. Think of it as your body test-driving a new car.
It’s been on the assembly line for 9 months, everything is well-prepared for, oiled and ready to go, but it just needs that one test drive. After that, you’re ready to start breastfeeding.
Mammary cells are responsible for creating breastmilk components. These cells release them into smaller “ducts”, then larger ones. The ducts then lead to your nipple. A common belief is that the milk is released because the baby sucks it out, but actually, the breast cells push the milk out, so the baby doesn’t have too much of an impact on the milk production.
Don’t be scared if you push on your breast and milk sprays out of your nipple. It’s perfectly normal and is called “let down”. For it to go away, you have to come up with a schedule and nurse (or pump) regularly. From this point on, you’re entering the feedback inhibition phase, which is your body’s way of finishing processes up.
The Importance of Breast Milk
Some new mothers may feel scared of breastfeeding and think about immediately turning to formula or other alternatives.
But, there are A LOT of benefits of breastfeeding. Here are just a few:
- Breastfeeding protects your baby
For the first six months or so, your baby depends on you for an immune system. It’s still new to the world, so it can’t be as prepared for the viruses and illnesses as an adult is, so breastmilk fills that role.
Whatever immunity the mother has – the baby gets. Some diseases are still possible, of course, but there is a smaller chance to contract them if the baby is getting its nutrients from the mother.
- Breastfeeding can protect your baby from allergies
Babies fed on formula instead of breast milk don’t get protection from the mother, so there is a higher chance of the baby developing allergies.
- Breastfeeding can make your child smarter
Studies have shown a link between breastfeeding and intelligence later in life. There is also the idea that when a mother breastfeeds, it creates a tighter bond between the mother and the infant, which is said to also be a factor in raising an intellectual child.
- Breastfeeding can prevent childhood obesity
Studies have shown that infants who were breastfed exclusively and for a long time had the least chance of becoming obese when compared with babies who were fed formula or breastfed for a short time.
This is mostly because breastfed babies develop better eating habits, as breastfeeding requires feeding patterns and the milk already has a perfect amount of nutrients tailored to the baby, the milk contains less insulin, which is known to stimulate fat, and the formula babies often gain weight more rapidly during the first weeks, which can facilitate weight gain later in life.
- Breastfeeding can reduce stress level and post-delivery depression
Many new mothers relax when they breastfeed, which happens because a “happiness” hormone is released whenever the baby latches on. Obviously, the hormone can’t release if the baby is fed formula.