Whether you’re settling into newborn life—or you’re at the end of your pregnancy—let’s chat about feeding your little one. Specifically, everything to know as a breastfeeding mom. There’s something incredibly tender, innate, and connective about breastfeeding. The bond is sweet and palpable in a way no other experience is. I often refer to it as a privilege, an honor—my body providing all the sustenance my baby needed. A few months in, my son and I found a wonderful rhythm. Despite bumps in the road, breastfeeding felt very natural. There was a fluidity and convenience to it. Never the less, it was exhausting. On top of everything else that motherhood demands (including healing after birth), breastfeeding is a full-time job. But we were designed to nourish in this way, an emotional experience unlike anything else.
If you’ve chosen to formula-feed your baby, or do a combination of nursing / pumping and formula, I 100% support you. All mothers, at some point, make a decision about whether to breast- or formula-feed their infant. Marital status, education, age, culture, and circumstances all affect this decision. At the end of the day, you have to do what is most optimal for you and your family. No guilt, no shame. Lastly, if you’re currently feeling at a loss because of the formula shortage, I have resources for you below.
BREASTFEEDING, BY THE NUMBERS
Did you know that while approximately 83% of U.S. infants are breastfed at birth, only 25% are still exclusively nursed by the time they’re six months old? Sure, that decrease isn’t terribly surprising, but much of it is a symptom of unequal access to breastfeeding support, combined with persistent racial and ethnic disparities in breastfeeding. From one mama to another, we have to do better. We can do better.
What is an INFANT’S MAIN SOURCE OF NUTRITION?
Just like adults, babies require certain nutrients to thrive. That said, it’s pretty easy to provide those nutrients! Particularly, once you learn what they are. In the beginning, babies get all the nutrients they need from breast milk and / or formula. And, these liquids will continue to be your baby’s main source of nutrition through the first 12 months. Gradually, you’ll serve more and more nutrients in the form of solids. When the time comes, here are signs your baby is ready for solids!
My breastfeeding journey
In the very beginning, the onslaught of physical discomfort was enough to consider an entirely different feeding path. Thankfully, these and this really helped me. As did my lactation consultant, Jen. Throughout the 13+ months that I breastfed, I experienced dips in my supply as well three rounds of mastitis (mastitis is an infection in the milk ducts—it typically develops when the milk is not properly removed from the breast). But with anything worthwhile, compromise and sacrifice are inevitable. I compromised in some ways, and sacrificed in others, but I wouldn’t change my experience—as a breastfeeding mama—for the world. Although it’s a relatively thankless undertaking, it gave me courage and purpose in a way nothing else has. When I eventually weaned my son, a very natural unfolding, it was the end of one chapter but the beginning of the next.
Benefits of breastfeeding
The list is endless. When it comes to everything to know as a breastfeeding mom, it’s helpful to know why it’s so beneficial. Most importantly, breastfeeding can help protect babies against some illnesses and diseases (short-term and long-term). For example, breastfed babies have a lower risk of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Breastfed babies are also less likely to have ear infections and stomach bugs. There are benefits for breastfeeding moms, too: a lower risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. But breastfeeding isn’t a fit for everyone—like moms who work hourly jobs, have other career ambitions, or have a livelihood that makes it too difficult. Furthermore, women on specific medications—or ones dealing with a condition like PCOS—opt not to breastfeed. That said, I successfully breastfed despite my PCOS diagnosis!
Why are breastfeeding rates decreasing?
Unfortunately, for many reasons. Think: systemic racism and cultural factors. For example, studies show that Black women get less lactation support compared to other new moms, and are more likely to have to return to a job with inflexible hours shortly after birth. That could make breastfeeding inaccessible (not that it was easy to begin with). But organizations like BMBFA are working to break down these barriers by creating supportive communities, providing training, and raising awareness around the benefits of nursing with summits, conferences, and more.
what if breastfeeding Doesn’t work out?
That’s more than OK! Every breastfeeder has her own challenges, and every child is different. Some moms simply opt not to do it. Enter: formula. Formula is a drink made for infants that’s either ready to use, or comes from water mixed with concentrated liquid or powder. Formula’s typically made from cow’s milk protein, but can also come from soy, protein hydrolysate, or other specialized ingredients. Because many U.S. formulas contain a slew of unnecessary (and quite frankly, unhealthy) ingredients, opt for European baby formula. You can join the Bobbi waitlist here, due to supply issues. Otherwise, take a peek at these highly-rated European formulas.
Physical changes due to breastfeeding
By the second trimester, hormones (prolactin, estrogen and progesterone) expand your milk ducts. And your breasts can get more than a cup size bigger. You might also notice more prominent veins, bumps around your nipples (those are oil-producing glands meant to lubricate your breasts and help with feeding), or nipple discharge (because your milk’s coming in, and that’s totally normal). Other common changes: stretch marks and darker nipples. Once you’ve stopped breastfeeding, your breasts might go back to the way they were, stay larger, or even shrink. One of the perks though, is that because nipple stimulation during breastfeeding causes oxytocin to be released into your bloodstream, the uterus contracts back into its pre-pregnancy shape and size much faster than formula-feeding.
How quickly does milk come in?
Quite early! Milk starts as a protein-packed substance called colostrum, ahead of your delivery date (although the timing’s different for everyone). Once the baby arrives, moms can often breastfeed right away. Remember: your milk supply depends on demand. The more milk you express, the more milk you’ll produce. In terms of naturally increasing your supply, see here.
Relieving pain and soreness
Everything to know as a breastfeeding mom includes preparing for soreness. Your nipples will be sensitive when you first start. Put some of your own milk on your nipples to help relieve minor soreness or try coconut oil. That said, breastfeeding should not lead to ‘the three Bs’: bleeding, breakdown, and blisters. If nursing is continually painful, seek a lactation consultant. You’ll also want to seek out a lactation consultant if your baby is having trouble latching. Last but not least, if you ever get lumps on your breasts that don’t go away with a gentle massage or compress, you could have a blocked milk duct or infection. In turn, causing mastitis. If your breasts become red or swollen, you have a fever, or it burns to feed, contact your doctor.
How often should You breastfeed?
As with anything, a lot of this depends on you and your baby. In the beginning, experts typically recommend breastfeeding every two to three hours, for about 10-15 minutes per breast to start (which will likely mean waking up a sleeping baby). After the first few weeks, you’ll learn your baby’s ‘feed me already’ hints (sucking on fingers, smacking lips, etc.) and figure out times that work best for both of you. Two more tips: make sure your baby has regular dirty diapers, and try not to compare your feeding amount and routine to someone else’s (because every pair does it differently).
Pumping breast milk
Whether you have to return to work, want to share the feeding responsibility with a partner, or any other reason, pumping could be for you. It’s a method of expressing breastmilk—through a sucking device or by hand—for bottle feeding. You can think of pumping sessions as having similar timing to breastfeeding ones: about 15 minutes a session, every couple of hours, both breasts. A number of parents do a combo of pumping and feeding from the breast. However, there are some moms who exclusively pump and bottle feed. See here for guidelines on safely storing pumped breastmilk (hint: it needs to be refrigerated). When it comes to everything to know as a breastfeeding mom, know your rights. Employers are required to give you break time to express breastmilk (for up to one year after birth). And they must provide a place for you to pump. And just to be clear, breastfeeding in public is legal in all 50 states.
While this just scratches the surface in terms of everything to know as a breastfeeding mom, I hope you feel empowered and inspired to try breastfeeding your baby! For a helpful guide on general postpartum healing, see here. If you had a C-section, see here for healing and holistic remedies.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.