- Breastfeeding also referred to as nursing is when a woman who recently gave birth feeds her baby breast milk. The breast milk can be directly from the breast or using a breast pump. It is essential that a newborn is fed this milk for up to 6 months to 2 years. Breast milk is packed with minerals, vitamins, and nutrients that aid in the baby’s growth and development like brain function, sight, immunity, and digestion. It also lowers the baby’s risk of childhood leukemia, diabetes, childhood obesity, infections, and more. Breastfed babies have lower infant mortality and better health throughout their childhood. All babies have a natural sucking reflect but sometimes need assistance to lack properly. Not all mothers produce milk immediately. Some new mothers take 2-3 days to produce milk, while others can take longer.
Breastfeeding seems easy but this isn’t always the case. For some mothers, it is a very difficult and painful process. Breastfeeding can cause sore nipples that lead to bleeding or blistered nipples. Other issues include difficulty producing milk, clogged milk ducts, and leaking breasts due to excessive milk. It is important to keep breasts clean and keep up with appointments to make sure both mother and baby are healthy. Nursing mothers go through several challenges such as:
- Engorgement: when the breast is filled with too much milk causing the breast to feel hard and painful. It can be solved by pumping or feeding your baby.
- Nipple pain: when the nipples feel painful after breastfeeding that is caused when the baby latched improperly. In addition, nipples can crack or bleed. This is easily fixed by unlatching and repositioning the baby.
- Breast pain: when infections like mastitis and breast abscesses cause pain, lump, swelling, warmth, and redness. These infections can also cause fever, body pains, and malaise (feeling uncomfortable or fatigued). It can be treated by applying cold and warm compresses alternatively, massaging t improve circulation, drinking more fluids, and increasing nutrition to boost immunity. If the symptoms persist, it is important to visit a doctor.
- Rashes: when a baby with thrush (yeast infection) in her/his mouth spreads it to the mother’s nipples during nursing. This causes the nipples to be itchy, red, flaky nipples, and have a visible rash. Treatment requires a visit to the doctor to receive antifungal medication to put on the nipple and in the baby’s mouth.
- Low milk supply: when there isn’t enough milk in the breasts. It can be solved with power-pumping. Mothers pump for short durations multiple times throughout the day.
- Clogged ducts: when milk backs up in the ducts, preventing a proper flow. It can be corrected by leaning over while nursing to let gravity help unclog them and not wearing a bra.
- Inverted nipples: when nipples retract into the breast tissue instead of sticking out. To fix this, mothers can pump right before nursing or use a nipple corrector to draw out the nipples.
- Leaking breasts: when breasts produce too much milk and cause leakage. This requires frequent pumping and wearing breast pads in case of leakage.
How to breastfeed
Breastfeeding is relatively easy and straightforward. It only takes a few tries to be comfortable and good at it. There are a few steps you can take to effectively nurse your bay.
- Look for hunger cues: your baby has a few tell-tale signs for you to look out for. One common one is rooting. This is an instinctive response initiated where the baby turns the head towards the direction of the touch, opens the mouth, thrusts the tongue out, and imitates sucking. The other common cues include:
- Sticking tongue out
- Trying to make noises
- Sucking lips or hand
- Starting to cry
- Get your baby into a breastfeeding position: the most common type of breastfeeding position is the clutch hold. This is when a mother tucks the baby under her arm to the side of her body, while she supports her breast with the other hand. Some mothers like to use a breastfeeding pillow for better support.
- Encourage your baby to nurse: you can get your baby to open its mouth by rubbing her/his cheeks and slowly pushing your nipple against the baby’s lip. In addition, you can squeeze out a bit of breast milk and rub it on your baby’s lips to encourage her/him even more.
- Make sure it is a good latch: an improper lack can cause issues for the mother’s nipple such as pain and soreness. Your baby can latch properly by holding the area around your areola and guiding your nipple to the baby’s upper lip. This will ensure that your baby’s lower lip will be below your nipple and allow her/him to get a mouthful of your breast. A deep latch involves having your nipple reach the baby’s soft palate at the back of her/his mouth instead of the hard palate in the front.
How Often To Breastfeed A Newborn
Since breast milk is easily digested, babies are frequently hungry; the more you feed your baby the more milk your breast is able to produce. It is important that you let your baby nurse both breasts because your baby needs ‘hindmilk’. Hindmilk is a higher fat content that will keep her/him nourished for a longer period of time. It also supplies your baby with the necessary type of fat that’ll help her/him grow.
Breastfeeding a newborn can require from 8-12 or more feedings a day for the first month. When your baby is about 1-2 months old, nursing will decrease by 7-9 times a day. Sometimes, newborns wake up to breastfeed every 2-3 hours instinctively. However, since this isn’t the case for all newborns, you need to wake your baby up and nurse. A newborn should never go more than 4 hours without feeding, even overnight.
How Long To Breastfeed
Some newborns can nurse for 15 minutes or longer on one or both breasts. When they get older and get used to how to breastfeed, it can decrease to 5-10 minutes on one or both breasts. The amount of time your baby takes to breastfeed depends on several factors such as:
- Amount of milk supply and flow
- Your let-down reflex (causes milk to flow from the nipple, which can happen right away or after a few minutes into nursing)
- Good or bad latch
- Your baby begins drinking immediately or slowly
- Your baby is tired or distracted
After your baby is finished feeding, there are a few signs to look for to indicate that s/he is done. These include:
- Appearing calm
- Falling asleep
- Breasts feel less full
- Stopping nursing
- Pulling away from your breast
Why Should I Burp My Baby and How Often?
After you baby finished feeding or is in between nursing, it is important to burp her/him. This is because babies usually swallow air bubbles when they are nursing which can cause air to be trapped in their stomachs, leading to discomfort. Some babies need more burping than others and can differ from feeding to feeding, such as babies that spit up often need more burping. It’s normal for a baby to spit up a little after eating or while burping but shouldn’t vomit. If your baby is vomiting all or most of the feeding, you should visit your doctor since it could be a problem.
There are several positions that allow your baby to burp such as:
- Over the shoulder: this is the most used type of technique where you hold your baby so their head is over your shoulder and their stomach is resting on your chest. You should have a towel on your should to prevent it from ruining your clothes every time your burp your baby.
- Sitting Up: if the first technique didn’t work, you can try having your baby sit on your lap while you support her/his head. You then lean your baby slightly forward and pat her/his back to allow burping. Some babies don’t require patting.
- Across Your Lap: a third technique is having your baby lay face-down across your lap while you support the head and make sure her/his breathing isn’t restricted.
Contraceptives and breastfeeding
Breastfeeding can be used as a form of birth control due to Lactational Amenorrhea, meaning the lack of periods due to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding round the clock releases high levels of prolactin (the milk-producing hormone) in the mother’s body, which reduces the chance of pregnancy by preventing ovulation and delaying menstruation. This is the body’s natural method of spacing out pregnancies to ensure the health and safety of the mother. There are 3 conditions to make this 99% effective. If they are not met, it is time to start using other forms of contraception.
- Your baby is fed only from your breast, and no other food, water, or liquids are given to the baby.
- Your baby must be six months of age or less.
- Your periods (including spotting) haven’t returned since childbirth.
During the first 3 months, the chance of pregnancy is practically zero. When it is between 3 and 6 months, the chance of pregnancy is less than 2%, and about 6% after 6 months (assuming the mom’s menstrual periods have not yet returned). Breastfeeding as a form of birth control has benefits including free, safe, don’t interrupt sex, reducing bleeding after you deliver your baby, and can reduce the chance of getting breast cancer.
STIs and breastfeeding
Some STIs can pass from mother to baby during pregnancy and through breastfeeding. If a woman has an STI during her pregnancy it can cause:
- Premature labor
- Early birth (can cause infant death and long-term developmental & health problems in children)
- Infection in the uterus affter birth
- Stillbirth or miscarriage
STIs can have harmful effects on babies including:
- Low birth weight
- Eye infection
- Blood infection
- Brain damage
- Lack of coordination in body movements
- Acute hepatitis
- Chronic liver disease
Is breastfeeding possible while having an STI?
Some STIs don’t pass to the baby during breastfeeding while others can. Your doctor will give you specific types of treatment that won’t affect your breast milk or baby. Below are some STIs that will and won’t pass through breastmilk:
- HIV: you should not breastfeed because you can pass it to your baby. It is usually recommended that you use a breastmilk substitute like formula.
- Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Hepatitis B, or HPV: you can breastfeed your baby. Although there isn’t direct evidence, Hepatitis C is also not transmitted through breastmilk.
- Trichomoniasis: you can breastfeed after taking antibiotic metronidazole and waiting 12-24 hours before nursing. You may need to wait 12 to 24 hours after taking the medicine to breastfeed.
- Syphilis or Herpes: you can breastfeed as long as your baby or pump does not touch a sore. If the milk is exposed to the sores, you cannot feed your baby and need to throw it away.
If you aren’t breastfeeding what is advised
Some mothers aren’t able to breastfeed due to several reasons such as if you are taking medications, undergone surgery, and you or your baby have certain health issues. Instead of breastfeeding, you can:
- Exclusive pumping: you can feed your baby breast milk using a bottle, supplemental nursing system, cup, spoon, or syringe.
- Formula: for those needing to supplement, a formula is the easiest option. There are different types of formulas to choose from but it is recommended that you select the most organic ones.
- Donor Milk: this is when a mother can feed her baby breastmilk from another mother who is breastfeeding.