Helpful Tips for First Time Breastfeeding

If you’re a first time mom struggling with breastfeeding, take heart! Breastfeeding is depicted in the media as a beautiful, natural thing: glowing images of you and your baby quietly enjoying each other as your baby gets all the nourishment they need. This cultural pressure can make you feel as though you’re doing something wrong if your breastfeeding experience isn’t like that, but the truth is that breastfeeding can be really tough—particularly if it’s your first time trying it. Cracked nipples, tongue-tie, tricky latch, and mastitis are just a few of the problems you might experience when you are breastfeeding a baby of any age. But when you and your baby are both new to breastfeeding there are any number of complications that might make it difficult. Read on for tips to set you and your baby up for breastfeeding success.

Get Support

The best thing you can possibly do for your breastfeeding relationship is to get help making it work. The first point of support is your partner, friends, and family. Though this blog post is written with dads in mind, any partner, family member, or friend might get some good ideas about how to support you and your baby in your breastfeeding relationship.

Professionals who are highly trained to help with breastfeeding are called International Board Certified Lactation Consultants or IBCLCs. Your hospital or birth center might have an IBCLC on staff that you can see right after baby is born, but the truth is that it’s most helpful to get help once your milk has come in, which is usually somewhere between two and five days after birth, when many people have gone home from the hospital after birth. Some insurance companies cover lactation support, but some don’t, so make sure you’re prepared for the cost.

If an IBCLC is not available in or area, or if it’s cost prohibitive to work with one, check out La Leche League. This group is a peer support group, usually led by experienced moms who have breastfed before and know how to offer help to other breastfeeding moms. And if you don’t have access to either an IBCLC or La Leche League leader in person, you might check out an online community specifically for breastfeeding support.

Take Care of Yourself

Make sure you eat and drink enough—ask for help with this if you need it! Being hydrated and well nourished will help your body make more milk and help you cope if things aren’t going as well as you would like. Also, take care of your breasts. Lots of things can happen with your breasts in the early days of breastfeeding, but the better shape you can keep them in, the more successful you will be with breastfeeding. And finally, look after your mental health. Get enough sleep, and see a therapist or counselor for emotional support if you need it. As discussed above, there is a lot of cultural noise around breastfeeding, which can translate to a lot of pressure for the parent who is trying to feed their baby. You are a good mom no matter how you feed your baby.

Know the Science

You’ve probably heard that “breast is best” and it’s true that breast milk is made specifically by your body to nourish your baby. That said, there are several alternatives to breastfeeding exclusively in case it doesn’t work best for you and your baby, and the evidence shows great outcomes for babies fed in all kinds of ways. If you end up using an alternative feeding method, your baby can still grow up healthy and strong.

You can read more about the case for infant formula in this blog post, but the reader’s digest version is that formula is made according to exacting standards and might be a great option for you. Another alternative to breastfeeding is pumping and bottle feeding, which can help give your damaged nipples a break and help get other caregivers involved in feeding the baby. It is also possible to do a combination of several feeding methods—formula and breast feeding or breast and bottle feeding—if you’d still like to nurse your baby some of the time.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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