I have always known that I wanted to breastfeed my children. I learned about the benefits of breastfeeding during my teenage years, but I can’t remember if it was during Home Economics or if it was an independent search beget from my ever ending curiosity. A decade later, I find out that I was pregnant and the real research began. I did not allow how complex the entire process could be for the mother and child to deter me from exclusively breastfeeding. It made it even easier because I have a partner who prefers it no other way. So that I don’t overwhelm you with information, this blog post will include the basics and upcoming posts will comprise of common complications (with their solutions) and how to keep stress at bay.
BIOLOGY AND MECHANICS OF BREASTFEEDING
One of the things that helped me was to have an understanding of the biology behind my baby’s nourishment. One of the first things I noticed about my breasts were my enlarged, darkened areola’s and nipples. They look like literal bull’s eye targets and that is because they are that way for your baby! It makes it easier for the baby to latch, since their vision is less than stellar at birth.
The small bumps on your areola are the Montgomery glands; think of them as your life savior. They clean, lubricate and protect your areola and nipple through a natural oil that has bacteria killing enzymes. When a woman becomes pregnant, hormones signal the alveoli to make milk, so that the milk can be moved into the Lactiferous ducts for the baby (see image below). Prolactin, a hormone, gathers the nutrients from your blood supply (proteins, sugars) and converts it into milk, then oxytocin causes the cells around the alveoli to contract and eject (let down) the milk. Let-down can be experienced in many ways: your baby suckling at your breast, tingling sensation in breasts or uterine cramps, thirst or milk dripping from the other breast.
When a baby has shown feeding cues and feels something on its nose and/or lips, s/he will open his or her mouth and bring his or her tongue out to scoop the nipple. When the mouth has created a seal against the nipple, s/he will “let down” milk by using the tongue, jaw and cheek muscles. The nipple will press against the roof of his or her’s mouth as the tongue moves in a wave-like motion from front to back. Watch for the him or her to repeat this pattern: suck, swallow and breathe.
COMPONENTS OF BREASTMILK
Breast milk has three different stages:
- Colostrum is produced late in pregnancy or after childbirth and is considered to be the best food for a newborn. It is high in protein because is packed full of antibodies. The colostrum coats the gut and acts as a laxative to push the meconium through the system. Colostrum is yellow or orange and thick in consistency.
- After about two to five days post birth, transitional milk will cause the breasts to enlarge in appearance and feel. Transitional milk is a mixture of colostrum and mature milk, so it can be white, blue-tinged or light yellow.
- Two weeks later, from birth, mature milk sets in and changes in color based on the type of mature milk. Foremilk, or low-fat milk, is expressed at the beginning of a feeding and is high is protein and lactase. It’s mostly water to satisfy the baby’s thirst at the start of a feeding. Hind-milk, or high-fat milk, follows behind foremilk and is comprised of higher calories and fat. Hind-milk is intended to keep the baby fuller for longer and support healthy weight gain.
GETTING READY TO BREASTFEED
It is important that you have a space for bonding while breastfeeding with your baby. Breastfeeding should be comfortable, relaxing and stress-free. You may want to have these items in your breastfeeding area to ensure of comfortability for you and baby:
- A comfortable, supportive chair or rocking chair with a foot stool
- Other supportive materials, such as pillows or blankets
- A case of wipes, a few diapers, burping cloth, pacifier and a change of baby clothes within reach
- An outlet for your charger for phones and other electronic devices
- A few bottles of water (or 100% fruit juice) along with a selection of nutritious snacks
POSITIONING AND FEEDING
When breastfeeding, you want to hold your baby’s tummy to your tummy. Hold you breast in a C-cup shape and touch your nipple to his or her’s nose, then drag your nipple to their top lip. The baby will have a natural reflex, that looks like a yawn, and open their mouth. Ensure that your nipple is centered in the baby’s mouth and that your breast is touching the baby’s chin. It may take some time for baby to properly latch, but ensure that you have a support system to keep possible stress down from lack of assistance. When your baby is a newborn, they will mostly be held in the cradle position during breastfeeding, but it is optimal that you change your positioning often. When you change your positioning often, it allows for all ducts to be expressed during feeding to prevent blockage. Breastfeeding should never be painful after the first three-seconds of latch to your nipple. If it is painful or uncomfortable, check your latch, positioning and for possible complications.
At around four days of age, your baby will produce about six wet diapers and one to three yellow bowel movement diapers in 24 hours. After each feeding, your baby should be content with open hands (not clenched fists). After your mature milk comes in, you baby will be more efficient at latching and emptying each breast. It is imperative that each breast is emptied. Personally, I can produce eight ounces in 10 minutes from one breast and 6 ounces from the other. It is recommended that your baby feeds eight to twelve times in 24 hours, but be aware of how much your breast produces versus counting feedings. Dirty diapers and weight gain are the only sure fire way to know that your baby is feeding properly.
BREAST PUMPING AND STORAGE
During the first few months of life, your baby may not empty both breasts during feeding. It is important to pump unused milk, or when your baby skips a feeding, to keep up your milk supply. There are three different avenues that can be taken to pump your milk: hand expression, manual and electric. Breast pumping is great for daddy bonding time and for travel.
- First, wash your hands
- Wash breast pumping equipment in warm soapy water with baby safe dish soap.
- Your milk supply is most plentiful in the mornings, but pump when baby does not finish feeding, when you are engorged and/or when your baby skips a feeding. Your baby may have skipped a feeding because you are at work. Do not skip pumping because this could alter your milk supply. Your body is an amazing machine that can be programmed by you. You are in full control of what you put in and program your machine to do.
- Before pumping, go to a quiet place and relax. One of the biggest silent impacters of milk supply is stress. Pump according to the breast pump’s manufacture’s instructions.
- Start off pumping each breast for roughly 10-15 minutes or until emptied. After milk has been collected, place into sterilized bags and into a chilled or frozen environment. Breast milk will keep for a year if kept in a deep freezer.
It is optimal that you wait at least thirty days before introducing a bottle to your breastfeeding baby.
Breastfeeding requires more energy output to produce, so it is important that you have a well balanced diet. You want to ensure that your meals are varied and nutrient rich for you and baby. If unable to avoid, limit the amount of processed and fried foods because they contain unhealthy fats, high calories and excess sugar. Also, continue to take your prenatal vitamin and a vitamin D supplement. A diet containing whole foods is optimal for a breastfeeding mother. Whole foods such as nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. If you are Vegan, you can get your protein from a wide variety of sources, such as oats, wild rice, chickpeas, bananas and chia seeds. It is very important that you stay hydrated. Again, STAY HYDRATED! If you think you are getting enough water, drink more. An example of a well balanced diet would be:
- BREAKFAST: Quaker Old-Fashioned Oatmeal with raisins, whole grain toast and a piece of fruit
- SNACK 1: Granny Smith apple with peanut butter and pretzel sticks
- LUNCH: Kale and Spinach salad with avocados, variety of nuts, fruit and choice of protein
- SNACK 2: Yogurt and popcorn
- DINNER: Vegan Crab Cakes with macaroni and cheese, sautéed green beans and red potatoes.
Breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition that you can provide for your newborn. Your baby will get the necessary nutrients and you both will bond with one another. Breastmilk changes during your baby’s first year of life to meet their nutritional needs (whereas formula remains the same). Colostrum is a protein rich substance with a high concentration of antibodies. Fore-milk is rich in vitamins, minerals and proteins. While the hind-milk is high in fat for weight gain. Your milk production is dependent upon eating nutritional meals, adequate sleep and rest, frequency of pumping and proper fluid intake.
Please stay tuned for the next blog post, Breastfeeding 101: Complications, which will cover Overactive Let Down, Duct Blockage, Nipple Cracking and more! Subscribe to the blog and comment your best breastfeeding tips below!
Default Image Artist: Kaia Little