Earlier this week we talked about the very beginnings and basics of starting to breastfeed your baby, from birth to the first few days of life. In today's post, I'll talk through some of my very early days of breastfeeding my son through infancy, picking up right where we left off last post, when I stopped after discussing your milk coming in.
One of the first few things that surprised me SO much about breastfeeding a newborn/infant was just how often babies actually nurse. My son nursed all.day.long. It is recommended to nurse at LEAST 10-12 times per day, however, we were often way over that mark. I kept track of all of the early feedings on my phone and just looking back on those numbers now, I see there were days where he even nursed 14-16 times per day.
Babies nurse so much in the early stages! And, at this stage in the game, a pitfall to avoid is being made to feel guilty or ashamed of how often your child needs to nurse. Our society seems to value independence so much, and there were many people who expressed to me that (they felt) I was letting him breastfeed too much- that he shouldn't need to be physically connected to me for that much time per day.
I have a few things to say to that.
Most importantly, if my child was hungry, I would feed him. I don't see anything shameful or bad about that. Also, in the early stages, when your child nurses, they are beginning to establish your milk supply. How are you supposed to establish the supply your baby needs if they are constantly trying to nurse more, and you are cutting them off? This period of time is CRITICAL to establishing your supply and every time they are at the breast, whether they are nursing due to hunger OR comfort, they are teaching your body what they need. We experienced quite a bit of cluster feeding even in the very beginning with my son, where he would want to nurse pretty much from after dinner until bedtime, on and off. The only thing that he wanted was to nurse during those times, it was the only thing that made him happy. Was it tough initially? Yes. I felt like most nights, feeding him was all that I did. But as time passed, the more time he spent feeding prior to going to bed at night, the longer my child slept at night. Yes, we were nursing on and off for what seemed like hours before he went to bed, but if that meant I was able to get 7-8 uninterrupted hours of sleep after that, that was just fine by me! He knew what he needed, and he was telling me exactly that.
Additionally, there are some schools of thought that believe there is a period of time after their birth that the baby is just trying to adjust and learn their new world. Makes sense, right? Well, these little creatures who have known nothing but you for the past 9 months desperately want to be in your arms, to feel your heartbeat, to cuddle into you and see your face. They are not little creatures that just pop out and, boom, are all of a sudden independent. That may not happen for YEARS to come. (Mom- I put may not because you better believe I'm not fully independent from needing you even now!) These are babies. If "comfort" nursing provides them comfort, then why wouldn't you give them that comfort? To me, to not fulfill their needs is like saying, "Well, I know what you want/need, and I know you're a baby that needs me to provide what you want/need, but my independence from you is more important than your needs right now." It just doesn't make sense to me. So, comfort nursing or hunger nursing, we nursed. And my supply developed and became available to him. Even in those times where he cluster fed at night, and I was left wondering if there was really even anything in there for him to drink, it still met his need at that time.
Breastfeeding at this stage is very personal. It is easy to get bogged down by the details. Some of my concerns in the beginning were: Do I feed from both sides every time or just one? Do I let him nurse to sleep? Do I nurse him to sleep as a means of getting him to sleep on purpose? How long do I let him nurse on each side? How long is normal to nurse on each side/total?
A lot of those details really just depend on you and your baby. Because nursing is all about supply and demand, if your baby is telling your body that both breasts need to be emptied of 2 ounces each every 3 hours, then it will produce as much as you need. If your baby is telling your body that one breast needs to be emptied of 4 ounces every six hours (the difference between nursing one side or both sides at each feeding), then your body will produce as much as your baby needs in that instance as well in most situations. We also had a very specific routine for nursing. We changed my son's diaper right when he woke up, and then immediately fed him after each time. I have several friends who would feed their children first, and then change the diaper. I have one friend who would nurse one side, then stop and change the diaper to keep her daughter awake, and then nurse the other side after. As for nursing our child to sleep, we did it ALL the time. Initially, it was the only thing that would put him to sleep. It was quick, reliable, and easy, so we stuck with it, and have suffered no ill-effects from it, as he is a great sleeper now. It really just depends on you, your partner, and your baby, and what your family's preferences may be.
A sleepy little man after nursing into a nap. This was from the very early days, he still had brown hair back then.
I mentioned above that in most situations, your body will produce as much as your baby needs. Well, sometimes that is not the case. If you do have a supply problem, and you are not producing as much as your baby needs (this can be determined by your lactation consultant and yourself- again, please don't self diagnose! If your baby is having wet and dirty diapers and does begin to gain weight, you are probably just fine!), there are some things that you may do to increase your supply. Again, this is pretty personal based on your body, but some of the things that helped increase my supply are as follows: drinking a TON of water, eating oatmeal every morning, taking supplements to increase your milk supply (such as Fenugreek, which I purchased at our local GNC), or drinking things such as mother's milk tea. I have never made lactation cookies, but there are some great recipes on Pinterest as well to increase your supply. However, if you are concerned about your supply, my number one recommendation would be to nurse as much as possible, add in pumping sessions after the baby is finished nursing or during long stretches of sleep, and avoid bottle feeding until your supply has increased or leveled out. Demand determines supply in most cases!
One of the last points I'll add into the infancy stage of breastfeeding is the topic of taking your baby out. As a new parent, there is a HUGE adjustment you must come to terms with in regards to just how easy it was before to pop out of the house and grab a coffee to how tough and time consuming it is to leave the house with a newborn. Some parents find it to be easy as some newborns sleep really well in a carseat or don't mind being carried around in their sleep. For us, I know it was a huge accomplishment to plan our trip around his nap times, have him up, changed, nursed, ready, and out the door, complete our errand/task, and then get back to the house by the time he was ready to nap again. And there were frequent times when our schedule just wouldn't work out the way I hoped it would because he would need to eat right in the middle of a doctor's appointment or errand.
In those cases, you have to figure out your comfort zone with breastfeeding. Initially, I was really concerned to breastfeed in public, covered or not covered. I had a hard time coordinating getting my son positioned right, myself not overly exposed, the nipple shield on and working (while we used it), and everything in the right place without a lot of fuss in the beginning. So, because of that, there were several times I nursed my son in the car, because that was my comfort zone. As he grew a little older, I became more comfortable with nursing him in public, at a restaurant or etc. I always wore a nursing cover only because that is what fit my comfort zone. I have seen plenty of women in my area nursing in public without a cover, and I applaud them for their comfort in doing so. The most common idea I've heard while talking to other nursing mothers about nursing in public is that, while it commands a lot of buzz and hubub, it really is just about providing your child what they need when they need it, and there is not a single person who should be able to fault you for that.
The issues I've talked about in our infancy post seem to be the main problems/pitfalls that I've pushed through in the first few months of my son's life. What were some of your problems breastfeeding in the first few months?
My next post will delve into some of the more specific pitfalls you can go through while breastfeeding- such as clogged ducts, mastitis, etc.- as well as talk about the transition to being a working mother and pumping in the workplace. Check out the blog on Friday for that post!