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Breastfeeding 101

Many new moms are anxious about breastfeeding. New moms wonder, is breastfeeding hard? Will my baby automatically know how to breastfeed? While breastfeeding is a natural instinct, that doesn’t mean it comes without a learning curve. Some babies do latch right on and do great from day one, but most mother-baby dyads face some challenges along the way. That’s okay! The important thing is that you have support lined up to help you through. The first step is knowledge. Let’s talk breastfeeding 101. 

Newborns have tiny stomachs 

On day one of life, babies’ stomachs are about the size of a marble. That means it only takes a teaspoon or so to fill them up! Because of this, newborns need to eat often: every 1-3 hours or 8-12 times per day. By day 10, their stomachs have grown to about the size of a ping pong ball. They will take in more milk per feeding, but breastmilk is digested quickly so they’ll still need to eat 8+ times per day. 

Milk production starts in pregnancy

The first milk your body makes is called colostrum, and it develops during pregnancy. It’s a thick, yellow, nutrient-dense substance packed full of antibodies and vitamins. For the first few days of life, newborns only need colostrum. 

Colostrum changes to mature breastmilk around days 3-5 postpartum, but it can happen as early as 2 days or it can take a week or more. This change is triggered by hormonal changes after the birth of the placenta. From then on, milk is a supply and demand process. If no milk is removed (like if you choose to formula feed from birth or wean weeks/months/years later), the body will taper off milk production until it stops completely. This process can take a few days up to a few weeks. 

If you breastfeed or pump, your body will learn that it needs to make more milk. If exclusive breastfeeding is your goal, it’s important to empty your breasts frequently so that you build an adequate supply for your baby. The majority of women can make enough milk to feed their baby for as long as their baby wants to feed. In some cases, like if your baby has a poor latch, is unwell or too tired to nurse effectively, pumping and supplementing may be necessary for a time to ensure your milk supply builds and your baby has enough to eat. 

You have several choices when supplementing

There is no shame in supplementing or exclusively bottle feeding. The most important thing is that your feeding choices work for you and your baby. Here are some of the many different ways to feed your infant:

  • Nursing at the breast
  • Pumping using an electric or manual breast pump, then bottle feeding pumped milk
  • Formula feeding with powdered, concentrated, or ready-to-feed preparations
  • Bottle feeding donor milk
  • Using a Supplemental Nursing System with pumped milk, formula, or donor milk
  • Supplementing without bottles using finger feeding, a spoon, or a cup

Throughout your nursing journey you may choose one, some, or all of these methods! Do what works for you and your family. 

Breastfeeding should not be painful

Pain during breastfeeding is a sign that it’s time to call in professional lactation support, like from an IBCLC. Some initial discomfort can be expected, like with enforcement when your milk first comes in or for the first few seconds of your newborn’s latch. However, pain that lasts throughout the feeding is a sign that your baby’s latch needs improvement. It’s crucial to address this ASAP before other problems like cracked nipples or undersupply can happen. A lactation professional can help assess your baby’s latch, determine how much milk they are drinking using weighed feedings, and suggest a plan of action to get you and your baby feeding comfortably. Lactation is a lot of work, but it’s not meant to hurt!

Breastfeeding can continue as long as it works for you

The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months when complementary foods are introduced. The AAP now mirrors the longstanding WHO recommendation to continue feeding for 2 or more years, as long as breastfeeding works for both mother and child. 

This recommendation is based on the many health benefits of breastfeeding, like boosted immunity for baby and a lowered risk of some reproductive cancers for mothers. However, it’s perfectly okay if these recommendations don’t work for you or your baby. Many mothers have to return to work shortly after birth, have inadequate postpartum care, require medications that cannot be taken while lactating, have trauma histories that are triggered by breastfeeding, or face any number of challenges and personal stories that affect the decision and/or ability to breastfeed. When making feeding choices, trust your gut and surround yourself with supportive people. The way you feed your baby will change as they grow, and it’s important that you feel empowered and supported along the way.