For Mindy Johnson-Plate, 39-year-old new parent to Cooper, 3, and Gavin, 3 months, breastfeeding was everything she’d hoped it would be—and more. “It was easier than expected as well as a great bonding time,” Johnson- Plate says. “Cooper grew into a chunky monkey solely on my breast milk. It made me feel like superwoman.”
Ultimately, Johnson-Plate nursed Cooper for two years—and hopes to do the same with Gavin. It makes sense that the number of new parents who choose to breastfeed their babies has been climbing steadily since 1999, reaching 74 percent in 2004 (the most recent year of statistics available).
After all, studies show that breastfeeding helps lower the risk of infant illnesses like diarrhea and respiratory infections, as well as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)—and even serious diseases like leukemia later in life. Meanwhile, breastfeeding moms tend to peel off the pregnancy pounds more quickly and have lower risks for breast and ovarian cancers, obesity and osteoporosis than those new parents who don’t nurse.
But with all of this compelling data—not to mention the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) recommendation that new parents breastfeed for at least a year—only 21 percent stuck with it for 12 months in 2004. Why? Not everyone has the simple, satisfying time that Johnson-Plate did — at least, not at first.
That’s why we asked lactation experts and dozens of new moms who made it past the six-month breastfeeding mark (some even past a year) to share their secrets to breastfeeding success. They might just help ensure you’re among the new parents who keep going…and going….
The new breastfeeding you
Most new parents can and should make their first breastfeeding attempt within an hour of giving birth, says the AAP—but it could be many more feedings before you’ve got the hang of it. What’s a breastfeeding novice to do?
Prepping yourself with classes and books—as well as a hands-on lactation lesson with a breastfeeding counselor while still in the hospital—can be immensely helpful. But many new parents say they wouldn’t have been able to keep breastfeeding had they not gotten the help of a lactation consultant after being discharged.
“I read a La Leche book and had breastfeeding under control at the hospital, but had to call a lactation consultant when I got home,” says Jennifer Vallens, 37, a new parent and former human resources director and mom to Evan, 3, and Mason, 22 months. “I completely lost the hang of how to latch when I was on my own.” To find a lactation consultant in your area, visit La Leche League International at llli.org or the International Lactation Consultant Association at ilca.org.
At first, you’ll likely be breastfeeding your baby for up to seven hours a day (30 to 45 minutes per feeding), says Paula Caplan, R.N., a certified lactation education counselor (CLEC) and cofounder of Milkin’ Mommas (milkinmommas.com) in Calabasas, Calif. Just try to remember: “After the first few weeks, the baby works more efficiently and it goes faster,” Caplan notes. “In fact, studies show it takes an infant 21 days to imprint the task of breastfeeding.”
Take care of yourself.
Eating healthfully, staying well hydrated and getting enough sleep (if possible!) will keep you—and your milk supply—going. Pediatric cardiologist Ismee A. Williams, 35, new parent to Auden Eileen, 3, and Amaia Claire, 9 months, recommends eating oatmeal, drinking lots of water (“I drink around three liters a day”) and avoiding alcohol—even beer— which can decrease your milk supply. “Sleep when your kids sleep and go to bed early for the first couple of months,” adds Ophira Levant, 37-year-old new parent to Eitan, 22 months, and 5-month-old Liora.
Where’s the milk?
“In the United States, concern about low milk supply is the most common reason given by new parents for supplementation and early weaning,” says Wendy Haldeman, R.N., M.N., an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) in Santa Monica, Calif. “But in fact, almost all women are capable of producing adequate volumes of milk for their babies.” Some important things to keep in mind:
Trust in the colostrum.
Amazing but true: The seemingly insignificant amount of that thick, yellow, nutrient- and antibody-rich substance really is all your baby needs for his first few days of life. “You may not feel that baby is getting anything, but he is,” Caplan says. Breastfeed, breastfeed, breastfeed! “The best way to get a healthy milk supply is frequent emptying of the breasts,” says Caplan. Ideally, you should breastfeed your baby 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period—rousing him if necessary. “Spend a few days in bed, completely relaxed, and feed your baby every two hours,” agrees new parent Leila Sayed, 29, a medical doctor and mom to 1-year old Mia Nabavi. “After a couple of days like that, the production should increase.”
Caplan recommends using a breastfeeding log— noting the time, duration and side(s) on which you nursed, as well as what’s coming out the other end. After all, if baby’s getting enough nourishment, you’ll see it in the diapers. The first few days, he’ll have a few wet ones and pass meconium (a dark, thick stool) a few times a day—but at about five days he should have at least four wet diapers and three seedy, mustard-colored bowel movements every 24 hours. Your pediatrician will also monitor your baby’s weight closely, but contact him immediately if you see signs of dehydration (including dark, reddish orange crystals instead of urine).
Really milk it.
A hospital-grade breast pump can really boost your supply, Haldeman says. “Follow most breastfeeds with a 15-minute pumping session,” she advises. “Be patient; it may take a few days or longer to see results.” Another trick Haldeman recommends: “While breastfeeding on the second side, pump the breast the baby just finished.”
I’m so full!
Some moms aren’t short on milk—instead, they have an overabundance, leading to painfully engorged breasts, leaking and an overwhelmed or gassy baby who may not be getting enough of the higher-calorie, higher-fat “hind milk.” Some ways to handle the issue of excess:
“I had a quick letdown and overproduction,” says Kristen Chase, 31, new parent to Quinlan, 3, and Drew, 1. “So I would breastfeed feed on the same side two to three times to ensure the baby definitely got the hind milk.” If the breast you haven’t used for a couple of feedings gets painfully engorged, pump or hand-express just enough to relieve the pressure, advises Haldeman.
Do the horizontal nurse.
“It helps if you lie on your back and have the baby breastfeed while he’s lying on your stomach— this can prevent the baby from choking,” Chase notes.
Save it for later.
“Start pumping and freezing excess milk in small increments—two ounces or so to begin,” Caplan advises. “Breast milk can keep for three months in a regular freezer or six months in a deep freezer.
Pad your bra.
Virtually every new parent who experiences leaking relies heavily on nursing pads to avoid embarrassing wet spots.
Although many women report a variety of painful afflictions with breastfeeding, nursing actually should not hurt, says Caplan. So don’t just assume agony comes with the territory; be proactive with these pointers:
Get a good latch.
Proper positioning and latch techniques should prevent sore, cracked nipples, Caplan says. “Don’t let the baby take only the nipple into her mouth,” she advises. “She should be taking a portion of the areola as well.” Because it can be tough to see what you’re doing, have someone attend a lactation consultation with you and then coach you afterward. “My husband, an engineer, drew pictures to show me the proper angles,” says Levant, a new parent. “It was hilarious—and helpful!”
Most moms swear by nipple cream for the first few weeks. “It soothes and stops chafing,” Levant says. “You can also express a small amount of breast milk after nursing and rub it onto the nipples and let them air dry,” Caplan notes. “This is a natural healing method for nipples.”
Curtail the teethers.
“If your baby bites you, say ‘No’ firmly, break suction and remove him from the breast,” Caplan says. “This sometimes turns into a game, but it’s important they get the message that if they bite, breastfeeding time is over.” Other moms who’ve fallen victim to biting babies suggest administering something to ease baby’s teething pain before they nurse. “There is a wonderful product made by Munchkin called Fresh Food Feeder,” says Haldeman.
“Our moms make breast milk ice cubes or chamomile tea ice cubes and put them in the mesh bag for babies to chew on.” Consult with your doctor before giving baby Tylenol or Advil, and think twice about using numbing agents, since there’s some concern they may numb the back of the throat and interfere with baby’s ability to swallow, Haldeman adds.
Watch for lumps.
A hard, painful, sometimes reddish lump in your breast probably means a plugged duct. “Plugged ducts occur when milk flow is restricted, leading to poor drainage of the breast,” says Haldeman. Many moms recommend applying warm compresses and massaging the lumps while nursing. Pointing baby’s chin in the direction of the blocked duct may help, too.
Blocks can lead to a painful bacterial infection called mastitis, which involves a fever and flu-like symptoms and requires immediate medical attention and antibiotics. Although you should keep trying to breastfeed, a hospital-grade pump may make things easier until you start to feel better (usually in 24 to 48 hours).
What about work?
It may require some careful planning—and lots of pumping— but returning to an office doesn’t have to equal weaning your baby. Here’s how some of our working moms made it happen:
Start pumping early.
“I stockpiled a lot before I went back,” says Julie Goldin, 31, a former office manager and new parent to 2- year-old Ari. Even if you don’t manage to get 500 ounces stored as Goldin did, every little bit helps. You’ll be pumping at work and whenever else you’re able to keep your baby’s bottles full.
Stake out a spot.
Only 14 states currently have laws relating to breastfeeding in the workplace, but it’s worth asking your employer to make a quiet, private place available for you to pump. “Definitely work with your supervisor before you go on maternity leave,” advises Ashli Shapiro, 37, a photographer and new parent to Ainsley, 5, Jacquelyn, 3, and twins Liam and Wesley, 7 months. Shapiro says she ended up pumping in the janitor’s closet with no lock on the door—an occasionally sketchy situation.
Prepare for a slower letdown.
It can be tough to get things flowing when you’re away from baby. Moms suggest having a picture of your little one or even a recording of her voice with you while pumping. “I visualized my baby latching on or a running water faucet,” Vallens says.
Try to stay on schedule.
Every time your baby takes a bottle instead of the breast, your body thinks it doesn’t need to produce as much milk—so try to pump as often as your schedule allows. “For mothers separated from an infant under 6 months of age for eight hours or more, pumping three times a day is highly recommended,” Haldeman says. “After six months, some mothers can reduce to twice a day and still provide enough pumped milk.”
Considering how often most babies need to breastfeed—especially at first—odds are your little one will get hungry while you’re out and about. Some moms say they never felt comfortable nursing in public, but others made it work with these strategies:
Keep it covered.
Have a blanket handy, or a coverlet that fastens around your neck so it won’t slip off. “There are some really great coverlets available at Udder Covers, for nursing mothers,” says Chase. “Ponchos work well also. Nursing tanks or a cool nursing shirt from boobdesign.com can also make things a lot easier.”
Seek discrete spots.
“I usually find a quiet part of a restaurant and sit at a less exposed end of the table,” says Levant—adding that she tends to look for “family-friendly” establishments if she expects to be breastfeeding.
Go for it, and have an exit plan.
“I nursed my daughter frequently and freely in public,” says Chase. “I found that if I was comfortable doing it, no one really gave me a second glance—if I felt uncomfortable, I’d go to the car or a store dressing room.”
If you just can’t go on
If you find you’ve done all you can and breastfeeding simply isn’t working, give yourself a break. “Any breast milk a baby gets is beneficial,” Caplan says. “Every new parent has to evaluate her situation and do what works best for her, her baby and her family.”
The more often you can breastfeed, the better—but when you’re done, congratulate yourself for trying and move forward with all the other joys and challenges of motherhood.