Carrying a child can be tough. Childbirth is rarely easy. Both are very rewarding blessings, but what comes next may be just as difficult for some mothers. For first-time moms, breastfeeding can seem like it should be second nature — and for some, it might be. But it’s also normal for both mother and baby to have a learning curve when it comes to nursing.
Try not to be discouraged if this is something you and your new baby are struggling with. And if you haven’t given birth yet, planning ahead can make a big difference. AdventHealth Manchester pediatrician and certified lactation consultant, Ashtin Nix, MD, has a passion for educating new moms and she’s sharing her top 10 tips and tricks to help you breastfeed successfully.
- Stock up on supplies at home
Before you go into labor, grab a few key items to have at home so your breastfeeding experience can be as comfortable as possible. Dr. Nix recommends making sure that you have a:
- Breast pump, such as the Medela “Pump In Style” or Spectra
- Comfortable nursing pillow, such as My Brest Friend or Boppy
- Haakaa manual breast pump to collect milk from the breast your baby isn’t feeding from. This milk can be stored in the refrigerator for later and helps prevent engorgement in your breasts.
- Lanolin cream to help protect your breasts against soreness and dry skin
- Nursing bra
“If you’re not comfortable, your baby isn’t going to be comfortable and this will make breastfeeding more difficult,” Dr. Nix explains, so stocking up on a few items that can help bring added comfort is very important.
- Actively work on building your milk supply
New moms should start pumping or breastfeeding within 12 hours after giving birth to avoid an interruption in milk production. Every mother is different, so when your milk supply comes in will vary, but once it does, focus on building a supply for your baby.
While baby may be satisfied with small amounts at first, as they get older, they’ll require more milk with added feedings. To build your supply, it’s important to offer your breast to your baby or pump every two to four hours.
If you’re having trouble producing enough milk, Dr. Nix recommends “power pumping” sessions because in order to make milk, you need to remove milk. “To power pump,” she says, “Pump 10 minutes on, then 10 minutes off, for the duration of a one-hour television show.”
- Start trying as soon as possible
Once your little one has arrived into the world, immediately bring them to your chest for skin-to-skin time and try to nurse, if possible. “I find a lot of mothers, even if they weren’t planning on breastfeeding, will be successful within the first hour after birth,” says Dr. Nix.
In some cases, mothers may not be able to hold their baby right away, these events would include a medical emergency or health issue requiring a NICU visit. In such instances, it’s ok to wait before trying to breastfeed. “If the baby needs special care, I don’t think that not being able to breastfeed right away means you aren’t going to be successful,” Dr. Nix explains, “if your baby requires a NICU stay and isn’t able to be breastfed right away, it’s important for mom to start pumping quickly after delivery to build her milk supply.”
- Find a comfortable feeding position
There are many different ways to hold your baby during breastfeeding, but usually trial and error will help find the best position that you’re both comfortable with. For brand new moms, Dr. Nix recommends holding baby in the football position (also known as underarm or clutch). “I think this is the easiest position to help mom get comfortable, especially if she had a cesarean section. Mom can sit up, add pillows, and try to get a deeper latch in this position,” she said.
- Pay attention to your diet
Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables with your proteins, fats and carbohydrates — and drink plenty of water. “Hydration is so important during breastfeeding,” says Dr. Nix. “If mom isn’t drinking enough, she’s not going to make enough milk.”
Don't forget that everything you consume will get passed on to your baby through your milk, so be sure to avoid an excess of things like caffeine and alcohol, as well as any medications that haven't been approved by your doctor.
If you drink alcohol, it’s recommended that you don't breastfeed until you've stopped drinking and have adequately replenished your system with water. Caffeine should be regulated to less than 25 ounces of coffee over the course of a day and not more than five ounces at a time.
- Try to relax
This can be especially difficult for new parents, but mom having a lot of stress can impact her ability to produce milk.
“Mom needs to chill out,” says. Dr. Nix, “A lot of times, I’ll see moms who have a decreased milk supply when it comes to stressful situations, such as going back to work. It’s crucial to try to remove or reduce those stressors so that it doesn’t impact your ability to breastfeed,” she explains.
- Learn from baby’s cues
Is baby hungry? Have they gotten enough to eat? Before your little one starts talking, it can be difficult to know if you’re feeding them at the right time and if they’re getting enough to eat.
While feeding, your baby should be sucking and swallowing regularly. As they get full or tired, the swallowing will decrease. When baby is full, he/she will usually stop swallowing, release your breast and seem tired.
“Plenty of wet diapers is a good indicator that baby is eating enough. If baby isn’t having at least six wet diapers a day (after 6 days old), that may be a sign for concern,” says Dr. Nix. Your baby should also be gaining weight regularly, and this is something that your pediatrician will keep track of during baby’s visits.
- Watch for infection
If breasts become engorged, or too full of milk, you will likely be in pain and have hard, swollen breasts. In some cases, this leads to an infection called mastitis.
Mastitis occurs when milk ducts become clogged, causing bacterial overgrowth. If you have red, hard spots on your breasts, Dr. Nix recommends continuing to feed to help release the plugged milk, but if you have a fever, chills and a lot of pain that doesn’t go away with pumping or feeding, call your doctor to be treated.
- Ask for help
“Moms aren’t always the best at asking for help, but this is an important time to reach out to your support team when you need it,” Dr. Nix says. “It’s ok to ask for help with the house or help making dinner while you take some ‘me’ time.”
New moms aren’t expected to be completely on top of it all day long, and it is absolutely ok if you’re not. Your family and friends can be a shoulder to lean on, and we are always here to offer additional support, including lactation consultations when you need it.
- Stop when you’re ready to stop
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding until baby is at least 6 months, but everyone is different, so it’s important to do what’s best for your situation. “As long as breastfeeding is beneficial to both mom and baby, keep going,” Dr. Nix advises. “If it’s ever not beneficial for one or the other, then it’s time to stop.”
“If breastfeeding is starting to cause stress or conflict in any ways, don’t push it,” she says. And when the time comes that you are ready to start weaning, stopping altogether can lead to infection, so Dr. Nix suggests slowly cutting back on feedings to gradually reduce milk supply.
Mother and Baby Care
For more information on Dr. Nix and mom and baby services available at AdventHealth Manchester, click here.