Breastfeeding takes practice and patience. Babies don’t always follow our plans, which can create challenges. Let’s demystify the process and get back to the basics of breastfeeding and bottle feeding.
Why Choose Breastmilk and Breastfeeding?
Breastmilk is the best preventative medicine for your baby. It has antibodies to fight and protect your baby from germs found naturally in your environment. Breastmilk can adapt based on what you and your baby are exposed to at any given time. For example, when you receive your COVID-19 vaccine, you can pass along vaccine-related immunity to your baby through breastmilk. Breastmilk protects against allergies, childhood infections, and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Breastmilk is designed for exactly what your baby needs. It decreases the risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. For premature babies, it helps neurological development and protects their gastrointestinal system from infections.
Breastfeeding also has benefits for you. It can help combat postpartum depression, promotes a special bond between you and your baby, can help you lose weight after delivery, decrease breast and ovarian cancer rates, is economically beneficial, and leads to long-lasting health benefits for both you and your baby.
Breastmilk is ideal for your baby, but that does not mean breastfeeding is easy. There are common challenges in breastfeeding including trouble latching, sore nipples, and sleepy babies.
One of the biggest concerns lactation specialists hear from parents is, “How do I know my baby is getting enough?” There are things you can look for to know the baby is transferring milk:
- Good latch with rhythmic tugging at breast
- Baby engaged with feeding
- Identifying swallows
- Weight gain of about 0.5-1 oz per day after about five days of birth (it is normal for babies to lose weight initially)
If you are breastfeeding, there are certain steps you can take to help optimize your breastmilk health. Ensuring you get enough calories in a day and are following a well-balanced diet are extremely important. New parents can get worried about feeding their baby, sometimes they forget to feed themselves. Your diet should include an appropriate number of servings of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins. It is usually recommended to eat about 500 extra calories per day above your baseline calorie intake, much like you did when you were pregnant. Breastfeeding can make your hunger increase, so having some snacks on hand can help maintain supply. Make sure you are drinking water when thirsty.
Every baby and family is different. Sometimes there is a need for supplementation based on medical reasons or if you are choosing to pump and feed exclusively or there isn’t enough volume of milk produced.
Some moms are unable to breastfeed due to medical or other reasons, but they still would prefer their baby have breastmilk. Human donor milk is a very safe, thoroughly tested option.
Exclusively pumping and feeding is also a good option if the baby can’t latch. Bottle feeding can feel a bit intimidating as there are so many bottles on the market. It can feel like you have to try them all or get the perfect bottle. Oftentimes babies will do well with different types of bottles. Start with a bottle that is slow-flowing to help babies tolerate the amount and engage in their feedings to actively pull milk out. Flow can be changed by elevating the baby’s head instead of letting them lay down — allowing gravity to make the flow faster.
If your baby is going back and forth between breast and bottle, it is often recommended to use slow-paced bottle feeding. This means your baby is elevated and the bottle nipple is about half full of milk. The baby then must actively suck to pull milk out. This can help babies by giving them time to process when they are full and not overeat by going too fast. If the baby is not doing well with a certain bottle after a day or so, it would be ok to try a different bottle. But it’s important to give them time to get used to one before switching. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, it is generally a good idea to wait to introduce bottles until around three weeks of age or when breastfeeding is well established.
Formula is cow milk protein-based and does alter a baby’s normal gut bacteria, unlike breast milk. It is fairly standard in how formula is made. A lot of times parents will start with samples they were given at the hospital or sent in the mail. It is important to not switch formulas too frequently as this can upset your baby’s tummy. If your baby does well with a certain formula, there is no need to change it. If they are having issues with it after a day or two, it would be ok to try a different brand or sensitivity. It is important to speak with the baby’s pediatrician before choosing to move from a standard formula to anything more specialized, like soy, Alimentum, etc.
Resources for Breastfeeding
There are many resources while you are in the hospital and when you go home. Breastfeeding is a collaborative effort between the parents, pediatrician, and lactation consultant.
At MercyOne, they are proud to offer different care options to help navigate breastfeeding for you and your baby. With classes on breastfeeding, support groups, lactation experts available during your stay, and outpatient lactation consultations, they are here when you need us most.
During outpatient consultations, mothers receive an uninterrupted 60–90-minute one-on-one visit with an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to help navigate breastfeeding and/or pumping challenges. Moms will observe a pumping/feeding session and receive help developing a personalized feeding plan to meet each family’s feeding goals.
No referral is necessary to meet with an IBCLC. Mothers can simply call 515-358-2082 to set up an appointment.
About the author: Alyson Stark, RN, IBCLC, started at MercyOne Maternity and Infants’ Care in 2011 and in 2018 began working as a lactation consultant. Alyson loves giving new parents the confidence to care for their newborns when they leave the hospital and helping them meet their feeding goals and come up with alternate plans if necessary. Sarah Carter, CLEC, CPST, has been working in childbirth education and at MercyOne Maternity and Infants’ Care for six years. Sarah enjoys giving parents information about the care and feeding of their babies to help them make informed decisions about what works best for their family.
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This article is part of a series of sponsored articles by MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center