By Lynn Turcotte-Schuh.
I am a big advocate for breastfeeding. Not because I judge those who don’t, but because I know that those who do need a lot of support. If you choose not to breastfeed (or can’t breastfeed) I am happy to be first in line to help you correctly prepare formula. However, if you choose to breastfeed let me be the first in line to encourage you, support you and help keep you on track. Here are three very important things you need to know about breastfeeding.
#1: Breastfeeding is natural, but it is NOT automatic.
Breastfeeding is a LEARNED SKILL for both Mama and baby. Both parties have an instinctual drive moving them towards each other. The newborn baby, if left alone, will crawl up its mother’s abdomen, search for the breast and latch on to the nipple all on its own. The Mama’s body produces breastmilk that changes with the baby’s age, will be different for a boy versus a girl baby and is chock full of immunity. I mean, does it get more amazing than this?!? Mama and baby are truly a dyad. Here’s where the instinct ends…logistics. The first three weeks of breastfeeding are REALLY HARD. There is a steep learning curve and it can be very overwhelming if you’re on your own.
Look at these two photos. The one above shows a baby that is tummy to tummy with Mama with hips and shoulders aligned. This baby has a good chance at a proper latch. The baby on below has hips and shoulders that are aligned, but their body is turned out slightly. This slight change in position will not allow this baby to latch properly…which means they don’t get the nutrition they need and Mama’s nipples get shaved down (OUCH!). If I hadn’t pointed out this difference, many of you may not have even noticed there WAS a difference. This is where LOGISTICAL support is vital in your breastfeeding journey. You can find a list of certified breastfeeding counselors here. (link is https://www.alpp.org/search)
#2: Your tribe will make or break your breastfeeding experience
Breastfeeding can be one of the most deeply connected experiences you will ever have, or it can be one of the most trying challenges you will ever face. What makes the difference? Your tribe. Let’s look at two Mamas facing the same obstacle – breastfeeding has been painful. One Mama is surrounded by a supportive tribe of Mamas who have overcome the obstacles of breastfeeding. The other Mama is surrounded by an equally supportive tribe of Mamas who chose to stop breastfeeding and switch to formula. Neither group is right or wrong, in general…but one group is right or wrong for you and your goals.
If you are a Mama that wants to work through the struggles and come out the other side, surrounding yourself with Mamas who have done just that is going to be imperative. You need voices to counter the well-meaning loved ones who tell you to “just stop”. You need voices to cheer you on, to motivate you and give you confidence. You can find your tribe locally or online…whichever makes you feel more comfortable. If you are looking for an online tribe, I would be honored to invite you into mine. (Link is https://www.facebook.com/groups/HappyMamaVillage).
#3: Breastmilk is produced via supply and demand
This is important to know for several reasons. First, breast pumps (even the really good ones) are only about 40% as efficient as baby (on average). Unless you are a Mama that HAS to pump (i.e. baby is in NICU and can’t latch), it will behoove you to stay away from the pump for at least three to four weeks. Let’s add some numbers in to illustrate (and these are totally random numbers BTW!). Let’s say your baby needs 30 oz of milk per day. If your baby is on the breast 100% of the time, your body will produce 30 oz of milk. If your baby is on the breast 50% of the time and the pump is on the other 50%, your body will produce about 21 oz. If you only pump, your body will produce about 12 oz. There is a HUGE disparity here. Once your body is a milk-making machine (usually about 3-4 weeks out), then you can start adding in the pump if you need to build up a store of milk.
Second reason to remember this fact is so that you don’t freak out when the cluster feeds come. All babies will cluster feed at some point and most cluster feed on relatively predictable time tables of growth spurts – see the infographic. Cluster feeding is NOT happening because you are not making enough milk. It is happening because your baby is giving your body a heads up that they will need more milk as a baseline in the coming days and weeks.
Remember that 30 oz example? If your baby is approaching a growth spurt, they will cluster feed, telling your body “you need to start making 40 oz per day please”. And your body will respond. Your body will elevate your baseline to meet the demands of your growing baby. It is very rare that you truly have a low milk supply. If you have any concerns about that, speak with your lactation counselor.
Breastmilk is the best nutrition for your baby. We CANNOT replicate it. We come as close as we can with formula, but it will never be the same. Formula will not change as your baby grows. It does not have the immunity in it that breastmilk does. Just as your body knew how to grow and birth this baby, your body also knows how to feed it. Trust yourself and your baby. Ask for help when you need it. Embrace and enjoy your breastfeeding journey, but begin it with realistic expectations.
In Gratitude & With Love,
Lynn Turcotte-Schuh, CCCE, CLC
Lynn Turcotte-Schuh is a Childbirth Educator and Parenting Mentor, Children’s Book Author, Baby Sign Instructor, and the Creator of Happy Mama Wellness where she helps Mamas prepare for their new role, break through their parenting challenges, operate at their highest potential and create a positive and nurturing family dynamic. Lynn is highly passionate about helping Mamas find their power and be a role model they can be proud of.