On a Personal Note: World Breastfeeding Week

Now that I have your attention, I have been contemplating a post on breastfeeding for quite some time. But what better timing to take the plunge than during World Breastfeeding Week.

From my experiences as a mother and dietitian, here are my 7 tips for successful breastfeeding.

1. Get help from the start. While you are in the hospital make sure you see the lactation consultant to help start you and baby on the right foot. If a lactation consultant isn’t immediately available, find an experienced nurse on the floor to help. Once you leave the hospital, make an appointment to see a lactation consultant if you continue to have issues. The International Lactation Consultant Association is a good resource if you need help locating a lactation consultant in your area.

We were fortunate that an experienced nurse helped us the first two days since we delivered on a weekend and couldn’t see a lactation consultant until Monday morning before we were discharged. We went back to the lactation consultant three more times over the course of the next month or so to help with latch issues.

2. Establish a support network. It is imperative to have the support of family and friends while breastfeeding. It is also important to make sure that your pediatrician is supportive as well as any other caregivers for your child.

We found a wonderful nanny for our son since I had to go back to work when he was only 8 weeks old. Fortunately our nanny had breastfed her adopted daughter (yes, you can do that!) so I knew she would  care for him in a manner to support my breastfeeding efforts. I also found great information and a good support network on Kellymom.

3. If you have to go back to work, invest in a good pump.Yes, pumps can be expensive upfront. But expressing your own breast milk saves a great deal of money in the long term as formula is much more expensive.

Personally, I bought the Medela Freestyle (no, I’m not being paid to endorse this product) and I would highly recommend it. In terms of portability, it can’t be beat! The unit itself is small and doesn’t require a big bag and the hands-free kit makes pumping while doing other tasks possible. I even drove while pumping on a few occasions (I don’t recommend it if you can at all avoid it but unfortunately in my job at the time I didn’t have a choice some days).

4. Speaking of work, talk to your employer and co-workers regarding a private space to pump as well as time to do it.

I was very fortunate at the time that I worked with primarily women who had all breastfed their children. A pumping room was a given and my co-workers decorated it with pictures of my son and created a serene atmosphere in which to pump on the days I happened to be in the office. If you aren’t so fortunate, there are resources, such as La Leche League International, to help you talk to your employer. Also, there are provisions in the new health care bill to support breastfeeding while working.

5. Breastfeeding is a commitment, but through perseverance the benefits far outweigh the negatives.  

Breastfeeding did not come easily to me or my son. It was a struggle initially and we had to use a nipple guard for the first 2 months while we worked on our latching issues. And breastfeeding was often painful in the beginning. I wondered how I would ever make it to 6 months, much less 12 months. But it gradually got easier and one day I realized it didn’t really hurt anymore. Sure issues cropped up from time to time, but once we both got the hang of it around 4 or 5 months, it was much more enjoyable for us both. Despite our struggles, I also became deeply attached to breastfeeding and the quiet time with my son. In terms of both cost and convenience, breastfeeding was far easier to me than using formula.

6. Don’t let society or others that don’t understand breastfeeding get you down.

Even within my own family there were naysayers to my breastfeeding, particularly when we passed the 12 month mark. It is unfortunate that in our society today, extended breastfeeding is seen as “odd” or “unnatural”. It is the most natural thing to do for a child and breastfeeding beyond 12 months is much more the norm outside of the United States. The World Health Organization advocates breastfeeding with appropriate foods until the age of 2 or even beyond. I’m proud to say that I made it to 17 months breastfeeding my son. We were down to just one feeding a day the last few months and my milk supply ended up tanking in the end. Weaning was a difficult transition for us both for about a day or so but after that we both adjusted just fine.

7. Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be an all or nothing option.

I think this is one point that is often left out of breastfeeding discussions. There are many ways to get the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child without doing it 24 hours a day. The bottom line is that a mother needs to do what is best for she and her baby. If it isn’t practical or feasible for a mother to breastfeed full time, then formula can be used to supplement feedings. I’ve known some mothers that either could not or did not want to pump while working so the baby received formula while separated. Each situation is unique and should be approached as such. A mother should never feel guilty or be made to feel guilty if exclusive breastfeeding is not possible or practical. Some breast milk is much better than none for any given period of time.

Those are my top tips for breastfeeding, though I could go on and on. Feel free to share your own tips or success stories.