Tips for breastfeeding moms
These tips for breastfeeding moms are inspired, in part, by the practices of mothers living in traditional, non-industrial cultures.
For a more detailed discussion of these practices, see the article
“Breastfeeding on demand: an anthropological survival guide.”
Create your own postpartum "babymoon"
In many places (like China), new mothers spend the first 30-40 days in postpartum seclusion, during which time they are relieved from performing most work.
Mothers might not like all the rules associated with postpartum seclusion. For example, fathers are sometimes excluded from participating in baby care.
But these "babymoons" have their advantages. Family members help out, and moms have more time to breastfeed.
And traditions of postpartum seclusion help put the newborn period in perspective. It's a tough time, and parents really do need a lot of help.
Here are some tips for breastfeeding moms to create their own “baby honeymoons.”
• During the first 4-6 weeks, accept what help you can from family and friends. This might include help with meals, shopping, housework, transportation, and passing along the "baby news" to others.
• If you can afford it, consider paying for services that will ease your workload: grocery delivery, diaper service and laundry service, babysitting for your older children.
• Get extensions for work-related deadlines.
• Turn off the phone when you are trying to sleep
• Stock the kitchen with meals that require little or no preparation
• Get sunlight during the day and avoid artificial lighting at night. This will help prevent major disruptions in your sleep hormone cycle, and it will help baby adapt to the 24-hour day.
Make sure the baby is properly latched
In the early days of breastfeeding, your nipples will be sore. You may also feel a tugging, pins-and-needles sensation during the let-down or milk ejection reflex. But you shouldn’t be experiencing searing pain every time the baby begins to nurse. If you experience this sort of pain, your baby is probably not latching on correctly. Other signs of a poor latching include
• Sounds of the baby gulping air
• Dimpled or sucked-in cheeks
If you suspect a bad latch, gently detach your baby (by slipping your finger in his mouth) and try again.
See Kellymom.com for extensive, medically researched information about how to establish a good latch.
This excellent website--founded by a lactation consultant—-offers a wide range of tips for breastfeeding moms.
Breastfeed on demand—-particularly during the newborn period
Feed your baby on cue and for as long as he shows an interest in feeding. Let your baby decide when to switch breasts. Restricting a baby’s time at the breast may deprive her of the more nutritious, higher-fat hind milk associated with softer, emptier breasts.
To review the scientific basis for breastfeeding on demand, see my articles on
the infant feeding schedule
breastfeeding on demand.
Experiment with different breastfeeding positions
Many Americans tend to favor the “cradle” hold—-in which the infant’s head is held in the crook of the mother’s arm—-but there are many alternatives. Babies may find some positions easier than others, and different milk ducts are emptied depending on the angle of the infant’s mouth. Some lactation consultants recommend a variant of the cradle hold—the cross cradle hold—for newborns.
For details—-and more tips for breastfeeding moms--see The Mayo Clinic's website.
Learn to nurse while lying down
Sleep-deprived moms may be too wired to fall asleep easily. This can create a vicious cycle...Sleep deprivation --> stress --> increased difficulty falling asleep --> increased anxiety that you will NEVER get to sleep --> more sleep deprivation --> more stress...
One way to break the cycle is to find ways to rest while you nurse. Breastfeeding in bed—-while you and your baby lie on your sides—-can help you wind down. However, its important to do this on a safe surface. Sofas, for instance, can be dangerous.
Traditional, Western-style adult beds can also be hazardous, too--if you fall asleep while you are nursing. But you can modify your bed in ways that will make your bed a much safer place for baby. For information, see this article about
the safety of bed sharing.
For guidelines on how to breastfeed in a reclining position, seeThe Mayo Clinic's illustrated guide to breastfeeding positions.
As noted above, this website also offers a variety of other tips for breastfeeding moms.
Consider (safe) co-sleeping
Throughout most of human history and in most cultures, babies have slept with their mothers nearby--often in the same bed. You might wonder if co-sleeping will deprive you of even more sleep, but studies show that moms who share beds with their infants enjoy the same total sleep time as mothers who don't (McKenna et al 1999. Many co-sleeping moms find co-sleeping to be less disruptive because they don't have to wake "all the way up" to breastfeed their babies.
But there are safety concerns. In particular, beds designed for Western adults include features that are hazardous for babies--features like soft mattresses, loose bedding, and crevices in which babies can become trapped. And some people--like smokers or people who are very tired--shouldn't sleep on the same surface with a baby.
For these reasons, researchers often recommend that parents co-sleep by keeping their babies on a separate sleeping surface, like a "side car" style bassinet.
For scientific information about co-sleeping--and safety guidelines--check out
my article about bed sharing with infants.
In addition, check out the website for
Dr. James McKenna’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory of Notre Dame University.
McKenna is an anthropologist and world-renowned expert on infant sleep, sudden infant death syndrome, and breastfeeding.
Realize that "sleeping through the night" is a Western ideal
Some books or websites offering tips for breastfeeding moms seem to imply that failure to “sleep through the night” is a pathology. Although medical problems are sometimes the cause of lost sleep, the truth is that short sleeping bouts are biologically normal—-for both adults and babies.
Western culture is enamored with the idea of sleeping for 7-8 hours at a stretch, and babies are expected to conform to this pattern within a few months of birth. But there is no biological basis for this expectation. At best, older babies might learn to sleep for 4-5 hours at a time. Parents who claim their babies sleep longer are usually unaware that their babies have awakened during the night.
And cross-cultural evidence strongly suggests that the idea of sleeping through the night—-for adults or babies--is a Western peculiarity. In non-Western cultures, people sleep in shorter intervals, and are less regular about the timing of sleep (Worthman and Melby 2002).
Although knowing this won’t solve all your sleeping troubles, it may help to realize that there is nothing wrong with you or your baby if you aren’t sleeping like logs. In fact, long bouts of deep sleep may put babies at increased risk of SIDS (McKenna et al 1999). As Western sleep researchers are becoming aware of the anthropological evidence, they are coming to revise their notions about sleep disorders.
Read more in my article about
Dangerously sleep deprived? Consider occasional bottle-feeding.
Should you accept that offer from Grandma to babysit (and bottle feed) while you take a long nap? Lactation experts discourage new moms from bottle feeding babies for the first 3-4 weeks. The fear is that supplemental feeds will lead to a decreased milk supply and endanger successful breastfeeding in the long-term. Some workers also worry about “nipple confusion”—the idea that babies will become accustomed to the ease of sucking milk from a bottle and will subsequently reject the more challenging human breast.
But moms need to weigh the risks of bottle feeding against the risks of severe sleep deprivation. The dangerously sleep-deprived mother is more accident-prone, and at higher risk of infection and postpartum depression. An occasional 3-4 hour breastfeeding break is unlikely to imperil your breastfeeding success, and it might be a lifesaver.
Use the breast pump wisely
The breast pump is an essential device for breastfeeding women who must spend many hours away from their babies. If you are planning to buy a breast pump, check out these
tips for breastfeeding moms offered by Dr. Sears.
But keep in mind that this evolutionary novelty can sometimes interfere with the natural feedback process between mom and baby.
New moms may be especially anxious about establishing an adequate milk supply. Extensive pumping may seem like a good way to increase your supply—and it will boost the volume of your breast milk. But milk overproduction can backfire by keeping your breasts full—-even engorged.
It’s pretty obvious why you want to avoid engorgement. Engorged breasts are painful. They can lead to clogged milk ducts and infections.
But even if you fall short of engorgement, you may find your fuller breasts are causing problems. When milk is overproduced, it may eject too quickly for suckling babies to deal with.
Just as importantly, full breasts may interfere with the quality of your milk supply. When breasts are full, the milk that comes out is low-fat “foremilk.” Only when breasts are soft—more empty—do breasts start to produce the higher-fat hind milk. Babies presented with full breasts may fill up on low-fat milk, which can cause colic and gastric problems (Woolridge 1995). Such babies may also have to feed more frequently to get enough calories.
Don't stress about giving equal time to each breast
Well, you can if you want to. If one breast gets milked more often than another, you will develop a certain asymmetry in milk productivity. But guess what? You’re probably a bit asymmetrical anyway. Michael Woolridge and his colleagues have measured asymmetries in breast milk output among mothers with no “obvious bias in breast use” (Woolridge 1995).
The preoccupation with switching breasts may be a Western quirk. Most babies develop a preference for one breast, and—-in many cultures—-it’s not uncommon for babies to feed from only one breast at each feeding (Woolridge 1995). This may increase the baby’s fat intake (see discussion above).
Take your prenatal vitamins and limit saturated fats
Breast milk is the original baby food, but we should remember that it evolved in the context of a
Dietary surveys of hunter-gatherers around the world—-as well as archeological remains—-suggest that our ancestors ate far more vegetable foods and lean meats than is typical of modern populations (Eaton et al 1999).
As a result, prehistoric foragers would have consumed a diet that was high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein. It was also low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. And the nutrients our ancestors consumed were passed along in the breast milk.
This doesn’t mean you should take mega-doses of vitamins. Some vitamins—-like vitamins A and D—-have toxic effects in large doses. But modern Western diets tend to be vitamin-deficient, so a multivitamin supplement is a prudent investment. Bottom line: Keep taking those prenatal vitamins for as long as you’re nursing.
And it makes sense to watch your intake of saturated fats, too. Several studies suggest infants who are breastfed by mothers consuming Western diets high in saturated fat are more liable to develop high cholesterol and blood pressure levels later in life (Leeson et al 2001; Mott et al 1991).
The "good fats" include the omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish oil. However, because
some fish are contaminated with dangerously high levels of mercury, you must be cautious about which fish you eat.
The USDA offers tips for breastfeeding moms
regarding the safety of different species of fish.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol
Both pass into the breast milk. Caffeine can make your baby irritable and sleepless. Although the occasional beer shouldn’t harm your baby, it may interfere with breastfeeding. Contrary to the old wives’ tale, alcohol actually decreases a woman’s milk production (Mennella 2001). It also interferes with a baby’s ability to sleep (Mennella and Gerrish 1998).
Check the safety of all medications and herbal remedies
Many drugs and chemicals can be transferred to an infant through breast milk. Some of these are reasonably safe, others are not (American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs 2001). Lactation consultants and pediatricians can advise you on the safety of specific substances. In addition,
kellymom.com offers drug safety tips for breastfeeding moms.
Find out which public places are breastfeeding-friendly
It’s hard to leave home with your baby if feel inhibited from breastfeeding in public places. Scout your local area for shops and businesses that provide spaces where you can comfortably breastfeed your baby. Some large retail chains—-like Ikea-—provide customers with breastfeeding stations.
Mothering magazine has gotten involved by sponsoring a contest for the creation of an international breastfeeding symbol. The symbol is for display in any public place that has special accommodations—-like comfortable chairs—-for women to breastfeed. The winning symbol is pictured here.
Partial breastfeeding is better than no breastfeeding
While exclusive breastfeeding is the goal for many women, individual circumstances may prevent you from reaching this goal. If so, remember that breastfeeding is not an all-or-nothing proposition.
Other research-based tips for breastfeeding moms
See my article about the
nutrients and calories in breast milk.
It provides basic nutritional information, suggests ways to assess milk quality, and offers other tips for breastfeeding moms.
References: Tips for breastfeeding moms
There are thousands and websites, articles and books featuring tips for breastfeeding moms. Here are some select publications.
Kathleen Huggins’s bestseller, The Nursing Mother's Companion (2005: Harvard Common Press) has been in print for over 20 years and is now in its 5th edition. Many mothers love its explicit and comprehensive problem-solving approach. It includes a guide to nursing positions, safe medications, and many other tips for breastfeeding moms.
Another source of tips for breastfeeding moms is Janet Tamaro’s humorous, non-preachy, best-selling book, So That’s What Those Are For, 3rd edition (2005: Adams Media).
You can find more tips for breastfeeding moms among these scientific publications:
American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs. 2001. The Transfer of Drugs and Other Chemicals Into Human Milk. Pediatrics 108: 776-789
Eaton SB, Eaton SB III, Konner MJ. 1999. Paleolithic nutrition revisted. In: Evolutionary Medicine, WR Trevathan, EO Smith and JJ McKenna (eds). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Leeson CPM, Katterhorn M, Deanfield JE and Lucas A. 2001. Duration of breastfeeding and arterial distensibility in early adult life: population based study. BMJ 322: 643-7.
McKenna J, Mosko S, and Richard C. 1999. Breastfeeding and mother-infant co-sleeping in relation to SIDS prevention. In: Evolutionary Medicine, WR Trevathan, EO Smith and JJ McKenna (eds). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Menella JA and Gerrish, CJ. 1998. Effects of exposure to alcohol in mother's milk on infant sleep. Pediatrics 101(5):21-25.
Mennella JA. 2001. Alcohol’s Effect on Lactation. Alcohol Research & Health 25(3):230-234.
Mott GE, Jackson EM, McMahan CA, McGill HZ. 1990. Cholesterol metabolism in adult baboons is influenced by infant diet. J Nutrition. 120:243–251.
Woolridge MW. 1995. Baby-controlled breastfeeding: Biocultural implications. In: Breastfeeding: Biocultural perspectives. P. Stuart-Macadam and KA Dettwyler (eds). New York: Aldine deGruyter.
C.M. Worthman and M. Melby. Toward a comparative developmental ecology of human sleep. In: Adolescent Sleep Patterns: Biological, Social, and Psychological Influences, M.A. Carskadon, ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 69-117.
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Content last modified 8/11