Why knowledge is power when it comes to breastfeeding

I was out to lunch with my mom recently and noticed two parents with a stroller sitting next to us. A quick glance at what I assumed was a newborn, was confirmed by the exhausted yet joyful haze that was present in the parents’ eyes, and my inability to control asking the baby’s age – 8 days old! I praised their venture out and congratulated them on their first baby.

I soon learned that they were breastfeeding and supplementing along with the following:

  • The baby had a strong latch
  • The husband wanted to know when the milk would come in 
  • They have been told to drink a lot of water
  • Their family was giving them grief about supplementing
  • They were using warm compresses
  • They seemed relaxed and hopeful but understandably frustrated and looking for support

Based on these facts, I felt this couple was off to a strong start. They were fairly educated about breastfeeding, but were a little overwhelmed with all of the information they were hearing, so their confidence was a little shaky. As a Certified Lactation Counselor, I was torn between wanting to offer help and remaining a friendly neighbor at the restaurant. I wanted to be considerate of their time out of the house and not turn their lunch into a lactation consultation, but I was itching to share some resources with them.

Ultimately, we shared some encouraging words and returned to the privacy of our own conversation. 

This scenario left me feeling like I had unfinished business with this mom and her partner, and then I thought, I am sure there are many other moms out there in a similar situation! So here I am, writing this blog and sharing the tips that I wish I had a chance to share with this couple.

Schedule a lactation consultation

I always suggest meeting with a lactation professional before birth to learn what to expect and how to jumpstart your breastfeeding journey. Whether you did or not, I recommend having a few follow ups with your lactation professional to help support the journey once it actually begins. No two breastfeeding experiences are the same; there are going to be pivots that will leave you questioning a lot and may make you feel confused and craving more guidance, like this couple I met. Having the support and experience of a lactation professional will help you navigate the particulars of your own breastfeeding journey. It is also great to have this neutral party involved, to help diffuse all of the opinions of family, friends and yep, strangers! Which brings me to my next point…

Knowledge is power

The more you know about breastfeeding, what to expect, how to manage different pain points and navigate the ups and downs, the smoother (I say this lightly, I know ‘smooth’ downplays the reality a lot!) your journey will be. Like anything else in life, being grounded and confident in your values, beliefs, and choices, only helps in navigating difficult situations. When it comes to being a new parent, the opinions and advice from others flooding in can be incredibly overwhelming. Having the knowledge and being confident in your decision making when it comes to your choices surrounding feeding your baby will help when it comes to navigating opinions, like this couple at the restaurant’s family giving a hard time about supplementing. Armed with information, you can thank everyone for their concern/input and stay grounded in your choices, welcoming advice when and from who you choose!

Understand the signs that your baby is receiving enough milk

You will learn this when meeting with a lactation professional, but there are so many details, this is often one that is forgotten as a new parent. (Especially if like this couple, you are being asked, “but how can you be sure how much milk your baby is getting?!). It may help to post reminders in the nursery or somewhere else in your home that will reassure you your baby is satisfied. Starting feeds at ideal times, ensuring a proper latch, listening/watching for suck-to-swallow patterns, relaxed arms and fists post feed and the number of wet diapers are some important indicators to look for. Again, understanding all of this, will help you share the knowledge with any concerned family and friends. I repeat this not because I think it is always necessary that you ease the concerns of others; but rather that I understand what an added stress this can have on parents during this time of learning – SO, I like to address it a lot to help offer ways to navigate and hopefully allow you to focus more on your new baby!

Tips to build milk supply

If you are a first-time parent, like this couple, you may have concerns about when your milk will come in. It may take a few days for your abundant milk to arrive, but in the initial days, your baby will be receiving the all-important colostrum. Think of these early days as a chance for you and your baby to learn and get acquainted with breastfeeding. Achieving a proper latch, nursing frequently (10-12 times/day), stimulating your nipples, and massaging your breasts are great to do throughout the breastfeeding journey and especially in the early days. Hand expressing colostrum to lubricate your nipples will help orient your baby and encourage them to latch. Once your abundant milk arrives, continue all of the above, and if you are encouraged by your lactation professional to work on building your milk supply, then there are several additional things you can try such as: guided meditation, relaxation techniques, incorporating a breast pump and continuing to massage to stimulate often!

Fed is best

I could sense timidness when the couple first mentioned that they were supplementing. They almost whispered it. Once they revealed that their relatives were giving them a hard time about it, I understood the quiet delivery of this information. While my job is to help educate and support breastfeeding, I want to enforce that ultimately fed is best. Knowing your goals, understanding the facts, and staying confident in your decision are so important. Breastfeeding is not one size fits all. It looks different for everyone. Every mom is going to have a unique journey. Whether you exclusively breastfeed, exclusively pump, nurse and pump, provide donor milk, supplement with formula, or solely formula feed, fed is best. Arm yourself with knowledge and trust that you, with the guidance of a lactation professional and your pediatrician, will make the right decision for you and your baby.

Bonding is beautiful 

The ups and downs and twists and turns of a breastfeeding journey can be all-consuming. Slow down and appreciate the moments that are happening in between. The first latch, falling asleep at your breast, watching your partner, friend, or family member give a bottle, baby staring into your eyes while suckling, yanking at your hair, and pinching your skin (ouch). Savor these beautiful, bonding moments that are taking place alongside the concerns of how much they are eating, a clogged duct, engorgement, and milk supply. 

Whew! I think you can now see why I held back at lunch and let the new parents enjoy their outing. I hope that by sharing all the thoughts that flooded my mind, I will reach even more parents that need some advice and words of encouragement. 

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