Is my baby getting enough milk? Is breastfeeding supposed to hurt this much? Am I doing it right? As a Certified Lactation Counselor and founder of the only on-demand breastfeeding consulting service in the country, Boober (formerly Breast Start), I hear a lot of women worrying about nursing, and it’s normal. Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s also very difficult… So difficult, that many moms give up.
One of the biggest barriers to breastfeeding in America is the giant amount of misinformation that mothers receive from otherwise well-intentioned hospital staff. When their baby start fussing, they are told that they are not making enough milk, that they are starving their baby. For new moms who are impressionable and exhausted, it’s scary and worrisome and intimidating. What’s more, false or discouraging statements can quickly undermine a mom’s gut instincts, which is crucial to parenting and to a successful breastfeeding experience. To help you stay on course with your breastfeeding plans (noting there are always medical and personal reasons why you might stop breastfeeding or start supplementing), we are sorting out the real from the false.
Here are 4 red-flag statements that you hear at hospitals about breastfeeding.
1. You’re not making enough milk. This statement is often followed by, “that baby is hungry” or, “you’re starving the baby.” The truth is, at first, it might not look like you’re making as much milk as you were expecting, but that’s because it’s colostrum — a sticky, thick, and golden kind of milk that’s nicknamed “liquid gold.” Colostrum helps your baby pass his or her first stool (meconium) and is rich with antibodies to help build your baby’s immunity and reduce likelihood of illness. Though you’ll barely see a little drop in the early postpartum hours, trust me when we say that you’re likely making the perfect amount of milk for your baby. For you to eventually make more and mature breast milk, your baby has to breastfeed up to 15 times per day in the first days!! Yes, you heard me: 15 times.
Breastfeeding works as a supply and demand system (although, it should really be called “demand and supply). If you give your baby unrestricted access to your breast starting right after birth, you should see milk flowing out abundantly by day 3. So feed the baby as frequently as possible in those first few days, and you will get what your baby needs. If you have doubt or are experiencing pain, ask to see the lactation consultant. Also rest assured that pediatrician and nurses on staff are available to check on your baby throughout your hospital stay.
2. Your baby only needs to eat every 2-3 hours. That’s probably what everyone has told you: the baby books, the nurses, the pediatrician. Though that statement is not altogether false (there may be a few times during the day when your baby does wait that long to nurse), the average just-born baby will often eat every 60-90 minutes. Why is it important that you know that? Because if you don’t know that feeding more often is perfectly normal, you’re going to think that your baby is always hungry and not getting enough milk. Couple that with a staff member confirming that the baby is hungry, and boom! Before you know it, you’re giving your baby a bottle, which can end up hurting your milk supply in the long run.
So when should you feed your baby? Whenever he or she seems hungry. Trust your instinct and watch for cues like mouth motion, smacking lips, wide open mouth, rooting (where baby’s head rotates to the side frequently), hand in mouth, sucking-like motion, and the simple fact that the baby just woke up.
3. You need to rest. Let us give the baby a quick bottle so you can catch up on sleep. It’s true: you need to rest. But you’ll have to do that later. I know it sounds extreme, but giving a bottle to your baby in the early days of breastfeeding is the fastest way to decrease your supply and to make breastfeeding more difficult and possibly painful.
Remember, breastfeeding works on a supply-and-demand basis. Every time your baby “demands” milk by suckling, your brain gets a signal to produce and “supply” milk. So giving a few early bottles to your baby means that you will not send that signal to your brain, which can in turn send a signal to diminish your milk-making capacity. If you want to counter this effect and still give a bottle, you need to use a pump to stimulate your breasts. But that won’t help you rest, so you may as well breastfeed. What’s more, some babies will find suckling at the bottle so easy that when it’s time to breastfeed again, they will latch on with a semi-closed mouth, which hurts! That’s called nipple confusion. A good and (eventually) painless latch involves a very wide open mouth and strong jaw movements. If babies get a lot of bottles early on, they can get frustrated that the milk doesn’t flow as easily, and they slightly close their mouths like they do around the bottle, which can cause pain and less stimulus to the breast.
Of course, you can eventually give a bottle to your baby. But if you want to breastfeed for an extended period of time, most lactation professionals recommend waiting until breastfeeding doesn’t hurt and is well established, which is between 2 to 4 weeks postpartum for most women.
4. Breastfeeding hurts. You just have to tough it out. If breastfeeding really hurts, you should immediately seek professional lactation help. Pain can be normal at the beginning. But if it persists, it can signal that something is not working properly. For example, a poor latch not only makes breastfeeding painful and unpleasant (and therefore unlikely to last), it also means you may make milk inefficiently, which will force you to nurse longer than you otherwise would need to. So if you’re feeling pain, get help fast so you can feel good about nursing and ensure that you are on the path of making more milk! Most hospitals nowadays have lactation consultants on staff.l
Don’t let these “red flag” statements hamper your breastfeeding flow. The more you know about breastfeeding before you give birth, the better prepared you’ll be to trust your gut and breastfeed successfully for as long as you want. So arm yourself with knowledge, trust your instincts, and, if you do need support, seek a qualified lactation professional. The most important thing is to do what works best for you and your family, and feed how you need!