Answering the question “should I breastfeed or not?” is a personal matter. It’s also one that’s likely to draw opinions from friends and family. You, your baby, and your partner are unique, and the decision to breastfeed is up to you. With August being National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, Lily and Llama wanted to share our deep dive into what it means to breasfeed (and to not!).
SHOULD I BREASTFEED? WE’LL START WITH THE PROS.
For mama, breastfeeding benefits include:
Breastfeeding burns extra calories. So it can help you lose pregnancy weight faster.
Breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth.
Breastfeeding also lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It may lower your risk of osteoporosis, too.
Breastfeeding could also be a more economical feeding option, as if you nurse, you don’t have to pay for formula. Formula can get expensive.
Some of the benefits of breastfeeding for babies:
Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything your baby needs to grow and they’re going to be doing A TON of that in their first year!
Studies have shown that babies who breastfeed are less likely to get sick. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria.
Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies.
Babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea.
In some studies, breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood.
Skin-to-skin contact and eye contact while breastfeeding all contribute to physical closeness, which helps you bond with your baby bond and makes your baby feel secure.
SHOULD I BREASTFEED? LET’S TALK ABOUT SOME COMMON BREASTFEEDING CHALLENGES.
Mamas, not every baby or body is the same. Some mamas and babies have a harder time with this process. This is never ever anything to blame yourself for. You’re still an amazing mama!
Remember to take care of yourself. Being overly anxious or stressed can interfere with your let-down reflex. That’s your body’s natural release of milk into the milk ducts. It’s triggered by hormones released when your baby nurses. It can also be triggered just by hearing your baby cry or thinking about your baby. Stay as relaxed and calm as possible before and during nursing — it can help your milk let down and flow more easily. That, in turn, can help calm and relax the baby, too.
Some babies have a hard time, too. Premature babies may not be able to breastfeed right away. Some babies have a hard time latching. No mom should ever feel ashamed if she has to give her baby a bottle. In fact, even if you plan to exclusively breastfeed, you want to still acquaint your baby with a bottle around three or four weeks. By then, you’ve established your milk supply, but it’s still early enough that your baby isn’t likely to refuse a bottle, causing issues later on down the road.
You may experience some, none, or all of these when breastfeeding.
Sore nipples. You can expect some soreness in the first weeks of breastfeeding. Make sure your baby latches on correctly, and use one finger to break the suction of your baby’s mouth after each feeding. That will help prevent sore nipples. If you still get sore, be sure you nurse with each breast fully enough to empty the milk ducts. If you don’t, your breasts can become engorged, swollen, and painful. Holding ice packs or even a bag of frozen peas against sore nipples can temporarily ease discomfort. Keeping your nipples dry and letting them air dry between feedings helps, too. Your baby tends to suck more actively at the start, so begin feedings with the less-sore nipple.
Dry, cracked nipples. Ouch! Avoid soaps, perfumed creams, or lotions with alcohol in them, which can make nipples even more dry and cracked. You can gently apply pure lanolin to your nipples after a feeding, but be sure you gently wash the lanolin off before breastfeeding again. Changing your bra pads and nipple covers often will help your nipples stay dry.
Inverted nipples. Some of us are just shy! An inverted nipple doesn’t poke forward when you pinch the areola. One helpful item for this are nipple shields. They are thin, silicone shields that fit over the nipple that help the nipple protrude more, which makes latching easier.
Breast engorgement. Breast fullness is natural and healthy. It happens as your breasts become full of milk, staying soft and pliable. But breast engorgement means the blood vessels in your breast have become congested. This traps fluid in your breasts and makes them feel hard, painful, and swollen. Alternate heat and cold, for instance using ice packs and hot showers, to relieve mild symptoms. It can also help to release your milk by hand or use a breast pump.
Blocked ducts. A single sore spot on your breast, which may be red and hot, can signal a plugged milk duct. This can often be relieved by warm compresses and gentle massage over the area to release the blockage. More frequent nursing can also help.
Breast infection (mastitis). This occasionally results when bacteria enter the breast, often through a cracked nipple after breastfeeding. If you have a sore area on your breast along with flu-like symptoms, fever, and fatigue, call your doctor asap! Antibiotics are usually needed to clear up a breast infection, but you can most likely continue to breastfeed while you have the infection and take antibiotics. To relieve breast tenderness, apply moist heat to the sore area four times a day for 15 to 20 minutes each time. It’s also not a bad idea to take some probiotics, just check with your doc first.
Thrush. This is a yeast infection in the baby’s mouth, which can spread to your breasts (no bueno!). You’ll notice red, shiny, and sometimes flaky nipples. You may also experience an itching sensation or deep, shooting breast pain. The solution? Your doctor will need to prescribe an antifungal medication to put on your nipple and in the baby’s mouth (OTC meds don’t cut it here). If you and your baby are not both treated at the same time, you can easily pass the fungi back and forth, prolonging the healing. To keep the yeast contained, make sure to sanitize all pump parts and anything that comes in contact with your breasts. You’ll want to wash all bras, clothing, and nursing pads daily in hot water and vinegar to kill any yeast spores.
As you know by now there will be some difficulties on this journey, but there are always solutions. It’s just a good idea to be prepared for the good, the bad, and the ugly (and ouchy).
IF YOU DO DECIDE TO GO WITH FORMULA (ENTIRELY OR JUST TO SUPPLEMENT) THERE ARE OPTIONS.
Of course, you’ll want to consult with your doctors, lactation consultant, and anyone else on your support team to find what’s right for you and your baby. Some formula options include:
Cow’s milk-based formula. This accounts for about 80% of all formula sold. Milk sugar has been added to make it similar in composition to breast milk. The butter and fat have also been removed and replaced with vegetable oil and other fats that are easier for your baby to digest.
Soy formula. These are sometimes recommended for babies who can’t digest lactose, the main carbohydrate in cow’s milk formula. Just keep in mind that up to half of all infants who have a milk allergy are also sensitive to soy protein. Therefore, soy formula may not be the best option.
Hydrolyzed formulas. These formulas take cow’s milk proteins and break them into very small pieces. If your baby is truly allergic to cow’s milk, they will need a type of formula known as extensively hydrolyzed formula. These formulas do tend to be more expensive than either milk-based or soy formula, though.
SOME HANDY-DANDY ITEMS TO HELP WITH BREASTFEEDING.
Mamas, we are all about making life easier for ya. We hope these suggested items help.
Breast pump. Whether you have to go back to work, out an occasional date night, or just need some dang ol’ me time. A breast pump is clutch when you need to take a break from breastfeeding. The good news is your health insurance must cover the cost of a breast pump! The bad news is you may be limited to certain brands. Fortunately, most of the main brands are usually covered. There are even wireless ones for the mama on the go!
Nipple balm. Just like moisturizer can soothe dry, chapped hands, the right nipple balm can do wonders for sore nipples. They help slow the loss of moisture from your skin so it’s less likely to dry out from your baby’s constant nursing. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using medical-grade purified lanolin. Other options are products made with olive oil, which is safe for babies to eat. Pro-tip; don’t use petroleum jelly, it’s not safe for your child.
Nursing pillows. A breastfeeding pillow can ease the strain on your back, neck, and arms and provides support to your baby. It’s all about being comfy and relaxed. One with a U-shape design easily contours to a new mom’s still swollen tummy. There are even wrap-around styles with backrests for ultimate versatility.
Nursing cover. For when you’re out and about showing baby their big new world, or finally getting to get out and show them off! You’re still going to need to nurse often and sometimes you won’t want strangers gettin’ a sneak peek (or maybe you do, there’s no judgment here!). There are also some that double as a car seat or stroller cover to keep the baby nice and cozy for that post-feeding nap.
Nursing bras. Make sure you have at least three to wear while breastfeeding. Avoid ones with underwire. These can put pressure on milk ducts, which can impact supply. They also should be stretchy to accommodate breast changes that happen during nursing and have thick back closures with at least four hooks for support. The more support the better.
While it is the most natural thing to do, there are always going to be pros and cons to breastfeeding, and potentially some bumps along the road. It’s highly recommended to get a lactation consultant that’s a specialist in breastfeeding education. There are also breastfeeding classes and support groups. And talk to your doc about any questions or concerns you have with breastfeeding. Mama, you’re gonna do great. You got this!
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