Breastfeeding Basics.

Breast is best.

(Of course I’m talking about feeding your baby.)

Though in most cases, breastfeeding is the healthiest, most practical, and most economical choice, breastfeeding is still a choice. And choices are up to each individual to decide upon.

In most cases, I will encourage a mother to do so, and to continue as long as she likes. Nursing is normal, natural and as healthy as it gets, for mother and for child. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of baby’s life, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.

However, a mother’s decision to not breastfeed should also be honored if this is your choice. And some women choose not to. Please make your choices based upon love of your self and your child. No one knows you both like you do. Only you will have the highest answers for your wellbeing.

There are personal reasons why some women chose not to breastfeed. There are social and practical reasons why women choose not to, or to discontinue. These reasons can be discussed if you like, but they should be honored. This is your choice. This is your body.

For those who want to, will or are even considering breastfeeding… know you can. Even when others tell you you can’t.  You can if you choose. Read on.

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Breastfeeding is more than nourishing. It is comforting and nurturing. It is a time of bonding, communicating, connecting. Breast milk is the greatest complete nutrition created for your baby – and you create it, naturally. In addition to containing all the vitamins and nutrients your baby needs in the first six months of life, breast milk is packed with disease-fighting substances that protect your baby from illness, and so much more. Benefits for you include increased uterine return and healing, increased support for returning to your pre-pregnancy condition, natural birth control (let’s talk about this more later!), and for many women, it feels wonderful. I think, like sex, it feels so good so we are encouraged to do it. There are also the bonus points of it being economical, affordable, convenient, accessible. No mixing, measuring, sterilizing, stirring, cleaning up or purchasing more and more.

We often hear women saying they could not. It didn’t work out for them. Their bodies didn’t work right. They didn’t make enough milk. Often there are other pressures upon the woman, and lack of support, encouragement or understanding. Choosing not to breastfeed or to discontinue may thus be the easier option. If you are told this, or think this may be your situation, and you would like to continue successfully breastfeeding, please reach out to a lactation consultant, supportive woman, your midwife, or the La Leche League.

Know that if you do want to, you can. For some women, it may take work, support, initial discomfort, frustration and a little bit of fear (“Is my baby getting enough to eat?”). But please: trust yourself. Trust your body. Trust your baby. You can work this out together.

For most, nursing is easy. It works. It’s simple, natural, affordable, convenient, and always accessible! There are few tricks, bells, whistles, tools… though be open to those if that helps too!

More often than not, all it takes is time. Quiet time, alone with your baby, without pressures, demands, expectations and disturbances. Allow the two of you to figure it out, naturally, normally, together, in due time. You will.

If you do wish for support, either initially or any time along the way (this could go on for years! Enjoy it!) at any point, please ask. There are wonderful lactation consultants that more than anything else, just help you be you, and your baby do what your baby knows to do.  Support can make all the difference between doubting and stopping, or trusting and continuing.

La Leche League International (LLLI.org) is a remarkable resource to keep in mind throughout your nursing years. I remember turning to them for local support two times in the almost three years I nursed my child when there was no one else I felt understood. They did. That’s all it takes some times. Please reach out if need be. Your baby is worth it!

Breastfeeding is usually best. If you can, please do. Get support when you need it. Support is simply supporting you. Support is not making it more complicated. Breastfeeding is about as simple as it gets. The baby needs no instruction. You probably don’t either. But our emotions, fears, social pressures, medical questions and concerns… these things may make it complicated.

Supportive environment and people (and the little bit of instruction that may naturally come with them) may make all the difference.

If you have any personal concerns or fears, please discuss them. I’m here to listen, or speak with a LLL consultant, a postpartum doula (I can’t say enough good things about this service) or whoever you feel comfortable with. You’re not alone. Many women have private issues concerning breastfeeding, and these should be honored and respected, and worked through if you choose to. This is your choice. Honor your choices, your body, your baby, your life together however this feels most right for you.

One of the most common concerns with breast feeding is not making enough milk. Some experts and authorities can be the first to turn to this excuse, and thus discourage the mother from even trying – or encouraging the mother to feel there is a problem/she has a problem. This is usually so far from the truth. In most cases, this concern is not found within your body, your baby, or your breasts. In fact, it’s not a concern at all, but simply a suggestion by others (and sometimes self induced) based on fear and caused by stress. Chances are, the “cure” is simply to trust. Your body, your baby, your breasts. Relax. You will be fine!  Reduce the stress. Trust your body. Know how normal and natural this is, and believe that your body is doing everything just right. Surround yourself with support, not nay sayers. Reach out and find support and comfort. You – and your baby – will be well.

Mothers have too many stresses and too little support. Let’s start turning this around now!

With true support and time, almost every mother and child will be able to create their own needed balance.

The La Leche League, which is a wonderful resource, says that the three biggest problems around “not enough milk” are (1) nothing, (2) personal fear, (3) someone is scaring you.

After that, the suggestion is making breastfeeding more comfortable for the baby – experiment with positions. Try lying on your back, and putting the baby on your chest and allowing the little one to find his or her own way. I personally like the 24-hour bed cure too. Mother and baby are prescribed to (and thus, they must!) stay in bed, being fed, watered and nurtured by others for a full 24 hours. Better yet, go for 2-3 days if you can! They say this works every time. But how few are actually able to give it a good try?

Biggest thing we’ve noted in breast feeding support is simply trusting and giving it time…  Reduce your stress, increase your support, and you’ll most like find that you can and you will make enough.

Some other supportive thoughts. Allow the baby to nurse completely on demand – and even encourage the baby to nurse more frequently.  Your body, with emotional support and physical relaxation, will be fine in due time. Back in the 1960’s when breastfeeding was far from the norm, my mother talks about having a woman (some distant aunt that she never knew before or after her first birth) stand over her like a guardian angel and quietly remind her that her body knows best… not the medical “authorities” that were telling my mom it wasn’t working. Sure enough, it worked just fine. Four of us to prove it. Find your own guardian angel. Hire one if need be. Look into lactation consultants and postpartum doulas now if you are concerned with the possibility of an unsupportive situation after birth.

That said, some suggestions for increasing milk supply and flow:

  1. Avoid parsley and sage – to herbs known to reduce milk flow.
  2. Instead, try nourishing tonics/teas like alfalfa and nettle and red clover.
  3. If you can get your hands on fenugreek, that’s the most traditional herbal remedy for increasing milk supply.
  4. Oats!  Have a bowl of oatmeal every morning, or granola (and yogurt) for lunch every day.

Here are two invaluable books on breastfeeding. Worth keeping on hand in case you ever need the support. And first and foremost, please trust your self, trust your baby. Know you both can.

  • The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International
  • Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin