A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Breastfeeding: Natural, but not always easy

Breastfeeding can be an intimidating topic for first-time mothers, and because every child is a little different, even experienced mothers can find themselves struggling through the first few weeks.

Mother and baby - Breastfeeding, what to expect

Breastfeeding isn’t always easy. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

“Breastfeeding isn’t always easy initially,” said Jessie Richardson, lactation consultant at Marshfield Clinic. “Moms and babies have pretty strong instincts, but getting the two of them to come together can take a bit of practice.”

Educate yourself

While pregnant, Richardson suggests educating yourself about breastfeeding. Start to think about your goals, questions and options you have about feeding before your child is born.

“I would highly encourage attending a breastfeeding class or childbirth education class because that will give you the basics,” she said. “You learn about hospital practices, normal newborn behaviors and what to expect, what is recommended and how to get through some of the tougher times.”

Lactation Services at Marshfield Medical Center have classes offered monthly, and suggest you take one during the last three months of pregnancy with your support person. After delivery, lactation consultants see you in the hospital and are available for outpatient visits after hospital discharge. You also can call the Breastfeeding Warmline at 800-991-8412 anytime to ask a question. Richardson said no question is too ridiculous.

“Trust me, we have probably heard it,” she said.

Sometimes support you need isn’t just physical, but emotional as well. Breastfeeding support groups also are available to celebrate the ups and downs of being a mom. Your provider, lactation consultant, nurses and support system are here for you.

Ask for help,” Richardson said. “You aren’t expected to know everything.”

She recommends talking with your family, support person, employer and care provider to discuss your goals after delivery to help breastfeeding be successful.

Be realistic

If you go into breastfeeding thinking it is simple and it’s not, you may find yourself frustrated. Richardson said most mothers say the first few weeks can sometimes be a struggle. It can take time for babies to learn how to breastfeed, but given time, breastfeeding can be easy and natural.

The first few weeks you will feel like all you are doing is breastfeeding,” she said. “It’s time consuming and it may be challenging, but as the baby learns and is more efficient, and Mom is able to trust herself and be more confident, then breastfeeding progresses and gets easier.”

A healthy full-term baby nurses as often and as long as they want. Because you can’t see the volume going in, Richardson said you have to trust that your baby naturally and instinctually knows how much they need. Premature babies often times require more scheduled feedings to get them to a healthy weight because they may not always have energy to feed consistently well.

Mom knows best

Don’t worry about tracking with an app or scheduling times to feed. Richardson encourages mothers to trust their bodies and their baby when breastfeeding. Your provider may require you to track how many times your baby is eating, wetting and stooling, but overtime, your baby’s weight shows their progress.

“It’s more important to know how Mom thinks the feedings are going,” Richardson said. “She generally knows if it is going well or if something is wrong.”

If your baby isn’t feeding well, hand expression and breast pumping can maintain your supply. Your provider or lactation consultant helps you with different options. For moms returning to work, pumping can begin after breastfeeding is well established in order to not disrupt the first few weeks of breastfeeding.

It also is your decision on how long you want to breastfeed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast milk for the first six months, and continued breastfeeding up to a year and beyond as long as mutually desired by both the mom and baby. Everyone makes their own decision on when it is the right time to stop for them.

“Sometimes moms really aren’t sure initially what they are going to do or how long,” Richardson said. “Then, it ends up being a wonderful experience and they breastfeed longer than expected because it’s a nice bonding experience and they know the benefits of breast milk for their baby. Breastfeeding is an easy way to share closeness. It gives you and your baby a lot of chances to enjoy time together.”

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