As new mothers, we are so overwhelmed by information! When I had my first of three boys, my husband and I were 21-year-old university students, with no other friends having children at that time. We knew nothing and didn’t have social media to help us! No, we are not THAT old that we didn’t have the Internet. However, it wasn’t what it is today, and social media didn’t exist. I used to read parenting magazines. Writing that actually makes me feel like I’m elderly instead of 40 years old. ANYWAY, as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in private practice, I hear from new mothers all of the time and the confusion and common challenges that arise for families. Here are my top tips for new breastfeeding families!
Breastfeeding Tips for New Moms
Acknowledge that expectations around sleep need to be realistic, not based on culturally created ideas of what is “normal.”
Have you heard the term “sleeping like a baby” before? Well, if you’ve had a baby, you’re probably wondering why this was ever a saying! In many cultures around the world, this would not even be a topic of discussion. The expectation is that your baby will continue to wake to breastfeed for many months (and years) if you are breastfeeding on demand. This is not a baby with a sleep problem. It’s a baby who is frequently waking to breastfeed. Waking frequently helps to increase and maintain your milk supply. And it meets their emotional and physical needs, and it helps reduce the risk of SIDS as well (Hauck et al. 2011).
The only schedule you should think about is the one your baby puts you on, not the other way around.
The “feed, play, sleep” routines make no sense for a breastfed baby. Babies breastfeed for many different reasons. Hunger is only one of them. Your baby might have breastfed ten minutes ago and then starts asking for another breastfeed. Just because it does not fit into the schedule in a book that you’ve read does not mean they don’t need a breastfeed. Also, breastmilk contains components that actually help your baby fall asleep (Kent et al. 2006). Your body’s milk is literally designed to put your baby to sleep and help them fall back to sleep in the night or the middle of a nap. Instead of following the clock, follow your baby.
Don’t worry about how the latch looks or if your areola is all the way in your baby’s mouth. It does not matter.
I know! It sounds crazy as often what we hear after the birth is, “The latch looks great!” However, if the latch looks good to someone but you are in pain or discomfort, your baby is unsettled when feeding, or your baby is not draining the breast well, then the latch IS NOT GOOD! It’s not about how it looks. It’s about how it feels and if your baby is draining the breast easily and effectively.
Babies are designed to fall asleep at the breast, so don’t try to get them to sleep any other way.
There is this bizarre notion in Western societies that it’s seen as a “bad habit” to breastfeed our babies to sleep. However, this goes directly against the biological norm of what breastfed babies and toddlers do. They are designed to relax (and fall asleep) when breastfeeding. If someone tells you to stop doing this, they do not understand the biologically normal and expected behaviors of babies and toddlers. It’s not only okay to breastfeed your child to sleep, it’s something that many parents, babies, and toddlers/small children enjoy doing.
Instead of wondering why your baby is upset, offer a breastfeed.
99% of the time, this will be the answer! Don’t worry about reading their cries or trying to figure out what’s going on. Offer the breast first. If that doesn’t work, then try something else! Most of the time, the breast will be the answer.
Accept that your breastfed baby will probably only nap for 30-40 minutes!
This is particularly surprising for those of us in Western cultures. And yes, of course, there will be some breastfed babies who sleep for 2-hour naps. However, in my clinical experiences, I have found that many breastfed babies end up taking naps only through the initial sleep cycle. Research shows that families will typically report that their babies have fragmented daytime sleeps. If you’d like your baby to breastfeed beyond that into their second cycle, you will probably have to breastfeed them back to sleep (I call this the “nap boob”!). Or babywearing for some of their naps well help you get a longer stretch of sleep for them.
Trust your instincts and follow the lead of your baby.
Has someone told you that your baby shouldn’t be feeding so much? Have they said that you should stop breastfeeding your baby to sleep? Has someone suggested that you’re going to spoil your baby because you hold them so much? As hard as it can be, remember to trust what your baby is telling you. Make sure to do what feels right for both of you. If your baby makes a sound, breastfeed them! If they want to go to sleep, breastfeed them! And if your baby wants to be held, hold them! Your baby is going to tell you if what you’re doing is working for them or not. It’s not about what your baby “should” be doing according to societal norms. It’s about what your baby needs. And usually, that need will include breastfeeding and cuddles for many months (and years!).
If you have questions about breastfeeding, seek help from an IBCLC or volunteer breastfeeding counselor as soon as possible.
With breastfeeding-related challenges, the quicker you can get help, the less likely you’ll have an ongoing issue. It’s well documented that many women often feel a lack of support with breastfeeding from their healthcare team after giving birth. So once they are home, it’s so important that families have quick access to support. The sooner you can do this, the better! Especially if you are having latching and/or milk supply issues.