An Expert Shares Breastfeeding and Lactation Advice
Breastfeeding your baby is a part of parenthood that may feel like it comes naturally. For some, that is the case. For others, it can be surprisingly difficult and even stressful.
First and foremost, let’s acknowledge the glaring gap between the CDC’s recommendation that women should exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life—and the reality of a mom saying she is losing her supply, she doesn’t have time, or she just doesn’t want to. Formula, or mix between formula and breastfeeding, is always an option.
To help you on your feeding journey we spoke with Certified Lactation Counselor, Dana Saccomano. Her experience breastfeeding her two children led her to become a breastfeeding counselor for Breastfeeding USA as well as a Certified Lactation Counselor.
We asked Saccomano some of your most common questions about how long the feeding journey lasts, how to breastfeed successfully and what to do if breastfeeding doesn’t quite work out as planned.
How Breastfeeding Benefits You and Your Baby
By now, you’ve most likely been told or read that breastfeeding has big benefits for your baby. The benefits of breastfeeding for your baby include:
- Reduced risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and gastrointestinal illnesses including NEC (Necrotizing Enterocolitis) a disease that can be life-threatening for preterm infants
- Ear infections
- Type 1 diabetes
Did you know that breastfeeding also has significant benefits for you? For a parent, breastfeeding can provide protection from breast cancer, ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and even high blood pressure.
In addition to health benefits for you and your baby, “There is no preparation needed to feed your baby from your body, so once breastfeeding has been well established and mother and baby have found their rhythm together, breastfeeding can be very convenient.” Saccamano shared. “The ability to be able to feed your baby at a moment’s notice with nothing but your body is freeing.” With breastfeeding, “There is nothing you need to pack, nothing to clean, nothing to buy. All you need is yourself and your baby for a successful meal.” Saccomano added. “ Also, the comfort breastfeeding provides can be a parenting tool that will make your life easier for as long as you embrace it! Is baby hurt? Breastfeed. Is baby over-tired? Breastfeed. Is baby scared? Breastfeed! It is much more than optimal nutrition.”
What’s Required To Breastfeed Successfully?
Setting yourself, and your baby, up for a successful breastfeeding experience is surprisingly simple. “The most important things you need in order to get breastfeeding off to a strong start is the desire within yourself, a hungry baby and some good lactation support.” Saccomano told us.
Having an idea of what to expect and a basic sense of how to breastfeed can be extremely helpful. “Comfort comes with good feeding positioning and latch, which a lactation professional can help you with,” Succomano told us. Sounds easy enough. In Saccomano’s experience seeking the advice of a lactation expert makes all the difference. “Some folks like to buy things like special pillows, nursing tops, nipple butters, etc. The best investment you can make is setting up a lactation appointment early on in your baby feeding journey,” she shared.
4 Important Steps To Successful Breastfeeding
There are plenty of areas of parenting that you’ll need to figure out on your own. Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be one of them.
- Saccomano’s advice for new parents is to, “Take a prenatal breastfeeding class to educate yourself on what to expect once your baby arrives. During such a class, you will learn about typical newborn behaviors, as well as the ins and outs of breastfeeding. Both topics are equally important to the success of feeding your newborn baby.”
- Before your baby arrives, “Seek out a lactation professional to have in your corner after birth. Setting up an appointment for a few days postpartum to have a feeding assessment will help put your mind at ease if you are a nervous or new parent” Saccomano advises.
- In addition to expert advice and assistance, consider lining up support from friends and/or family. Saccomano’s recommendation is to “Identify close family and friends who will be members of your support system. They can help with things like preparing meals, doing laundry, shopping for groceries, watching older children, etc after your baby arrives so you can focus on your newest, most important job- feeding and bonding with your baby!”
- “Trust your intuition. If others are giving you advice that doesn't feel right to you, ignore them. You are the parent and you know what's right for your baby.”
Also, if breastfeeding proves more challenging than you anticipated, Saccomano says, “Don’t suffer in silence if you need help, are having a problem or feel overwhelmed. Lactation professionals like CLCs are here for you during this time of huge change in your life. Reach out!”
Remember, Not All Advice Is Created Equally
Seeking the advice and support from trained experts will help you avoid information that’s not 100% accurate or may be even outdated.
“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” Saccomano told us. “There are lots of credible sources of information on breastfeeding and chestfeeding out there but there are lots of myths and misinformation too.” Saccomano went on to say, “One good way to get accurate information is to join free online support groups run by breastfeeding organizations like La Leche League or Breastfeeding USA. Working with an organization like one of these, “You will have the opportunity to have your questions answered by qualified leaders and Counselors who have studied human lactation and will provide you with evidence-based answers,” Saccomano shared.
How To Overcome Common Challenges To Breastfeeding
For some, breastfeeding comes easily. For others it is challenging and oftentimes even associated with discomfort or even pain. Pain during breastfeeding, especially when you’ve just given birth, can prove too large a challenge for many new moms.
For new moms who have had a painful experience with breastfeeding, it may come as a surprise but Saccomano told us, “Breastfeeding should NOT hurt! One of the most common challenges new breastfeeding mothers face is nipple pain, which is often caused by suboptimal feeding position and latch.” In fact, Saccomano said, “Suffering through any pain is completely unnecessary.”
If you’re experiencing pain during breastfeeding, it may be time to call in the experts. Saccomano recommends, “Lactation professionals want to help you achieve a comfortable, sustainable latch and will help you and your baby get into comfortable positions for feeding. Seek out support early to avoid this common challenge.”
When it comes to success with breastfeeding, pain is not the only issue. “For some new parents, breastfeeding isn’t an option,” Saccomano reminds us. “A small percentage of folks will be physically unable due to underlying medical reasons. Other parents are not lactating at the time their baby is born because they are not the birthing parent.”
For the later group, Saccomano told us, “Relactation (initiating lactation again if you have ever given birth before) and induced lactation (initiating lactation for the very first time) are possible for folks who are interested in feeding their babies from their bodies despite the fact that they did not recently give birth. Both relactation and induced lactation are best attempted with the direct support of a lactation professional.”
How Long Should You Breastfeed?
There are differing opinions on this question. According to Saccomano, “The CDC does recommend exclusive breastfeeding (baby receiving nothing but human milk, with the exception of vitamins) for the first 6 months of life, followed by continued breastfeeding for at least 1 year. The WHO also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, followed by continued breastfeeding for at least 2 years.”
How long you breastfeed your baby is ultimately up to you. It will likely depend on your baby, your body, and what your life can accommodate. Saccomano reminds new parents that, “These recommendations are not made to make mothers who do not meet them feel badly about themselves. These recommendations are made to protect children around the world from food and water-born illnesses and infections and also because the first 2 years of a child’s life is an extremely important time for ideal nutrition for proper growth and development.”
While six months is the minimum recommended time for breastfeeding, it can safely go on for longer. “Folks are often shocked to hear that the average world-wide weaning age is somewhere between 2.5 and 7 years of age. In addition to the myriad of health protections breastfeeding offers, there are psychological and emotional benefits for both parent and child that can have a long lasting positive impact on their relationship,” Saccomano told us.
It’s worth noting that at around six months your baby may begin to show signs that they’re ready to add solid foods to their diet. As a result, their milk intake may change. You can learn more about introducing solid foods to your baby in our article, “What you need to know about solid food and your baby”.
How To Continue To Breastfeed When You Return to Work
For millions of new moms around the globe, breastfeeding will at some point, become a part of their workday. In the U.S. in particular, there’s a good chance that a working mom will head back to work long before her baby is six months old.
Breastfeeding for working moms comes with an added layer of challenge. “Pumping to provide milk for your baby while you are separated can be time consuming and unfortunately, there are workplaces that do not provide adequate time and space for pumping mothers,” Saccomano told us.
There may however be hope on the horizon, Saccomano shared, “The good news is there is a piece of legislation making its way to the senate floor hopefully some time early this year. If passed, the PUMP Act would allow for greater protections for more breastfeeding parents in their efforts to keep their breastfeeding relationships with their babies intact while they are separated.”
If you, like millions of working moms, find pumping from work to be extremely difficult, Saccomano shared some insights. “My advice to mothers facing this struggle would be to reach out to other parents and see how they made it work. Online support groups for breastfeeding and working mothers are great for this very purpose!”
For those who find the challenges of pumping at work too great, it can be distressing. Some may feel guilt or even sadness at this reality. You’re not alone. Continuing to breastfeed after returning to work can be a real challenge. “If you decide breastfeeding is not going to work out for you, and you are having a difficult time dealing with that decision, then please do reach out to a perinatal mental health specialist or a lactation counselor,” Saccomano shared. “Breastfeeding grief is a real thing and you do not have to navigate through it alone.”
The Bottom Line
With a little planning you can identify lactation resources in advance in case you need them once your baby arrives. Having this support can help you, and your baby, experience the benefits of breastfeeding without unnecessary stress.
“It is important to realize breastfeeding does not have to be all or nothing!” Saccomano reminded us. “Any amount of human milk you provide for your baby, whether you produce it yourself, or it comes from a milk donor or donation bank, will benefit their health in a positive way.”
Whether breastfeeding comes easily to you or not, Saccomano reminded us that, “The way you feed your baby is 100% your choice and no one else’s. Ultimately, you need to do what is right for you and your baby.”
To start your lactation journey or learn more about breastfeeding, book a consultation with Certified Lactation Counselor, Dana Saccomano with Tot Squad.