Want to know one of the best/worst-kept secrets about breastfeeding? How difficult it can be to get the hang of it. Sure, it’s natural. And yes, it’s best for babies. And absolutely, it offers significant health benefits to moms. But it’s not always easy—there is an unexpectedly steep learning curve for babies and moms alike. So how can we make the process smoother so more new moms can make it past the many land mines of the first couple of months? Here are our top six secrets to staying motivated.
1. Keep your eye on the prize. Make a list of the health benefits breastfeeding provides to your baby, now and for the long term.
Post your list where you can see it every day. Breastfeeding isn’t the only option out there, but it’s the gold standard for infant nutrition. For every week you breastfeed, you confer health benefits to your child.
2. Remind yourself of how you benefit too. Women who breastfeed improve their long-term health by reducing their breast cancer risk by as much as 25% and reducing ovarian cancer risk by as much as 20%. They also reduce osteoporosis risk by as much as 400%.
3. Don’t compare apples to oranges. Or breast milk to formula. They’re nutritionally different, and digested differently by infants. The best way to gauge your infant’s growth is to ask yourself if he’s happy, active and growing. Unsure? Talk with your doctor. Meanwhile, using the World Health Organization’s Growth Standards charts is the best way to determine if your baby’s flourishing or not. They describe the optimal growth for infants and children, as opposed to conventional charts which may offer average weights (skewed by formula feeding) that may place breastfeeding infants on the smaller side of things when they’re actually right on track.
4. If you’re having trouble, make an appointment with a lactation consultant. Why can’t a newborn just latch onto your breast the way a baby monkey does to its mom on a TV nature show? It’s one of life’s great mysteries. But a lactation consultant can help you and your baby find a good fit. They can also answer your questions relating to nutrition, holds, milk supply, mastitis and other issues that may be coming between you and breastfeeding success.
5. Invest in a good pump and bottles. There will be times when you feel like you’re about to burst…but your baby’s fast asleep. The right pump will help you express milk without any discomfort and especially without pain. Portable models allow moms to pump discreetly at home or at work. Choose bottles carefully to avoid “nipple confusion.” New research shows that when an infant nurses they create a vacuum with muscles in their tongue, jaw and mouth. Milk flows from the breast only when baby sucks; when an infant pauses to swallow or take a breath, milk flow stops completely. Not so with conventional bottles. Milk may flow even when baby isn’t sucking, so he or she has to thrust their tongue forward to slow the milk flow. In the short term, babies have latching difficulties until they figure out how to suck in each context. In the long term, exclusive bottle-feeding can lead to dental malocclusion. (Translation: Start saving for your kid’s future orthodontic bills.) Fortunately, nipple confusion can be avoided with a natural-feeling nipple on a bottle that prevents milk flow completely unless baby sucks.
6. Get help. Not everyone can provide hands-on breastfeeding advice or support. That said, there are ways your friends and relatives can help out. Ask your partner to firmly tell doubters not to second-guess your breastfeeding decision. Let visiting relatives bottle-feed expressed breast milk. They’ll be delighted to get involved… and you can nap or go for a walk. If visitors ask how they can help, tell them. Seriously—if they’re asking, they want to help, but don’t know how.
Looking for more on this topic? Here are some of our top breastfeeding stories:
• Tips for Feeding Newborns When Breastfeeding Isn’t an Option
• 6 Ways Your Partner Can Help While You’re Breastfeeding
• 7 Breastfeeding Health Benefits to Keep in Mind
• How to Boost Your Breast-Milk Supply
• The 7 Best Foods for Breastfeeding Moms
• An Easy Guide to Breast Pumps