Breastfeeding (or chestfeeding) is a profound and intimate connection between a parent and their baby. Beyond providing essential nutrition, it fosters a bond that is unparalleled. To establish a successful breastfeeding relationship, one must navigate not only the science of lactation, but also the art of nurturing this unique connection. In this blog post, we'll explore the evidence-based practices that can guide you toward a fulfilling and successful breastfeeding journey.
Understand the Physiology:
To embark on a successful breastfeeding journey, it's crucial to understand the physiology of lactation. The hormone oxytocin plays a pivotal role in milk ejection and bonding. Oxytocin is released when your baby suckles, creating a sense of relaxation and love. This hormone is the foundation of the breastfeeding relationship, just as it was foundational in helping your uterus bring your baby earthside.
Evidence supports the benefits of early initiation of breastfeeding, ideally within the first hour after birth. This is commonly called "the golden hour" and in this period, your baby's sucking reflex is strong, and your breasts produce colostrum, a nutrient-rich first milk. This early nourishment is vital and establishes the foundation of milk production. Think of colostrum as "sweetened condensed milk"...it's super yummy and thick and your baby is gonna want it baaaad!
Proper Latch and Positioning:
A successful breastfeeding relationship relies heavily on a proper latch and positioning. Your baby should take a deep, wide latch that encompasses the areola. This ensures efficient milk transfer and minimizes discomfort. As a birth doula, this is something I work with my clients on achieving during the golden hour. You'll also have the help of nurses, midwives, and/or lactation consultants, depending on where you decide to give birth.
Frequent feeding is essential in the early days to establish milk supply. Your body operates on a supply-and-demand principle. The more your baby nurses, the more milk you'll produce. Newborns typically feed every 2-3 hours, but every baby is different so ask questions if/when you have them!
Babies have their own schedules, and being responsive to their cues is key. Watch for hunger signs, such as rooting, lip-smacking, or putting their hand to their mouth. Feed your baby when they're hungry, not based on a strict schedule. Babies' bodies are remarkably adept at knowing and showing when they're hungry. Take if from my experience: trying to keep a strict schedule is crazy-making and not necessarily helpful...for you OR baby.
Skin-to-skin contact is a powerful practice supported by research. Holding your baby against your bare chest triggers oxytocin release, regulates your baby's body temperature, and promotes bonding. This is one of the BEST ways to help promote a quality feeding relationship! It's always one of the easiest. So whenever possible, I definitely recommend losing your shirt and snuggling up, whether you're feeding or not.
Breastfeeding can be challenging, especially in the early days. Seek support from a lactation consultant, your healthcare provider, or support groups. Don't hesitate to ask questions or voice concerns. You are the only person that can determine if your feeding journey is successful, so ask all the questions you need to, to get to whatever success looks like for you!
Balanced Diet and Hydration:
Maintain a balanced diet and stay well-hydrated to support milk production. While breastfeeding, you need extra calories, but it's also a time to focus on nutrient-dense foods. Adding things like chia seeds, ground flaxseed, and spinach to morning smoothies is a super easy way to start your day on the right foot. You might also consider working with a placenta encapsulation specialist to get all THOSE nutrients! And "lactation cookies" are always huge hit with postpartum peeps! Here's a really yummy recipe for you to try.
Every breastfeeding journey comes with its challenges. Understand that setbacks can happen, but with patience and support, many issues can be overcome. Seek assistance for issues like low milk supply, sore nipples, or latch difficulties. Your doula and your provider can answer loads of these questions. And one of the best ways to get help and answers is asking other parents who are either on the same journey as your or who have gone before you. Seeking advice from other parents is a perfect way to build community with other people who are in the same boat, because while you know you're never alone, it can sometimes feel that way. So make sure you're connecting with other people during your pregnancy/feeding/parenting journey!
The path to a successful breastfeeding relationship is a journey that requires knowledge, patience, and love. Understanding the science behind lactation, coupled with nurturing the emotional connection, forms the foundation. As you embark on this adventure, remember that it's unique to you and your baby. Seek guidance, be patient with yourself, and treasure every moment of this beautiful connection.
Micah is a birth doula, birth photographer, and yoga instructor based in Saginaw, TX.