Congratulations on your baby and on your decision to breastfeed. Nursing is an excellent way to feed your baby for many reasons. Your milk provides the precise nutrition your infant needs to grow, and it also has antibodies that help protect your baby from illness. Your milk is availlable. If you have a baby then you have milk, and you have to put forth an effort to make it dry up if you decide not to breastfeed. Your milk is free. Well, sort of. Its costs money to feed you, pay for the lactation nurse (if you end up needing one) and the breast pump and other nursing accessories. But you have to eat anyway and formula is much more expensive on an on-going basis for the entire first year of your baby’s life.
Breastfeeding is easy, once you get the hang of it. When your baby is hungry, you simply open up your shirt for feeding. You don’t have to run to the kitchen to heat a bottle (a most undesirable prospect in the middle of the night). You have no bottles to wash, sterilize, and fill with formula. You and your baby will quickly develop a symbiotic relationship in which your breasts will fill up right around the time your baby gets hungry.
Nursing your baby is a built in opportunity to bond with your baby and to take a much needed break. You need those rest periods throughout the day since your sleep is broken at night. If you find a safe, comfortable position you and the baby can both fall asleep after feeding. For a new mother, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Nothing is life is perfect, however. If you want to successfully nurse your baby for the first six weeks, you must be extremely determined. It takes the same kind of courage and tenacity that got you through labor and delivery to survive the temptation to gtive your baby a bottle of formula during that first month and a half.
Getting started is the most difficult part. Although nursing shouldn’t hurt as a general rule, you will probably experience sore nipples in the beginning. Applying ice and cold tea bags should bring relief. Don’t rub anything on your nipples except a few drops of expressed milk. The exception to this rule is a wonderful product called Lansinoh™. The best thing you can do for sore nipples is get a couple of breast cups to wear inside your bra. They create small pockets of air around your nipples and prevent irritation from rubbing against your clothing. They won’t create a seamless bustline, but let’s face it, you won’t be wearing clingy knit tops for a while anyway. If you can’t get relief from sore nipples after a week or so, get help. You don’t get any mommy brownie points for suffering in silence.
Another great challenge is making sure your baby is getting enough to eat. Believing breastfeeding is sort of like believing in God. You cannot actually see the milk going in to your baby’s mouth. You have no way to measure how much he’s eating since your breasts are not clear and calibrated like a bottle. You only have that mysterious internal tug known as letdown to assure you that your milk is flowing. You watch your baby’s jaws moving, your head falls back as you feel that blessed lethargy steal over you, and that’s how you know all is well.
Then some idiotic baby nurse or doctor ask you briskly how many ounces the baby’s taking—after you told her you’re breastfeeding. You stand there, eyes and mouth wide open, your mind a blank. You’re nursing, how are you supposed to answer that? You can pump out one feeding to measure it, but rest assured the baby is more efficient than the pump. There are only two ways you can really tell whether your baby is getting enough—counting diapers and weighing her frequently. If your baby is producing X wet diapers and Y poopy diapers within a 24 hour period and is gaining enough to suit the pediatrician, you’re doing fine.
Another drawback is that breastfed babies need to eat more frequently that formula fed babies. This is because formula has the stick-to-your-ribs quality of a hearty steak and potatoes dinner. No wonder babies are supposed to sleep for four hours after a bottle of formula. Your breastfed baby will need to eat about every two hours, and you are the only one who can feed her. To your sleep starved brain, a bottle of formula begins to look more and more like a four hour nap. Don’t be fooled. The bottle feeding mothers aren’t getting any much sleep either.
What if you have to give your baby a supplement? If you have to supplement your nursing, it isn’t the end of the world. You can try to increase your milk supply by pumping between feedings. Nurse as often as possible during the baby’s first few weeks. You can use a nursing supplementer that hangs around your neck and allows the formula to flow through a tube taped to your breast. This is a good idea if you plan to nurse for at least several months.
If you decide to give bottle supplements, try to wait until you and the baby are comfortable with breastfeeding. The supplementer will help you feed the baby while you both adjust to nursing. Once you’re comfortable with it, give the baby one or two ounces of formula after you’ve nursed. Remember, you are supplementing your nursing with formula and not the other way around.
If you plan to take your baby to daycare when you go back to work, this is a good way to introduce the bottle. You’ll want to pump and fill the bottle with your own milk so as not to compromise your milk supply. Just give the bottle of your own milk after nursing to help with the adjustment.
When you decide to wean your baby from the breast is completely up to you. Some mother wean their babies from the breast right after their postpartum check ups and others wait until their toddlers are ready to start potty training and preschool. Some babies go straight from breast to cup without ever taking a bottle. Whether you breastfeed for six weeks or sixteen months, you’ve given your baby a wonderful start on a lifetime of good nutrition.
On La Leche League. If you are still pregnant, start attending La Leche League meetings. These wonderful women will provide the support and encouragement you need when everyone else in your world (including your husband and the baby’s pediatrician) is howling for you to start with the bottle.
Just keep in mind that La Leche League leaders are extremely zealous about not giving your baby any formula at all. This is a good thing—they had to be zealous in order to change the entire medical establishment from pro-formula to pro-breastfeeding. Maybe it will work for you not to allow a drop of formula in your house (just leave those free samples on the doorstep). On the other hand, maybe a half ounce of formula is just what your newborn needs at four in the morning.
The bottom line is to go with your intuition (that famous mother’s intuition). As long as you feel comfortable with La Leche League’s advice, by all means follow it. Just don’t feel remorse about a tiny bit of formula is an infant feeding cup or about weaning your baby from the breast when you go back to work. Just do what you feel is best for you and your baby.
Copyright © 2004 by Allyson Denise Walker-Lawrence. All rights reserved. No part of this piece may be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without the permission of the author.