Breastfeeding: The Basics
Choosing to breastfeed your baby is special for so many reasons—the emotional bond you develop with your little one, the cost savings and of course the health benefits for both of you. Read on for tips and suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics to help you successfully breastfeed.
What are the advantages of breastfeeding?
Deciding to breastfeed can give your baby the best possible start in life. Human breast milk has many benefits. In fact, research has shown that breastfed babies are less likely to have
- Ear infections
- Pneumonia, wheezing, and bronchiolitis
- Other bacterial and viral infections, such as meningitis
Research also suggests that breastfeeding may help to protect against obesity, diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, eczema, colitis, and some cancers.
How can I tell if my baby is getting enough milk?
Your baby should have several wet or dirty diapers each day for the first few days after delivery. Beginning around the time that your milk comes in, the wet diapers should increase to six or more per day. At the same time, there should be three or more stools per 24 hours.
Your baby’s feeding patterns are an important sign that he is feeding enough. If you add up all the feedings over the course of the day, your baby should feed at least eight to 12 times a day.
Your child will be weighed at each doctor’s visit. This is one of the best ways to tell how much milk your baby is getting. Once your milk supply is established, your baby should gain between ½ and 1 ounce per day during the first three months.
How can I tell if my baby is hungry?
Your baby starts to let you know when she’s hungry by the following early signs or cues:
- Whimpering or lip-smacking
- Making sucking motions
- Moving fists to her mouth
- Becoming more active
- Nuzzling against your breast
If you’re breastfeeding, should you give your baby a pacifier?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not believe that pacifiers harm the breastfeeding relationship. In fact, pacifiers have, in recent years, earned the status of a valuable ally in the fight against sudden infant death syndrome. Although, for breastfed babies, sucking on a pacifier inherently requires a different technique, and one that may take a few tries to get used to.
Are there ways to increase milk production?
For centuries, new mothers have been promised that certain foods or regimens will increase their milk production or stimulate their babies’ development. We now know that a normal, healthy diet is all it really takes. Still, certain components of this normal diet are especially important when your body is producing milk.
- 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day
- 6 to 6½ ounces of protein per day
- 400 micrograms of Folic Acid per day
What should breastfeeding mothers eat?
In most cases you should maintain a healthy diet, as you would whether or not you were breastfeeding. One advantage of breastfeeding is that while you should eat an additional 300 to 500 calories per day, those calories add heft to your baby’s thighs, not yours! You do need a daily source of calcium in your diet, though, and will want to make sure your diet is adequate in vitamins and minerals. Consult your physician or your child’s pediatrician if you’re not sure that you are getting all the nutrients you need. A breastfeeding mother’s diet is actually an excellent blueprint for a lifetime of healthy eating.
How does alcohol affect breast milk?
Alcohol can change the taste of your milk, and this may be objectionable to some babies. If you choose to have an alcoholic drink, it is best to do so just after you nurse or pump milk rather than before. You should allow at least two hours per drink before your next breastfeeding or pumping session. That way, your body will have as much time as possible to rid itself of the alcohol before the next feeding and less will reach your infant.
Note: One alcoholic drink is the equivalent of a 12-ounce beer, 4-ounce glass of wine, or 1 ounce of hard liquor.
When should you introduce solid food?
The AAP recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for about six months. At that point, baby may be ready to try solid foods in addition to breast milk. Signs that your baby is ready for solids include:
- Sitting up with minimal support
- Showing good head control
- Trying to grab food off your plate
- She continues to act hungry after breastfeeding
Babies need only a few spoonfuls as they begin solids. Since these first foods are intended as complements and not replacements for your breast milk, it’s best to offer them after a late afternoon or evening feeding, when your milk supply is apt to be at its lowest and your baby may still be hungry.
Some common misconceptions about breastfeeding:
- Small breasts don’t produce as much milk as large ones. Breast size has nothing to do with the amount of milk they produce.
- You need to toughen your nipples before your baby is born. Your body naturally prepares for breastfeeding. Tactics to toughen them may actually interfere with normal lactation.
- You can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding. While it’s true that breastfeeding prevents ovulation in some women, it is not a reliable form of birth control. Talk to your doctor about an acceptable form of contracep- tion.
- All babies should be weaned before their first birthday. When to stop breastfeeding is a highly personal decision and varies considerably according to custom and individual preferences. The AAP recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for about six months. When you add solid foods to your baby’s diet, continue breastfeeding until at least 12 months. You can continue to breastfeed after 12 months if you and your baby desire.
When to seek help?
Natural as the breastfeeding process is, problems can occasionally arise. When they do surface, they may grow worse very quickly and interfere with your milk production or your baby’s ability to get the nutrition she needs. For this reason, it’s vital to get help right away if you experience difficulty with breastfeeding at home or observe any of the symptoms listed below. Contact your baby’s pediatrician, and don’t stop asking for one-on-one guidance until you get the help you need.