Making the decision to breastfeed or formula feed your baby is one in a long line of important choices you will make as a parent. We feel strongly that women should be as informed as possible so they are able to make a decision that feels right for them and their families.
Deciding how to feed your infant may seem like an easy decision for some moms and for others it may seem more complex. There are lots of factors that come into play for either plan. Consider the research-based information, your personal style, situation and life experience, your work reality and the restrictions or flexibility you may have at work. Also listen to your intuition to make the feeding choice that feels right for you, your baby and your family.
The basic premise of breastfeeding is that, in most cases, both mother and infant have the ‘tools’ to do it. Some mothers and infants have an easy time learning how to work in sync together. Others are presented with challenges that require patience, time, and assistance from breastfeeding specialists called lactation consultants. Regardless of individual experience with feeding your baby, all new mothers need a lot of positive support and reassurance from family and friends as well as nutritious food, plenty to drink, and lots of rest.
During your pregnancy, your caregiver can help you begin to gather information which will be important in making your decision about whether to breastfeed your infant. There are a number of books available, and we have listed a few of our favorites in the reading list
section. If you feel you need a book, we advise picking the one that feels like it ‘speaks’ to you and stick with that one. The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS)
website is very informative and will provide you with research-based information.
Ask your caregiver for guidance if you think you may have physical challenges with breastfeeding. Try to learn all you can from other mothers who are breastfeeding. You might want to addend a La Leche League
group meeting during your pregnancy. Speak to or meet with a lactation consultant and find out about services that will be available to you after you give birth. Consider taking a prenatal breastfeeding class along with your partner to learn about the dynamics of breastfeeding and how important your partner will be in the process of putting it all together once your baby is born.
If you are planning to breastfeed once you return to work, it is wise to do your preparation now. Kellymom
is a great resource for all things breastfeeding. Unless you will have your baby with you at work or close by so that you can nurse at feeding time, you’ll need a pump and storage bottles or bags. Consumer Affairs
has a helpful website for comparing pumps and supplies. Breast pumps are generally covered by insurance, so check with your insurance company to see if they require that you use a particular supplier.
The wisdom we’ve heard over and over from mothers who have made the transition back to work is compelling. If you don’t have the privacy for pumping in your workspace, find out now where you will be able to pump at intervals during your workday and whether your employer and colleagues will be flexible when you need a break to pump. One mother told us that her co-workers were flexible in the first weeks that she returned but didn’t really understand that she would need flexibility for as long as she planned to breastfeed; in other words, for a year or more. She also didn’t realize that she still needed to eat and drink plenty of fluids at regular intervals at work for her body to continue to do its job of making milk for her baby.
Some women mistakenly think that going back to work needs to be an ‘all or nothing’ choice around breastfeeding. Know that if breastfeeding is well established (and it probably will be at this point) once you return to work you can breastfeed exclusively or combine formula feeding with breastfeeding if that’s what makes it all work for you and your baby.
Your infant will be alert and ready to go to the breast for the first time in the first hour after birth. Sometimes an infant will latch and suckle and others just nuzzle or lick the nipple. Either of these is normal and is part of the process of beginning the breastfeeding relationship. Within several hours of being born your infant will sleep for an extended period of time. Birth is a tiring process for both of you!
Once your infant wakes up again, her job is to make your milk increase. She will achieve this by nursing at least every 1-1/2 to 2 hours around the clock. The next several days and weeks can be exhausting for the new mother, but you can think of every nursing session as another opportunity to practice your new skills together. In addition to increasing your milk your infant’s other important job is to grow. Newborns grow at an astonishing rate in the first month after birth, namely at least an inch in length and an inch in head circumference. Breast milk fuels that rapid growth.
If you have given birth in the hospital you will have lots of guidance and input from your nurses and the lactation consultants. Their job is to make sure you and your infant get off to a good start before you return home. Remember that regardless of whether you are a first-time mother or you have breastfed previously, you and this infant are coming together to learn about each other and things will get easier over time.
There are some issues that can arise. You’ll read and hear that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. While this is true in broad terms it is not unusual for mothers to experience some adjustment tenderness in their nipples. Keeping this in mind, if what you are experiencing is nipple pain, cracking or bleeding you should seek professional help from a lactation consultant or your caregiver. If you are experiencing intense pain or burning either when you are nursing or afterward, please seek professional help. You may be experiencing yeast infection of the breast. This may also be the case if your baby has thrush, or white patches on her lips or inside her mouth. She will need to be treated by her pediatrician. Mastitis can also be a problem for some women. The signs and symptoms can include redness on the breast, pain in the breast that sometimes radiates to the arm or the back, flu-like symptoms like chills, fever and headache, and pain in nursing. Please contact your caregiver for guidance if any of these symptoms are occurring.
Mothers and infants are meant to breastfeed together. Explore your breastfeeding resources while you are pregnant, make your support people aware of your plans and goals and don’t be afraid to ask for help. A learning curve exists in every situation, but with practical support, patience on the part of the breastfeeding mother and her family and friends, and in some cases professional guidance, a mother and her baby can breastfeed as long as they like.