Breastfeeding: 9 Essential Steps to Success

Laura Markham's picture

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Research shows unequivocally that breastfed babies are healthier and smarter, and that the longer babies are nursed, the healthier and smarter they are. While few studies have been done on the emotional effects of breastfeeding on either the mother or child, we know that the nursing mother experiences hormonal changes that influence how she perceives her infant. Many experts feel that the mother who nurses bonds more strongly with her infant, resulting in a better relationship over time.

Most pregnant women are nervous about whether they will be able to breastfeed. Successful nursing starts with your intention. Here are nine strategies to insure happy breastfeeding for mother and child.

  1. PLAN to nurse. Not "If it works out." But "I will do this." And you will. There are lots of times in history when infant formula wasn't available, as, for instance, in London during World War 2. Records show that every mom who gave birth during that time was able to breastfeed her baby successfully -- because there was no alternative.

  2. Get a good start. Sometimes it isn't as easy to get started nursing as we expect. Most of us haven't watched many breastfeeding mothers and infants. It's easy to get unbearably sore nipples in the very beginning, or for the baby to have a hard time latching on. And very occasionally, babies are born with a challenge, such as being tongue-tied, which requires a quick snip under their tongue by a doctor.

    While you're pregnant, arrange lactation support for that first week. It's a good idea to call your local La Leche chapter in advance just to have a couple of breastfeeding consultants' names handy. Such an expert often makes all the difference in the world, and it is absolutely not worth the anxiety of muddling through when one session with an expert can put you and your baby on the right track.

  3. Cultivate family support. Make sure your partner understands your reasons for choosing to breastfeed. A little education goes a long way to overcome prejudices. Most men, with their wife's encouragement, find breastfeeding a miraculous act. Your partner's support will be critical to your success.

  4. Pick a pediatrician who supports breastfeeding. Virtually all new breastfeeders worry about whether their child is getting enough milk. Most pediatricians are nursing advocates. Get him or her to help you as much as possible.

  5. Remind yourself of all the advantages to you. No middle of the night fixing of bottles. No sterilizing of bottles. No formula expenses. No formula allergies. As much ice cream as you want to eat, while the pregnancy pounds melt away. Diminished chance of breast cancer later. A delay in how soon your period resumes. Pride in the amazing ability of your womanly body.

  6. Find other Moms to hang out with who are breastfeeding, through La Leche or other groups. It makes all the difference in the world.

  7. Resist the impulse to supplement with formula. If you want your baby to take a bottle, pump your milk and have your partner offer it in a bottle once nursing is well established. (Don't wait too long or your baby may turn up her nose at this fakery!) Remember that the answer to too little milk is always to increase the demand by more nursing and/or pumping. Decreasing the demand by supplementing with formula always decreases your milk supply.

  8. Wait as long as you can to return to work, so breast-feeding is well-established. By six months, your baby can supplement with solid food while you're gone. Remember that any reduction in demand will reduce your supply, so nurse her as much as you can when you're together, and pump at work.

  9. Don't be in a hurry to wean. Don't worry, she won't be nursing in high school. Many studies confirm that breast milk changes in nutritional value to remain appropriate for babies as they grow into toddlers, maintaining its many health benefits. The National Association of Pediatricians recommends breastfeeding at least until age one, preferably longer.

Enjoy this wonderful part of your relationship with your baby. Nature has designed breastfeeding not only to give babies perfect nutrition, but also to enhance the mother-infant bond. The hormones released by nursing moms create physical bliss and increase loving feelings. Those feelings are delicious, and can increase your closeness to your child for the rest of his or her life. Revel in them.

Dr. Laura Markham