Benefits of Breastfeeding
The first decision you have to make when your child is born is whether to feed your child breast milk or formula. Breastfeeding is the obvious choice. There is no question that breast milk offers tremendous benefits to your child and is cheaper too. Despite what you may have heard, nursing will not cause your breasts to get saggy – that will happen whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed. Breastfeeding is also a great weight loss plan for new moms – you will burn an extra 400-500 calories a day. For more information about the benefits of breastfeeding, visit Dr. Sears’ website. Another good resource on breastfeeding can be found at Mothering.com.
Don’t dwell on it if you are unable to breastfeed. If you do have to use formula, make sure to choose one of the many organic options. Conventional formulas typically contain growth hormones, antibiotics, dangerous pesticides and fertilizers. Choosing organic formula is a safer and healthier option for your baby and for the environment.
If you do choose to nurse your child, keep in mind some important considerations. Drink A LOT of water! You have probably heard this before but don’t ignore this advice. Your body loses a huge amount of fluids when you breastfeed and you need to supplement this loss. Failure to do so could result in constipation, hard stools and subsequently anal tears or fissures.
Be mindful of what you put into your body while you are nursing. What you eat eventually makes its way into your baby’s body. Eat a balanced, healthy diet (and choose organic, natural foods when possible) and keep taking your prenatal vitamins. See article about Healthy Eating.
When cleansing your breasts, you should choose only the safest and most natural soaps so your baby won’t ingest harmful chemicals that may linger after cleansing. Better yet, try to make your own breast milk soap. This soap can also be used to clean your baby.
You will also want to avoid ingesting certain items. Below is a list of things to avoid while nursing:
- Alcohol – When in doubt, just avoid alcohol altogether while nursing.
- Caffeine – Caffeine has a diuretic effect, which means it increases the excretion of water from the body. Nursing moms obviously want to avoid this when hydration is so important to supplement what is lost through breast milk.
- Medications – ALWAYS check with your doctor before taking any medications while nursing, no matter how harmless they may seem. Many medications can reach babies via breast milk and a small dose for an adult is a large dose for an infant. NIH’s LactMed database contains a list of drugs and their effects on lactation and breastfed infants.
- Herbs – Exercise caution before using any herbal supplements while nursing. Many supplements work like drugs but are not regulated as such by the FDA. Keep in mind that, if an herbal supplement works like a drug, it is a drug.
- Cigarettes – NEVER smoke while pregnant or nursing. Avoid second-hand smoke while pregnant. And please don’t smoke around your children.
- Peanuts – Moms should probably avoid peanuts while nursing for at least a year, especially if there is a family history of allergies.
While it may seem like the most natural thing in the world, there is a learning curve to breastfeeding. It is important to take a class on breastfeeding while you are still pregnant. Take advantage of the help offered by lactation consultants while you are in the hospital or birthing center and afterwards. Try to nurse your baby shortly after birth but don’t stress out about it if you can’t.
Nursing Bras and Breast Pads
Choosing the right nursing bra is another important part of breastfeeding. There is more to a nursing bra than a good fit. It is important to choose a natural material that breathes well, such as organic cotton, which resists breeding bacteria. You will want to avoid underwire because they can put pressure on the milk ducts which can cause blockages and possibly lead to infections.
Many nursing moms will also find that they need breast pads to absorb extra milk leakage. These pads are available in disposable and reusable varieties. You will save a significant amount of money if you choose reusable pads, and they have a smaller impact on the environment. Avoid synthetic varieties which can contain harmful chemicals and tend not to breathe as well. Instead, choose a natural fabric such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, wool or silk.
Nursing isn’t always easy for all mothers so it’s best to meet with a lactation consultant shortly after birth and as often after that as you feel necessary. Whether you are dealing with sore nipples, low milk production, overabundant milk production or some other difficulty, you may be ready for some help. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there. The Complete Book of Breastfeeding has a great chapter on dealing with nursing related problems. Most importantly, talk with your doctor or a lactation consultant if you are having any problems or concerns.
It isn’t unusual for nursing moms to suffer from sore and cracked nipples. Because baby may be ingesting what you put on your nipples, it is especially important for you to choose only safe and natural products to ease nipple pain. Conventional nipple care products can contain unnecessary additives, such as perfumes, dyes and preservatives (see article on Personal Care Products). Several companies have created all natural nipple creams that are safe for ingestion and do not need to be washed off prior to breastfeeding. However, if these over-the-counter options aren’t working for you, consult with your doctor regarding a prescription treatment.
If you are having trouble with clogged milk ducts, engorgement or infection, you may want to consider the use of a breast pack that can be warmed or frozen and worn inside your bra. Conventional breast packs can contain toxic gels and be wrapped with synthetic materials. Choose gel-free options filled with natural materials and wrapped with organic cotton or try herbal compresses.
The Human Milk Banking Association of North America is an organization of 11 milk banks that provide donated milk to infants who have medical conditions such as formula intolerance or feeding issues. The association also serves adopted babies who are not able to get their mother’s milk. If your baby is in need of donated milk or if you are interested in making a donation, visit HMBANA’s website at www.hmbana.org.
Supplemental Feeding and Nipple Confusion
You may have heard about nipple confusion and the prospect of it may be scary especially to new moms experiencing problems with breastfeeding. Nipple confusion is the idea that giving a baby a bottle or pacifier, especially in the first eight weeks, will cause sucking problems and potentially rejection of the breast. The idea behind it is that alternating between breast and bottle will confuse your baby because the two require different sucking movements and because the bottle more rapidly releases milk than your breast. It is not clear how often nipple confusion actually happens. But if your choice is between using a bottle and depriving your baby of milk, the decision should be an easy one.
For moms who are still worried about nipple confusion and may be experiencing problems with milk supply, there are supplemental feeding systems that allow you to breastfeed while giving your baby extra milk. These systems consist of a tube that connects to a bottle of milk at one end and then is taped to your nipple at the other end. When baby latches onto your breast, the tube is also inserted into his mouth so he is receiving nutrition from two sources at once. There are other feeding systems that help feed babies who may have facial or oral problems that interfere with their ability to nurse (see Medela’s SpecialNeeds® Feeder).
Other options that will help prevent nipple confusion include cup-feeding (see Medela’s SoftFeeder), spoon-feeding, feeding syringes and finger-feeding (using a supplementer or syringe). Visit Dr. Sears’ website for more information on these methods. If you are having difficulty of any kind, be sure to consult with your doctor or a lactation consultant.