Before becoming a certified nurse-midwife, I worked for almost 15 years as both an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) and postpartum registered nurse. I have a great passion for supporting women, babies, and families in their postpartum and breastfeeding journeys. After more than 20,000 hours of patient interaction, I have learned a few key concepts that are important for every birthing person and family member to understand about nursing babies.
Every human body is different. Every baby is different. Every birth is different. Every family is different. But here are a few things that – in my experience – remain constant.
Breastfeeding should not be painful.
A painful latch is often the first sign of a bad latch. When a baby nurses, it is easy for the baby to bite or suckle in a way that causes damage to the nipple, which can lead to infection and can compromise the amount of milk the baby is getting (called poor milk transfer). This often makes women stop nursing.
This is not the time to be tough. Seek professional care immediately. If your baby was born in the hospital, make sure you experience a non-painful latch before you are discharged. Sometimes it is a simple position fix. Sometimes the baby needs evaluation. Either way, do not settle for pain when feeding your baby.
You will hear contradictory “truths” about feeding your baby.
- Your baby is isn’t sleeping enough versus your baby should wake up every three hours, and if he doesn’t, wake him up.
- Change breasts every 15 minutes versus feed your baby until the breast is empty.
Well-meaning advice often comes from personal experience and is not necessarily backed by science. If you get conflicting advice from healthcare providers, tell them you are confused. It is up to your midwife, pediatrician, or nurse to help you develop a plan that works for you.
The most important way to know your baby is getting enough nutrition is through monitoring wet diapers. What goes in, must come out.
If your baby continues to gain weight appropriately and is peeing as frequently as recommended based on age, you are doing an amazing job!
If your baby isn’t peeing enough, isn’t gaining enough weight, or is sick (especially if hospitalized), infant feeding becomes much more complicated and you should seek professional care immediately. You will likely need pediatric support for your baby and lactation support for you. This is a great time to work with your healthcare provider to find an IBCLC.
Babies need to be held, loved, and fed frequently.
Before birth, newborns are warm, safe, and fed every second of their day. When they’re born, it is up to you to help your baby become accustomed to the outside world, and this takes a lot of time. Do your best to surround yourself with supportive people. Leave the dishes in the sink! Ask for help so you can heal and get to know your baby! Sleep when the baby sleeps, because newborns could care less about night and day. Remember that they will need to nurse all the time and recognize that there are many ways to feed a baby and be happy – find the way the works best for you.
Without true support, optimal breastfeeding is nearly impossible.
Institutional or healthcare support starts with appropriate education and culturally appropriate options. It comes from active listening and is based on current evidence. If you do not feel supported by your healthcare providers, let us know! Sometimes we don’t know that you need more from us. If that doesn’t work, seek other providers who make you feel heard.
Your community can make or break your nursing journey. If you have a network of experienced and supportive family and friends, you’re in good hands. If not, seek out new communities, support groups, or online networks to find your people. So many postpartum parents feel alone. If that’s you, just remember there are many others who feel the same way. Make it a priority to find these people and build your own community.
How you feed your baby is your choice, a choice influenced by your community, occupation, culture, birth experience, partner, body, baby’s body, and healthcare team. Knowing this can help you advocate for the support you need.
Brie Abbe is a certified nurse midwife with Care for Her, a service of MCHC Health Centers—a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.