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How to Get Breastfeeding Off to a Good Start

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Photo courtesy of Caitlin Regan.

Breastfeeding initiation rates are on the rise in America with three out of every four women initiating breastfeeding at birth. But, only 13.3% of American moms are exclusively nursing their babies at 6 months of age.* Why are so many women failing to continue breastfeeding? It all goes back to the beginning.

Krista Gray continues her series on how to get breastfeeding off to a strong start. [Read part 1 here.]

  1. Practice safe co-sleeping. Co-sleeping allows you to maximize sleep, while allowing your baby to nurse on demand. Rather than having to get up every time your baby wakes, it is much easier to nurse and take care of your newborn’s needs, while either bed sharing or sleeping with your baby close by in your room. Make sure to follow safe co-sleeping guidelines. And remember, your baby hasn’t read all those parenting books about scheduling sleep. You’ll find it a lot less stressful if you just follow your baby’s needs and go with it.
  2. Have support in the first weeks after birth so you can concentrate on feeding your baby. Your job is to feed your baby. Now is the time to treat yourself as queen; prop pillows around you to be comfortable, have a remote, book and telephone nearby, as well as a glass of water and snack. And, accept all offers for help around the house with cooking, cleaning and taking care of older siblings. Now is not the time to keep a spotless house and/or to cook gourmet meals. Enjoy your new baby and take time to rest and nurse often.
  3. Know what’s normal. . . and what’s not. For example, all babies loose weight after birth. It is normal to take up to 2 weeks to gain this weight back. It doesn’t mean you don’t have enough milk. Or, after your baby is born you have colostrum (the thick, rich, antibacterial first milk) for the first 2-4 days before mature milk begins to “come in.” This is normal and it helps your baby pass meconium (the dark first poo) and help against developing jaundice. Just nurse often and on demand to encourage your milk to come in strong. Arming yourself with knowledge will help alert you to a problem, or give you reassurance and information if someone else gives you erroneous information that might harm your breastfeeding relationship.
  4. Don’t settle for breastfeeding pain. Breastfeeding should not hurt. If you have pain or sense something is not right, seek help from a qualified lactation consultant (ideally an IBCLC – International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). Not all lactation support is equally qualified. There are peer supporters, La Leche League leaders, RN’s and midwives (who may or may not have had some lactation training), and IBCLCs. Each of these can be helpful and encouraging in your breastfeeding journey, but if you are having a breastfeeding issue that is not being resolved, it is worth it to pay for the services of a lactation expert. Seek help sooner rather than later!
  5. Find a mom-to-mom support group. For help and encouragement, try to find a local breastfeeding group such as La Leche League. You will meet other moms who are at different places in their breastfeeding journey, and it can be a wonderful encouragement and support for you. Even if you don’t need the support, other moms may need your encouragement for their success.
  6. Find a pediatrician who is supportive of breastfeeding. And don’t hesitate to find a new one if you find out yours just gives lip service to the importance of breastfeeding. If you want to nurse your baby and you or your pediatrician have concerns, seek a lactation consultant before turning to artificial infant formula.
  7. Trust your body to make milk. Your body knows what to do and it has been getting ready throughout your pregnancy. Have confidence in your body’s ability to make milk. Why would your body grow a baby for nine months and then fail to provide you with the nutrition to continue to keep this newborn alive?! Relax and don’t stress. Also, don’t supplement with formula just because you don’t think you have enough milk. (This is a slippery slope and will just about guarantee you won’t have enough milk.) Believe in your body and nurse your baby on demand so your body gets the message to continue to make milk. Remember, an empty breast makes more milk! Not only does your body know what to do, but your baby also has an innate ability to latch on to your breast and nurse.
  8. If you sense there is a problem, work to build your supply by expressing (either by hand or with a pump). You can offer this additional milk to your baby via syringe, cup, or bottle. But, building a strong supply of milk in the first few weeks postpartum is important. Don’t wait until your supply dwindles to begin pumping if you have concerns about your supply or your baby’s latch and ability to take in adequate milk at the breast.

While breastfeeding is natural and normal, it is not always easy. If you face bumps in the beginning, continue to remember why you want to nurse your baby. Realize nursing is more than just giving your baby amazing milk, it is also a wonderful bond that you share and will nurture throughout your lives. Lots of skin-to-skin and cuddling with your baby not only has a positive impact on breastfeeding, but also on your mothering relationship. Cherish these precious moments as your little blessing will grow so fast. You cannot spoil your baby by nursing too frequently, cuddling too much, or sharing too much skin-to-skin time. Your baby just spent the last nine months in your womb having every need met immediately. Continuing to meet her needs (food, love, cuddles, nurturing) is what she needs most.

If you have breastfed, what advice would you give to moms as to how to get off to a good start?

KristaGray_HeadshotKrista Gray is an IBCLC, La Leche League Leader, and mother of four breastfed children, including preemie twins. At Nursing Nurture Krista shares research-based information and experience to help moms in their breastfeeding journeys. You can also connect with Krista on Twitter {@nursingnurture} and on Facebook {}.


*Breastfeeding Report Card – United States, 2010, accessed September 10, 2012 from

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