Breastfeeding can be one of the sweetest, most rewarding relationships a mom has. Sitting down in a comfy chair to nourish your baby (or babies) and bond over this special experience that just the two of you share is a profound exchange. But as wonderful as nursing can be, it's not without its challenges. Our breasts need care and attention (just as our babies do) to stay in good health. Here are a few tips to keep your breasts in tip-top shape, so they can do their (very important) job!
The New Lactating MomThe first big adjustment with nursing is your transition to being a lactating woman. As a postpartum doula and lactation educator, the two biggest problems I see moms have in the first few weeks are low supply and breast pain. In many cases, low supply can be prevented with best practices early on and prevention is much more effective than treatment.
- As often as possible, be skin to skin with your baby and nurse on demand (whenever you notice feeding cues). Regularly draining your breasts will keep your supply up and help prevent plugged ducts and mastitis.
- Learn how to hand express milk. Especially in the first few days, hand expression works better than any pump and it's a skill that will come in handy when helping to get a letdown started, speeding a feeding up, or "pumping" just a little milk when your pump may not be on hand.
- Regularly check your breasts for any trauma (cracked skin, blisters) and keep your breasts moisturized. Hydrogels, herbal nipple cream, and breast milk (yes, really!) are all good ways to help breasts heal. If ever in doubt about how to treat breast trauma, consult a professional.
- If your baby has slow weight gain or if you experience nipple pain (or both!), have your baby evaluated for tongue tie. (Physical signs of tongue tie you might notice include a heart shaped tip of the tongue and/or an inability to push the tongue past the lower gum line).
- Know who and where your local resources are: a breastfeeding support group like La Leche League, a lactation consultant, or a knowledgeable mom friend nearby. Dr. Jack Newman, Kellymom, Dr. Sears and LLL are all excellent resources and are available online.
Maintaining Healthy Breast Milk SupplyBy "later" I don't mean breastfeeding a preschooler but simply the phase after the initial transition to breastfeeding and into maintaining a healthy breast milk supply and healthy breasts. Breast massage is an important form of self-care and can help keep your ducts flowing freely (through improved lymph circulation) and doubles as a breast exam, which you should still do while lactating. As always, don't worry about minor variations but learn the new landscape of your breast tissue so you can be aware of any changes. Herbal oils like calendula, red clover, and rose are perfect, balancing natural support for use with breast massage.
- Talk with your infant about how to breastfeed well, even if you don't think they understand. Something as simple as "Open wide!" every time you begin to latch and mirroring the shape with your own mouth, or 'remember, no biting!" with a big smile -- will help set the stage for responsible nursing habits. Teeth usually emerge around 6 months and the WHO recommends breastfeeding until children are at least 1 year old. Your breasts will thank you when your 10 month old (or 15 month old) has good nursing manners
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