Rebecca Agi, MS, IBCLC is a board-certified lactation consultant and founder of Best Milk LA, a lactation consulting service.
Breastfeeding your baby can be one of the sweetest parts of parenthood. But it's common for concerns, questions, and obstacles to arise. While some people deal with supply issues, others struggle with sore nipples. Many parents wonder how to keep breastfeeding when they have to go back to work.
Working through these challenges is well worth it since breastfeeding is the best way to nourish most babies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It boosts your baby's immune system, protects them against infection, and reduces their risk for obesity. Learn how to get started and keep your baby safe, happy, and bonded while breastfeeding.
Gradually. For instance, you can drop one feeding session a week until your baby is drinking from a bottle or cup exclusively. This gentle approach will help your baby adjust and also keep your breasts from getting engorged, which can happen if you stop breastfeeding abruptly.
With no strong research to show it's safe, many healthcare providers advise against getting new ink while you're still nursing. One concern is that tattoo needles can cause infections that could enter your bloodstream and pass to your baby. That's why you can't donate blood until 12 months after you get a tattoo. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best timing for a tattoo.
Though unlikely, it's possible. Your odds of getting pregnant are lowest if you follow the Lactational Amenorrhea Method, which is only effective for the first six months after childbirth and as long as you are breastfeeding every four-to-six hours. If you want to avoid pregnancy, ask your healthcare provider about contraception methods that are safe for your baby, including intrauterine devices (IUDs), arm implants, progestin-only pills, and barrier methods (like condoms or cervical caps).
You burn about 450 to 500 extra calories a day just by breastfeeding. That's because it takes a lot of extra energy for your body to make and secrete breast milk. Generally, the more frequently you breastfeed and the greater your milk supply, the more calories you are expending.
You are expending energy just by breastfeeding. So if you take in the recommended number of calories for a non-breastfeeding parent—up to 2,000 calories per day if you're sedentary and up to 2,400 if you are active—you should lose weight gradually. Regular aerobic exercise—like vigorous walking, jogging, biking, or a cardio class—boosts fitness and heart health in people who are lactating. Feed your baby right before exercise to relieve engorgement and reduce discomfort.
Caffeine can pass through breast milk and may lead to sleep problems and fussiness in your baby if you consume super-high amounts (think 10 cups). It can also have a dehydrating effect, reducing your milk supply. Stick to no more than a couple of cups of coffee a day and you and your baby should be fine.
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) is a safe choice for breastfeeding parents to relieve pain. Studies show that only trace amounts of ibuprofen get passed to babies through breast milk and infants show no ill effects from it. Ibuprofen also has a long track record of safe use in babies.
Nipple piercings aren't likely to affect your milk production, but they can interfere with your baby's ability to breastfeed. Some babies have trouble latching or leak milk from their mouths when feeding on a pierced nipple. Remove any piercings before feedings to help you and your baby be more comfortable.
It's OK to take a small dose of Benadryl (diphenhydramine), especially at bedtime. But there's some evidence that taking Benadryl in large doses for a prolonged period can reduce milk supply and may make infants drowsy. Nonsedating antihistamines are a good alternative that won't make your baby sleepy.
Yes, it's probably fine. Though Botox is derived from a toxin that causes life-threatening botulism when consumed in food, it's not detectable in your bloodstream after injections and therefore is unlikely to pass through your breast milk, say experts. Even in instances when breastfeeding parents ingest and contract botulism, babies appear to be protected. It's best to wait a few hours after an injection before breastfeeding, though, to be safe. Only get injections by a licensed medical professional to be safe.
You shouldn't. Nicotine and other chemicals found in tobacco can limit your supply and also pass into your breast milk. Babies exposed to nicotine through breastfeeding are more likely to have sleep problems, liver and lung damage, and other issues. Also, secondhand smoke puts a baby at risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory illnesses, and ear infections.
Also known as the morning-after pill, Plan B (Levonorgestrel) is OK for a breastfeeding parent to use. Progestin-only pills like Plan B are preferable to other methods of hormonal birth control while breastfeeding. There's no evidence that Plan B hampers breast milk supply or harms babies' health. To be extra safe, experts recommend feeding your baby three to four hours after you take a dose.
Start by getting a breast pump you like. If you're planning a return to work or school, start pumping during your planned "away" hours a few weeks before your new schedule begins. You get the hang of pumping and your baby can adjust to drinking from a bottle. When away from your baby, pump at the time you'd be feeding them if together—your body should continue to make the right amount of milk for their needs. You can freeze and store any extra.
If you don't breastfeed or pump, your body will gradually stop making milk within a week or so after childbirth. If you get engorged while waiting it out, you can hand express a little milk on occasion to relieve the discomfort. Cold packs can also help with engorgement pain and help hinder milk production. You can chill and apply cabbage leaves, which have been shown to reduce milk supply, too.
Breastfeeding helps protect your baby against asthma, allergies, certain infections, obesity, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). By breastfeeding, you lower your own risk of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Breastfeeding is also cheaper than formula feeding, saving you up to $1,500 in your baby's first year alone.
There's no one right way to hold your baby while breastfeeding. You may need to try a few methods to see what works best for you and change it up with the time of day or your baby's age. Some common breastfeeding positions include the cradle hold, which is a classic, common position for breastfeeding. The cross-cradle hold helps preemies latch by freeing your hand to support your breast. Football holds can avoid pressure on your belly after a C-section, while the laid-back position may help slow your flow if you have oversupply issues. Finally, side-lying position is a natural choice for nighttime feedings.
Breastfeeding can take practice—for you and your baby. For your first feeding, ideally within an hour or two after delivery, place your baby in a comfortable breastfeeding position and use your free hand to make a C shape around your breast (thumb on top, other fingers below). Guide your baby's head toward your nipple, and when they open their mouth, direct your nipple and at least part of the surrounding areola into it while gently pulling your baby toward you.
Feed your baby as often as they show signs of hunger, like sucking motions or burrowing toward your breast. They may feed in short spurts eight to 12 times a day or more, and that's OK—frequent feedings will help establish your milk supply and keep your baby.
Thrush is a yeast infection caused by the overgrowth of a type of fungus called Candida albicans. It flourishes in moist, warm, environments like your nipple area or your baby's mouth, which is why it's a common breastfeeding problem. If you have nipple pain, redness, or itching or your baby has white patches in their mouth, it could be thrush and needs to be treated by a healthcare provider with medications.
Moderate drinking—one alcoholic drink per day—is likely safe for your baby when breastfeeding, especially if you wait at least two hours before nursing. More than that can harm your baby's development, growth, and sleep patterns and hinder good parenting judgment. The safest bet is to avoid drinking while you're still breastfeeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other top U.S. medical organizations recommend that breastfeeding people get the COVID-19 vaccine. Not only is the vaccine safe for you and your baby, the antibodies your body produces during immunization pass through your breast milk to help provide extra protection for your baby.
It's best to avoid fish with high levels of mercury, which you can pass to your infant through your breast milk and may hamper brain development. High-mercury fish include king mackerel, orange roughy, swordfish, and tuna.
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