As I talk to many people about breastfeeding, the one thing I always end up saying is, “Breastfeeding is not black and white.” It might seem like is should be. Do this…and this is what will happen. Or my sister did this – so that’s what will work for me too. Is there anything about it that is black and white? Well – I usually explain it this way… there are certain basic concepts that usually do not change. For example, the hormones that are involved in breastfeeding, the concept of supply and demand, etc. But, there is so much that is variable. And this is so frustrating for many new parents. Still, I have always held – that this is another part of the parenting journey. Every pregnancy, child, and breastfeeding experience is different.
The amazing thing about breastfeeding is, by design, it can vary. Do you think that if every mom produced the exact same amount of breast milk, that it would make it “easier?” Well – maybe easier to be able to say – you should be producing “X amount” at every feeding. But what if your baby is older, or more petite, or has a faster metabolism? Or what if your baby is sick, and has a decreased appetite? Or if you have more than one infant, twins for example? It wouldn’t work too well. Breastfeeding, by design, is baby driven… what the baby needs – is what is produced! So then, why does it seem that so many mothers complain of supply issues? Well, again – not a black and white answer. It depends. On the baby, the mother, the situation, the way the baby nurses, how often, how consistent, and it goes on and on.
Our mammalian bodies are quite wonderful – the way we adapt to many situations. If our baby is born prematurely, our baby will “supercharge” our milk – to try to meet the extra needs of our struggling baby. If we have more than one baby, our bodies will adapt to make enough milk for each baby. When our baby goes through a growth spurt and experiences the need for more calories and more or varied nutrients, our body can respond accordingly. The key is – breastfeeding is driven by the baby. Not what we think our baby should do, or what we want to train our baby to do. The baby has to be able to drive the supply. And as our baby changes, and his or her needs change; the manner in which they breastfeed will probably change too. And this is not only OK; but necessary.
So – with so many variables, and so many possibilities…how does a new parent know if the baby is breastfeeding well? There are a few things that can help. First, educate yourself. Learn as much as you can before your baby is born. Take a class, read a book(s), attend a breastfeeding support group. Second, make sure you get help early on. Have a nurse help, or request a lactation consultant. Third, know where to turn for help, if you need it. And remember these things:
1. Breastfeeding is what is your body and your baby are designed for.
2. Breastfeeding should not hurt.
3. You make what you remove. (basic supply & demand)
4. Your baby- after the first week, should be gaining weight, having plenty of wet & dirty diapers, and look generally healthy.
5. You should enjoy your breastfeeding experience.
6. Breastfeeding takes some practice to become easy.
7. Breastfeeding has been effective for centuries – otherwise the human race would have been eliminated a long time ago.
8. And finally, there is help available – if you want it.