Here, I’m sharing a sort of “Breastfeeding 101” post for new moms — some of the basic Who, What, Where, When, and Why’s of Breastfeeding (though not in that order), plus some of my favorite resources related to breastfeeding. If you’re interested in this content, please read on.
Thanks for reading on! Here in “The Great Breastfeeding Post of 2018,” you’ll find the basics of breastfeeding (what it is, why it’s important, when a mom should breastfeed, which moms should do it, and where you should/can do it). Next, you’ll find some key resources related to breastfeeding. And finally, you’ll find some links related to weaning, including my book on Toddler Weaning (here).
Where relevant, this post also includes some affiliate links, so if you click through for a product link and make a purchase, the site earns a small commission. You can learn more about that here. (Thank you so much for supporting this website!) I hope this content is helpful!
OK, here’s some of the obvious stuff…
What does breastfeeding mean?
Breastfeeding is feeding a baby with milk from his/her mother’s breasts; this can be through pumping milk, expressing it, or nursing directly from the mother’s breasts.
(A note about language: breastfeeding, in the US, is used to mean breast-milk feeding, but not necessarily feeding directly at the breast. More on this later in this post).
Breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.via World Health Organization
Read on for some questions you might ask about breastfeeding.
Why should I breastfeed?
Why breastfeed at all? Breastfeeding is important for your baby’s health. Breast milk itself is healthy for a baby (it contains “antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria” — including serious disease — and even “lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies” – via WebMD) AND for mom (lowers the risk of breast and other types of cancer and disease). It can also offer babies pain relief. Breastfeeding / nursing at the breast itself also has incredible value for bonding and connecting, and about a million other things (some more benefits are discussed through the rest of this post).
When should I stop breastfeeding?
When you want to! You might decide you want to breastfeed for a long time, and then find yourself needing to wean a toddler. Alternatively, you might decide to breastfeed for far less time. The better way to phrase this might be:
When should you breastfeed? From birth, until you and your baby choose to stop. That means different things to different people, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), mothers should breastfeed their babies for at least one year, but ideally, longer. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO), actually says mothers should breastfeed their babies for at least two years, but ideally longer.
And both WHO and AAP agree that the first six months of this should be “exclusive” breastfeeding (meaning, the infant receives nothing other than breastmilk for nourishment), since “babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea” (via WebMD).
Beyond the first year, breastfeeding continues to offer “significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother” (more from the AAP here, via KellyMom). The AAP and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), together in their Breastfeeding Handbook for Physicians also address the question of when moms should stop breastfeeding, and share that there’s no scientific indication that there should be an “upper limit” or age for stopping breastfeeding, or at which breastfeeding becomes inappropriate or unhelpful. So is there a point at which moms should stop breastfeeding? Here’s what the ACOG says:
Data on the scientific foundation for an age above which it is inappropriate or harmful to the child to continue breastfeeding do not exist. Nor are there reported risks to this method of social/nutritional interactions.Breastfeeding Handbook for Physicians from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists & the American Academy of Pediatrics. More available here.
And while breastfeeding rates continue to rise (see this CDC report), most nursing moms stop breastfeeding far earlier than they intended (or “should”), with more than half of moms weaning at 6 months (here’s a collection of data sets on breastfeeding rates, via KellyMom).
Should I breastfeed?
Who should breastfeed?All new mothers of newborn babies should, ideally, and if able, breastfeed their infants. Of course there are situations that might prevent this from happening, but “provided they have accurate information, the support of their family, the health care system, and society at large,” all mothers can breastfeed.
Virtually all* mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family, the health care system and society at large.via World Health Organization
*First, a caveat: this language — that “all mothers” can breastfeed, isn’t quite true. NOT all mothers can naturally breastfeed. For example, though it’s rare, some women have Insufficient Glandular Tissue, which can prevent them from being able to produce enough milk for their baby (more information at KellyMom.com). Sometimes, these moms can and do still breastfeed though, in conjunction with other forms of feeding their babies. To be clear, always, but most especially in this context, fed is always best!
Anyway — most (though not ALL) moms, can breastfeed, if, like WHO says, they have the necessary supports…
But that’s just the thing. Most moms don’t have all of these supports (and some even find their health care system — i.e. hospitals — are unsupportive; many moms are given formula while in the hospital, which can function as a deterrent to breastfeeding), which might factor into why many moms don’t meet their breastfeeding “goal.”
Where should I breastfeed?
Where should you breastfeed? Wherever you want. Moms should breastfeed wherever they want (that is to say, anywhere the mom is legally allowed to be) is perfectly legal in all 50 states now. So you should breastfeed anywhere you need or want to. But especially in the beginning, as you’re trying to become comfortable with breastfeeding, you may want to breastfeed where you’re most comfortable (i.e. at home, in bed, in a sofa, or wherever you can breastfeed comfortably and safely).
What helped me learn to breastfeed
My being able to have a great nursing relationship last time around (with my older son), was really just a matter of amazing luck. I was offered the right words of support at the right time. A few specific things that really helped me with our nursing relationship:
- Joining a good breastfeeding support community (support group on Facebook)
- Talking to friends who also nursed / were currently nursing about our experiences
- Reading EVERYTHING I could find about nursing (hours and hours on the La Leche League (LLL) website and KellyMom)
- Deciding to think of nursing as something I was “GOING to stick to, not just something I’d TRY to do” (this was my Mom’s advice).
…the above supports helped educate me & helped arm me against a lot of well-meaning but ultimately bad advice that could have really hurt my nursing relationship, and I was so lucky to have had those resources/supports. This time around, I’m much more knowledgeable AND confident (and blessed/lucky to be able to nurse again — I absolutely know that this is not something all mothers get to do, for a variety of reasons, including many that may not even be in a mom’s control).
Updated on 9/3/18 – One thing I didn’t have the first time around, that I have now, is an amazing book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (below).
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
I’ve been reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (the bible of nursing a baby) for about a week now (I flip through it while nursing my younger son sometimes). And as I read, I keep thinking, I wish I’d had this book when my older son was born (or while I was expecting him). This book is seriously the best book about breastfeeding. So if I’d read this book then, it would have been so very helpful. Read it, read it, read it!
Best websites about breastfeeding
I found KellyMom immensely helpful. It’s full of great articles (especially here). Also, the La Leche League website is an awesome hub of information, and an IRL organization that likely has a chapter near you and free support for BFing moms, including the option to call and chat with a chapter leader if you ever have any questions or need support. (The indexing for their articles/posts has changed, and some of my favorite articles have moved around on their site, but you can search for whatever topics you want once at either of those sites, and you’ll find a wealth of great information). Also, check out this post from CafeMom that compiles a list of the 50 best breastfeeding resources on the web.
Best breastfeeding pillows
The second time around, I found I loved using a simple Boppy.
That said, for the first few months with my older son, I relied pretty heavily on the “My Brest Friend” (cute name, right?) pillow (I have this exact one, plus a waterproof cover on it underneath the pretty cover). And it really was my brest friend, because I carried it up to our bedroom every night, and downstairs every morning, and literally didn’t feel comfortable nursing without it until my son was about 3 months old. That support pillow was particularly helpful in the really early days since newborns really can’t hold their own heads up at all, and many moms need both their hands to make nursing happen. So having a pillow like this, that straps around you while you nurse, can be really helpful.
As our son got older, I stopped using it quite as much (mostly because he had more head control) and I switched to just grabbing whatever small pillow or cushion was nearby (and eventually — maybe at about five or six months, I switched to not using a pillow to support him at all once we figured out reclined/ecological positioning for breastfeeding). But I am still thankful I had that nursing pillow, especially in the earlier months. HOWEVER, I remember thinking that I would have loved to have a classic Boppy. So this time around, I actually got a regular Boppy, and I use it pretty much all day. I find it easier than the My Brest Friend, but it could also be that as a second time mom, I’m just more comfortable nursing.
Ideally, I’d recommend trying both to see what you like better. By the way – babywearing let me nurse no matter where I was, and do it discreetly (and since since last time around, I wasn’t yet comfortable truly nursing “in public” — that is to say, without hiding what I was doing — this was very helpful for me). It also enabled me to work while my baby slept. If you’re interested, here’s a guest post by Emily de Febo all about Babywearing (and co-sleeping, and attachment parenting in general).
There is a new product out called the “LaVie Lactation Massager” — it’s essentially a small vibrating massager to help with Clogged Ducts (which are not fun, and definitely a reality for a lot of nursing moms).
When I was nursing my older son, I struggled with clogged ducts (and a bout of mastitis once — not an experience I’d want to relive!) and this clogged ducts massager would have been incredibly helpful.
Relatedly, while nursing my second son, I have not had clogged ducts even once (knock on wood) throughout nursing — and coincidentally, I have never pumped while nursing him. I know this is not true for a lot of moms, but for me, it seems there is a connection between pumping and blocked ducts.
(To that point, I should also share that rather than pumping, if I want to express, I actually prefer to use a Haaka, also sometimes called a milksaver.)
Is the LaVie Lactation Massager basically just a small, more appropriate looking vibrator?
There’s an article on Babble that describes the LaVie Lactation Massager thusly:
…for all intents and purposes [the LaVie Lactation Massager] is basically a boob vibrator whose main purpose is to unclog plugged ducts…via Babble
But most of us would probably feel more comfortable using this than using an actual vibrator to break up a blocked milk duct. (Alternatively, here’s one mom’s account of using an actual vibrator to solve the problem.)
My content on weaning
A post on breastfeeding would be incomplete without mention of how breastfeeding comes to an end. So there are a lot of camps Mamas fall into when it comes to weaning, including moms who believe in self-weaning. In the U.S., the average mom/baby dyad has actively weaned between 3 and 6 months. And on the other end of the spectrum are Mamas who want to extend nursing for as long as it’s mutually comfortable and pleasant, and allow for truly natural self-weaning to occur (real talk, this can mean the nursing relationship continues for years — a timeframe that is biologically natural and healthy, but culturally in the Western world, not widely accepted or acknowledged).
I’ve written about weaning before: Here’s a post about how I night-weaned my toddler (in about 3 nights of actively night-weaning). And here’s a post in which some of my mom friends talk about what the hardest thing about weaning was for them. And here is a link to my book about Toddler Weaning, available at Amazon.
I night weaned my toddler because we wanted to try for another baby, and I hadn’t yet gotten my period back. (If you feel like this is TMI, let me gently remind you that you are reading a post about breastfeeding…) I have a post on this blog all about how breastfeeding (particularly breastfeeding on demand, and around the clock, which can be associated with ecological breastfeeding) can inhibit fertility. So, we decided that while I would have loved to continue our nursing relationship, I would cut back on nursing to see if that might help sort of “jump start” my fertility. (A lot of nursing moms are able to get their cycles back by cutting down on nursing rather than weaning entirely). But still, since I had always nursed completely on demand until this point, I wasn’t sure where to start. That’s why I decided to start with night weaning, see if that ‘did the trick,’ and if it didn’t, we’d be able to kind of continue with the momentum from night weaning and move towards fully weaning in an effort to try to hopefully trigger ovulation (and conceive another baby). I talk about this at length in my book (again, you can get it here!).
Here’s my book in a nutshell: The first thing I did was completely stop offering (but never refused when he asked; this strategy is, logically, called “don’t offer, don’t refuse”). I didn’t actively try to prevent him from nursing during the day, but only nursed when he explicitly asked. When, about two weeks cutting away the day nursings so that he was only nursing first thing in the morning, when he woke up. This wasn’t too hard because he was interested in food, and drinking almond milk from a sippy cup… Since in the process of night weaning my toddler, we had already been repeating the idea that he’d only be getting dudhu (the word we use for milk/nursing) “when the sun shines,” it wasn’t a huge jump after he was night weaned to eventually start saying he could only get nursed first thing in the morning, when Mr. Sun first came up. (Obviously, if you want to know more, you can read about it here, since I have an entire book about it!)
If you’re a nursing mom, what has made your breastfeeding relationship work? Do you have any tips for other moms on how to sustain a breastfeeding relationship?
Leave your answers to one or both of these questions in the comment section below.