How and what you want to feed your baby is a personal decision. You, as a mother, deserve to know all the facts of the various options without feeling ashamed or guilty about your decision. Nutritional possibilities for your baby’s first few months include breastfeeding (temporarily or long term) and formula feeding.
Breastfeeding is often considered the affordable choice, as under most circumstances, your body will naturally produce milk, whether you decide to breastfeed or not. There are also a myriad of health benefits for the baby and mom. An in-depth explanation of breastfeeding’s health benefits and other important information is available through the Office on Women’s Health.
However, although breastfeeding is a natural process, it is normal to struggle at times getting Baby to latch and feel satisfied, especially in the first month postpartum. Don’t be discouraged! Having a strong support system for yourself is crucial if you intend to breastfeed. Start with your OB-GYN, nurses, and a lactation consultant at the hospital to receive personalized care and advice. Many hospitals offer breastfeeding classes to prepare you before giving birth. Ask your OB-GYN what local groups or classes are available to you. There are also online resources to check out, such as La Leche League International. For more tips and advice, visit our breastfeeding articles:
- Should You Breastfeed?
- Breastfeeding Pro Tips and Advice
- 6 Common Breastfeeding Questions Answered
- Will Breastfeeding Hurt?
If, for health and/or personal reasons, breastfeeding is not the best choice for you or your baby, that is OK! Luckily, formula exists to help your baby grow and can easily be distributed by other caretakers. Do your research, and don’t be afraid to ask for help regarding what type of formula is best, how much you should feed Baby, and best practices for keeping the bottles clean and formula safe! Besides the help available through your OB-GYN, pediatrician, and nurses, visit HealthyChildren.org to read up on formula feeding. You can read more in our article, “The Do’s and Don’ts of Formula Feeding.”
Breast milk changes rapidly from the salty colostrum of late pregnancy/early postpartum, to the flooding of sweet milk as your hormones change. When breast milk is produced but is not released due to blocked milk ducts or the decision to not breastfeed, engorgement occurs. Engorgement is when your breast is hot, red, and hard to the touch.
If your breast(s) becomes engorged, always talk to your doctor. Relieve the pressure by pumping, or allow Baby to feed if s/he can latch. Gently icing your inflamed breast may help the discomfort. Read more here.
Mastitis may occur when engorgement is left untreated. This is an infection in the breast duct caused by a blockage. Seek medical attention if you think your breast is infected. Read more here.
Women who decide to never breastfeed will have to undergo a period of engorgement before their bodies stop producing milk. Always tell your health care provider if you plan to not breastfeed. Your doctor will most likely instruct you on how to safely apply pressure to your breasts postpartum, which will eventually signal to your body to stop producing milk. Cling to your support system during this time and use ice or cold cabbage leaves, as the old wives’ tale goes, to alleviate discomfort and dry up your milk.
Weaning does not have to be — nor should be — all at once. It occurs whenever Baby accepts something other than breast milk: a snack, a bottle of formula, some solid food, etc. Most children naturally wean between ages 2 and 4. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control encourage breastfeeding until Baby is at least 2 years old, to receive maximum health benefits. If that is not possible or best for you and your baby, you might wean slowly and lovingly by swapping out one additional feed each day with formula or food. As time goes on, your baby might be breastfeeding for half of one day’s meals and taking a bottle/solid the other half of the time. Eventually, your baby will be completely weaned. Read more here.
Do not abruptly stop breastfeeding, as your breasts will become engorged, and your baby may struggle with the transition. Also, even though children can wean themselves when they want to, be careful not to confuse a nursing strike with a child weaning her/himself.
Breast pumps are very helpful for moms who want to store breast milk to be given to Baby at a later date, for a variety of reasons. Pumping also ensures your breast is completely empty of milk, which prevents infection. While your hospital may be able to provide you with a manual breast pump upon request, there are a number of ways to go about getting one. Read more about breast pumps in our article, “What Does Baby Really Need?”
Resources available to you
- Find a local La Leche Support Group: https://lllusa.org/locator/
- For non-U.S. residents, find a support group near your home: https://www.llli.org/get-help/
- National Women’s Health Helpline: call 1-800-994-9662 to talk to a peer counselor, for free, in English or Spanish (Monday—Friday, 9 am—6 pm ET)
- Find a local Lactation Consultant: https://portal.ilca.org/i4a/memberDirectory/index.cfm?directory_id=18&pageID=4349
By Grace Berning