Comprehensive Guide to Breastfeeding From Vanderbilt Center for Women’s Health

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By Heather Potts, MSN, CNM, FNP

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Heather Potts is an ​Assistant Director of Advanced Practice at Vanderbilt Center for Women’s Health-Lebanon in Lebanon, Tennessee.

Breastfeeding not only forms a bond between mother and baby, but it also provides numerous health benefits to both. Navigating breastfeeding as a first-time parent can be daunting and often requires some trial and error to determine what works best for you. To help lay the foundation, here’s a comprehensive guide to breastfeeding.

The benefits of breastfeeding to both you and your child begins with its nutritional support and health benefits. Breast milk contains the optimal proportion of nutrients babies require including protein, carbohydrates, fat and calcium that contribute to brain growth and nervous system development. Breast milk also provides natural antibodies that promote resilience to illnesses and has been linked to reduced risks of obesity, diabetes, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in babies. Additionally, mothers who breastfeed experience lower rates of breast and ovarian cancer and postpartum depression. Lastly, as we see an uptick in dairy intolerance, breast milk is also easier for your baby to digest than cow’s milk.

The three main components to breastfeeding successfully are latching, frequency and positioning. Latching refers to how a baby’s mouth attaches to the mother when feeding. Optimally, the baby’s mouth should cover a large portion of the areola in addition to the nipple for an effective milk transfer and may even reduce soreness for the mother. Newborns typically need to be fed 8-12 times a day due to their small stomachs. It is important to watch for your baby’s cues for hunger, such as rooting or sucking on fists, rather than adhering to a strict schedule. Lastly, positioning can be difficult and varies from mother to mother. Common breastfeeding positions include a cradle hold, football hold and laying down, but it isn’t one size fits all. Experiment with different positions to determine what works best for you and your baby.

Common challenges with breastfeeding include engorgement, soreness and milk supply levels. Symptoms of engorgement include hard, full and tender breasts that experience an aching or throbbing sensation. This can occur from sudden changes in feeding frequency such as skipping pumping sessions or during the body’s natural transition from colostrum to mature milk. Colostrum is the yellowish milk produced by mothers in the days after giving birth. This milk has additional protein and antibodies to protect the baby from infection. Mothers transition to mature milk after about two to three days which is lower in protein but has increased fats and carbohydrates that supplement a baby’s energy and growth.

To alleviate discomfort from engorgement, try applying warm compresses before feeding and cold compresses afterward. Nursing frequently can also help regulate milk supply. Pumping is particularly helpful here if the baby is not hungry or away from the mother when transitioning back to a normal schedule.

Sore nipples are common in the early days of breastfeeding. Proper latching and applying lanolin cream or breast milk are techniques that can be used to minimize soreness. Adequate hydration, nutrition and frequent nursing sessions can also help to maintain a healthy milk supply. If supply issues or extreme soreness do not resolve, it may be beneficial to reach out to a lactation specialist who can offer guidance and additional support.

Despite initial challenges, with patience, perseverance, and a supportive network, most mothers can navigate obstacles associated with breastfeeding their babies. If you find yourself struggling to breastfeed for whatever reason, bottle feeding or using formula is an alternative option that keeps your baby happy and fed. Each journey is unique, so trust your instincts, figure out what works for you and seek help if necessary.

The experts at the Vanderbilt Center for Women’s Health Lebanon are available to help with all of your breastfeeding and women’s health needs. From lactation experts to breastfeeding classes, we’re here to support you in your journey as a mother. To schedule an appointment call (615) 449-6780.

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