Breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your child, but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally perfect to every new mom. There’s a learning curve, and it can take time for you and your baby to get the hang of it. The good news is, with the proper preparation and support, you’ve got this.
In this article, we will share an overview of lactation, the benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby, common challenges, and the role of an occupational therapist.
An Overview of Lactation
Breastfeeding is a natural way to give your baby the nutrients they need to grow and develop. Breastfeeding relies on a biological process known as lactation. When a baby sucks on your nipple, it triggers your body to release oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Oxytocin causes small muscles in your breast to squeeze milk out of milk glands and push it into your milk ducts. The sucking motion also pulls the milk from the ducts into your baby’s mouth.
Your milk supply depends on your baby’s feeding demands. The more they nurse, the more milk is produced. Missing or skipping feedings can decrease your supply while increasing feedings boost production. The first few weeks of breastfeeding are critical for establishing a good milk supply. Try to nurse your baby 8-12 times per day. The milk your body makes changes to meet your baby’s needs. Colostrum, the first milk, is thick, yellow, and rich in antibodies to protect your new born. After a few days, colostrum transitions to mature breast milk. This milk contains water, lactose, fat, protein, and nutrients for growth. As your baby develops, the levels of fat and lactose increase while protein decreases.
The Nutritional Benefits of Breastfeeding
- Breast milk has the ideal mix of fats, proteins, vitamins, and antibodies to help your baby grow and fight off illness.
- Breastfeeding lowers the risk of disease and infections such as ear infections, gastroenteritis, respiratory infections, allergies, asthma, obesity, and diabetes. The antibodies in breast milk help strengthen your baby’s immune system.
- Breast milk is good for brain development. Breast milk contains DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that are vital for brain, eye, and nervous system development. Studies show breastfed babies have higher IQs and better cognitive development.
Additional Benefits of Breastfeeding
- Breastfeeding lowers the risk of postpartum depression, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer. It helps your uterus contract after birth and speeds up weight loss.
- Breastfeeding saves time and money. There are no bottles or formulas to prepare, and it’s free. Breastfed babies need fewer doctor visits, saving you time and money.
Common Challenges and Solutions for Breastfeeding
It’s normal for your nipples to be a little tender at first. Ensure your baby has a proper latch, and try different positions to relieve pressure.
Apply a little breast milk or lanolin cream for relief and healing.
Low Milk Supply
The key is making sure your baby is nursing efficiently and often enough. Try power pumping (pumping for 10 minutes, resting 10 minutes, repeat 3-4 times), nursing on demand rather than a schedule, and avoid pacifiers or bottles, which can lead to “nipple confusion.” Herbs like fenugreek or milk thistle, along with lactation cookies or teas, may help boost supply.
An overabundant milk supply may lead to a strong let-down, gas, or green stools in your baby. Try nursing on one side per feeding, block feeding, where you only offer one breast for a few hours, or hand express a little milk before nursing to relieve pressure.
Your breasts may become swollen, stiff, and painful when your milk comes in for the first time. Apply warm compresses, massage, and hand express a little milk for comfort before nursing. Nurse your baby frequently to relieve engorgement; the more you nurse, the more your supply will regulate.
A clogged or blocked milk duct feels like a tender lump. Apply heat, massage the area, and nurse frequently with the baby’s chin pointed toward the clog. Try different positions, as draining the breast fully is vital. See a doctor if you have a fever or symptoms of infection. Most clogs will clear within 12-24 hours with diligent nursing and expression.
The Role of an Occupational Therapist in Breastfeeding
Occupational therapists play an instrumental role in helping new mothers successfully breastfeed. They are trained to evaluate how a baby latches on and feeds at the breast and assess a mother’s posture, positioning, and technique. Some of the ways an OT can provide support include:
- Evaluating the baby’s oral anatomy to rule out any structural issues interfering with breastfeeding, like tongue ties, high palates, or low muscle tone.
- Provide guidance or alternative on feeding positions. Proper positioning and latch are critical to successful breastfeeding.
Assessing a mother’s posture, arm support, and comfort.
- Guide the mother on the safe breastfeeding positions while considering ergonomic principles.
- Educating mothers on the importance of frequent feeding. An OT can create a customized feeding schedule to ensure the baby is feeding often enough to establish a good milk supply.
- Providing emotional support. Breastfeeding challenges can be frustrating and disheartening. An OT can offer encouragement and help build the mother’s confidence in matters regarding breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding, as crucial as it is, can be overwhelming for a new mother; however, when we know its benefits and how best to go about it, we shall have happy mothers and happy babies. Feel free to ask your doctor or a lactation consultant for help if you have questions or concerns.