The female body is amazing! If you’re a woman reading this, there are times you’re probably overwhelmed or frustrated with your body—things like period headaches and bloating don’t exactly make life easy. But your body is designed to do some pretty impressive things, like growing babies and being able to feed them.
Today, we’ll explore some of the things you can expect from breastfeeding—from the changes of your breasts during pregnancy to a few tips to make the process easier for you and your newborn.
1. Your Breasts Grow And Change During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin contribute to the growth and development of milk-making glands in the breasts. During the latter stages of your pregnancy, you’ll notice your breasts getting larger and your areolas, the round area around your nipples, will darken. These are signs that hormones are preparing your body to produce milk for your kiddo.
2. Breast Milk is Produced in Stages
When your baby is born, milk production would’ve been underway for several months, but milk isn’t the first thing your baby will receive from you. You can expect 3 main stages of milk production which is reflected in what your baby will eat:
Days 0-5: You’ll mainly produce colostrum during the first few days of breastfeeding. This is a milky fluid that’s nutrient-rich and contains high levels of antibodies, which are proteins that fight infections and bacteria.
Days 5-14: Around day 5, you’ll feel your milk “come in” or increase in amount. Your breasts will feel fuller and heavier as the colostrum transitions into more mature milk.
Days 14 onward: Once the colostrum fully transitions into mature milk production, you’re well underway! The milk will have a thinner consistency at the beginning of feeding but will be thicker and more nutrient-dense milk by the end.
3. Milk Leakage Is Normal
You’ve likely seen dozens of references to milk leakage in movies and on TV—here’s the reason for this often-embarrassing reality for new moms. Leakage or the “let down” reflex occurs around breastfeeding time. Near the usual feeding times, your breasts will naturally start filling with milk but if you don’t end up nursing, milk will slowly spill out.
This can happen even if you hear a baby crying as your mind and body prepares for nursing. There are disposable breastfeeding pads you can use to keep your shirts dry if you’re pumping to feed your baby or using formula while out running errands. (This sentence read weird to me, maybe switch it around slightly? Ex: If you’re pumping to feed your baby or using formula while out running errands, there are disposable breastfeeding pads you can use to keep your shirts dry. )
4. Underfeeding Is Unlikely
If you’re a new mom, you might be worried that your kiddo isn’t getting enough milk but it’s extremely rare for you to not make enough milk. Breast milk is produced based on supply and demand—the more frequently your baby breastfeeds, the more milk you'll naturally make. So if your baby is latching on correctly, and breastfeeding every 2 to 3 hours, your body should make enough breast milk.
If you’re still concerned about feeding, you’ll know that your baby is getting enough milk if they gain weight steadily, have regular bowel movements, and go through 6-8 diapers a day.
5. Latching Can Be Tricky At First
Helping your newborn latch correctly can take time and some trial and error, but it’s critical. Latching well ensures your baby will be able to efficiently draw the milk from your breasts, which should keep your milk supply steady and plentiful.
A proper latch means your baby is gripping your entire nipple as well as some of the areola. If their lips are turned outward and their chin and nose are touching the breast, those are good signs they've latched on well. If your baby has taken just your nipple into their mouth, gently use a finger to break the suction between their mouth and your breast and try to reposition them.
6. Softening Your Breast Can Help With Feeding
If you’ve missed a feeding or two, you can end up with an oversupply of milk leading to breast engorgement. When your breasts become engorged and hard, it's hard for a newborn to latch on. To reduce the pain from this issue and make it easier for your baby to draw milk, remove a little bit of breast milk before each feeding to relieve the tightness and soften your breast tissue. When your breasts are softer, it's much easier for your baby to form a good seal on your breast. Softening your breasts can also help prevent sore nipples.
7. You Can Avoid Sore Nipples
Breast tenderness is normal when you first start breastfeeding but the discomfort should ease within a few weeks. Sometimes, the tenderness gets worse, and your nipples can become painfully sore, which is also common. Here are a few ways you can avoid sore nipples while breastfeeding.
Try changing your breastfeeding position or using a nursing pillow and a nursing footstool to alleviate any pressure on your body. Avoid leaning over since it can strain your back, arms, and neck. You can also alternate the breastfeeding positions that you use at each feeding. When you breastfeed in the same position all the time, your baby's mouth is always putting pressure on the same place on your nipple.
If you use a breast pump, use pump flanges that fit correctly and start out with a lower, slower level of suction.
If your baby does not let go of you on their own at the end of the feeding, don't pull them off since this can lead to nipple damage and pain. To prevent damage to your nipples, gently place your finger into the side of your baby's mouth to safely break the suction of the latch. Then, once you break that seal, you can hook your finger around your nipple to protect it from being chomped on as you remove your breast from your baby's mouth.
Unfortunately, sore nipples can stem from a poor latch, not using a breast pump correctly, or an infection so if the above recommendations don’t work, talk to your doctor about other ways to solve this tender issue.
8. Breastfeeding Can Be More Tiring Than You Think
Being a new mom is incredibly exhausting, no matter how you feed your baby. Breastfeeding adds on another layer of work and care that can make the early weeks and months of motherhood pretty tough. It's essential that you take the time to heal and rest. That includes taking naps to counter postpartum fatigue, eating healthy food, staying hydrated, and making time for gentle exercise.
While it can be difficult to get active when you have a baby, the fact remains, the less you move, the more tired you can feel. If you’re healthy and well, take a daily walk with your baby in a baby carrier might help to give you a bit of an energy boost – but don’t push yourself! If you’re dehydrated, you may feel sluggish with poor concentration too, so keep the water intake up. Also, avoid eating processed grains and foods with a high added sugar content, which cause your blood sugar levels to spike, followed by a crash, making you feel even worse.
9. There Are Recommended Stages of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding doesn’t continue forever! Your doctor will be the best person to recommend shifting from one stage of feeding your child to the next. However, here are some common stages to think through.
Birth to 6 Months
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months of your baby's life followed by continued breastfeeding along with complementary food for 1 year of life or longer.
6 Months To 1 Year
By the 6-month mark, your baby will need more calories and nutrients than your breast milk can provide alone so get prepared to slowly introduce solid foods. Solid foods at 6 months will allow your baby to get accustomed to new flavours and textures, but we recommend continuing to breastfeed during this process.
Pro tip: When you introduce your solid foods for the first time, it's recommended to breastfeed before the new food, instead of after. Start new foods one at a time and wait for 3 to 4 days between each new food before adding a new one so it will be easier for you to tell if your baby has a negative reaction to certain food. If your baby doesn't take to a particular food right away, don’t panic! They may simply not like it, but try that food again a few days later.
After 1 Year
By the time your kiddo is a year old, they should be eating a wide-variety of foods, including foods likely to cause allergies like eggs, fish, and peanut butter. Your baby can also have cow's milk as a beverage after their first birthday.
If you’d like, you can still breastfeed after a year to encourage a healthy diet for your growing kiddo.
10. Breast Milk Pumping Is Much More Than A Fad
While our parents may not have used breast pumps, the increasing popularity of this device doesn’t make it a useless trend but a response to the reality of more and more moms continuing to work while parenting. Pumping can make it much easier to leave fresh milk at home for the baby and also make it much easier to feed your baby while running errands, working, or while otherwise on the go.
Pumps also help relieve pain from breast engorgement, so if you missed a feeding or two and switched to formula, you can save that breast milk for a later feeding time. If you decide to pump, look into buying a breast pump and storage bags or containers that work for your lifestyle.
If you have any questions about breastfeeding, the clinicians at The Source would love to offer support! Click the button below to connect with us via our virtual clinic or one of our physical locations!