Breastfeeding, also referred to as nursing, has benefits for both you and your baby. It creates a special bond between you and your newborn, provides great natural nutrition, and protects your baby against many illnesses. Breast milk is nature’s perfect baby food. It has just the right nutrients, in just the right amounts, to nourish your baby fully.
Breastfeeding is good for your baby for many reasons, including:
- The colostrum that your breasts produce for the first few days after delivery helps your newborn’s digestive system grow and function.
- Breast milk has antibodies that help your baby’s immune system fight off sickness. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of asthma, allergies, and colic.
- The protein and fat in breast milk are absorbed better by your baby’s body than those found in formula.
- Babies who are breastfed often have less gas, fewer feeding problems, and often less constipation.
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Breastfeeding also provides benefits for you:
- It is convenient.
- Breast milk is always available and is always at the right temperature.
- It releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes your uterus contract, helping it return to its normal size
and reducing bleeding after delivery.
- Producing breast milk requires calories, so it may help you lose the pounds you gained during pregnancy.
Even though you may not have menstrual periods while you are breastfeeding, you can still get pregnant. Talk to your doctor about the appropriate form of birth control to use while you are nursing. If you cannot, or choose not to, breastfeed your baby, do not feel guilty. Today’s infant formulas provide bottle-fed babies with all the nutrients they need to thrive.
While breastfeeding is a natural process, it may take some practice for both you and your baby. Your doctor and the nurses will be able to help you get started. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help if you need it.
Often, the best time to start breastfeeding your baby is right after delivery. This is when your baby is most alert and ready to suck.
When you are ready to nurse, find a position that is comfortable for you and your baby. Cup your breast in your hand and stroke your baby’s lower lip with your nipple. The baby will open his/her mouth wide like a yawn. Quickly center your nipple in the baby’s mouth, making sure the baby’s tongue is down. Pull the baby close to you to begin nursing.
After a few minutes, check your baby’s technique. If your baby is not latched on well, start over. To break the suction, insert a clean finger between your breast and your baby’s gums. When you hear a soft pop, pull your nipple out of the baby’s mouth and begin the process again.
Let your baby set his/her own nursing schedule. You will know when your baby is ready to nurse because he or she will nuzzle against your breast, make sucking motions, or put their hands to their mouth. Follow the signals your baby gives you, rather than trying to set a nursing schedule. You may nurse very often (8 to 12 times in 24 hours) in the baby’s first weeks of life.
Many newborns nurse for 10 to 15 minutes on each breast. When your baby empties one breast, offer the other. If your baby doesn’t continue, offer the other breast at the next feeding. Try to breastfeed without supplementation for at least the first six months of your baby’s life. This will give your baby important natural nutrients. Again, if you choose not to breastfeed or are unable to, do not be hard on yourself.
When you are pregnant, your body stores extra nutrients and fat to prepare you for breastfeeding. Once your baby is born, you need more food and nutrients than normal to provide fuel for milk production. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Eat a well-balanced diet. While breastfeeding, you need about 500 calories a day more than you did before you became pregnant (around 2,500 calories total).
- Make sure you get 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Your doctor may suggest that you take a multivitamin.
- Avoid foods that bother your baby. If your baby acts fussy or gets a rash, diarrhea, or congestion after nursing, let your pediatrician know. This can signal a food allergy.
- Drink at least eight glasses of liquid a day. (preferably non-caffeinated beverages).
Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?
For the first few weeks of nursing, it is important to make sure that your baby is getting enough milk. Here are some signs that your baby is getting adequate milk from breastfeeding:
- Frequent nursing. A newborn should nurse at least 8 to 2 times in 24 hours, every two hours or so.
- Drowsy and content after nursing
- Breasts feel full and firm before feedings. After, they are less full and feel softer.
- At least six wet diapers per day
- Urine is clear or nearly clear
- At least 3 bowel movements a day with soft and yellow stool during the first month
- Weight gain. Most newborns lose a little weight at first. After two weeks, most babies are back up to their birth weight. Newborns should gain weight after the first week.
If you are worried that you baby is not getting enough milk, tell your pediatrician right away. If your newborn baby wants to nurse for a very long time (such as 30 minutes on each side) he or she may be having trouble getting enough milk.
When you first begin to breastfeed, you may experience some minor problems. Usually, these problems are easy to treat, but you should call your doctor if you experience:
To keep your breasts healthy and increase the chances of breastfeeding success, try these tips:
- Learn proper nursing technique. Your doctor can help you with this.
- Use your finger to break the suction before you remove your breast from your baby’s mouth.
- Gently pat your nipples dry with a clean cloth after feedings.
- Use only cotton bra pads. Change them as soon as they get wet.
- Apply 100% pure lanolin to your nipples after feeding.
- Don’t wash your nipples with harsh soaps or use perfumed creams.
- If one nipple is tender, offer the other breast first.
Having a baby is a happy and exciting time for most new mothers. It is also a period of intense lifestyle adjustments that can make you feel sad, fearful, angry, or anxious. Most new mothers have these feelings in a mild form called postpartum blues, which almost always subside in a few days.
About ten percent of new mothers have greater feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety. This is called postpartum depression and it lasts longer than postpartum blues, often requiring counseling and treatment. Postpartum depression is normal. It does not mean that you are a failure as a woman or as a mother or that you have a mental illness.
Signs of Postpartum Depression
If you feel depressed after the birth of your baby, be on the lookout for the following signs:
- Your postpartum blues, or baby blues, don’t go away after two weeks
- Strong feelings of depression and anger come one to two months after your baby is born
- Feelings of sadness, doubt, guilt, or helplessness seem to increase each week and seem to keep you from functioning normally
- Inability to care for yourself or your baby
- Trouble doing tasks at home or at work
- Changes in appetite
- Things that used to bring you pleasure no longer do
- Concern and worry about your baby are too intense, or interest in your baby is lacking
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Fear of being left alone in the house with your baby
- Concern that you might harm your baby or yourself
If you or someone you know exhibit any of these signs after childbirth, call the doctor for help. Your doctor can help you get the support, counseling, or medication you need to overcome your feelings of postpartum depression. The doctors at North Carolina OB/GYN and Midwifery are trained to help you overcome your feelings of postpartum depression and are just a phone call away.
Reasons For Postpartum Depression
Because no two women are alike, it is difficult to pinpoint specific reasons for postpartum depression. Like most forms of depression, postpartum depression is the result of many body, mind, and lifestyle factors. This may be why some women have postpartum depression and others do not, or why a woman may have postpartum depression with one pregnancy and not another. Postpartum depression can occur after any birth, not just the first. It does not seem related to the mother’s age or the number of children she has.
Doctors believe that the many changes your body goes through after giving birth play a role in postpartum depression. Dropping levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone may trigger depression, in the same way that much smaller changes in these hormone levels can trigger mood swings and tension before menstrual periods. Some women are more strongly affected by these changes than others.
Emotional factors can also play a role in postpartum depression. You may feel physically and mentally overwhelmed by your new responsibilities and may feel anxiety about the physical changes your body is going through.
What You Can Do
If you are feeling depressed after the birth of your baby, there are things you can do to take care of yourself and your baby:
- Get plenty of rest. Try to nap when the baby naps.
- Ask for help from family and friends, especially if you have other children.
- Have your partner help with feedings at night.
- Take special care of yourself. Shower and dress each day, and try to get out of the house. Get a babysitter or take the baby with you.
- Go for a walk, meet with a friend, and talk with other new mothers.
- Spend time with your partner. Tell him how you feel. Often just talking things out with someone you trust can provide relief.
A supportive partner is key to overcoming the negative emotions that can sometimes accompany the birth of a child. Talk to your partner if you think you have postpartum depression.
When To Call Your Doctor
If your feelings of depression do not go away in a few weeks, or become overwhelming, call your doctor. Your doctor can refer you to experts in treating postpartum depression who can provide emotional support, help you sort through your feelings, and help you make positive changes in your life. There are also hotlines and support groups for women with postpartum depression. Your doctor can provide you with contact information for these groups.
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