There are so many benefits of breastfeeding, only some of which I was aware of prior to giving birth. The most obvious ones to me were those regarding the nutritional value of the milk, the bond between baby and mom, and the simple fact that it doesn't cost a cent. One of the "secret" benefits that I discovered was how convienent it was. When my little guy was crying with hunger pains, all it took was sitting comfortably and hauling up my shirt. On times when we bottle fed him, he screamed for much longer when we waited impaitently for his bottle to warm and for him to settle well enough to take it. With breastfeeding, whenever we went out I required no feeding equipment with the exception of fresh breast pads in case of leaks, facecloths for his messy face and on occasion my cover for certain places where I felt it necessary. Bottles required a cooler to keep the milk cold and something to warm them up when he was ready for feeding time, thus much more equipment and hassle. Another unknown benefit was the weekly clinic that allowed me to have him weighed every week, answer any questions I had and meet other moms like me with babies at different stages. Finally, I had no idea how much I would love breastfeeding. Once myself and my son got over the growing pains of getting used to the whole experience it became so easy. I found that I really enjoyed the feeding and still do. I plan at this point continue for at least his first year, but I also know that it may not be up to me, as babies can be unpredictable.
During the first few days there was a learning curve for getting him to latch well but thank goodness for nipple cream. There was the initial worry for ensuring that the baby was getting enough milk but aside from the weekly clinics for hard evidence in the weight, there were other things we could watch for. We kept an official count of the number of heavy wet diapers in the first few days, and a more loose count once this was established. Six-plus heavy wet diapers was the recommended number to watch for, and luckily our little guy hit that one out of the park. Another factor was both the number and consistency of the bowel movements. Breastfed infants have poops that resemble mustard in color and have seed-like nodules in the diapers indicating that he got enough fat in his feeds. Again he was great here - five-plus per day. If his poop was green it meant he wasn't getting enough fat - and that was most likely due to switching sides too soon. He has to eat from one side until he drains it to ensure he gets enough. With practice I got good at knowing when my breast was empty - it felt softer and looser. When he drains a side it also means that he lasts longer between feeds. To keep it straight which side for the next feeding I wore a rubber band around my wrist and switched after every feed. To keep him awake during feeds as he had a tendency to fall asleep, I played with his feet, tickled his back and put his little hand in my mouth and sucked his fingers. I tried a cold cloth a couple of times but it startled him too much. In the first few weeks I stripped him down to his diaper to keep him cool so he would stay awake but when he got used to feeding I decided to keep him dressed. I also changed his diaper after he broke his latch the first time to wake him up so he could finish his feeding.
In the beginning I was encouraged to make sure he fed every three hours and to wake him to make sure he fed this often. I got a lot of flack from a lot of people for waking him but I would recommend it until your baby surpasses his birth weight. Feeding this often not only made sure he got enough but also it made sure that I produced enough in the beginning while my supply was first being established. Infants also feed on demand, so if he wanted to eat every two hours or even every hour, I sucked it up and got comfy!
Check out other breastfeeding posts involving the pitfalls and some pumping advice
- Make your own decision. Breastfeeding is a very personal choice and should be yours to make with support from your partner.
- Pay attention to cues. Check your baby's diapers for the right number of wet and number two's, and get used to knowing when your breasts are empty to ensure your little one is getting enough food.
- Use a rubber band or elastic to track which side is next for feeding.
- Wake baby for feeding. I know it seems wrong to wake a sleepy baby but to make sure you produce enough milk as you begin to establish a supply, and to get in those first few weeks of essential growth I would recommend feeding at least every three hours until birth weight is surpassed, even if the baby is sleepy.