When it comes to feeding your baby, breast is best — but it isn’t easy. Even if you’ve been nursing for three, six or nine months, it’s not always smooth sailing. And if you’ve stopped breastfeeding and are considering relactation, that comes with its own challenges, too.
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You could be dealing with potential supply issues, time constraints and one-too-many judgmental comments of the “Oh, you’re still nursing?” variety. It’s no wonder so many women quit breastfeeding. But You don’t have to be part of that statistic, says Ob/Gyn Sara Wiswell, DO. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding children up to 2 years old and beyond, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has been advocating for the same recommendations for quite some time.
“Since breastfeeding offers tremendous benefits — from custom-made nutrition and increased immunity to helping you lose weight and protecting you against breast cancer — it’s worth trying to overcome any hurdles with a few strategies,” says Dr. Wiswell.
Preparation is key for working moms
The biggest challenge many moms face is that dreaded reality: returning to work.
“As if being a new mom isn’t hard enough, being a new working mom imposes even more stress,” notes Dr. Wiswell. “It’s absolutely vital to prepare thoroughly, especially figuring out where you’ll pump and how you’ll need to adjust your schedule.”
With the Affordable Healthcare Act, insurance now covers breast pumps, so it’s easier to get one that’s effective and fast. Workplaces with more than 50 hourly employees must provide both the time and a place to pump.
Try tools such as hands-free nursing bras, smartphones or tablets if you must work while pumping. After all, stress and milk are natural enemies.
“When stress levels go up, usually milk levels go down,” says Dr. Wiswell.
Seek help for supply issues
If you see your supply dwindling, don’t despair. Take action.
“Many moms see their supplies drop and mistakenly assume it won’t return,” explains Dr. Wiswell. “Learn how supply works so false alarms won’t rile you. Talk to a lactation consultant because she can explain supply’s natural ebbs and flows, including during growth spurts and how your body adjusts over time.”
If a supply boost is needed, you have some options:
Nursing more: Add sessions as long as your baby will nurse. If you work outside the home, try early evenings, mornings or weekends.
Pumping strategies: An extra session or several short power pumping sessions of five to 10 minutes throughout the day for several days in a row will tell your body that more milk is needed.
Breast massage and compression: Easy-to-learn techniques can improve drainage when nursing or pumping.
Take care of yourself: Reduce stress, rest when possible, hydrate and eat a balanced diet with an extra 500 calories a day to support breastfeeding. Don’t lose more than 1 pound weekly if you’re still trying to shed baby weight.
Galactogogues: These supply helpers, such as oats, fenugreek, blessed thistle and alfalfa, can increase milk output. Speak to a lactation consultant to see which one or combination is right for you.
Don’t be afraid to breastfeed
Unlike in many other countries, breastfeeding isn’t the norm for American moms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than 50% of infants are exclusively breastfed through three months, and this rate drops to about 25% at six months.
“In the United States, breastfeeding has been unusual because that’s been the culture for generations. It’s hard to change that dynamic,” says Dr. Wiswell. “When women look to their peers or communities, they don’t see many breastfeeding moms.”
Breastfeeding has made modest gains over the past decade, but a cultural change won’t happen unless people take steps such as finding other pro-nursing moms for support and overcoming fears of breastfeeding in public. If you want to want to try breastfeeding in public, try a nursing cover or a simple scarf.
Do what works for you and your baby
As a mom, it’s best to do what works. If you can’t exclusively breastfeed, you’ll still boost your baby’s immunity by combining breastfeeding with formula.
“There’s not one way written in stone,” says Dr. Wiswell. “Even working moms who can’t pump at work can still partially breastfeed. Your body will regulate its supply to be available when you’re with your baby.”
Likewise, nursing moms need to be open-minded about their breastfeeding goals. And don’t let others discourage you from extended nursing or nursing longer than a year. Remember, breastfeeding offers tremendous benefits.
“If you’re surprised with how well it’s going, continue as long it works for you both and for however long you want,” advises Dr. Wiswell.