Three L’s of Lactation: Latching, Leaking, and Learning

According to nature and some media campaigns, breastfeeding is supposed to be as natural as breathing. However, for some moms, it may take a little more effort. From low milk production to your baby failing to latch, breastfeeding can be frustrating at first. The nutritional benefits to your baby’s health, though, outweigh the extra effort that it might require. Don’t call it quits before you really get started. Help is available.

Breast is Best

Breast milk contains more nutrients and antioxidants than formula, so it is highly recommended by the Surgeon General.  To help you prepare to breastfeed, during pregnancy, talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant. Organizations like the Breastfeeding Network and La Leche League can also help connect you with a support group and counselor if you aren’t sure where to start. 

Lactation actually begins around your 16th week of pregnancy with a type of milk called colostrum. It’s heavier than mature milk, and has higher levels of nutrients to help develop your baby’s intestines. This is the first milk that your baby will get right after birth when nursing begins. Within two or three days of beginning nursing, your body will switch to producing only mature milk.

The First L: Latching

Since breastfeeding is a natural process, your baby knows what to do. His or her cues--like suckling, rooting, and grabbing at its mouth, among others—signal that it’s hungry and ready to nurse. By spending some quality skin-to-skin time with your baby, you’ll start to recognize these cues before your baby can even begin to cry.

To increase your chances of success, try to find the most comfortable position possible. If you need a distraction like the TV or music, go for it. Attempting different positions, such as lying on your back or side, can also help ease the transition into breastfeeding. Lactation consultants can also recommend different positions that may work for you. Your baby should easily be latching onto your breast, with his or her mouth covering your areola (the darkened area around the nipple). If you’re having difficulty getting your baby to latch on, or if you experience pain upon latching, talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant: often a simple fix can get you back to breastfeeding in no time!

The Second L: Leaking

Leaking from one or both breasts can begin even before you give birth, and often increases after birth. Typically, this is caused by your body adjusting to the cries of your baby when you first begin nursing and is not a cause for concern. This is also called the let-down reflex, and is triggered by nerves in your breast, resulting in a tingly sensation. Your breasts may also begin to leak or become sore if the breast tissue is full of milk and needs to be emptied.

However, poor lactation response—a lack of leaking or milk production—can be due to a variety of factors. If your nipples are sore or cracked, or if your breast tissue has been damaged by a prior trauma, you may have trouble producing milk. Even separation from your baby for a long period of time may affect your milk production. To reduce these risks, do your research, ask questions and identify best practices from breastfeeding experts.

The Third L: Learning

Both you and your baby can learn about breastfeeding together, and it never hurts to ask for help. If you have questions regarding schedules, how to store breast milk, or any other issues concerning breastfeeding, don’t be afraid to ask. Some of the most frequently asked questions about breastfeeding are:

  • How do I store breast milk? Once pumped and bottled, breast milk in the fridge is good for about 3-5 days. If you choose to freeze your breast milk, make sure you do so in a deep freezer so it can last up to 6 months. Keep in mind: frozen breast milk loses some of the nutrients that fresh breast milk has.
  • What is a galactagogue and do I need it? Galactagogue is a fancy word for a food, herb or supplement that aids in the production of breast milk. This includes garlic, water, carrots, oatmeal and even ginger. Whether you need them is entirely up to you and how much you’re currently lactating.
  • How do I know my baby is getting the milk? How do I know I’m doing this right? The easiest way to make sure you’re getting off to a good start with breastfeeding is to be observed by a doctor, lactation consultant, or doula the first few times. In addition to helping you find a comfortable position and ensure the baby is latching correctly, they can offer tips and techniques specific to your needs. Although it seems contradictory, your body will produce more milk the more often your breasts are emptied. If it seems slow going at first, give yourself and your baby time to adjust.
  • What about my diet? Just like when you were pregnant, your diet for breastfeeding should include plenty of fruits and vegetables, and you should avoid alcohol and large amounts of caffeine. Breastfeeding mothers need about 300-500 extra calories per day than non-breastfeeding moms, so keep that in mind. If your baby has an allergy to a food, it will be apparent through hard stools, painful gas or frequent spit-up.

Remember, breastfeeding may take some getting used to, but help is available. It can also be a very rewarding and healthy experience for babies and mothers.

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