Breastfeeding 101: Getting Through the First Six Months

Christie Haskell
8

Breast is best. We all know this is a fact, but the reality is it can be difficult in this anti-breastfeeding-friendly culture to really get the proper knowledge and support it takes to follow the minimum recommendations set by the World Health Organization of exclusively breastfeeding for at least the first six months, and then onward to at least the second birthday.

Once you're past the initial hump of the newborn days, there's still a lot that can stand in your way in those first six months. This is evidenced by the fact that while 75 percent of moms initiate breastfeeding at birth, only around 13 percent of moms actually make it to the bare minimum of six months of exclusive breastfeeding. In an attempt to help women meet this goal, here's another installment of my Breastfeeding 101 posts. Let's talk about what you need to know to make it to at least six months exclusively.

Common times for growth spurts are during the first few days at home and around 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months. Not surprisingly, those are also the most common times women think they've stopped producing enough. In most circumstances, your milk cannot "just dry up." You'd have to start a medication, stop eating or drinking, be under tons of stress, skip feedings, get really sick, or have some major hormone fluctuation (like getting pregnant again) for your milk to actually "go away." What usually happens during these times is that your baby is just going to need to nurse more, to first up your supply to meet their growth spurt and then to get themselves the sustenance they need to get through it. It will slow back down after a few days or a week or so, once they're past the growth spurt. So if you notice your baby suddenly needing to nurse a lot more, don't think that your supply went DOWN -- demand temporarily just went UP. Even in the toddler years, there's a growth spurt every few months. Don't supplement or assume that it's time to start solids -- you'll create supply problems that didn't exist and babies under 6 months aren't ready for solids.

Don't expect your baby to start sleeping through the night during this time. Breast milk digests quickly, as it's supposed to, and babies who are allowed to feed themselves at their own rate (as exclusively breastfed babies usually are) have small stomachs. It's developmentally expected for a baby to wake 1-3 times at night at the very least during this period. Sleeping "through the night" is considered one five-hour stretch -- don't expect more or try to skip night feedings just yet. In fact, if you're concerned about your supply at all, letting baby be latched on for as much of the night, even while asleep, can help up your supply.

Comfort nursing isn't overfeeding. It's a common myth that comfort nursing sets bad eating habits. Fortunately, this just isn't true. Unlike when drinking from a bottle, babies can nurse at the breast and choose not to get milk. So why not use a pacifier? Well, because there's this nifty chemical hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK) that helps tell a baby when they need to suck and when they don't. Letting a baby use a pacifier can cause nipple confusion, but can also confuse your baby's hormones, letting the level rise and tell them they don't need to nurse when they actually do, and can even mess up your supply. There are ways to make pacifiers work with breastfeeding of course, but in general, there's a good rule: If you have a baby who really needs a pacifier, then use it, don't abuse it, and quickly try to lose it.

Check the flow. If baby pulls off and gets squirted with a solid stream and chokes or gurgles, and pukes or burps, you may just have overactive letdown, meaning your milk comes out very fast and hard. Try laying back with baby more on top of you, or get baby or your hand to initiate letdown, then pull off and let the initial gush go into a cup or burp cloth. If baby seems to start nursing, cry, beat your breast a little, and then nurse again, you may have a slower letdown, so again, initiating letdown yourself or even doing breast compression before putting baby on and while they're starting to nurse might help alleviate frustration. Both of these issues generally resolve themselves in a couple weeks, or at most, a couple months.

More to come on this topic -- the next steps after the newborn days! Stay tuned and if you have any questions, just ask below. I'll get them answered!

What was the most helpful advice for successful breastfeeding in the first six months?


Also check out past Breastfeeding 101 posts:

Breastfeeding 101: What You Need to Know Before Birth

Breastfeeding 101: Surviving the Hospital & Newborn Days


Image via SmileyMoo/CafeMom

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