Holistic Guide to Breastfeeding
The arrival of a newborn is one of the most rewarding, life-changing events a new mother will ever experience. It is meant to be a blissful time of celebration but with it can come with some challenges. While most women are physiologically able to breastfeed, postpartum immunity, diet, socioeconomic status, and lifestyle factors can all have an inhibiting effect on the success of breastfeeding. While many will argue that “Breast is Best”, at the end of the day it is the mother’s choice and what is more available/suitable for her situation.
Breastfeeding is one of the most intimate experiences between mother and child. These moments of bonding can help build an everlasting connection between the two, and breastfeeding is often the most effective way to ensure that your newborn gets the nutrients they need. As blissful as this time is meant to be, many women are faced with challenges during this time, especially related to their breastfeeding experience.
If you are choosing to breastfeed, here is a guide to help you along the way.
Diet is one of the most crucial, essential, and easiest ways a new mother can support herself during this new phase into motherhood. Diet should be at the forefront of every expecting mother’s priorities, and post-natal nourishment is just as important. This ensures proper organ and bodily function, increased immunity, and provides strength not only for the mother but also for the fetus as well. These things are crucial to a successful upcoming labor. It is important to remember that just as nutrients are passed on from mom to fetus in the womb, they are also passed through breast milk during breastfeeding.
Proper nutrition will help promote high levels of nutrient dense breast milk production. In addition to proper pre-and post-natal supplementation and following a nutrient dense diet recommended by your nutritionist/midwife/doctor etc.
Here are a few essential foods to support breast milk production:
Almonds- High in monounsaturated fats, protein, and calcium, they increase the fat content of breastmilk, enhancing the nutritional value.
Fennel Seed- Contains a component called anethole, which mimics phytoestrogens, which are responsible for the growth of mammary glands and breast milk secretion.
Apricots- Another tryptophan-rich food which increases prolactin
Sunflower- contain lecithin that adds fluidity to breastmilk and reduces chances of milk duct clogging
Pineapple Juice- Contains bromelain which helps to unclogged clogged ducts
Milk production can be enhanced by consuming the following herbs in teas or tincture form. There are also several herbal tea blends that are fantastic for milk production. Be sure to drink these several times a day if you are having trouble producing.
Fenugreek- A common component in many herbal lactation teas, Fenugreek is one of the most common and effective herbs to increase milk production. It is a galactagogue that supports prolactin secretion. Capsule form is best. 3 capsules, 3 x per day until the milk starts flowing.
Blessed Thistle- Helps to elevate mild forms of post-partum depression, which is linked to difficulties breastfeeding. This herb is best combined with Fenugreek. Capsule form is best. 3 capsules, 3 x per day until the milk starts flowing.
Raspberry Leaf- Contains anethole, which stimulates the release of mammary building hormones. It also helps to alleviate mild forms of depression and helps with uterine healing to accelerate mom’s road to post-labor recovery so that she can focus on the baby. Best taken as a daily tea or herbal infusion.
Shatavari- An Ayurvedic herb, which works as a female adaptogen to balance female hormones, and due to its phytoestrogenic properties can increase milk production.
It may seem like the last thing you want to do, but taking a few moments to relax will help to lower levels of your stress hormone - cortisol - and stimulate serotonin production, which will result in more positive breastfeeding experiences.
Take 1 minute before feeding to focus on your breathing, counting up to 10, and back down to 1, inhaling and exhaling with each second you count. This will give your body a quick reset so that you can focus on bonding with your baby.
It is inevitable that your baby will have all of your attention when he or she first enters the world. But, caring for yourself needs to be on your list of priorities as well so that you are in a good healthy state to give the love and care your baby needs.
Especially during the first few months, lengthy sleep will be few and far between as babies’ feeding needs are frequent: about every 1.5-3 hours. Prolactin levels are highest at night, so nighttime feeding will ensure a proper milk supply. Learning how to take naps when the baby is asleep or when you have support to help care of the little one is crucial. Those 15-20 minutes will give an extra energy boost, will build immunity, and will help to balance your hormones to ensure proper milk supply.
Cracked, dry, inflamed, and swollen nipples can be a more serious issue than just discomfort and pain. This can result in engorged breast, mastitis, infection, or thrush. Daily gentle care of your nipples in important to minimize discomfort and risks of these issues. Rinse your nipples daily with warm water during your bath or shower and avoid using soaps and washes as they will dry out the sensitive areola and nipple skin.
During the onset of breastfeeding your mammary glands will begin to secrete an oil that will help keep the nipples lubricated. Do not wipe it away. Instead, leave it to be absorbed back into the area. After breastfeeding, express a few drops of your breastmilk and gently massage it into the area. The soothing, antimicrobial properties will help heal the nipple.
If your milk ducts become clogged, use a warm compress or soak your breast in a lavender tea and Epsom salt soak to release the plugged duct. Although it may be uncomfortable, frequent feeding will help to open up ducts and release pressure. This is important to prevent an infection such as mastitis.
Lubricating the nipples with lanolin or coconut oil after feeding is beneficial - or find an herbal-based nipple cream containing soothing ingredients like calendula and aloe vera.
Also, try to avoid “rubber nipples”, which can lead to nipple confusion/rubber nipple preference. During feeding, make sure baby is latching onto the area around the nipple as well, not just the nipple. This will distribute the sucking and take unneeded pressure off the nipple.
Remember to alternate breasts as well. You or baby may get used to one specific side for various reasons, but altering is essential in relieving pressure and supporting continuous production. Pumping during feeding or away time from your little one is also essential in increasing milk production.
Make sure you and your baby are both comfortable. Use pillows and blankets to create a comfortable space so that you and baby can both calmly ease into the experience. Have water on hand for yourself and anything else you may need to avoid any disturbances.
This is a wonderful bonding time so remember to Enjoy it!
Our bodies have a natural instinct to provide breast milk for our children, and babies also have an instinctual nature to crawl up to our breast and latch on. As ideal as it sounds, things don’t always run as smoothly as we expect, so remember there is nothing wrong with asking for a help. Most hospital and birthing centers have lactation consultants on staff. They are there to assist you during your postpartum stay. You can often find someone to come to your home for help if needed as well.
Don’t feel discouraged or defeated if your milk doesn’t come in the right way. Whether this is your first birth, or you are an experienced mom, every experience is different and may need a helping hand.
Once you return home you can seek the support of a Postpartum Doula, each of whom are trained in breastfeeding support. Postpartum Doulas can also serve as a great support for you and your child by helping around the house, preparing meals, and giving you some downtime while they take care of the baby so that you can care of yourself.
Take advantage of the people in your life to support you at this time. Your partner, baby’s grandparents, other relatives & family friends will all be willing to help with the arrival of this new bundle of joy. Don’t try to do everything on your own and don’t be afraid to ask for help. A little direction is all you need to give to get the support you need. Remember, it takes a community to raise a child.
Like our birth plan, our parenting plan can often veer off course, and we need to be prepared to accept challenges that we may face. Be patient and forgiving of yourself and your baby if your feeding plans don’t go as you wanted.