What Do You Really Need to Breastfeed Successfully?
By Kelly Burgess
Cindy Curtis tells moms that all they need to breastfeed is just one breast—everything else is a bonus. She developed that philosophy a few years ago when she worked with a woman who had given birth after a bout with breast cancer. The woman went on to nurse her child for a year.
However, Curtis, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and administrator of Breastfeeding Online is quick to add that, if you have the money, other products can be very nice. Although when she was nursing she never felt the need for any special nursing products, she does admit that she recommends a book, The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers by Dr. Jack Newman, to all her new mothers.
Pillows, Pads, and Pumps
What about the breastfeeding support pillows you will find at most large retailers? “There are different kinds of nursing pillows,” says Curtis. “I think the comfort level depends upon where you nurse the baby and how you’re built.” Many mothers may do just as well to pile pillows around them or sit in a chair with higher, padded arms. Curtis’s concern when talking about products for breastfeeding is that breastfeeding might be seen as too complicated or expensive for the average mother.
Wendy Shore, IBCLC, the director of the Lactation Resource Center at Memorial Hospital in York, Pennsylvania, agrees. “I’m all for any product that makes breastfeeding a little easier, but I don’t want anyone to think they need that product to feed their child,” she says. “As it is, it’s so rare to see mothers breastfeeding around the community, and until we get to that point, many women will never feel truly comfortable breastfeeding. Why make it any more difficult?”
Personally, I liked breast pads when I was nursing my children because they were much more absorbent than handkerchiefs and much smoother looking under clothes than folded washcloths.
Curtis is all for breast pads because they’re rather inexpensive. She and Shore also always recommend a pump—especially for working mothers. However, the type of pump will depend upon how much you depend upon it. If you’re only going to pump once a week so that you and your hubby can get out without the baby, you’ll need a far simpler model than a mother who is going back to work full time.
It’s All Inside Out
What you really need to breastfeed your baby—beyond the breast of course—all comes from inside. Taking care of yourself gives you the time, energy and good health to give the baby what he or she needs. However, even nutritional guidelines are changing and relaxing from some years ago.
“While stress may affect your milk supply, diet is about the last thing that will affect it,” says Curtis. “Look at moms in third world countries—they eat rice and beans and halfway clean water. Those moms don’t eat much, but the average age of weaning is 4.2 years, and that’s when the kids get sick—when they stop nursing.”
However, this is not permission to eat unhealthy foods. It’s just a point that both Curtis and Shore like to make: Nursing shouldn’t have any more restrictions placed on it than there already are. What a mother needs to focus on is eating a good, well-rounded diet with sweets and caffeine in moderation, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding stress as much as possible.
As for water, while for years moms were told to drink eight, 8- to 10-ounce glasses per day, newer guidelines merely suggest drinking water when you’re thirsty. “Most breastfeeding moms I see are plenty thirsty, and I’ve never had to worry about urging anyone to drink more water,” says Curtis.
While you don’t actually need anything other than a breast to breastfeed, other things are awfully nice. Like my attachment to breast pads, when Amy Cobbley of Houston, Texas, was pregnant, she began using lanolin cream and credits it with saving her a lot of discomfort.
“I started using lanolin cream when I was about 7 or 8 months pregnant,” she says. “I would put it on after my shower at night because I had heard that it would help prevent cracking and soreness. It was a lifesaver for me—I even used it after each nursing after Kayla was born.”
Special nursing clothes can make nursing in public more discreet and comfortable. Just be sure to find clothing with big enough slits, so it’s not too difficult for the baby to latch on. Nursing bras are nice—particularly for larger-breasted women—because pulling up a regular bra may cause the elastic to cut into your upper chest. Your pre-pregnancy bras will probably be too small anyway. When you need a bigger size in pregnancy, you may as well invest in nursing bras.
What is critical is to have resources at hand before the baby is born. Look up the numbers for your local La Leche League International and check to see if your hospital, obstetrician or pediatrician has an IBCLC on staff. These professionals can help answer questions about breastfeeding before the baby is even born and can make the difference between success and failure afterward.