Breastfeeding and Babies:  A Timeless Combination

Breastfeeding and Babies: A Timeless Combination

Article provided by La Leche League of Western PA

Modern parenting comes with an exhaustive menu of options, from choices about how we diaper and clothe our children, to decisions about toys and technology, carriers and car seats, to possibilities for pregnancy classes and child rearing strategies.  Confronted with a deluge of decisions, you may find it comforting to consider that from the stone age to the era of the supercomputer, babies themselves and the optimal way to feed them have not changed. Compared to the pace of technological and societal development, biology is timeless! 

What’s more, science has not been able replicate human milk and, given how its properties can adapt in response to the needs of a specific child, no commercial product is ever likely to do so. A human milk diet, enhanced even further if a baby is able to nurse directly, supports our children in reaching their health potential and reduces the incidence of a wide range of illnesses from simple ear infections to more frightening events such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and leukemia, to name just a few examples.  When it comes to medically fragile infants, such as babies born prematurely, human milk is considered a life saving medicine. Many are surprised to learn that the health advantages of nursing extend to the nursing parent and are also numerous, including lower rates of breast and ovarian cancer as well as better cardiac health.  

Given that breastfeeding is the baby feeding option with which our species successfully evolved and spread, one would think that getting nursing started as a new parent should be pretty straightforward.  And for some, this is certainly the case! While the biology has stayed relatively constant, however, many of the advances of today’s world, such as birth interventions and the confusing weight of masses of sometimes conflicting information, can contribute to challenges with feeding babies.  The technology and innovation related to this crucial parenting goal certainly isn’t all bad, and sometimes accessing modern options such as special feeding tools or the temporary use of donor human milk or formula will be the key to achieving feeding goals. What’s more, we are lucky to have many resources here in Pittsburgh to provide support if bumpy breastfeeding beginnings occur.  All of our hospitals and many pediatricians employ lactation consultants (IBCLCs) who provide education and hands-on support. Many excellent community-based breastfeeding support programs exist in our region as well.

So, how should a modern parent prepare for feeding their stone age baby? Thankfully, there is a timeless resource that serves this need and that still exists today: observing and interacting with other parents. In fact, some of the same breastfeeding support programs that many parents turn to after a baby is born can already prove helpful before a baby arrives.   Ask an expecting parent to describe what their new baby will be like, and they often depict a much older child. The opportunity to spend time watching babies of all ages interact with their parents and to participate in a forum for shared experiences and resources provides a foundation that cannot be found in technology or today’s popular online interactions. Attending a peer-to-peer breastfeeding support meeting before your baby is born and continuing to do so beyond can be an invaluable resource in navigating parenting and reaching feeding goals.

La Leche League International (LLLI) is one such breastfeeding support group that welcomes parents throughout Western Pennsylvania and around the world.  With no expectations that there is one right way to parent a child, La Leche League invites families who are interested in nurturing their babies with human milk and / or through nursing to share their own experiences.  Possibly exposed to new options, participants are encouraged to try what feels like a good fit for their family and leave the rest behind. This is an opportunity to ask questions, share challenges, make new friends, and be a support to somebody else.  Meetings are led by accredited volunteers who facilitate conversation and provide evidenced based information. These gatherings are always free of charge; you can find your local meeting here: or call 412-256-8850.

Looking for some tips to get breastfeeding off to a good start?  Here are a few basic steps:  

  1. Learn about breastfeeding approaches and management, as well as infant development, by attending a prenatal breastfeeding class.  Such classes will teach you about breastfeeding positions, latch and how to know your baby is obtaining plenty of milk to grow on.  Seek out community support groups such as La Leche League for the opportunity to interact with other parents and learn options that worked for them. 
  2. If medically stable, plan to spend at least the first hour after birth skin-to-skin with your new arrival.  Not only does this awaken feeding and latching instincts in your baby, resting close to a parent’s chest helps to stabilize temperature and ease the transition to the new environment.  If necessary, baby can also spend time skin-to-skin with another family member.
  3. Encourage baby to initiate a first feeding during this time.  If you need to be separated from your baby due to a medical concern, ask the lactation consultant (IBCLC) and your birth facility for assistance in initiating milk expression in the first hours and how to provide baby with breastmilk through a different means.
  4. Feed early and frequently.  While baby may be sleepy in the first day after birth, we expect them to soon need frequent meals – often around 10-12 times in 24 hours.
  5. When baby is nursing, consider what optimal latch and positioning often looks like:  baby will have a wide open mouth with chin pressing on the breast and lips flanged against the breast tissue.  Baby’s neck is somewhat extended and their ear, hip, and shoulder are in a straight line with an arm on either side of the breast.
  6. As baby feeds, watch for swallows and encourage the meal to continue by using breast massage.  When baby is not swallowing regularly or responding to stimulation, offer the second breast.
  7. If you are experiencing any pain with nursing or have difficulty keeping your baby alert enough to feed actively for at least 8 meals a day, contact your pediatrician and a lactation consultant (IBCLC) for further support.  Stay in touch with your baby’s medical team for regular weight checks and well-child checks.
  8. Continue to access community resources, such as La Leche League, for learning opportunities, social interactions, and the chance to help other parents on their breastfeeding journey.

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