On Your Health

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Overcoming Common Breastfeeding Obstacles

Throughout your pregnancy, you take special care to prepare for your baby’s arrival. You spend nine months taking birthing classes, building the perfect registry and organizing your nursery. Yet many new moms don’t prepare for breastfeeding. It seems like a natural thing, so it should come easy, right?

Unfortunately, natural instinct can only go so far. Three days after birth, 92 percent of new mothers said they struggled with breastfeeding.

As for Oklahomans, they lag behind the rest of the nation in breastfeeding rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, about 71 percent of Oklahoma babies have been breastfed, compared to about 79 percent nationwide. Oklahoma mothers are also less likely to breastfeed as time goes on: six months after birth, only about 38 percent of Oklahoma moms are still breastfeeding, compared to 49 percent nationwide.

We’ve asked Becky Drevets, an international board-certified lactation consultant at INTEGRIS Health Edmond Women’s Center, along with several moms in the INTEGRIS Milk Bar group, to talk us through some common obstacles of breastfeeding.

How do you help moms with latching problems?

Your baby’s latch is the number one cause for both low milk supply and nipple pain. Latching problems can be caused by many different variables; for instance, if your baby is tongue-tied or lip-tied, this can make it hard to latch properly.

“If a mother is having difficulty latching or experiencing severe nipple pain, it’s important to visit a lactation consultant and have them observe a feeding,” Drevets says. “This really helps us see exactly what is going on as the infant nurses.”

Moms can also schedule a private outpatient lactation appointment or attend one of the Milk Bars held at INTEGRIS facilities throughout the OKC metro area. “The Milk Bars are free, come-and-go events open to all pregnant or breastfeeding mothers regardless of where they delivered,” Drevets says.

What advice do you have for moms wondering about their milk supply?

Many mothers wonder if their baby is getting enough to eat. When you are exclusively breastfeeding, it’s hard to measure exactly how much milk your baby is consuming, causing mothers to sometimes feel they have a low milk supply when actually, their supply is just fine.

“There are several ways to know if your baby is getting enough to eat,” Drevets says. “One suggestion is to schedule an outpatient appointment or come to a Milk Bar and have pre- and post-feeding weights done. The amount your baby took at the breast can be calculated and you will have an actual number on how much baby drank.”

Also, notice how you baby is acting after a feeding. “If your baby is acting satisfied after a 30- to 45-minute feeding, is having an adequate amount of wet and poopy diapers (five or six diapers in a 24-hour period) and waking to feed at least eight times every 24 hours, the baby is probably getting enough to eat,” Drevets says.

Lastly, try weighing your baby periodically. “Monitoring your baby’s weight gain weekly during the first month or two can be very helpful and reassuring that breastfeeding is going well,” she says.

Any tips for heading back to work after maternity leave?

Many moms struggle with breastfeeding after returning to work. To keep up your milk supply, it’s important to speak with your supervisor about proper places to pump and figure out your pump schedule ahead of time. This makes the transition to work and pumping regularly much easier.

If you are pregnant and don’t have a pump yet, INTEGRIS provides a breast pump program to help you get your pump. The program walks you through two simple steps. First, to apply for your pump through your insurance provider, and second, to pick up your pump at the INTEGRIS medical supply or at several pharmacy locations in the Oklahoma metro area.

Here are more helpful tips about returning to work, straight from moms at the INTEGRIS Milk Bar.

  • Practice your pump schedule and set up before returning to work.
  • Take your full maternity leave if possible.
  • Find a caregiver who inspires confidence — this will help relieve stress when you leave your baby.
  • Don’t wait until the last couple of weeks before offering a bottle for the first time.
  • Offer a bottle sooner and try offering a bottle one to two times a week so the baby can get used to taking it.
  • You don’t need to have a freezer full of milk before returning to work, you need just enough for a day or two. You will continually replenish your supply while pumping at work.

Breastfeeding can be exhausting, how can spouses help?

Breastfeeding is slow and a lot of work. Don’t let yourself get frustrated and remember to always ask for help, especially from your partner. There are many small things a partner can do that will make a huge difference for breastfeeding moms. Below are some examples.

  • Snuggle, burp or change the baby’s diaper before feedings
  • Wash pump parts after each use
  • Provide encouragement and a listening ear
  • Get up with baby in-between feedings and allow mom to sleep a little longer
  • Make sure mom has enough water and snacks nearby
  • Be kind, even when mom is frustrated, irritable, emotional, hormonal or even a little mean
  • Be patient and affirming

two mothers breastfeed their babies at the park

Any tips for breastfeeding on-the-go or in public?

Breastfeeding for the first time in public can be a little nerve-racking and it may take a while to build up your confidence. But that’s okay. Do what you need to do to make yourself feel more comfortable.

“You can start by knowing your rights,” a mom from the Milk Bar says. “Oklahoma state law says you’re allowed to nurse, uncovered, anywhere that you and the baby are legally allowed to be.”

Some moms also recommend the two-shirt method, which is a tank top or spaghetti strap camisole under your shirt to cover your tummy. This helps expose only the breast, so you don’t feel vulnerable. Find a nursing cover you love, this will help you feel more confident to nurse while you’re on-the-go.

Seeing a lactation consultant for breastfeeding

The first few weeks of breastfeeding are the most difficult as both you and your baby are learning together. To start off with a solid foundation in breastfeeding, it is important to work with a lactation consultant, either during your pregnancy, at the hospital or directly after going home. This is especially important if you are experiencing any problems breastfeeding, or if you feel like something just isn’t right.

Lactation consultants can walk you through proper nursing positions, latching techniques, what to look for with a proper latch, how to express milk, proper feeding durations and more. By getting help from a lactation consultant or seeking out breastfeeding support groups, you can access the tools and information to make the journey of breastfeeding much easier.

Bonus tips from Milk Bar moms

  • It’s okay to ask for help. Seek support from lactation consultants, your partner and other family members.
  • Use your resources. This includes your obstetrician and pediatrician.
  • Learn more about breastfeeding during your pregnancy so you know what to expect. The American Pregnancy Association website is a good site for information.
  • Use the Oklahoma Breastfeeding Hotline, 1-877-271-MILK (6455), for any breastfeeding questions.
  • Set small breastfeeding goals for yourself. By setting short, obtainable goals in the beginning, you are more likely to gain confidence and stride to breastfeed for longer.

Lactation consultants are available throughout the INTEGRIS Women’s Health Network of Oklahoma. In addition to the INTEGRIS Milk Bar in Edmond, many of our facilities offer a number of free breastfeeding classes and support groups.

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