The basics of breastfeeding have been covered in numerous other websites and books, so I am not going to repeat them here, but I will make things a little easier for you by mentioning some items that are especially important to know as a military mother. If you need information on how to deal with mastitis or engorgement see the Common Concerns page, if you need photos or a video on how-to latch your baby, please see the Websites section for links to the best resources on the Web. This page discusses the importance of education, support and gives you some basic tips to help you and your baby get off to great beginning with breastfeeding while you are on convalescent leave.
Basically all the preparation that is necessary for successful breastfeeding is to learn as much about it as possible before the baby is born (and afterwards too). One of the first things to do is buy a copy of Breastfeeding in Combat Boots…it is a good primer that covers all the basics: from how milk is made to weaning, along with latch/positioning, and other common concerns. But in addition to a good book you really should attend a breastfeeding class or series of classes (if at all possible) BEFORE your baby is born. Attending a breastfeeding class given by the military hospital or another community resource is not only very informative but you may meet fellow active duty mothers who are planning to breastfeed as well. Most military hospitals and community resources offer a Basics of Breastfeeding and a Return to Work class and often many Family Advocacy or New Parent Support programs on base will have a breastfeeding class as well (See Resources). You will hear accurate information from a professional (see Choosing Your Breastfeeding Helper for more information on choosing a breastfeeding helper). You’ll learn the basics of a good latch, feeding cues, what to look for if things are wrong and basic pumping info. A class will give you the building blocks you need to get started and as well as contact information on LCs, pump rentals and other resources in your area. Of course, watching videos or browsing websites are other ways of educating yourself, either in addition to attending a class or in place of one due to there not being any classes near to you. While educating yourself doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have a smooth breastfeeding experience, it does reduce the chances of breastfeeding problems and lets you be aware of what to look for ahead of time.
Finding support for breastfeeding is probably one of the best things you can do to be successful at breastfeeding. It is never too early in your pregnancy or too late after your baby is born to attend a support group meeting, or talk with a co-worker who is currently nursing. Support group meetings such as those run by La Leche League or the Mom 2 Mom breastfeeding groups are invaluable not only for the information and support they offer, but also because you can talk to currently breastfeeding mothers (sometimes even other AD breastfeeding mothers). Attending meetings while you are pregnant gives you the chance to ask questions and actually ‘see’ women breastfeeding babies of various ages. Support also means finding other mothers, especially active duty mothers, who have successfully breastfed and talking with them about what worked and what didn’t so you’ll be prepared. Find out who the IBCLC is at the military hospital or find one out in town for any problems that require extra help (go to Find a LC for a listing by zip code). Having the name and number of a good friend or co-worker, a LLL Leader, and an IBCLC to call when things are rough at 3 am can be a lifeline!
Once you are home with your baby you can do lots of skin-to-skin which means holding your naked (or diapered only) baby against your bare chest. This allows you both to bond, increases your milk-making hormones, and teaches your baby his first lessons in breastfeeding. Many times, when being held between his mother’s breasts, a baby will bob and weave and search out the nipple on his own. Fathers too can practice skin-to-skin; babies love the deep rumble of a male voice and the feel of chest hair. Skin-to-skin isn’t just for the first few weeks, it has benefits well past the newborn stage. Here is a wonderful article with more information on the practice of doing skin-to-skin with your baby.
While practicing skin-to-skin you are given the perfect opportunity to learn about the feeding cues your baby is giving you. Some cues to look for include:
- rapid eye movement
- rousing from sleep
- smacking or licking his lips
- sticking his tongue out
- bringing his fists to his face
- head turning
- rooting on anything nearby
These cues or signs can be very subtle but they let you know he is hungry. Don’t wait for him to cry, crying is a late sign of hunger, feed your baby at the first signs of hunger. While it is important to watch your baby for feeding cues, you should NOT watch the clock! Instead listen to your body and that of your baby to help determine if he is getting enough. One rule-of-thumb you can use is that your baby needs to breastfeed at least 8-12 times in 24 hours to bring in and maintain your milk supply.
Speaking of milk supply, your breasts work on a demand and supply type of operation. In order for you to maintain a good milk supply you have to remove the milk in your breasts on a regular basis. Like a production line, the more milk that is sold and shipped out of the factory, the more milk the factory makes. Keep this simple thought in mind: You must remove milk to make milk!!
Signs to look for to know if your baby is getting enough include: your baby will be alert, content and gaining weight at a steady rate. He should be waking up to nurse on his own about every two to three hours (at least 8-12 times) in 24 hours. His eyes should remain open while nursing and he will come off the breast by himself and you might see milk pooling in his mouth or dribbling down his chin. He will become drowsy and full and your breasts feel softer and lighter at the end of each feeding. His little fists will unclench and hang loosely at his sides and he will act satisfied between feedings. While it is normal for breastfed babies to lose a few ounces in the first few days (no more than 10%) they should be back up to birth weight by 10 days, and continue gaining weight (about 4-7 ounces a week) after that.
The most reliable sign that he is getting enough to eat are his diapers…what goes in must come out! During the first few days, before your milk comes in he should have 1 dirty diaper for each day of life (Day1=1 poop, Day 2=2 poops, etc.). By the fourth or fifth day your baby should have 6-8 wet diapers every 24 hours and the urine should be a pale or clear color. (You may want to put a strip of toilet paper or a liner inside a disposable diaper to tell if it is wet). Your baby’s stools should have changed from black and tarry to green to a seedy yellow color. He should have 2-5 stools every 24 hours after your milk has come in. Some babies poop and pee every time they eat and others save it up for a few large deposits. If you are NOT seeing these signs, please find a LLL Leader or IBCLC as soon as possible!