4 Crucial Steps in your Nursing Relationship

Aug 01, 2018

I love nursing.

Nursing is probably one of my favorite parts of baby (yeah, I know that's not real English - but you know what I mean ?). The way they hum, the way they look up at you, laugh while they’re eating… yum.

And I’m proud (and grateful!) of the fact that my 10 mo old hasn’t tasted a drop of formula in his life - because, much like many other mothers I know, nursing isn’t something that was easy for me.

With my twins they were - well, twins. And slightly early. Which meant trying to boost my supply while they were not really interested in doing anything except sleeping. 

My third (the now-10-month-old) was born with a tongue tie, which also caused him to have an extraordinarily high palette, which meant ineffective (and uncomfortable) latch, and a looooong nursing session even as he reached 3-4 months. 

[NOTE: At the time that I wrote this post, I’d not yet learned everything that I now know about tongue tie, and did not truly realize how much it was impacting his nursing -- or that there was something I could do about it!)

For some mothers, it’s something that comes easily and naturally, but for most mothers that I talk to, nursing comes with its challenges and questions: what’s the best way to get started?  When do I introduce solids? How and when do I wean? What if it isn’t working?

So I’ve boiled all the basic info (key word: basic! This is by no means an exhaustive step-by-step direction) into the four crucial steps in your nursing relationship:

Build

Maintain

Supplement

Wean

(And yes - they are all crucial — so hang in there with me!)

 

Build

The first days, weeks and months of your baby’s life are usually the hardest in the nursing relationship. Teaching a newborn how to nurse — and sometimes learning from scratch yourself - is rarely an easy task.

Your nursing relationship starts the second your baby is born - yes, really: that second. 

Ideally, when your baby is born, she should be placed directly on you and have uninterrupted skin to skin time until she spontaneously latches. (This usually takes about an hour, but may be longer if you had an epidural.)

Over the next few days and weeks, on top of recovering from birth (both of you), getting used to the world (your baby), and figuring out this new baby (you), you’re both going to be finding your places and figuring out your techniques in the nursing arena. What works, what doesn’t? What position does she latch best in? Does it hurt when she latches (it shouldn’t!)? Is she gaining enough?

During the building phase, most babies will need to nurse 8-12 times every 24 hours. (Note: that does not translate into “nursing every 2-3 hours”. Can I repeat that? Nursing 8-12 times every 24 hours does not mean your baby needs to nurse every 2-3 hours. Sometimes it’ll be every hour; sometimes every hour and a half. And sometimes after 5 hours. That’s all normal.)

This is a great time to reach out to a good Lactation Consultant if you have any questions or concerns about nursing.

 

Maintain

Once you’ve really established that relationship - your supply is steady, you and your baby have figured out the what and how and he’s able to transfer milk effectively - celebrate! But don’t slack off quite yet.

Your baby is still little and will still need to eat those same 8-12 times every 24 hours. Continue with the equilibrium you discovered in the Build phase and keep going!

 

Supplement

Yep - ya heard me. Supplementing is an integral part of your breastfeeding relationship.

Confused? 

Well, you didn’t ask what you’re supplementing WITH; that’s why you’re confused ;)

When your baby is about 6 months old, she’ll be ready for you to begin introducing some supplemental nutrition (that’s the fancy lingo for what we know as solid foods)

And yes - this is an important part of the breastfeeding relationship — because your baby isn’t going to be nursing forever, right?

When you begin introducing solids, you should still be nursing your baby that same ~8 times every 24 hours, but, as you hit  about 9 months and your baby starts eating more, you’ll find your baby nursing less and eating more — and that’s fine.

By the time your baby is 12 months old, her main source of nutrition should be solids - but if you both want to keep nursing, by all means, do so! Nursing is always good for your baby, even once that turns in to her supplemental source of nutrition.

 

Wean

Choosing when to wean is something that’s very personal and specific. Maybe you’ll nurse until you’re expecting your next. Maybe you’ll wait till you’re a few months into your pregnancy before you wean. 

Or maybe you’ll wean when your baby is 12 months and can rely on solids as nutrition. 

Or perhaps you aren’t able to nurse until 12 months and you’ll be weaning before then.

I’m not going to tell you when to wean, but I would recommend NOT weaning during any major transition period - starting a new babysitter or playgroup, learning new sleep skills, moving to a new house, vacation, Yom Tov, etc. 

All these are hard for your baby, and taking away nursing at the same time as another major transition just isn’t fair. If you can plan ahead, you might find it easier to wean first, but it may be helpful for your baby or toddler to have the comfort of nursing while going through the transition and then weaning after.

When weaning, slow and steady is the way to go. If your baby doesn’t drop feeds spontaneously, start by pulling the ones that he cares about least - usually the middle of the day feeds - one at a time, and then slowly drop the others. 

You can distract him with a sippy cup of water, going outside, playing a game or reading a book if he is used to nursing at a specific time of day.

 

At the end of the day, remember that every nursing relationship, every mother-baby pair (or dyad as they’re referred to in the LC world) will be different. This baby is different from the one before, and the next baby will be different than the one you have now.

Getting clear on your expectations, planning ahead, and reaching out for help or guidance when you feel stuck is the best way for you to meet your nursing goals.

Share any questions/comments you have about the four stages of nursing below!

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