The Do’s and Don’ts of Chestfeeding

Chest feeding and Breastfeeding

So you’ve decided you want to chestfeed your baby. Congratulations! Feeding your baby from your body can be a beautiful symbiotic relationship between parent and child, and a wonderful way to both feed your baby and nurture your bond. Many people recall their time spent nursing a baby with great reverence and joy, while others recall the journey being characterized with difficulties and uncertainty. 

Naturally, expectant parents want to know how to prepare themselves to experience more of the joys and less difficulties. I’m sure you’ve heard the common platitudes at this point, that human milk is a “liquid gold,” and to “never quit on your worst day” so I won’t repeat those sentiments. Instead, I’d like to share with you some of my biggest takeaways from a decade of supporting lactating parents in finding enjoyment in their feeding journeys. 

Avoid Negative Narratives about Chestfeeding

DON’T listen to negative or outdated opinions about chestfeeding, or people who “doom share” horror stories, giving you negative narratives when you share about your plans to breastfeed. I know your friends and family members mean well, and are just passing along the information they were given, or a scary or hard experience they’ve heard about or been through. They probably want to help you avoid those same difficulties. Many of those in our parents’ generation raised their children in a time where formula was heavily marketed not only to parents and caregivers, but also health care providers, as a superior alternative to human milk. We know today that is categorically untrue, and that while formula is a perfectly safe and acceptable way to feed your baby, it is absolutely not superior to human milk. When all else fails, changing the subject is always a good strategy and a simple “I’m not looking for any advice on this at this time” is quite effective at shutting down unwanted input. 

Hydration and Nutrition: 2 Keys for Effective Chestfeeding

DO stay hydrated and eat plenty of nutrient dense meals and snacks. You might find that you feel constantly hungry while you are nursing your baby. That is because your body is working hard to make milk for your little one, and as such, burning more calories. Chestfeeding is the true “eating for two” as you need more extra calories in your diet to breastfeed than you do even during pregnancy, according to the CDC. The average person will need an extra 330 to 400 calories a day while chestfeeding, though your provider might recommend more than that if you are underweight, feeding multiple babies, or facing nutritional or weight gain struggles. Preparing nutritious, easy to grab snacks for a lactating parent is a great way for a non-lactating parent to support your lactation goals. This can also be a great task to assign to a grandparent, auntie, or your daytime doula!

Seek Chestfeeding Support When You Need It

DON’T delay getting help and support with your chestfeeding journey. Chestfeeding is new to you and to the baby, and learning new skills is hard work! Utilizing support is a great way to get on the right track early on, and troubleshoot any issues that arise. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that professional help is only for those experiencing significant difficulty with chestfeeding, or that your concerns are not serious enough. An IBCLC or lactation counselor can help evaluate and support many issues, including things like over or under supply, engorgement, pumping difficulties, latch issues, and other concerns. They can also provide reassurance that your baby’s latch looks great, the changes in your nipples and breasts are normal, and the sensations you feel during let down sound typical. Sometimes that peace of mind alone is worth the price of admission. Many IBCLCs are covered by health insurance, and some will even come to you at home! Don’t know where to find an IBCLC? Reach out to your doula team! We are happy to make referrals and share the scoop on the best lactation professionals around!

Trust Your Chestfeeding Intuition and Decisions

DO trust yourself and your baby to figure this out together! I’ve said it before and I will say it again, chestfeeding is a confidence game. I’m sure you’ve heard from many people how natural and wonderful chestfeeding is, and hopefully you’ve heard plenty of stories from people who loved their chestfeeding relationship and the bonding they experienced while nursing a baby. Maybe you even heard so many good things that you were a bit surprised to find that it wasn’t nearly as magical or natural as you imagined, especially at first. Don’t panic! I promise that it’s very normal to encounter some difficulties and experience a learning curve while learning to feed your baby. As with any new skill, you will get better with practice and grow more confident as you learn your own preferences and strategies for feeding. Even if you’ve struggled to chestfeed a baby in the past, you need not rule out the possibility of chestfeeding subsequent children. A different baby comes with a different feeding journey and you can absolutely have a different outcome, especially when equipped with the right information, a willingness to adapt as necessary, and the right support by your side. 

Travel Your Own Chestfeeding Journey

DON’T compare your chestfeeding journey to others. Two people can utilize the exact same methods to build and maintain a milk supply, encourage their baby to latch and remove milk effectively and ensure the baby is having enough feedings and diapers daily, and still have vastly different outcomes. Comparison is the ultimate thief of joy. It only feels like this is so easy for everyone else when you look at everyone else’s highlights against your own difficulties. I can tell you definitively, your worth can not be measured in the ounces of milk you can pump or the number of months you can feed your baby exclusively. It’s okay to put the pump away and spend some time snuggling with your baby if you feel dread every time you see it. Combo feeding is a valid and wonderful way to feed your baby. The perfect way to feed your baby is the one that’s working well physically, mentally, and emotionally for both baby and caregiver. While it’s normal to experience highs and lows on your chestfeeding journey, if you are finding that you feel weepy or hopeless about your chestfeeding endeavor, or get intense negative feelings every time you are feeding, please consult your provider right away to help you get to the bottom of it. There are some very real mental health conditions that can be associated with chestfeeding, and while they are not exceedingly common, they can become very serious sometimes. Your baby needs you here and healthy above all else, and chestfeeding has to be working for everyone in order for it to continue to be the best way to feed your baby.   

Turn Chestfeeding Challenges into New Solutions

DO stay willing to modify your plans where needed, and know that any amount of your milk that you provide for your baby is beneficial. Even in small amounts, your milk has important antibodies and benefits to your baby. Recent research has shown that even a few ounces of human milk a day provides your baby with tens of thousands of important antibodies, protecting their growing immune system. Chestfeeding can come with challenges at times, and sometimes you may need to alter your original plans. There are many, many “right” and wonderful ways to give your baby human milk, and it does not have to be an all or nothing thing. Many babies take both formula and human milk, use bottles and directly feed from the breast, and some families even utilize human donor milk. Figuring out what works best for you, your baby, and your family IS the best way. 

Looking for ongoing support? Reach out to us at Happy Family After. Our postpartum doulas can offer nursing and lactation support to assist you on your chestfeeding journey.