It's cold and flu season, and one of the most common questions moms ask is: "Can I still breastfeed my baby while I'm sick?"
The short answer: Most definitely!
The beauty of breastfeeding is that the composition of breast milk can change from day to day. While your body is busy building antibodies to fight off whatever illness you catch, your baby benefits by consuming those antibodies, which will act as a protective feature to their immune system. When my youngest son was breastfeeding, my older son came home with a nasty case of the stomach bug, which he promptly passed along to me. The only one who was safe from any symptoms was the baby who continued to breastfeed throughout.
With some severe illnesses, like the flu, limiting your baby's exposure to sick contacts is important, but you are still encouraged to breastfeed if you do not have a healthy partner who can give your baby expressed breast milk, or if you are unable to pump.
What about medications? Most antibiotics and antiviral meds (for the flu) are safe to take while breastfeeding. Like with all new medications, let your physician know you are breastfeeding so that they can prescribe the right medication for you.
And of course, prevention is key: Wash your hands frequently and continue to eat a well-balanced diet to stay healthy!
The holiday season--the most wonderful time of the year? It sure can be, but for breastfeeding moms, it can add an extra element of stress. With traveling, family visits, and parties, keeping a breastfeeding schedule can pose to be challenging. Here are some tips to help you survive the holidays while breastfeeding.
* Feed baby before you arrive, if possible. While we know babies work on their own schedule, if you can feed baby before you go to the party, it may buy you a couple hours of stress-free (or lower-stress) mingling without worrying about finding a comfy spot to nurse...or trying to pry away your adorable little one from Aunt Betty.
* Choose the non-alcoholic eggnog. A glass of wine or a beer is okay for most nursing moms, but make the majority of your festive drink choices non-alcoholic because some alcohol can transfer through your breast milk.
* Plan to stop. Your road trips may take a little longer, but planning to stop at regular intervals based on baby's normal feeding schedule will help make the journey smoother.
* Bring snacks and water. Nursing can make you hungry and thirsty, and keeping well-nourished and hydrated is crucial to making milk for baby. Keep some portable snacks and water bottles on hand.
* Pump. If you plan to feed baby by a bottle while you're on the road, be sure to bring either a hand pump or an electric pump with a car charger.
* Nurse during take-off and landing. On flights, the pressure change that happens during take-off and landing can pop baby's ears, just like it does yours. Breastfeeding during these times will not only soothe baby but also encourage him to swallow, which will reduce the chance of the uncomfortable ear pop.
* Follow baby's lead. While away from home, continue to nurse on baby's normal schedule. When the crib and other surroundings may be unfamiliar, mama's milk is a source of normalcy and comfort.
* Dress accordingly. Plan ahead for temperature changes. Pack extra swaddling blankets and appropriate winter gear. Expect that the place you are staying may not have the same ideas about ideal thermostat temperatures as you do at home.
* Have fun! Babies can sense mama's stress. This is your vacation, so enjoy it. After all, it's the most wonderful time of the year.
Okay, so maybe not boobs specifically, but making a plan with your boss before going out on maternity leave can make the transition back to work while sustaining breastfeeding much easier. The conversation may be uncomfortable and awkward for some women, especially if their boss is a male, but breastfeeding is natural and healthy, and you are legally protected to express milk at your place of employment.
After the birth of my first son, I was not given a private room to pump during the day—I expressed milk 2-3 times per work day in the corner of my cubicle. I did not have a conversation with my boss about pumping at work, and quite frankly, I’m not even sure he knew I was breastfeeding. (We did not share an office space). However, if I had, I may have been able to have a more comfortable experience returning to work and continuing to breastfeed.
So, how do you ask for breastfeeding support at work? Start the conversation during pregnancy. Things to discuss:
Latching problems, pain, perceived or real poor milk supply--all of these are reasons many women give for stopping breastfeeding, but one of the number top reasons for breastfeeding cessation, especially with preterm infants, is: ANXIETY.
First time breastfeeding moms enter into the journey of nursing their babies without practice, and in some cases, without much guidance. Making sure baby is meeting his nutrient needs is a common concern for new moms who are breastfeeding, where exact amounts of milk consumed are difficult to determine. Hormonal levels of oxytocin and cortisol may also play a role in increased anxiety post-partum.
So, how can you tackle anxiety issues with breastfeeding?
* Education: Breastfeeding classes before birth can help ease some moms' worries by taking a bit of the unknown out of the equation. Lactation consultants before and after birth can also reassure new moms that they are doing it right!
* Distraction: For moms who get anxiety during pumping sessions, watching each drop of milk drip into the bottle, staying focused on something other than the pump may not only help improve milk supply, but also decrease anxiety. Reading a book, watching tv, or even covering the pump with a blanket, may help reduce anxiety.
* Reassurance: Surround yourself with a support network who can help you both physically and emotionally. Whether it is taking on a household chore so that you can relax and focus on breastfeeding, or offering words of encouragement, a good support system of family, friends, or community, can take unnecessary stress out of breastfeeding.
You're doing great, mom!
When I breastfed my youngest son, he had a hard time adjusting to taking a bottle of expressed milk while I was at work. Nonetheless, I locked myself away in my office every 3 hours to pump while I was separated from him, accumulating a huge supply of milk that my son would barely touch while he was at daycare. Naturally, he would cluster feed ALL night long to make up for taking so little during the day, so I had sleepless nights for a very long time. And I also ended up with a freezer of untouched breast milk.
So, what can you do with extra breast milk? Don't let that liquid gold go to waste. Let's talk some basics:
1) Milk will keep in a deep freezer for up to 12 months, so even after you have weaned, you can continue to use up your supply by supplementing baby's diet with it.
2) Frozen milk should be stored in quantities that baby will take at one feeding--generally 2-4 ounces is a good amount. This helps minimize waste.
3) Once milk has been thawed, it is best to use it within 24 hours.
While Google has pages upon pages of suggestions about what to do with extra breast milk, such as turning it into soap or lotion, breast milk donation is an important option.
Mother's milk banks provide breast milk to babies who have been born prematurely, or are ill. The process is simple, yet can sometimes be a bit time-consuming. Donating mothers will usually be interviewed, either by phone and/or written questionnaire, determining their eligibility. Donating mothers must be:
* in general good health
* not on any medications or herbal supplements (with some exceptions, which vary by donation bank)
* non-smokers, non-drug users
* be willing to undergo a blood test (to check for any diseases, including HIV and hepatitis), which is paid for by the bank
* be willing to donate a minimum amount of breast milk (which is usually about 100 ounces)
After you've passed the simple screening process, the bank will send you an ice-packed, self-addressed cooler, with the shipping paid in full. All you have to do is fill it up, schedule pick-up, and send it on its way. And then...congratulations, you've just helped lots of babies receive the gift of optimum nutrition.
Almost 700 ounces later, WakeMed Mother's Milk Bank in North Carolina received several shipments of breast milk from me.
Human Milk Banking Association of North America can provide you with further details and the closest milk banks for breast milk donation. https://www.hmbana.org/locations
Your lactation consultant can also help you through the process.
* Some moms who have lost babies shortly after birth, continue to produce milk. For many of these mothers, the process of drying up their milk supply is part of the grieving process. For other mothers, they find comfort in producing milk to help other sick babies. Milk donation may be a therapeutic option for these moms. A lactation consultant can help with either of these scenarios.
As any breastfeeding mom who has come down with a case of mastitis can tell you, the painful breast infection can make nursing extremely uncomfortable. Symptoms may include pain, redness, fever, and chills. Add those to the exhaustion of sleepless nights to begin with, and mastitis can make for some pretty miserable days. Treatment is usually done with antibiotics. Warm compresses and continued breastfeeding on the infected side can also help relieve some of the pain and shorten the duration of the infection.
But one study out of Spain has looked at the prevention of mastitis, and it starts before the baby is even born. Mothers starting around 30 weeks pregnant were given the probiotic Lactobacillus salivarius PS2 daily. Compared to the control group of women not receiving any probiotic supplements, the L. salivarius PS2 group had significantly lower rates of mastitis after delivering.
Clearly, more research may need to be done on this topic, but it's an interesting possibility to start preventative care when it comes to mastitis in the breastfeeding mom before baby even arrives!
Would you consider taking probiotics during pregnancy if you thought it could help prevent mastitis after?
Whether you're planning to go back to work and need to start stocking up on a milk supply, trying to increase your milk supply, or baby can't breastfeed directly, many breastfeeding moms will use a breast pump at one point or another. So how do you know which pump is best for you? Here are some things to take into consideration:
1. How often do you plan to use it?
For occasional use, a manual pump works in a pinch to help relieve engorgement before a feeding, for use when traveling and you may not have access to electricity, or for pumping quite infrequently. Small, motorized pumps can also be used for the occasional pumping, such as for missing a feeding once a day.
For frequent pumping, it is really worth it to spend a little extra money to invest in a good, electric pump. Luckily, the Affordable Care Act allows moms to receive free or low cost breastfeeding supplies, including pumps. Check with your insurance company about what pumps are included. Moms can also rent hospital-grade electric pumps.
2. Breast size.
Choose a pump that fits you well. Most pump flanges (the part you put on your breast that your nipple fits into) come with a standard 24 mm size, and for many moms, this size works just fine. If your nipple rubs along the walls of the flange, you probably have a size too small. If too much of your areola is being sucked into the flange, you probably have a size too large. Medela has a great visual to gauge the correct size:
One of the most common concerns among breastfeeding moms is the fear that they are not producing enough milk for their babies. To preface, babies’ bellies are very tiny—only about the size of a cherry at Day 1, a ping pong ball by Day 3 and a chicken egg by the first month—so it doesn’t take much to fill them up. This is also why frequency of feeding is important. Most mothers are naturally capable of producing adequate milk to nourish their babies exclusively by breastfeeding. But how can you help ensure your milk supply meets baby’s needs?
Below is a link to an article I wrote about challenges breastfeeding mothers face when returning back to work. Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act has reduced some of the obstacles.
Published in Today's Dietitian, 2010. Vol. 12, No. 5
Available at: http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/050310p32.shtml
Contact me for more information about transitioning back to work without having to give up breastfeeding.