Make Your Breast-Feeding Experience Better From Start to Finish
Dr. Jennifer Dorn
As many moms discover with the birth of their first child, breastfeeding is not for the faint of heart. From swollen breasts to mastitis to latching issues, mothers quickly discover after the birth of their baby that the battle isn't over yet. Breastfeeding is a continuation of intrauterine life, and therefore, weaning is often seen as a second birth. However, just like labor, breastfeeding and weaning can be embraced as the beautiful experiences that they are with proper preparation before baby ever arrives.
Breastmilk and Pregnancy
Your body begins to produce an early form of breastmilk called colostrum as early as your second trimester and continues to do so until the first week postpartum. Colostrum is rich in essential building blocks for your baby's cells, such as protein and carbohydrates, as well as antibodies to help your baby begin to develop their immune system! When your body begins to produce colostrum, I recommend getting in contact with a lactation specialist so they can be with you every step of the way!
About a week after baby arrives, the body begins to produce mature breastmilk as baby's latching stimulates the mammary glands of the breast to produce milk. Most mothers know exactly when this step occurs, as the breasts tend to become engorged with increasing breastmilk levels. Starting breastfeeding as soon as possible allows for the best possible benefits for you and baby, as you can avoid swollen and painful breasts, and baby can reap the benefits of the nutrient-rich, immune-boosting breastmilk.
Baby & Breastmilk - The First Year
Doctors will emphasize many different milestones in your baby's first year, but often times breastfeeding's role in hitting these milestones is underemphasized. For one, mature breastmilk includes hindmilk, which has a higher percentage of fat aimed at helping your baby gain weight. In addition, a 2021 study found that babies who are exclusively breastfed had a "2.1 point difference in IQ" during their childhood when compared to babies who were exclusively fed formula. Even mothers who used both breastmilk and formula saw statistical differences in IQ. Never fret if your body isn't able to produce as much breastmilk as you had hoped - you can often times seek donor breast milk in your community and pump what you can. Locally in Boise there are a few groups; Eats for Feets, Human Milk 4 Human Babies - Idaho. Should you have to supplement with formula, I would recommend organic and dairy free.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that infants should be "exclusively breastfed" for the first 6 months of their life - why change the best "food" that nature provides us with? That being said, around 7 months, babies will start to show both physical and physiological signs that they are ready to branch out to solids. For example you may notice baby's tongue-thrust reflex has diminished, or that they don't spit out food they are offered.
In addition, babies will start to naturally explore different foods after they have developed their "palmar" grasp with their fingers and palm and "pincer" graps between their thumb and index finger. This is a key physiological developmental sign, as this newfound hand strength will allow them to transfer food from plate to mouth.
However, it is important to note that weaning is not the end of breastfeeding - it is merely the introduction and exploration of other foods.
Weaning and Solids and Foods, Oh My!
Weaning is the opportune time to set your child up for success in their dietary journey - after all, all they've known this far is breastmilk! This may seem overwhelming, but the easiest recommendation I could offer would be to let baby explore what your family already eats! Baby Lead Weaning (BLW) is a methodology of weaning that allows babies to use their own motor skills to eat small pieces of food off of your plate. Since your baby is developmentally ready to eat, there's no need to buy mushy baby food and struggle with the classic "here comes the airplane!"
Once baby is about 7-8 months and showing interest in your food, feel free to start giving baby food from your plate. It is important to note that in Baby Lead Weaning, babies are beginning to explore new foods, meaning that they aren't going to eat full-blown meals. Breastfeeding both before and after the introduction of food will allow them to be full while also expanding their palette, and what better place to start growing their "palette" than with the "RAINBOW" of fresh fruits and veggies. I recommend using fresh and local fruits and vegetables, and introducing them to your baby in order of lowest to highest glycemic index.
You may notice them putting the food in their mouth and suckling on them more than eating them, and that's totally okay! It may take a few tries for baby to like eating specific foods, so don't be discouraged if they don't immediately take to your family's favorite meal. Size-wise, start with potato-chip-sized foods and work your way down in size as they start to pick things up with their fingers as opposed to their whole hand.
Foods to Avoid
As much as sugar is delicious, I would highly recommend NOT starting with anything with processed sugar until your baby is about 2 years old. Sugar triggers a strong dopamine response in the brain as it triggers the brain's reward pathway, so feeding babies processed foods can create a preference for sweets as opposed to savory foods or fruits and veggies. Fruits, of course, are an exception to this rule, as naturally-occurring sugar is much easier for baby to break down and isn't found in excess amounts.
In addition, avoiding rice cereals or any processed cereals and replacing them with whole-grains has been found to significantly decrease the probability of childhood diabetes. Introducing whole grains after baby's first birthday allows for optimal nutrition and better carbohydrate sources as opposed to processed white flour which is stripped of bran and other nutrients.
As far as liquids go, your baby should be exclusively drinking breastmilk for their first 6 months. Breastmilk provides ample hydration for your baby, so there's no need for them to start chugging water! If you'd like to introduce water, start to give them little sips around 7-8 months from a sippy cup. Avoid juices and juice boxes until 1-2 years, as more often than not they are packed with extra sugar.
Food Ideas When Starting Out
If you are looking for some baby-approved foods, I recommend:
Organic Beef Liver – Beef liver is a nutrient-dense food that works to help coat the lining of your childs stomach. It also fosters a healthy gut microbiome. Cook beef liver on both sides in a frying pan with olive oil or any healthy oil on medium heat. Then, place the cooked meat in the food processor or blender with a little bit of breast milk and coconut sugar.*
Salmon Roe (Salmon Eggs) – This is a great source of protein, vitamin D, omega-3s, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is crucial to brain, nerve, and eye development, so supplementing your baby's DHA will set them up for success! Make sure to purchase wildly-sourced salmon roe, as farm-raised salmon can contain unknown chemicals.
In addition, SolidStarts.com has a GREAT guide for food sizing for BLW and how to avoid choking hazards when preparing food at different developmental stages.
Keep on Breastfeeding!
It is also worth mentioning that just because a baby eats food doesn't mean breastfeeding should end. Breastfeeding for as long as possible is a great way to boost the health of mom and baby, with benefits including:
Weight loss for mom and weight gain for baby
A stronger immune system for baby
Increased beneficial bacteria (better microbiome) for babies
Nutrients with high bioavailability delivered from breastmilk to baby
Increased bonding and connection between mother and baby
Ultimately, it is up to you when to stop breastfeeding, so don't be afraid to keep the breast milk and benefits flowing!
Winning At Weaning
Whether you are pregnant, planning your family, or currently nursing your baby, it's never too early or late to prepare for or adjust your breastfeeding journey. Just remember to breathe, embrace the experience, and that your body has the innate ability to care for you and your little one!