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The goop Guide to Breastfeeding

The goop Guide to Breastfeeding

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Photo courtesy of Nastassia Brückin for Pansy

The goop Guide to Breastfeeding

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Breastfeeding can be one of the most rewarding—and challenging—experiences for both mother and baby. For some, the process comes easily; for others, it’s the opposite and can lead to stress, even judgment. It’s a layered topic and one that Jennifer Lezak knows well. A certified lactation consultant, Lezak founded Milkmade, an educational community that helps guide nursing mothers and caregivers, and she works closely with the Los Angeles parenting resource center Loom. “My philosophy is to meet new mothers where they are on their feeding journey and not add any extra pressure,” she says.

Lezak’s all-inclusive approach unveils an empowering and relieving truth: Nursing is deeply personal and different for every mother. We asked her to unpack the topic for us and talk about the benefits of breastfeeding, ways to navigate its common challenges, how to support milk production, and her suggestions for alternative feeding solutions. Plus, we’ve included the product essentials and resources goop moms have found to be the most helpful in getting them through it all.

A Q&A with Jennifer Lezak, IBCLC

Q
Can you talk about some of the potential benefits of breastfeeding?
A

If available, breast milk is the best thing you can feed to your newborn baby. In addition to containing all the essential vitamins and nutrients your baby needs for about the first six months, your breast milk is alive, albeit an ever-evolving work in progress. It’s designed to change with your baby’s development and growing immune system by providing antibodies your infant needs to help fight off bacteria and viruses. Often referred to as “liquid gold,” breast milk begins with colostrum, which is present around the sixteenth week of pregnancy and lasts until the baby is about a week old. Colostrum acts as a laxative to help clear out meconium (your baby’s first poop). It’s rich in antibodies and helps protect your baby’s gut in the early days. Your milk then changes to transitional milk around day seven until about day twenty-one and finally becomes mature milk, which completely meets the growing needs of your baby until about six months of age. If you become ill, your breast milk will make antibodies to help protect your baby from getting sick.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), breast milk can help lower the risk of allergies, asthma, parasites, viruses, ear infections, and diabetes, among many other things. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months, if possible.


Q
Do you have any tips to support milk production?
A

Early prenatal education with a lactation specialist can help get you off to a good start. Learning about milk production, having a breast exam, and knowing what to expect those first few hours and first few days of your baby’s life can also help by lowering your stress levels. Because you’ll have some basic knowledge about what changes your body is about to make and what to expect from your baby in those first few hours, you will know whether things are going right, and if not, you’ll know to ask for help to get things back on track. Tips to help get milk production off to a good start would be skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding just after delivery, if possible. Breastfeeding or hand expression within an hour of birth, rooming with your baby if you’re delivering in a hospital, and breastfeeding often will all help support a full milk supply.


Q
What are some of the potential difficulties?
A

This is a broad question with many different answers. Each mother and baby are a unique couple unto themselves. Issues a mother may have experienced with one child may not translate to her next baby. Breastfeeding difficulties can be as easy as fixing a latch issue or more complex, such as a breast infection. A few of the more frequent problems that can arise can involve the mother’s anatomy, such as flat or retracting nipples, which can make breastfeeding in the early days a challenge. The birth experience, such as a long or traumatic birth, can delay milk production. Stress, postpartum depression, anxiety, or the baby’s anatomy, such as a tied tongue (when the tissue under the tongue is too short to maximize range of motion), can all have an effect on breastfeeding. Knowing when and how to seek help is important for all new parents.


Q
What can a lactation consultant do to help?
A

A lactation consultant helps troubleshoot breastfeeding issues. Having a knowledgeable consultant who can diagnose issues and prepare a plan can mean the difference between continuing to breastfeed or stopping. Sometimes we are there just for emotional support for new mothers, and other times we can help solve complex feeding issues. While our scope is defined, it covers many areas and issues.


Q
At what point to do you suggest a mother consider other options?
A

Again, this is one of those broad questions. Certainly, if baby isn’t getting enough food from mom, we are going to have to feed the baby, and then we will attempt to find out why mom isn’t producing enough breast milk or diagnose any other feeding issues. As a lactation consultant, if I believe that breastfeeding is stressing out a new mother to the point that she isn’t enjoying the experience or if she’s sought to remedy the situation to no avail, I may suggest she move on and feed her baby another way. I would rather a new mother look back on her baby’s first year with enjoyment and tenderness rather than stress and guilt. While breastfeeding can be amazing, it’s not the only piece to the mother-and-baby bonding experience.

Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone, nor should any new mother be shamed for not choosing to or not being able to breastfeed. We can never know another person’s history, therefore we shouldn’t judge how someone else chooses to feed their baby. Some women have extremely sensitive nipples making breastfeeding and even pumping excruciating; and some women have medical concerns that won’t allow for it. And of course other women choose not to simply because they don’t want to. My job is to support the woman in her infant feeding journey, which may or may not include breastfeeding. Depending on the circumstances, seeking help from a professional may help bridge any issues that may come up, whether psychosocial or physical. No mother should ever feel guilty for not breastfeeding.


Q
If a new mother decides not to breastfeed, what other advice do you have?
A

Donor breast milk or formula are among the most common ways to feed a baby if you’re not breastfeeding. Some women choose to exclusively pump and provide their babies with their breast milk via a bottle or an alternative feeding system. Other alternatives may include using an SNS (supplementary nursing system), which allows feeding at the breast with a supplement such as breast milk, formula, or donor milk. In the early days for baby, a syringe or finger-and-cup feeding are both great ways to support breastfeeding. Another device might be hands-free bottle-feeding. All of these options can help to provide baby with the supplements required to keep them healthy and happy while you work to get your milk supply to increase in volume or work on an alternate feeding plan.

How and what nourishes your baby is important, so my best advice to new parents is to read up on breastfeeding and the alternatives and, if possible, find a professional you feel comfortable with. Always know that even if your ideal feeding plan doesn’t happen, you can always craft a plan in line with your ideals and keep your baby happy and healthy at the same time.


Q
Do you have any suggestions for parents on finding a good lactation expert?
A

Look for a board-certified lactation consultant, also known as an IBCLC. I would suggest starting with recommendations from friends or family or your pediatrician. Sites like Yelp can help you find an IBCLC in your area. Finding the right lactation professional and beginning a relationship with someone who supports your feeding plan prior to having your baby can help ensure you and your little one are able to meet your breastfeeding goals.


Jennifer Lezak is a Los Angeles-based lactation consultant. In addition to making home visits through her private practice, Milkmade LA, Lezak works with clients at LOOM and hospitals around Los Angeles to teach nursing fundamentals, share bottle feeding tips, and develop a feeding and care plan for mother and baby both.

The Essentials

There’s a lot of baby-related ephemera you probably didn’t know existed until it materialized the second you found out a bundle of joy was on the way. And while a good lot of it isn’t totally necessary, knowing your way around the stuff that’s geared toward nourishing the little guy has the potential to save a lot of unnecessary headaches. Whether you’re nursing exclusively or pumping and bottle-feeding—even if breast milk isn’t on the menu—the gear below is a good place to start.

bottles and bottle care

pumping

nursing-friendly clothing

Helpful Accessories

Useful Resources

  • Glow Baby

    Glow Baby

    This blessedly user-friendly app is excellent for tracking baby’s feedings, sleep, and diaper activity. It even has a nursing and pumping timer, which keeps track of time spent on each breast and more.

  • International Lactation Consultant Association

    International Lactation Consultant Association

    A lactation-consultant directory that helps you find a board-certified lactation consultant.

  • Mamava Pump Finder

    Mamava Pump Finder

    A simple, frill-free app that helps locate available lactation rooms wherever you are—and not just Mamava pods.

  • Lactation Lab

    Lactation Lab

    Founded by Stephanie Canale, M.D., Lactation Lab is a first-of-its-kind at-home breast-milk-testing kit. Mothers can test for key nutritional elements (fat, calories, protein, vitamins, and more) and tweak their nutritional intake accordingly. What’s more, toxins including arsenic, cadmium, and lead also show up.

  • La Leche League International

    La Leche League International

    In addition to spreading awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding worldwide, the nonprofit La Leche League offers what it calls “mother-to-mother” support on the local level.

  • LACTMed

    LACTMed

    Backed by the National Library of Medicine’s Toxicology Data Network, this is a quick and dirty, fully referenced database of all drugs and dietary supplements that may have an effect on breast milk, plus suggestions for alternatives.

  • Milk Stork

    Milk Stork

    A service that will safely ship pumped breast milk from wherever you are back home to your baby.

  • <em>The Nursing Mother’s Companion</em>

    The Nursing Mother’s Companion

    For those who prefer to research the analog way, Kathleen Huggins’s trusted book, now in its seventh edition, covers all the basics of breastfeeding, potential complications, solutions for working mothers, and much more.

  • Mamava

    Mamava

    Mamava’s goal is to help solve some of the obstacles that nursing mothers face when going back out into the workforce. The freestanding lactation pods can fit inside most workspaces (and airports, sporting events, trade shows…); mothers can advocate for themselves and their breastfeeding rights.

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