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Northern Wyoming Mental Health Center Inc.

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Angela Oswalt, MSW

In the first few days after birth, the mother's breasts aren't making mature milk yet; they are making liquid called colostrum. This rich mixture has lots of protein, sugar, vitamins, minerals, and antibodies that infants need to start growing and thriving. Between days two and four, the mother's mature milk comes in and replaces the colostrum as the baby's food source. It may take several days for babies and new mothers to get comfortable and to create a routine with breastfeeding; however, as the team practices it often, it will become easier and more natural.

To encourage the easiest breastfeeding, mothers can do several things. They should allow their babies to nurse whenever they want to and as often as possible. The baby's suckling, along with the mother's hormonal changes, allow milk to be produced. As well, the more babies suckle, the more likely they will be able to keep the breast milk drained, preventing breast engorgement. When a mother's breasts become engorged, they can become hard and painful from being overly full of milk. This condition actually makes it more difficult physically for babies to latch onto the breast and extract the milk. As well, mothers should encourage babies to latch on appropriately so that their nipples do not become sore or cracked. See How to Feed for more information on appropriate latching on methods. If new mothers are having trouble breastfeeding, they can talk to their doctors or contact La Leche League, an organization that provides breastfeeding support and advice to new mothers from experienced and trained mothers.

While mothers are breastfeeding, what they eat and drink is what they then in turn feed to their babies. Not only nutrients, but also medicines, illegal drugs, and diseases, including HIV, can pass from mother to child through breast milk. It's important that breastfeeding mothers remain in close communication with their own doctors and their babies' pediatricians to monitor everyone's health. While breastfeeding, mothers need to continue to take care of their bodies just as they did during their pregnancy. Breastfeeding mothers should make sure their diet is balanced, full of nutritionally dense foods, and includes plenty of water. If mothers become sick or are used to taking certain medications regularly to maintain their health, they should discuss this carefully with their doctors. Some medications are safe for babies to ingest, but others can cause extreme problems. As well, nursing mothers should continue to abstain from using tobacco products, alcohol, and other recreational drugs to ensure safe milk for their babies.

Expressing and Storing Breast Milk

Going to back to work or other lifestyle changes or situations may prevent breastfeeding mothers from always being able to offer their breast milk directly to their babies. These mothers can still express, or pump the milk from their breasts and store it for later, so that their infants can enjoy the breast milk from a bottle while Mom is away. There are several methods for doing this. Some women choose to express their milk by hand directly into a bottle to store it. This practice is more rare but plausible, and mothers can learn the technique from their doctors or counselors from the La Leche League. As well, there are mechanical pumps mothers can use to express their milk. Mothers can use either manual breast pumps, which are cheaper but more difficult to use, or electric breast pumps, which are more expensive but easier to use, often more portable, and most resemble a baby's natural suckling sensation. Mothers can rent breast pumps from organizations such as La Leche League, selecting the right pump for their lifestyle and needs.

Mothers can make expressing milk a positive and easy experience through several techniques. The more relaxed mothers are while pumping, the easier it will be for them to express milk. As well, mothers are often better able to express milk when they are thinking about their baby or imagining their baby suckling. These thoughts trigger bonding emotions within mothers that trigger milk production and release. As well, mothers can massage their breasts before and during pumping to increase relaxation and their ability to express milk.

Mothers can store the milk in plastic bottles or in special freezer bags. Fresh milk can be stored in a clean container unrefrigerated for six to ten hours, but it should be refrigerated or frozen as soon as possible. Milk can be refrigerated for up to eight days and frozen for up to three to four months. Frozen milk can be thawed; chilled milk can be warmed by placing its container in a bowl of warm water to warm it up gradually. As it warms, swirl the milk to make sure any separated milk is thoroughly mixed again. Milk should not be warmed to hotter than body temperature, as this may break down needed enzymes and antibodies. Extra thawed milk can be refrigerated and used within the same day, but milk should not be re-frozen after it has thawed.

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