It should be simple: You’ve gotten through pregnancy and labor and it’s time to feed your baby.   While some new mothers sail through the process, others experience sore nipples, low milk production and problems with babies latching to breasts.   And their questions often start with: “Is this normal? Or “Is it safe to…? 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention reports that more than 80 percent of babies are breastfed at some point. At 6 months, the rate drops to 55 percent and at one year that drops to about 33 percent. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for about the first 6 months, and continuing while introducing solid foods until at least 12 months. Research shows breastfeeding can help babies build their immune systems to protect them against respiratory illnesses, ear infections and skin and gastrointestinal problems.  

Mary Showalter, a lactation consultant at Novant Health Nursing Mother’s Place at Forsyth Medical Center, has encouraged, counseled and reassured new mothers for more than two decades. She also breastfed her own five children.  

But she gets that things aren’t always as clear-cut as they should be. So in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, (Aug. 1-7) she’s got some tips, answers and wisdom to help new mothers address their most common concerns. 

Lesson 1: Cluster feedings. 

Many babies want feedings close to each other (cluster feedings) and in the early days of breastfeeding, it’s often at night. While you can’t change the baby’s hunger cycles, you can adjust your schedule: “Nap whenever you can. You can’t go to the prom every night. You have to have those pockets of rest.” 

Lesson 2: Sore nipples.  

It’s normal to experience them in the beginning, but the soreness usually subsides as breasts adapt. In some cases, engorgement or an infection can cause painful complications: “If it’s constant toe-curling pain, you’re not going to enjoy breastfeeding very much. Some women experience grief because the breastfeeding just isn’t working out for them—which breaks my heart because breastfeeding a baby is not the only way to show you love him.”  

Lesson 3: How much alcohol?  

  Just as during pregnancy, the safest policy is to abstain, but that doesn’t mean moms who want an occasional glass of wine shouldn’t breastfeed. She recently learned there are test-strips marketed as a breastfeeding breathalyzer of sorts. She’s not convinced of their merit.

“If you’re going to drink, moderation is key, and if you feel the effects of alcohol, pump and discard the milk.” 

Lesson 4: What about prescriptions?  

Many wonder about prescription and over-the-counter medications ranging from antihistamines to antibiotics to antidepressants. She recommends talking to individual health care providers about a medication’s potential impact on breast milk. 

Lesson 5: A fussy, fussy, fussy baby. 

Sometimes it is hunger, especially during growth spurts. And some babies need a lot more soothing than others. “Moms need to figure out what calms them. Once you rule out different things you realize that might just be your baby…and every child has a season of life when they make you crazy.” 

 Lesson 6: When you go back to work  

Many women wonder where and how they’ll do it. Or how how to store up milk when the baby seems to consume it all during feedings. She says to pump a little bit after each feeding to build up a supply to freeze. After that it depends on your employer. 

While some workplaces offer designated breast milk - pumping rooms, others aren’t so accommodating. Consider three young moms she knows well. One works in an office with a lovely, comfortable sitting room and hospital grade pumps. A second goes to her car to pump. And a third, an elementary school teacher, pumps in a closet while another teacher covers her classroom. 

“This is where women need to be good to and empower each other. When a breastfeeding mother is supported in the workplace, she’ll be the best coworker for those who come after her.”  

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