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Making breastfeeding work for you

Mother walking outdoors and carrying her baby in a sling

So, you’ve decided to breastfeed. Great! Now what? And for how long? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding (PDF file, 498 KB) for at least one year, and that families wait until their babies are six months old to start giving solid foods. Setting long-term goals may seem a bit overwhelming in the first few weeks, so just try to focus on giving breastfeeding a good try. Here are some tips to help you come up with a game plan to make breastfeeding work for you. 

The two-week commitment

Once you’ve given birth, your job in those first two weeks is to concentrate on breastfeeding and recovering from childbirth. That’s it. Just give yourself and your baby those 14 days. You may get frustrated. You may get scared. You have to learn how to breastfeed, the same way you had to learn how to walk. If you stumble, you get right back up. The reality is that the first few weeks are the toughest time for any new mom. Breastfeeding often gets blamed for being a hardship, but your body is also recovering from two major events — pregnancy and childbirth. So give yourself a little break.

So in the beginning, just focus on those first two weeks. Make that your goal. Mark it on your calendar. If after a few days you’re experiencing pain and you’ve tried these tips on how to correct it (read Common questions about breastfeeding and pain), something is probably not right. Contact your doctor or nurse as soon as possible so that you can get some help.

The six-week groove

Once you have crossed the two-week line, it’s time to set another goal. In general, it takes about six weeks to get into a breastfeeding groove. By then, your milk has fully matured, and you and your baby have found a good rhythm. You may have even started multitasking while breastfeeding or venturing out in public and breastfeeding your baby on the go. By the six-week marker, your baby should have had two or three well-baby visits at the doctor, so you can see how your breast milk is contributing to your baby’s growth and development.

Going back to work or school

Every mom’s situation is different. So whether you’re returning to work or school in 12 weeks, six weeks, or even two weeks after giving birth, you can still plan to breastfeed if you can pump milk during the day. More and more employers are allowing their employees to work from home on a part-time basis. Even if you don’t have that flexibility, be assured that plenty of working moms breastfeed despite their challenging schedules. Just be realistic about your goals, and also look at our tips for going back to work for more helpful information.

Making child care and pumping arrangements

Going back to work or school is stressful enough. But as a new mom, you may have to entrust someone to care for your baby while you’re earning a paycheck or a degree, which can add more stress. So whether it’s a family member or a professional who is providing child care, make sure he or she understands your breastfeeding goals and follows your instructions on how your baby is to be fed. If you choose a day care facility or other child care provider, consider finding a place close to your job. If your baby is younger than 12 months and you’ll be away most of the day, you’ll likely need to keep a schedule to maintain your milk supply. That’s when a pump can help. Compared with the cost of formula, a breast pump quickly pays for itself, is sometimes covered by insurance, and can even be tax deductible. 

Going farther…gradually

Many moms find themselves breastfeeding for longer than they intended. With the right technique and the right support, breastfeeding gets easier as your baby gets older. Plus, once you can see how your baby is developing due to your breast milk, it can feel rewarding, and even empowering. Some working moms find that at the end of a long day, a quiet nursing period helps them calm down and bond after being separated from their baby. Once your baby starts solids at around the six-month mark, you will need to breastfeed less often. But, understandably, situations change, as do feelings. So if breastfeeding is going well, keep going. If not, talk to your doctor or nurse before you begin the weaning process. Ideally, weaning your baby is a gradual (not sudden) process. And keep in mind that every day you breastfeed, your child is healthier because of it.

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Content last updated: April 09, 2013.

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