Single parenting may have never been what you imagined but now you may be pregnant or have a newborn and wonder if breastfeeding is still an option for you. It is important to know that all a baby needs to breastfeed is her mother, but for a single mother to breastfeed, she may need some tips to help her get started and to maintain a successful breastfeeding experience.
Separating from a relationship or starting out as a parent on your own can be scary and stressful. In order to start the breastfeeding relationship you must find a way to manage the stress and emotions you are going through. Breastfeeding is very much a hormonal and emotional process and in order to physically produce milk you may need to tackle some of those feelings and obstacles you are facing. Therapy and counseling while pregnant and in the post partum period can help your body prepare for birth and breastfeeding and can help prevent post-partum depression. The wonderful thing about breastfeeding is that it produces a natural anti-depressant, the love hormone, called oxytocin. Breastfeeding not only can help relieve the stress you may be going through as a single mother, it can also help as you bond with your new baby.
The support of family, friends, and those who also breastfeed are important. Surrounding yourself with people who understand your desire to breastfeed and its importance for both your and your baby’s health can keep you encouraged. La Leche League is an international company that has group meetings supporting breastfeeding mothers in most cities across the country. You can also ask your doctor or midwife or pediatrician if there is a mom’s group in the area.
During pregnancy is when your breastfeeding preparation should begin. Start by reading as many books on the subject as you can. Watch videos, talk to other moms, and attend a breastfeeding class if possible. If you will be working, this is the time to buy your breastpump and make sure you know how it works. Other supplies to buy will include milk storage containers and bottles so that others can give your baby breastmilk while you are away. There is no need to “toughen up your nipples” but you do need to know what expectations to have before baby arrives. Breastfeeding takes time and energy and knowing what to expect can assure you once baby is here. Learning the benefits of breastfeeding will make you excited to nurse your baby once they are here.
As soon as baby is born, you should encourage your baby to feed at breast. Start by having the baby skin-to-skin on your chest and let baby nuzzle at your breast. The first feeding after birth is usually the best because baby is most alert. Baby will soon fall asleep and do the sleepy newborn fog for the next 12 to 24 hours, which can make breastfeeding a bit more challenging if you didn’t nurse that first feeding. Remember practice makes perfect; this is new to the both of you. Have a nurse or family member help you put the baby into position and to help baby latch like you read in books or saw in videos. Your colostrum is the perfect food for baby and in a few days your milk will be in. Avoid bottles for the first few weeks and as long as you and baby are healthy there is no reason to supplement with infant formula.
In the early days being a single mother and breastfeeding may seem like you never have a break. Newborns can nurse anywhere from every 1 to 4 hours and breastfeed best on demand. It is important to note that formula fed babies do not eat less or sleep longer, in case you feel tempted to give up. In reality, formula fed babies tend to be more fussy and gassy, making the newborn phase much more difficult in many cases. If at all possible, enlist some friends and family to come over and give you a break for several hours a day. Use this time to rest and take time for yourself.
When you have older children that want to help, they can be involved by having them give the baby a bath, change diapers, and when baby is older they can give a bottle of pumped milk. Talk with your older children about how healthy breast milk is and how it is best for your growing baby. Have a stack of books and toys next to the chair where you nurse most often so your older children can sit by you and not feel left out.
When going back to work you can continue to provide your milk for your baby by pumping and storing milk. Start your day by nursing your baby and then pump every time your baby would nurse while you are away. Then when you return home, nurse your baby the rest of the evening. Caregivers can defrost your milk by running it under warm water or in a bottle warmer. This may be new to some caregivers but they will learn to love the ease and clean up of breast milk fed babies!
For the single mother, breastfeeding saves money, time, and energy while providing the optimal nutrition for baby. Breastfeeding also provides a closeness and bonding in knowing that you are 100% responsible for the new life that is growing before your very eyes.