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Cedars-Sinai Blog

Support for Nursing Parents

Mother breastfeeding her son

Mothers who plan to breastfeed often face an avalanche of demands on their time, bodies and minds that can interrupt their baby’s diet during their crucial first year.

Human breast milk is rich in specialized proteins that spur infant growth and brain development, responding directly to evolving nutritional needs. It also strengthens babies’ immune systems, helping them ward off respiratory, stomach and ear infections and even COVID-19 (if the mother has antibodies).

Over the long term, breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma, allergies, obesity and type 1 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For mothers, breastfeeding reinforces uterine, bone, cardiovascular and metabolic health, lowering their risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and ovarian and breast cancers.

Some mothers and same-sex or transgender parents who are unable to breastfeed rely on formula (or sometimes human donor) milk, as do parents with babies who are underweight or have allergies or metabolic disorders. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that modern formulas are manufactured with a rigorous balance of electrolytes and nutrients to help babies grow and protect them against harms.

While feeding looks different for every family, a robust food source helps babies mature into healthy, strong children and thrive.

“A drop of milk goes a long way,” said Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s lactation consultant Yocheved Herrmann Blanton.

Health officials recommend feeding only breast milk for the first six months and then feeding a combination of breast milk and complementary foods for at least one year. But many mothers who want to breastfeed face unexpected challenges—especially when returning to work—and most stop early.

Herrmann Blanton said social and company culture is increasingly shifting to meet the needs of all babies and parents.

Milk Supply

Colostrum (the earliest breast milk) comes out in small, concentrated portions, reaching about 1 liter daily within a baby’s first five days after birth. After that, nursing mothers need to pump milk or breastfeed around eight times a day—and feed infants 2 to 3 ounces every few hours.

“That’s a lot of milk,” Herrmann Blanton said.

To encourage your breast milk production, drink plenty of fluids, rest and eat a nutritious diet containing extra calories as if you were still pregnant.

Your baby is the best pump, she said, but most mothers also need to express milk at least once a day using manual or electric pumps (many are hands-free). The milk can be safely refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for six months to a year.

If you know you will have to separate from your baby, introduce a bottle at least two weeks before and ease into it.

Wendy De Leon, a lead lactation consultant at Cedars-Sinai, said oxytocin surges when parents hold, smell or look at their little one, which triggers milk release. She recommends trying to re-create that sensation when pumping by holding baby blankets or clothing with your baby’s scent or watching or listening to your baby’s coos.

Lactation consultants emphasize consistency. A regular breastfeeding rhythm that fits your lifestyle safeguards a steady milk supply and helps prevent plugged ducts and drainage problems that engorge and inflame breast tissue, causing mastitis.

But don’t over pump, either, De Leon warned, as many anxious parents tried to do during the baby formula shortage. Attempting to fully empty your breast milk can backfire and lead to chronic engorgement, pain, and risk of mastitis or infections.

Workplace Lactation

Returning to an office is emotional for most new moms, many of whom are leaving their baby for the first time. It is made harder by the sometimes awkward logistics of juggling work, pumping, lactation symptoms such as leakage, and privacy.

The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act, which went into effect in June 2023, expanded accommodations for working parents.

Under the law, workplaces must provide every nursing parent with regular breaks and sanitary, private spaces (not bathrooms) to express milk for one year after their child’s birth. Employers should provide these whenever needed.

Herrmann Blanton encouraged mothers to communicate their situation and work closely with their colleagues and managers on a lactation plan.

If your employer doesn’t allow enough time or space for pumping and you feel you can’t ask for more—or you’re harassed for asking—document those challenges. Parents can file a complaint for the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate, and legal solutions are available.

“Breastfeeding access is a human rights issue,” said Herrmann Blanton, who is also a La Leche League leader.

Support Options

If you’re struggling with breastfeeding, are in pain or have questions, seek professional guidance.

Lactation consultants can identify obstacles, whether it’s milk production, infant tongue ties, infant placement or latching difficulties, or the mother’s breast health, and intervene. They also teach feeding techniques. After hospital discharge, Cedars-Sinai offers breastfeeding guidance through the Outpatient Lactation Clinic. Interested parents can schedule a consultation at 310-423-7779.

Some families also require supplemental milk, either through formula or donated breast milk. Be sure to use a safe, reputable milk bank that screens their donors and supply, including milk banks that are accredited by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

For all infants, experts urge skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible after birth to promote parental bonding and stabilize the baby’s breathing, heart rate, temperature and blood sugar.

Breastfeeding can overwhelm exhausted new parents. Experts agree that it’s not free from complications, and there’s no need to shame yourself if it’s harder than expected.

Support groups, including one offered by the Cedars-Sinai Reproductive Psychology program, provide coping skills for stress and remind you you’re not alone—or failing as a mother. Maternal mental health care can free you to focus on the joys of new parenthood.