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I see a lot of families in the early days and weeks of their babies' lives. Most new parents are contacting me because they need support feeding their babies, both at breast and by other means (mostly bottle and syringe). Common worries revolve about baby's weight gain, milk supply, feeding cues, and the stress and discomfort of figuring out breastfeeding.

Often when I arrive for a home lactation consultation, the family is already using a feeding plan recommended by a hospital lactation consultant or pediatrician. The plan involves some combination of breastfeeding for a set amount of time (usually 15-30 minutes), pumping, and supplementing with pumped milk and/or formula, i.e. triple feeding. This is a huge improvement over the old advice to "just give formula, and good luck!"

These types of feeding plans are important for many families in order to keep baby well-fed and protect the milk supply. I reassure parents that if they continue feeding their babies any way they can and keep mom's milk flowing, breastfeeding will usually follow. It may take days or even weeks, but they'll get there.

This is a stressful time for the family. They're working so hard, and they don't know things are going to get easier. Numbers rule their lives: timing feedings and pumping sessions, counting diapers, measuring ounces and milliliters, weight checks for baby. Those numbers are important for ensuring that their babies get enough to eat and continue gaining.

For a time, the numbers may crowd out something that new parents crave: simple, sweet, uninterrupted time with their babies. But does it have to be that way? Is there space for snuggling and lingering at the breast with all of these other boxes to check off?

I believe there is. I call it recreational breastfeeding, and I write it into the feeding plan. The goal of recreational breastfeeding is just as the name suggests: fun and enjoyable. It is not about transferring a certain amount of milk into the baby (who may not yet be capable of getting a full feeding at breast). In fact, it isn't really about feeding at all. It's soul nourishment for a family that is working very hard and deserves a brief respite from triple feeding.

The concept of recreational breastfeeding is also a way to plant the seed for what is to come. So often, I see families who triple fed in the past and have graduated to exclusive breastfeeding. They celebrate this milestone, and yet they remain attached to the numbers. It makes sense. What could be more anxiety-provoking than parenting a newborn who is having feeding difficulties? The numbers represent a morsel of control in a situation that may largely felt beyond the control of the parents. So I talk with the parents about starting to do some recreational breastfeeding as a way of gently letting go of the numbers, just a little bit, and trusting that they are at a different stage.

It is a beautiful moment when I see this idea click for a family that has gone through so much. I see them settle in and really soak up the sweetness of their babies. This is what I wish for all breastfeeding families.
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