Just because breastfeeding is natural doesn’t mean it comes naturally to everyone. As it is with picking up any new skill, it takes time, patience and persistence. There’s often a learning curve involved. Breastfeeding is no different. To grasp and master what works for you and your baby will require a lot of trial and error and maybe even a chocolate bar or two.
Fortunately, there are many women who have come before you who are ready with advice, tips and tricks to help offset some of these challenges. We’ve gathered a few of these together to help demystify the process.
Before your baby arrives, opt to take a breastfeeding class — many hospitals and birthing centers offer them — or go to a La Leche League International meeting (LLLI.org is an worldwide mother to mother support forum). At prenatal breastfeeding classes, instructors demonstrate latching with videos or with dolls, so you can get more comfortable with the process. Connecting with other moms and new moms-to-be can be an invaluable source of support should you have questions or problems when your turn arrives.
Ask for help
Embarking on this journey alone, especially for first time mothers, can be overwhelming. We can’t stress enough the importance of not being afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s a friend, or a medical professional, there are many resources at your disposal.
Find a local lactation consultant. Lactation consultants are professional breastfeeding specialists specifically trained to teach mothers how to feed their baby. Their expertise range from addressing common breastfeeding obstacles to finding the right equipment and even help with the logistics of working moms returning to work. Their job is to answer any questions you might have and help make breastfeeding work for you. Lactation consultants may work at a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office and they often teach classes on breastfeeding to pregnant women. To find a lactation consultant, visit the website of the International Lactation Consultant Association, talk to you doctor or ask around in your community.
Getting baby to latch (the word used for attaching her mouth to your nipple) properly is vital to successful breastfeeding. When your baby has established a good latch, your nipple soreness is minimized and your little one gets the nourishment he/she needs.
Before you leave the hospital**, **have your baby checked for tongue or lip tie, a problem affecting a secure latch to the breast. Tongue and lip-tie are common causes of nipple pain, uneven breast drainage, slow weight gain and low milk supply. Many physicians do not properly assess for tongue or lip-tie or recognize their impact on the breastfeeding relationship, leaving babies vulnerable to early weaning. The sooner this problem is addressed and fixed, the easier it is to breastfeed without problems.
For difficult or persistent latch-on problems, many breastfeeding experts recommend the temporary use of a nipple shield. Made of thin, soft, silicone that doesn’t interfere with nipple stimulation, the nipple shield is worn during breastfeeding. Holes at the tip allow milk to flow to the baby. Suction inside the nipple shield holds the nipple in an extended position, the baby can pause without ‘losing’ the nipple. Milk pools in the tip of the shield, and provides an immediate reward when the baby resumes suckling.
When you pictured breastfeeding your child, you probably pictured sitting upright, and cradling your baby in your arms. While this is certainly a viable breastfeeding position, it can cause discomfort in the long run. Experiment with what breastfeeding positions work for you. Invest in a comfortable chair and find a footstool (which helps give you more of a lap) to rest your feet on. Purchase nursing pillows or roll a blanket to fit under your breast for support. Have a light dimmer and play some relaxing music. Try imagery meditation when breastfeeding to help the milk come in. The key is to make your nursing space your own private oasis. Remember, the more relaxed and comfortable you are, the easier the milk will flow.
As a new mom, you will be spending a lot of your free time nursing. You might find that you get into a routine just as your baby hits a growth spurt and his/her schedule completely changes. If there’s one thing that’s always true with babies its that they’re always changing! Know that it’s normal for baby to eat more or less for a few days based on his or her own development.
Since you’ll often be staying put for those feedings, it’s a good idea to find ways to pass the time; consider preparing some entertainment options before you settle in for a session. Find a new show to watch, a podcast to listen to, or have a nursing/pumping texting friend to ward off any nursing monotony.
There are various causes for pain and discomfort during breastfeeding, from improper latch and tongue ties, to yeast infections (thrush) and mastitis. Based on what is causing the discomfort, consulting with your doctor or lactation specialist will help in finding long-term solutions. Short-term, there are a few ways to ease discomfort.
Lather nipple balm or water-based hydrogels to promote healing on your nipples, especially during the first three weeks of breastfeeding as this is often the most painful adjustment period. Coconut oil is a great option because of it’s other uses: nipple cream, diaper rash, and even dry skin. Lanolin Cream is another popular option to keep nipples moist between feedings or after pumping. Some mommies even swear by air drying their own breast milk on the nipple to help with soreness and cracking.
Are your breasts feeling full? A hot shower before pumping in the morning can help get things flowing. Or if you are feeling especially engorged, expressing the milk in the shower a bit will help relieve some of the pressure.
When to pump
Many women who breastfeed need to pump eventually, and some moms even pump exclusively as a way to feed their babies. Don’t be afraid to pump in the beginning when your breasts feel so distended and uncomfortable but the baby’s too full to eat. Some women start pumping from the day their babies are born. This lets you take advantage of the over supply to stock up your freezer and enjoy not feeling so engorged! Give your body about six weeks to regulate supply and know that it won’t always be so uncomfortable.
You can also pump after a feeding to build up milk supply. After you have a freezer full, you can taper off and pump every other feeding, then twice a day and so on. Or if you feel the milk supply is getting low, you can start pumping 1 to 2 times per day after breastfeeding.
Another suggestion is to pump one bottle for dad to feed during the day. It gives you a little break and is great bonding time for Dad and baby.
When it comes to pumping, the pumping bra is a game changer. This allows you to pump hands free so you can read a book, or even take advantage of your commute time. Make sure to always check you have the proper flange size in regards to your pumping equipment. This is so important when milk comes in and also when your milk regulates. Know that you may need to adjust your flange size over time as your milk supply and breast size fluctuate.
Mothers may be glad to know that as long as your baby is healthy, you really don’t have to clean your pump parts every time you’ve finished pumping. A time saving tip is to simply put all the parts in a plastic bag, store them in a fridge or a cooler, and pull them out to use again a few hours later. This is especially helpful if you’re trying to take advantage of your break time pumping sessions at work.
Go with your gut
Yes, breastfeeding is natural and easy yet it can be hard and frustrating at times. This can be especially true in the fact that every mom and baby is different and what works for one person may not necessarily work for you. When it comes to the health and well being of your child, trust your motherly instincts. Don’t let anyone bully you into doing something that you don’t feel comfortable doing — not a nurse, doctor, friend or other nursing mommies. There are so many factors that can play into a successful breastfeeding experience, including the baby’s personality and you have to do what’s best for you and your child. Period.
For new moms, it can sometimes feel that your neighbors, well-meaning friends, intrusive aunts and especially the internet all provide a noisy over-saturation of ‘mommy dos’ and ‘mommy don’ts’. It can be overwhelming and confusing, considering much of the information out there can often be contradictory, if not pure folklore. But we’re here to cut through the noise and assure you, there’s no need to overcomplicate this. The key is to simply relax, do what feels right for you and your baby, and ask for help if you need it.