Feeding your newborn is something you will do within the first hour (or even less) after giving birth, so breastfeeding is a topic most moms-to-be will research before the big day. But no surprise, breastfeeding is a big and often difficult task to master. So in preparation, here are 10 breastfeeding tips I’ve found useful for new, or even experienced, mommas:
Prepare: Hit the books. Or the all-knowing Google. Watch instructional videos on how to breastfeed, learn the different nursing positions, and research what nursing pillow you’d like to use. Read about lip/tongue ties so you can keep an eye out for it with your newborn, and ask your friends who have nursed before for tips and advice. Just make sure that you focus on positive affirmations and experiences. I’m all for understanding all scenarios that can happen, even the worst case ones, but focusing on the positive will help convince yourself that nothing but positive will happen for your own baby. Even if breastfeeding doesn’t end up working out, which is okay, at least you went in to the experience with nothing but positive energy!
Get the right gear: Research and buy a great nursing pillow. There are many options out there, such as Boppy, My Brest Friend, and Leachco that are designed specifically with your comfort and nursing success in mind. Sure, you could use just a regular old pillow from home, but from experience I can tell you how annoying it is to use just that. Trying to curve and mesh a head pillow to your abdomen in order to place your screaming, hungry infant in such a way that he won’t roll off but is at the right height so you won’t be bending over and killing your shoulders is no easy task. Other gear you might consider looking at for breastfeeding success is a nursing cover, a pump (because honestly, you don’t know how breastfeeding will work out day-to-day and you might need to create a freezer storage supply or use it to relieve engorgement), a nursing stool (to avoid leaning over and hurting your back/shoulders, a stool will help lift your knees higher, elevating the pillow and baby to your breasts) and comfy nursing bras. Once you find bras you love, I’d suggest getting multiple pairs, since you never know when baby will perfectly aim his spit up to drip down your shirt, or when your breasts will leak.
Ask for help: The hospital usually has a Lactation Consultant on hand to help you figure out breastfeeding from day one, and if not, the nurses have been around for a long time and can usually give great help and advice. But they aren’t mind readers. You have to ask for help, ask your questions, and ask for any second opinions you’d like to receive. Feeling confused, even after having met with the lactation specialist? Ask to see her again. Feeling like maybe you’ve got breastfeeding down but would like them to check, and recheck, your latch anyways? Ask them to help again! Even after you leave the hospital, you can see lactation consultants and your doctor or midwife. No mother gets breastfeeding down in one sitting, so there’s no shame in asking for help over and over if it means you’ll love the experience.
Discuss with your partner how he can help you/support you: When you sit down to breastfeed, you’re stuck. There have been so many times that I’ve latched my baby and settled in, only to realize I’m parched or I forgot my phone across the room. Ask your husband for help and once you figure out your needs with breastfeeding, share them with him. This is a great way to help him feel involved in the process, as well. And please: don’t fall into the “I should be able to handle/do everything myself” mentality, because breastfeeding is hard, and it’s not “weak” to need support through it.
Don’t push the back of baby’s head when latching: Instead, hold them at the base of their head and neck. This allows you to move baby’s head into position while supporting him, and keeps them from getting smashed onto your breast. It also helps them latch appropriately, with their nose in the correct position. For instructions on how to develop a great latch, see what the American Pregnancy Association suggests here.
Soothe sore nipples: You shouldn’t have to “suffer” through each nursing session. If your nipples are sore, use a lanolin cream, coconut oil, and/or hydrogel pads to soothe them. You’ll still need to work on the underlying issue that’s causing the soreness in order to fix the problem completely, though. Have you looked into tongue/lip tie issues? This doctor’s website is an excellent resource on breastfeeding pain that may be associated with a tie, that many pediatricians miss. And remember that it might take a few months for natural soreness (from now having a baby sucking on you when before, those nipples didn’t do anything but sit there and look pretty) to lessen as your nipples toughen up.
Keep snacks nearby: Breastfeeding makes you ravenous, especially in the early stages. Even if it’s 2 AM, don’t feel like a fatty for scarfing down the granola bars and water while your baby is nursing–you need those calories! It’s totally normal and expected. You’re sustaining a life! So find the good snacks that will fill you up and aren’t full of fake fats to keep nearby, like raw almonds or dried fruit.
Drink lots of water: I’m weird and hate water, so this has been a tough one for me. But I’ve noticed when I make the effort to drink more water, my milk supply responds. I worry less if I’m producing enough because water is the easiest way to boost your supply. Makes sense; you need to stay hydrated when a baby is eating from you! So skip the sugary juices or caffeinated sodas and choose water instead.
Keep it up: Not going to lie—breastfeeding is uncomfortable in the first few months. After having my second a few months ago, I was surprised how long it took to feel comfortable when he would latch, even when the latch was good. I had forgotten that, for me, it would take about 3 months before I felt like our breastfeeding sessions were finally completely successful. No one will fault you if you decide you cant, or don’t want to, continue breastfeeding. Despite what you might see or hear, there are actually a lot of women who aren’t able to continue breastfeeding for many different reasons. Just know that if you’re determined to breastfeed, it might take longer than you expected for everything to settle in and become the loving, sweet experience you have heard about. Nursing a 6 month old is WAY different than nursing a newborn.
Relax: When you are relaxed, baby relaxes and nurses more effectively and efficiently. Your milk supply suffers when you’re stressing too much about it, and you won’t enjoy the experience if you only focus on the bad. So pay attention to all the good about breastfeeding, like how your baby starts to develop eating habits like playing with your hair or using his little fist to massage your breast. Relax and enjoy, because too soon he will be old enough for solids and this time together will change.
Good luck, nursing mommas! Your baby can’t say it yet, so I will: Thank you for all you do to feed your little child and deciding what is best for him!