Congratulations on your new, perfect little being! You now fully understand what everyone was talking about when they said labor wouldn’t be easy—welcome to the motherhood club! This means, of course, that you are now acquainted with how much you’re capable of when it comes to your newfound, wiggly baby love. Keep the momentum going as you take on the mighty task of breastfeeding.
No doubt, you have done your own meticulous research and gathered advice from friends who have already breastfed. Or, maybe you haven’t. In that case, read on. Hopefully, you have already met with the lactation consultant at the hospital and have a feel for the basics. However, if you were trapped in a post-delivery fog and bliss and woke up four days later with engorged breasts, you may need some guidance. Hence, we’ve put this pamphlet together to help you now.
First, let’s go over the benefits of breastfeeding so you can remind yourself why you’re willing to put up with soreness and pain in the first place.
decreased incidence of illness now and in the future
decrease in the development of allergies
possible boost to your child’s intelligence
decreased risk of SIDS
protection against obesity
For mom (that’s you!)
decrease risk of some types of cancer
lower incidence of postpartum depression
more rapid postpartum weight loss
Believe it or not, breastfeeding makes our brains happier!
(Now, no pressure, but you’d better be breastfeeding your baby!)
Breastfeeding is often romanticized to be so beautiful, natural, and an amazing bonding time. But reality sets in and you begin to understand it was all of the above in addition to painful engorgement, cracked and bleeding nipples, and toe-curling pain with every latch for the first couple of weeks. Not so picture perfect! If you’re struggling with the first stages of learning to breastfeed, realize you are not alone, and that it does not mean you won’t be successful at it. With persistence, time, and patience, both you and your baby will figure out the best system for you both. Here are some tips to help you along the way.
Making the Milk. Trust that your body really does have a clue, even if you don’t. The hormones involved in milk production and let-down are in perfect balance to allow you to achieve the feat of breastfeeding. Over the next six months, you will watch your baby change and develop, you’ll see their first smile, and watch them fatten up like a little cherub, all thanks to the milk your baby drinks from your breast.
Don’t pump in place of a feed (at least at the beginning). Pumping in your first days can help relieve some of the initial engorgement when your milk first comes in, but a better solution is to let your baby help you, even if it means waking them to do so. During the first 2-3 weeks it is very important to put your baby to the breast for every feed. This conditions your body to know exactly how much milk is needed. If you do pump, do it between feedings, but be prepared to continue pumping frequently because you’ll most likely start to make more milk than your baby is consuming. It might also seem appealing to pump and give your baby bottles of pumped milk later. This is a better option than formula, but women who take this route often fall behind on keeping up with enough milk production for their baby’s needs. Not only that, but you’ll miss out on the bonding. This is one of the most rewarding bonding time that moms might not have otherwise had.
Don’t cheat at night to catch some extra ZZZs. Your kind partner might devise a plan to let you sleep a little. Most of them will ask to pump and feed the baby though the bottle to let you sleep. Nope. You are a new mom. You are supposed to be exhausted. In order to establish your milk supply, your body needs to be stimulated. If your baby wakes up every 2 hours to eat, your body will keep up with the production of the needed milk supply. If your partner wants to help, he can bring the baby to you, change the diaper (and take care of any blow-outs), and then put the baby back to bed after feeding to give you a few extra minutes of sleep.
Take care of yourself. Drink plenty of water. You will feel insatiably thirsty. It is probably easier to get an enormous water bottle (or a trough) so you can constantly drink. Keep in mind that everything you put in your body will eventually make its way to your milk. Eat healthily, avoid excess caffeine and alcohol, and ask your doctor about taking any prescribed or over the counter medications. Sleep when your baby sleeps and avoid stress.
Overcoming the discomfort and pain. If I were to tell you that you will eventually enjoy breastfeeding, you might not believe me. But trust me, it is normal and it will get better with time. Here are more tips to help you get through the beginning.
It’s all about the latch. Neither you nor your baby are born experts in breastfeeding. It will take time to master, but do not settle for a less than perfect latch. Positioning is key for settling in for those long meals. There are things you can utilize to help you out. Use foam shelf buckles around you to line up baby and nipple perfectly, eliminating the flopping and struggle to hold your little one in place. Once positioned, ensure your baby opens their mouth widely and fully encircles your areola with their lips. Check that their lips are everted in a kissing position, not tucked in. And after feeding, don’t forget to take that shelf off when you leave the house. If you do get a less than perfect latch or have a vigorous sucker and develop nipple cracks or discomfort, Lanolin nipple cream can help moisten and protect nipples. Soothies, round gel pads, can be kept in the freezer, then applied to the sore nipples to offer some relief as well.
Nipple shields are okay! Used sparingly, a nipple shield can be a lifesaver, literally salvaging a bloody, cracked nipple or assisting in making inverted nipples easier to grip by your new little sucker. There are drawbacks to try to avoid. Your baby could become somewhat dependent on the easy latch of the nipple shield, making them lazy on the real deal. I think you can circumvent this problem by alternating nipple shield and real nipple, protecting your most battered breast and encouraging an unshielded latch with the less painful breast.
Support! It is essential to find a good, supportive bra. Never mind that nursing bras are less than sexy, it’s well worth the sacrifice in comfort (combined with your nursing shelf, you’ll really be pulling off the look). Additionally, sleeping in a bra can be essential for comfort.
Prevent the leaks. You don’t want to find out the hard way whether hearing someone else’s baby crying in the grocery store will result in you sporting a soaked shirt. Nursing pads are essential. Many women have no problem with the run-of-the-mill nursing pads, though some mothers may have a lot of discomfort with them. If you want another option, I recommend LilyPadz, a skin-like silicone alternative that you can cleanse and reuse.
Don’t worry, your baby is getting plenty to eat! And your worry is probably the beginning of years of “Now, finish your milk, sweetie.” In all likelihood, your baby is probably eating enough. There are signs you can monitor, but keep in mind it’s not uncommon for babies to lose some weight initially, so don’t overdo the weigh-ins at home—allow your pediatrician to show the progress in the office. You can also monitor diaper changes. Your baby should have 5-8 wet diapers a day and 2-3 stools per day. Also try to note if your baby seems relaxed and satisfied after a feeding, and if your breasts feel softer after a feeding. A relaxed baby and soft breasts are signs that your baby is eating and satisfied.
Remember above all that there is no prize for best breast feeder. Your adequacy as a woman and as a mom is not defined by success at breastfeeding. Of course it is the best option for your baby, so give it your all, but it is also okay if you just cannot make it work. I hope the above tips have helped, and that you and your baby experience many happy feeding sessions in the future.
Written and edited by a nurse-medical student-mother of two young sons and edited by a pregnant creative writer. Buttoned-up by a lactation consultant and a super fun pediatrician.