When I had my baby 9 months ago, I didn’t know the first thing about breastfeeding. Honestly, it terrified me. And the first 4 weeks were SO PAINFUL, despite a good latch, despite doing “everything right” – a very sensitive part of my body needed time to get used to it. I dreaded every feed for those first 4 weeks. But then it got better, and I’m SO glad I kept going.
Why breast feed? It promotes mother-baby bonding, baby’s physical and mental development, can help combat illness and boost immunity for baby, helps with mom’s postpartum recovery, is inexpensive (free, in fact!), and is the exact perfect nutrition for your baby at whatever stage they are at. It’s kind of magical, honestly. But it can also seem complicated and can be incredibly difficult, especially when you’re just starting. So I wanted to share some of my best tips and tricks for successful breastfeeding!
- The first big thing is making sure your baby has a good latch! A poor latch can lead to a lot of discomfort for you, not enough food for baby, and a bunch of other nursing issues. Figuring out how to get a good, deep, latch is absolutely a learning process so be patient with yourself and your baby as you figure it out! Make sure you’re in a comfortable position and line your nipple up with the baby’s nose (using a “C” hold with four fingers underneath your breast and your thumb on top). When their mouth opens wide quickly pull them onto your breast, aiming your nipple at the roof of their mouth. You want all of the nipple and as much areola as possible in their mouth and their lips to be flanged (or turned out). Then you just want to make sure you hear sucking and swallowing! If you have a good latch you shouldn’t feel much or any discomfort, especially after the first couple weeks of breastfeeding. If your nipple looks misshapen or you experience a lot of pain, that probably means the latch is off!
- For the first 2 weeks feed any time you see a hunger cue-your body is “building the factory” for milk production and this is how you build up your supply! It typically takes 2-5 days after giving birth for your mature milk to take over for the colostrum. This period of time before your milk comes in is where babies frequently lose weight and sometimes mothers are pressured into supplementing with formula. The way breastmilk works is the more baby is trying to nurse, the more milk you’ll produce. So supplementing frequently results in a milk supply that isn’t enough for what your baby needs which results in more supplementing. So my big tip is: if you want to exclusively breastfeed-give yourself some time for your mature milk to come in, feeding often, before you consider supplementing.
- Avoid pacifiers and bottles (any artificial nipples) for the first month. This is to help avoid any nipple confusion issues that could come up and interfere with the baby’s latch on the breast. It also goes back to “building the factory”, if baby is using a pacifier or bottle instead of the breast then your body has a harder time being able to get an accurate read for your baby’s nutritional needs (isn’t it crazy that our bodies can do that?!)
- If/when giving your breastfed baby a bottle use “pace feeding” techniques. You can find videos of this online but essentially you make sure to have the bottle at the same level as baby (not above) and frequently bring the nipple down so they’re forced to take breaks and can’t guzzle. If they drink from the bottle too fast, sometimes they get frustrated when on the breast and dealing with the naturally slower flow and stops and starts of breastmilk.
- Make sure your baby is getting the right balance of foremilk (the hydrating milk at the beginning of a feeding) and hindmilk (the fattier and more comforting milk at the end of a feeding) by nursing until you’ve completely emptied one breast before moving to the other. And alternate which breast you started with from the beginning of each session (so if you start with the right breast then do the left at one feeding, then at the next feeding start with left and then try the right.) This also helps prevent clogged ducts and mastitis issues! You’ll know a baby is done with a breast when the breast feels softer and less full and your baby looks sleepy and contented and usually breaks off on their own. Not every baby will nurse from both breasts at every feeding, that completely depends on your supply, but it’s always good to burp after they’ve finished one breast then offer the other.
- At various times throughout your baby’s first year they’ll have growth spurts where they may eat more than usual. Make sure to feed them as much as they want and need during this time because this is how your body regulates its supply and keeps up with the changes in your baby’s nutritional needs as they grow! This is one of the reasons that the ounces of breastmilk a baby gets don’t change as they get older-the milk changes with them. SERIOUSLY, how cool!
- Drink lots of water! And make sure to eat (there is no hunger like breastfeeding hunger-you’re burning an extra 500 calories a day mama!) And try to sleep…as much as you’re able.
- If you’re having any issues with supply (over or under) remember: supply and demand. The more you pump and nurse, the more milk you’ll make. There are also lots of great things you can put in your food that can help you boost your supply (oats, flaxseed, brewer’s yeast, etc.-a quick internet search provides plenty of things to try!) Make sure to not create an oversupply issue either, though, as that can lead to an imbalance of foremilk and hindmilk for your baby and clogged ducts or even mastitis for you.
- If you’re having issues with clogged ducts: switch the position you nurse in, try to have the baby nurse with their chin pointed at the location of the clog, and avoid anything that puts pressure on your breasts (such as underwire bras or sleeping on your side or stomach).
- Enjoy it! Take the time out from the world to enjoy your sweet baby and your time together. It’s such a rewarding and special experience and, believe it or not, you’ll miss it when it’s gone.
I hope these tips help you to have a successful and rewarding breastfeeding journey! Even though it seems like a lot, it becomes second nature surprisingly quickly and in the end, it’s a labor of love.