I often have friends and co-workers ask my opinion about breastfeeding. They will ask questions or seek tips for the difficult task at hand. After receiving so many inquiries over the past year or so I decided to write some of my favorite breastfeeding nuggets down for you all.
First off, I’m not a lactational specialist. I have no specific certifications in this area. I am a Registered Nurse, but I do not specialize in OB-GYN. I am simply a mother. I breastfed my first daughter for 18 months, and my second daughter (currently 16 months old) is still nursing.
This isn’t a step-by-step guide on how to breastfeed, but rather a collection of tips I wanted to share. I will assume if you’re planning to breastfeed you have read many other materials that explain the logistics of nursing your infant. If you haven’t, then please start there first.
As a new mom who planned to breastfeed I read several books on the subject. There’s plenty out there ranging from simplistic to more in-depth. There’s a bounty of information at your fingertips by a simple internet search. I know I certainly did my research when I was pregnant, and it was still challenging! My goal here is to offer tips, suggestions, and information that I didn’t uncover in my extensive reading, but rather learned with experience. My hope is that by sharing this information with you it may make your breastfeeding adventure less stressful and more enjoyable. As God intended.
You can do it! First off, congratulations on the interest and desire to breastfeed. That’s the first step to success. I’ll start by saying if you cannot breastfeed it’s okay. Although I’m a big breastfeeding advocate I don’t judge or think any less if this is not for you or you find yourself unable to nurse. If you’ve failed in the past I would encourage you to try again with your next child, but don’t feel like a failure if it doesn’t work out. I do believe breast is best, but I understand the obstacles. I won’t be addressing the physical obstacles in this blog post. As I’ve said before, that’s not my specialty. I will address the emotional and psychological obstacles as I’ve encountered them myself.
Often times successful breastfeeding is a mindset. If you begin your breastfeeding journey with thoughts like “I hope I can do it” or “I’m gonna try, but ____” then you already have negative belief obstacles in your path. I would encourage you to start with the belief that you can succeed. Too many times women think nursing is much harder than it really is. They develop a fear of being unable to breastfeed. Your infant child will pick up on this, and so will you. It’s much easier to quit something when you already believe that you will not succeed.
Don’t say “I hope I can,” but instead say “I will!”
This is a system that God put into place at the beginning of time. It’s a perfect system of supply and demand. It’s much easier to give up on this system in today’s society where a back-up plan is so readily available. I never brought formula into my home, and therefore never had it to fall back on when the going got tough. This might be something you could try.
Naturally you have the option to supplement with formula and breastfeed, but if you wish to exclusively breastfeed as I have done then don’t even buy formula. It’s too tempting to have it in the cabinet.
The point is I want you to start by believing you can successfully breastfeed your baby. And guess what? You can enjoy it. Tremendously. Don’t fear failure. If you believe that you cannot do it, then you most likely will not be able to. That sounds harsh, but the power of suggestion is pretty influencing on our actions. Get it in your head that you’re going to breastfeed this baby! Start there.
Don’t let the first 24-72 hours, or even the first week discourage you. Think about a new job. That first week is crazy, right? You don’t know where anything is located. You have to learn most everything from scratch. Motherhood is the same. And breastfeeding is just one more challenging unknown added to the equation. Take heart. It gets easier. A lot easier.
So why do it? A newborn is stressful enough. Why add additional chaos? Because in the long run it will be worth it. Trust me. Anything great never starts easy. Remember that.
Let’s just pause for a few pros to nursing to keep you motivated. Repeat these to yourself that first week.
Breast milk contains the perfect amount of nutrients for your little one. Formula has come a long way, but God’s design has the upper hand. It has the best amount of everything and is custom designed for your baby. As you continue to nurse it will also be the perfect amount of milk for baby. Like Baby Bear’s porridge it will be “just right.”
Breast milk contains your antibodies. Babies haven’t built immunity as newborns. They can receive your immunity through breast milk. This means healthier baby and less sickness. Does this mean your baby won’t get sick? No. Does this mean the chances of illness are reduced? Yes. Will your baby be unhealthy if formula fed? No! Will the chances be improved statistically by nursing though? Yes indeed.
And it’s free!
There’s tons of other pros.
But we were talking about that first week. It’s tough. I won’t lie. I gave you all those pros to soften the blow of the struggles within that first week. Be prepared.
That first 24 hours may be a little challenging to say the least. With both my girls I offered the breast immediately after the birth. They were healthy and it was uncomplicated deliveries so I had the option. I hope you do too, but even if you don’t you can still breastfeed. Anyway, when I first offered the breast within minutes of life each child took it eagerly. Yay! I was so happy. I had this thing all figured out! Well, not exactly.
The next time I went to breastfeed I was confronted with a sleepy little infant who wouldn’t open her eyes much less latch onto my breast. I tried taking her clothes off, putting a little cool water on her, anything to wake her up and make her eat.
I was so distraught! All the books said a newborn had to breastfeed every two hours! They had to drink for 15 minutes on each breast! My baby had only drank for five minutes four hours ago! Help! She was going to starve to death. I was failing at breastfeeding. Maybe I needed to give her a bottle.
Does any of that sound familiar if you tried before? I needed to calm down. Thankfully I had an experienced nurser I called on who set my mind at ease. She told me a few things I’ll share.
Be prepared that your baby will be sleepy that first day. They likely would take more of a bottle for a couple of reasons. One, a bottle is less work than nursing. They’re tired, remember. Also of importance though is that it takes less breast milk to satisfy a baby than it does formula. Breast milk contains more fat and nutrients therefore a smaller amount will satisfy your baby. Then I think of this image.
Wow! That’s a tiny tummy. It’s almost like that tiny amount of colostrum that is all you can produce those first couple of days, and by the way is packed with tons of nutrients, was some fantastical plan created by a mighty God. Fascinating stuff.
But we humans, and especially moms want to feed our babies. We want to feed them a lot. We fear that we’re not making enough. We fear our milk won’t come in. Since we can’t quantify an amount it freaks us out.
Don’t freak out that first week. Relax. Go with your intuition. Feed them every two hours, but if they want to sleep four then let them. I wouldn’t personally let them sleep over six when they’re newborn though.
Just watch the baby for cues. If they have wet diapers, they’re happy and not screaming continuously, and they’re gaining weight then you’re doing awesome!
When your milk comes in you might become engorged, meaning your breasts will get really big and tight. It will be uncomfortable. Depending on how you tolerate that is individualized. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but it was definitely worse the first time around.
You might be tempted to pump that excess milk off. Be warned that this will cause you to produce more. If you must pump then I would suggest just pumping a little bit. I personally just let the baby nurse and relieve the engorgement. That way you can go ahead and get into that supply and demand I talked about. Your breasts will produce however much the baby eats. If it makes you feel better to pump and increase your supply then do so. I personally never pumped until the week before I returned to work. This was simply so I could offer a bottle to see how they would do.
As far as bottles go there’s much debate. They say if you offer too soon the baby will not want the breast. But if you wait too long they may not want a bottle. I would suggest waiting at least a month to offer a bottle, but each baby is different. My first hated them, and my second loved them. Go figure.
But back to the engorgement; take heart. It will get better. It’s only for a few days. Since you are already sore everywhere else, what’s one more place. Right? Take some ibuprofen and keep trucking.
Nipples. I have to tell you. They’re not going to be used to nursing. They will initially be sore. They may crack. This will get better too. Hang in there. May I suggest this product. It’s amazing.
You can get this at Walmart or Kmart. While you’re there pick up a few other items. Nursing bras. They have great little flaps you can pull down for easy access. I personally loved nursing tank tops as well. I bought one in every color and wore them under my shirt. I felt like they kept my pudgy belly covered when I lifted my top shirt to nurse.
Which brings me to a nursing apron or cover. This is a light-weight blanket with a strap you can put around your neck. It covers baby and your bosom. It may be a little uncomfortable for you baring your breasts around others even if it is a natural experience. Get one of these so you don’t feel like you have to go in hiding every time the baby eats. They eat every two hours at first!
You can’t stay inside your house the entire time. You will need to get out. And your baby will need to eat. If nursing in public makes you uncomfortable then a nursing cover will help a lot. And they make them in cute designs. I have personally nursed at probably every store and restaurant in town. I’ve even nursed at church in my seat so I didn’t miss the service. If you’re shy it’s okay. This gets easier as you go too.
While you’re buying stuff, get a good, quality pump. I’ll go ahead and tell you that pumping isn’t fun. It’s not painful. It’s just not as comfortable as your baby’s mouth. The higher quality the pump the more comfortable it is. If you are a stay-at-home mom then perhaps a single, lower quality pump is all you need. But if you will be leaving the home for work then I suggest investing in a pricey pump.
That’s right. You have to dish out the dollars. Personally I’m not made of money. I would hands down suggest a Medela brand pump. They’re the best. They’re around $400 brand new for a good one. I do not have a brand new one. I was given a used Medela. I have purchased a used Medela pump for someone else as a gift. It may sound odd buying a used pump, but realize that all the parts can be sanitized or bought new for certain, personal parts like the nipple shield. eBay is a great source to purchase a good, used pump. If you can afford a new one then go for it. I couldn’t. My used pump has lasted strong through five children that I know of, but it may be more.
Lastly understand that your baby is unique. Every baby is different about most things, and breastfeeding is no exception. You will read many books (I hope), and you will receive information at your discharge from the hospital concerning breastfeeding. All this information is wonderful! I’m not knocking any of it. But I would consider it all as guidelines, much like my information is. The majority of things you will read or be told are guidelines that have been gathered based on an average. What I mean is that they wrote this stuff based on what most babies should do or as a safe point for you to reference from. You have to start somewhere after all.
I’ll give an example or two. The literature suggests feeding your baby for 15 minutes on each breast. It states to feed them every two hours while newborn. It also suggests you time this two hour interval from the time you begin nursing. If you’re doing the math then you’ll notice that actually means you feed them every hour and a half. If they eat for thirty minutes like they’re supposed to do that is. Well, that’s overwhelming.
My first baby nursed for 45 minutes at a time! The books said to let them stay on one breast until they unlatched like they were satisfied. She never did. We only used one breast for each feeding this way. After she finished eating she pooped. I changed her, she slept 30 minutes, then it was time to eat again. She got better at nursing as we went along and got faster at it, but she continued to nurse every two hours until she was 9 months old. That includes nighttime folks. I didn’t understand when people asked if she slept through the night. I was like, “what’s that?!” It was exhausting. But I was weaning her before I knew it. And it made me sad.
My second child nursed for ten minutes on each breast. She nursed every 3-4 hours from the beginning. She was sleeping 8 hours without nursing by three months. My first loved nursing, and the second acted as if she could take it or leave it until she got a bit older. Then she loved it too!
Point being, all babies are different. You know this already I’m sure. I’m certain you’ve been told this if you don’t know it personally already. Every baby acts, sleeps, cries, and behaves differently. They also breastfeed differently. I’ll go back to my advice before. Go with your gut and follow your baby’s lead. They will let you know when they’re hungry. Wet diapers, happy baby, weight gain? Yes? Then you’re good.
Last piece of advice. If you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing when you first start out then realize you’re in good company. Although it is a natural, God-given gift of motherhood it doesn’t always come easy. I was overwhelmed and unsure of myself the first time. I was concerned about “my technique” and so many other things. I worried I wasn’t doing it right or she wasn’t getting enough. But through my trepidation I kept going.
I am so glad I did! No experience has been more rewarding for me. Something about nourishing a tiny life from your own body is fantastical. It’s a wonderful feeling to realize that a baby is growing big and strong from milk you supply. It’s a huge confidence builder during a time of post-pregnancy body blues.
It will be challenging but oh so worth it! If you don’t have a mentor in your breastfeeding I would suggest finding one. If you live close and need my assistance I’m willing. I’ve helped a mother or two through that first couple of days at home. Let me know. Send me questions. Whatever. I’d be honored to be a part of your beautiful journey.
Feel free to share this post with moms you know who have the option to breastfeed, but may need some advice. There’s a Pinterest share button below so you can always pin this for later if you think you’ll need it in the future. Best wishes on your breastfeeding adventure. You can do this!