Breastfeeding is seriously hard work. You’re a new mom, you haven’t slept more than 2 hours at a stretch in days, your everything hurts, your hormones are all over the map, and then this little human insists on sucking on your boobs all day long. Ugh.
I count my lucky stars that breastfeeding has been relatively smooth for me, but still not easy. And for some mamas, challenges like supply issues, cracked nipples, colicky babies, and breast infections can be hard to avoid and difficult to persevere through. On the other hand, there is something special about physically providing sustenance for your child. And there is peace of mind in knowing his food is all natural, fresh, and full of extra goodies like antibodies, enzymes, vitamins, etc.
For those new moms who are motivated and able to breastfeed (and also for my future self), I’ve compiled the 14 essential tips that got me through the first few weeks as a nursing mom. My hope is that this advice will help other new mamas get over the hump of breastfeeding woes and forge positive breastfeeding relationships for the benefit of themselves and their babies.
Do your homework
Take a class at your hospital (or another local hospital if yours doesn’t offer one). I found that just a 2.5 hour class was incredibly helpful for understanding the mechanics of a proper latch and the timing of on-demand feeding. It also provided a lot of useful resources. Bring your partner or support person with you so that he r she fully understands what you will be going through and how to help. I also recommend the book The Nursing Mother’s Companion, and KellyMom is an amazing website that was my go-to for questions that arose along the way.
Breastfeeding is a whole lot easier when you surround yourself with people who get it. My husband is so attentive to my needs while I’m feeding our son. Perhaps even more valuable, he is sympathetic to my struggles. Many hospitals host breastfeeding support groups, and I’ve heard good things about La Leche League although I’ve never attended a meeting myself. In my case, a few mom friends who didn’t mind a late-night text about sore nipples or pumping were invaluable.
Wait for a wide open mouth
The latch is key. A bad latch equals seriously sore boobies. For me the biggest factor in getting a good latch was a wide open mouth. If I allowed my baby to take the nipple in a partially opened mouth, the result was a painful, ineffective, shallow latch.
I learned this tip in my breastfeeding class and it seemed to work. To get a good latch, aim your nipple toward the back of the baby’s hard palate. This not only stimulates the part of the mouth that triggers the suckle but it also encourages an asymmetrical latch. Sometimes it can be helpful to smush the nipple down a bit to get further back in baby’s mouth. Again- a shallow latch is a painful latch.
Count to 10
For the first couple weeks nursing hurt like crazy, but only for the first 10 seconds or so. Breastfeeding is a learning process for mom and baby. So in the beginning it took my little boy a few seconds to get my nipple in the perfect spot, and that trial and error was painful. To get through it my strategy was to count to 10 out loud, knowing that by the time I got to 10 (or sometimes 15…) it wouldn’t hurt anymore. (Don’t worry mamas- this only lasts a week or 2!)
If at first you don’t succeed…
If you can tell that the latch is not great, take the baby off and try again. Otherwise you will be super sore later on. Just be careful on the dismount! Use your finger to gently pull the corner of baby’s lip to break the seal before you pull him away.
I found it helpful to track when, for how long, and from which breast(s) my baby ate. I did this until his second weigh-in with the doctor (10 days) so that if things weren’t going well I could have some data to look back on. Trust me, you won’t remember anything without writing it down those first few weeks! (Side note: I changed my work email password when my son was 2 weeks old and immediately forgot it. Help Desk, please!) Tracking also helped me feel confident that he was getting enough and encouraged me to keep him at the breast a bit longer. I used the My Medela app.
Nipple cream every time
My cousin suggested this so I just did it. Slather on your favorite nipple cream after every feeding. Even if they don’t hurt. Just do it. I liked Lansinoh brand but there are plenty of natural creams as well. Just use something that doesn’t require wiping off. And use nursing pads because nipple cream can stain your shirts.
Some women get thirsty when they nurse. So. Thirsty. Science says so and I can attest to it. Even if you don’t get thirsty, don’t forget to drink. You are being actively dehydrated which can lead to headache and fatigue. The jury is out on whether dehydration decreases milk supply, but the general consensus is to drink to satisfy thirst. Whenever possible, I fill up a water bottle (with a straw) or ask my husband to bring it to me when I am nursing. By now I’m pretty good at multitasking but early on my husband would sometimes have to hold the water bottle for me to drink out of while the baby drank out of me. What a sight. What a guy.
Air ’em out
Your boobies will be sore and not wanting to be smushed inside a bra or even rubbed against a T-shirt. Give them air. They need to breathe! Just be sure to clip your top back up before answering the door.
My perfect set-up: A pillow behind my back, the Boppy under my baby, my phone and water nearby. If stitches, hemorrhoids, headaches, exhaustion (god we go through so much!) are driving you nuts, learn how to nurse side-lying. Whatever you need to to do to be comfortable, do it. You may be in that position for a while and the more relaxed you are, the better.
That means you and baby. Sleepy babies can often be a barrier to a successful breastfeeding relationship. I found that a pre- or mid- feeding diaper change helped keep my little one awake. Also I would firmly stroke the tongue muscles under the jaw to remind my baby to keep sucking. Some people swear by stripping the baby down to his diaper to keep him alert. Sleepy mamas can cause a problem too. Make sure the baby is supported on a Boppy or pillow so that if you fall asleep you won’t drop him. Especially for those middle of the night feedings.
Be all in
Nursing on demand is a full time job. Your baby will eat 8-12 times each day, and each feeding could take 20, 30 , or 40 minutes (there’s a wide range of normal- every baby is different). They say newborns eat every 2-3 hours, but my baby ate whenever the heck he felt like it which was usually more often. Cluster feeding is when the baby just wants to nurse and nurse, even if he’s just eaten and you think he can’t possibly be hungry. With all that unpredictability, I could barely run to the store without worrying I’d be leaving a hungry baby behind. (Pumping alleviates some of that stress but comes with it’s own list of challenges.) The point is, to breastfeed successfully, you have to be totally committed.
Patience and persistence
This is hands down the best piece of advice I received on breastfeeding. The first time I nursed my son outside of the delivery room the nurse told me, “Breastfeeding takes patience and persistence.” Man was she right. For weeks my baby would sometimes take 10 or 15 minutes just to latch on. He would be frustrated, I would be frustrated. My husband would wake up to me crying in the middle of the night holding a hungry baby who was not attached to my boob. Not good. I would literally say out loud, “Breastfeeding takes patience and persistence. Patience and persistence.” Eventually he would latch and we would all be okay. And the best part is that we both got a whole lot better at it- now he latches immediately.
Breastfeeding is draining, figuratively and literally. For a myriad of reasons it does not always work out for everybody who chooses to attempt it. Sometimes there are issues like tongue tie or reflux that can be rectified. Sometimes circumstances don’t allow for breastfeeding. (Of course if you are having trouble it’s a great idea to contact a board certified lactation consultant or your pediatrician.) Even when everything goes perfectly, breastfeeding is still a challenge. But luckily there is a whole lot of practice built in. You and your baby learn more each day and before you know it you both are pros! Go easy on yourself, be committed, and get help if you need it.
From one new mom to another, I hope these tips make your life just a tiny bit easier. I am more than sure this list is not exhaustive and that everybody has a unique experience. So what did I miss? What helped you persevere through the first few weeks of breastfeeding?