Surviving the First Few Weeks of Breastfeeding: 14 Tips from a New Mom

Breastfeeding-10-anja-kielBreastfeeding 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.

 

  1. 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.

  2. Find support

    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.

  3. 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.

  4. Aim up

    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.

  5. 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!)

  6. 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.

  7. Keep track

    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.

  8. 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.

  9. Hydrate

    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.

  10. 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.

  11. Get comfy

    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.

  12. Stay awake

    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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

Advertisements

Passive Aggressive Diet Tip #2

First, I’m going to need your help.  A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about an indirect, strange diet tip with the intent of being the first in a series.   Unfortunately, the title sounded like something flashing on the sidebar next to a gif of somebody’s shrinking belly.  (As a side note, here’s an interesting blog post about how “click-bait is killing  content quality“.)  Anyway, my old title was lame, so I’m going to need you to join me in pretending that my first diet tip post was entitled”Passive Aggressive Diet Tip #1″.  Got it?  Okay, great.  What is reality if not collectively sanctioned perception anyway?  Now that we’re all on the same page, here’s my second Passive Aggressive Diet Tip.  You know, since I already posted one Passive Aggressive Diet Tip and this is the next one that I’m posting with the same name as the other one.  Right?  Right.

Passive Aggressive Diet Tip #2:

Freeze Things

Frozen_raspberries

 

I’m not talking about leftovers here.  I’m talking about freezing foods and eating them frozen.  Bananas, chocolate, cherries (OMG my favorite!!!), yogurt, juice, bars, cookies… so many choices!

When I was a kid, my parents used to put my juice boxes in the freezer so they would keep my food cold and be defrosted by lunch period.  Pretty innovative, but not as innovative as my friends and I were when we’d cut off the tops and eat that icy juice with a spoon.  Which is better- a juice box you slurp down in 30 seconds, or a frozen slushy treat that takes 30 minutes to eat?

That’s the fantastic thing about frozen foods- they take a long time to eat.  Of course, “a long time” is a relative term (a piece of chocolate might take 2 minutes instead of .2 seconds to disappear), but it’s a lot easier to eat just 1 cookie if it takes 10 minutes.  There’s also the added bonus that freezing things kind of makes them a little more desserty.  Add “frozen” in front of “yogurt” and it gets a lot more exciting.  See what I mean?  Even a frozen banana is cold, creamy and satisfying.  (I’ve been buying these at Fairway and they are awesome.)

I’m sure I’m not alone here.  What foods do you like to eat frozen?  And if this seems strange to you, go ahead and give it a try.  Hopefully you’ll be less, “You bitch! Why did you freeze a perfectly good brownie?” and more, “Cold things are delicious, you clever devil you”.

 

On Clinical Supervision

For three weeks now, I have been the supervisor to an enthusiastic and skilled graduate student in Speech-Language Pathology.  Over the next ten weeks, she will gradually take on most of my patient care responsibilities.  This is her first practicum working with adults and her last placement prior to graduating in May.  In one semester, I must teach her how to independently treat and evaluate speech, language, cognitive, and swallowing disorders in adults with neurological impairments.  And then she will get a job and start doing just that, but without supervision.

From one generation to another...

From one generation to another…

No pressure, right?  Let’s put on top of that that she is only an uncomfortable two years younger than me (shh- don’t tell her!).  In different circumstances, we could be playing beer pong together at a party, for god sakes.  But instead, I’m her supervisor- the knowledgeable clinician charged with the task of imparting all of the know-how needed to be successful at her job.

The good news is that I actually have learned a ton in the almost-three years since I was a neophyte myself.  I would venture to say that I am downright capable! (Or “Proficient” as my job title proclaims!)  I’ve worked with a lot of patients, worked with a lot of families, dealt with a lot of issues, and had a lot of help along the way.  The point is, however unlikely, I am confident that my student will be well-prepared to work with this population at the end of the semester.

While we’re on the topic, I’d like to share a few tips that I have found beneficial to my student’s learning.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, but some basic ideas that have been helpful.

  • Set expectations

    At my hospital, we are required to set weekly goals and discuss progress.  This works well for us.  Expectations with respect to schedule, attire, supervision, etc. are also important to communicate clearly.  It can be easy to take hospital etiquette for granted, but remember that this is new for your student.

  • Emphasize rationale

    I repeatedly tell my student that a good evaluation leads to good goal writing which leads to good treatment.  It is vital to help your student connect the dots.  They should be able to explain why they select activities and evaluations, as well as conjecture why the patient performed as he did.

  • Use templates

    Documentation can be overwhelming and at times even seem arbitrary.  My student has taken it upon herself to write some general templates, especially for evaluations, to help organize her thoughts.

  • Review documentation together

    While time consuming in the beginning, this proves to be a good learning opportunity.

  • Don’t butt in!

    It can be challenging to bite my tongue sometimes- I am working on this one!  It’s okay to provide assistance, but often, whatever I was going to jump in with would not make or break the session.

  • Stay positive

    Confidence is so important to a new therapist.  Of course not all feedback will be positive, but it’s important to keep the overall energy supportive.

Having a student is a two-way street.  My student asks questions and makes suggestions that make me a better therapist.  She brings experiences from other settings that expand my clinical knowledge and perspective.  I have had all kinds of supervisors in the past: wonderful, talented, encouraging, intimidating, credulous, down-to-earth, demanding, brilliant.   In this new role, I synthesize my (recent) experiences on the other end and strive to provide the best learning experience.

As a brand new supervisor, I would love feedback.  Regardless of your profession, what has been effective for you as a supervisor?

~Sam

Strange Diet Tip #1

I have always had a ferocious love of food.  I’m not talking about a nuanced palate or culinary expertise.  I’m talking about the yum-that’s-good-I’m-going-to-eat-more-of-it kind of food love.  Inevitably, this becomes a love/hate relationship and has led to a fair amount of energy spent on monitoring the types and amounts of food I ingest.

40268_770701700469_2009168_nworth it.

It’s surprisingly challenging, right??  Along the way, I’ve come up with a few ideas that seem to be helpful to me at least some of the time.  I’d like to share them periodically, so look out for re-occurring  “Strange Diet Tip” entries.

To give credit where due, I should mention that many of these ideas came about in conversations with a great dietician in Nyack, NY who has a lot of smart ideas about how behavioral modifications can impact diet and healthy living.  Check out Jennifer’s website for some of them.  Now, without further ado, my first Strange Diet Tip:

Lay in Bed.

Yup, that’s it.  Just lay in bed.  The pounds fall right off.

Okay, there’s a little more to it than that.  Let me explain.  I don’t know about you, but when I get home from work, I am that lethal combination of hungry and tired.  This would usually send me straight to the kitchen for whatever could make it to my mouth the fastest.  Even when I wasn’t hungry, it became a type of routine that encouraged mindless eating… and a lot of it.  What’s a girl to do?

Lay in bed, that’s what.  Here’s the change: whenever possible, I now head to the bedroom as soon as I walk in the door (after taking off my icky hospital clothes, of course).  Sometimes I close my eyes and rest for a few minutes (or hours- oops!).   I might think about what I want to make for dinner or peruse Pinterest.  Lately I’ve been inputting my daily calories into MyFitnessPal.  The thing is, it doesn’t really matter what I use that time for.  The point is that laying in bed allows me to do the following:

  • stop the negative routine
  • regain some energy
  • reassess my level of hunger
  • devise a plan for the evening (food-wise and otherwise)

Plus, being in bed is awesome.  Even so, laying in bed might not be the exact strategy for you.  The point is to identify the circumstances that drive unhealthy habits and then find a way to interrupt them.  I would love to hear how other people have successfully applied this principle.  Share please!!

~Sam

5 Steps for Starting Over

Starting over is hard.  Whether it’s getting back into a routine like exercise, reentering the professional world after a hiatus, regaining the closeness of a relationship, or building back financial security, starting over ain’t easy.

Today I decided to start over with writing.  It’s not a New Year resolution (although I’m starting over with those too), just something I enjoy doing and haven’t done in a while.  Starting over means dealing with disappointment and accepting missed time.  But it also means that you’ve done this before and you can do it again… only better and, uh, more continuously.  Easier said than done?  Sure.  But here are 5 steps to make the second (or third, or fifteenth) time around more successful.

ImageStep 1. Realize you were happier when you were doing it.

This step usually happens without much effort.  It’s that little voice that bugs you to get off your butt when you’re watching reruns of Modern Family.  Maybe it’s urging you to cook a healthy dinner, maybe to call an old friend, maybe to research GED programs.  Whatever it is, you know it will make you happy because it used to.  And you’ve probably come to the logical conclusion that the effort to benefit ratio is reasonable.  Of course, logic and reason are not always enough to nudge us over the hump of starting over.  Otherwise there would be 1 step for Starting Over and we’d be done by now.

Step 2. Forgive yourself for stopping.

Shit happens.  It’s really okay.  Maybe big life events got in the way or maybe you were just plain lazy.  In any case, it happened and it’s over.  Just because it didn’t stick last time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again.  Ask any recovering addict how many attempts it took him or her to stay clean, and the answer will most likely be more than one.

Image

Homer Simpson might not agree with me, but chances are you’ve set your sights higher than an overweight, clumsy, dim-witted drunk (however loveable).  So do yourself a favor and try try again.

Step 3. Identify the barriers and figure out how to overcome them.

This one is really important.  You know what Einstein said about insanity?  So let’s not be crazy here.  Just “trying harder” or “wanting it more” probably won’t change your fate.  Let’s be honest; you wanted it just as badly last time and you most likely worked hard last time too.  Don’t sell your former-self short.  Instead, you have to figure out what went wrong and fix it.

For example, I stopped running last September after finishing my first 5k in part because I had made my long-term goal too finite and did not set any continuing goals.  So after I crossed the finish line, I celebrated by basically never running again.  Next time I want to start running again (I’m not quite there yet), I will not attach a deadline to the activity and I will continue to set new goals just before I reach the old one.

ImageMy dad and me at the finish line

For some people, the barrier may have been lack of accountability or record keeping.  In other cases, the goal may have been too daunting or maybe you tried to do too much at once.  Take some time to predict barriers to achievement, and you will truly set yourself up for success.


Step 4. Start!

You can’t start over without starting- duh!  Seems like a no-brainer, but this is probably the hardest part.  Remember what Newton said about an object at rest?  That first law is really a bitch.  The good news is that the inverse is also true: an object in motion tends to stay in motion, so get moving!  Even baby steps move you in the right direction.  Overcome the inertia!  Something about friction coefficients!!  Physics analogies!!!!

Image

Step 5. Reevaluate.

If you make it this far, you should be very proud.  GO YOU!!

But you’re not quite done (sorry).  Hopefully your predictive capabilities from Step 3 put you on the right track, but if not, there’s always opportunity to adjust the course.  Goals are an ideal shaped by reality, and that’s okay!  You may need to simplify or up the challenge.  You might identify budding barriers that you need to blow up with a grenade (or cleverly outsmart, whichever).  Keep your goals working for you, your lifestyle, and your values, and hopefully after this you’ll be over with starting over.

******************************************

Time will tell whether this writing continues and this blog endures.  My last blog was short-lived.  I poured over potential blog titles, spent hours picking fonts and widgets, and carefully penned my first few entries.  The only problem was I never knew what I was going to blog about.  This time, I am at least armed with a hastily scrawled brainstorm of future topics… I look forward to writing about house hunting, speech-language pathology, vegetarianism, marriage, friendship, diet, exercise, weddings, and just generally life and living.  I promise not to take myself too seriously and I hope you’ll use the comments to provide some perspective.

Starting over is hard, but good.  It confirms that, despite life circumstances and inevitable changes, we still hold ourselves to the high standard of our goals.  It’s a testament to our faith in ourselves and our resolve to be great.

So in conclusion, you got this.
(and hopefully I do too!)

~Sam