Clearly I’ve been on a maternity leave of sorts from blogging – but hope to get back into the swing of things. While
basking in the bliss of changing two dirty diapers at once on repeat all day, I’ve been thinking about things “I know now” that I didn’t “know then.” It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and I know so many people who are pregnant or have just had babies, many of whom have asked me for advice or pointers; I thought I’d start to compile some of the best breast tidbits I’ve learned to share.
Here are 10 fairly general, yet perhaps not second-nature, breastfeeding tips gathered from lactation consultants, midwives, and personal experience. Hope you find something of use here – and menfolk, this is for you too – sometimes the best help is from your supportive, informed partner!
Go out and feed your lovelies your ambrosial nectar with pride (above is my favorite picture of me tandem nursing my babies at 22 months and 1 day old)!
1. If you plan to breastfeed or do skin-to-skin (kangaroo care) after birth, don’t wash your breasts! It’s easier on your baby’s nascent nose! He/she will be able to smell and bond with “the real” you. I wish I had known this when WV was born! Along the same lines, it’s a good idea for you and your partner to be the only ones to hold your baby for the first 24 hours. You don’t want to overwhelm your baby’s senses with scent, and you want him/her to really “learn” yours. Articles of interest: Nishitani et al., 2009, Varendi and Porter, 2001, and Brown, 1998.
2. Breast milk is so perfectly formulated for your baby’s needs that it digests rather quickly – more quickly than formula. So your baby may eat ALL. THE. TIME. Or cluster feed. Sometimes the frequency and duration of a baby’s nursing can make you feel insecure or be disconcerting. You may fear your baby isn’t getting enough, when in fact, it is quite full (see #3)!
3. A newborn’s stomach is extremely small, hence why babies may need to eat often. Here is a diagram and insight into the size of a newborn’s stomach.
4. Pillows. Pillows are your friends. I suggest having TWO Boppies (made in China, sadly, so get them at a baby consignment sale, where they go for ~$5) to stack on top of each other in your lap so that you aren’t craning your neck to look into your baby’s eyes. I like a nice cylinder pillow to prop my neck up with and also a decent stack to lean my “working” arm on, otherwise, your guns are going to get mighty tired, with all the weird angles you try when you are learning to breastfeed. I just spent a weekend at Bend Yoga where they had awesome bolster pillows, which made nursing a breeze – here’s the website where you can find a variety of them (made in the USA)!
5. Positioning really is key to a comfortable breast feeding sesh. Along with the pillows, I’ve found that:
5a) Having the baby’s head at your natural nipple height or slightly above (pillows!) is great if you have a lot of milk or forcefull let-down…then, at least, you are attempting to counter gravity.
5b) Make sure your baby’s body is in line with his/her head – if it’s turned from alignment with the rest of it’s body, it’s harder to swallow. Try swallowing with your head turned to the side and you’ll understand immediately.
5c) Use the hand on the side of the breast you are feeding to grasp your breast and flatten it a bit; a lactation consultant who really helped me likened it to holding a hamburger. This helps shape your aureola and nipple a bit more easily for your baby to latch.
6. You won’t get that loving stare back from your newborn, even when you’re breastfeeding! I worried about this with WV – why wasn’t he staring adoringly into my eyes at one week old? I didn’t realize at first that what I expected would develop later. Regardless, your baby is taking you IN. Babies, even newborns, are most interested in faces, followed closely by black and white geometric objects. Articles of interest: Goren et al., 1975 and Fantz, 1963.
7. Drink TONS of fluids. Every time you breast feed, have a glass of juice or water on hand. You might think you are getting enough because you pee like crazy after you give birth, but that happens regardless, because your cells are processing all the extra blood you had in your body; you are excreting that extra volume, which gives the false sense of being hydrated.
8. Galactagogues. Things that help increase milk supply. You are going to come across A TON of resources out there, and some of the grey lit conflicts with itself. In my research, I’ve found reducing stress helps stimulate milk production, as does oatmeal or oatmeal-containing products. Fenugreek is often mentioned, however, is one of those points of contention – it may take far more than a few pills to increase your supply. Best place to start: La Leche League (LLL).
9. Your breasts are on a roller coaster. For realz. Right after giving birth, you make colostrum, but as your milk comes in they may become huge and hard and painful. Warm compresses/baths, massage, frequent feeding will all help relieve the pain. I was so unbelievably tempted to start pumping immediately this time around because of all of the above but was counseled to wait at least a week – if you start to pump too early you may put your body into an oversupply situation, effectively prolonging those symptoms.
10. Once you feel comfortable breast feeding, try breastfeeding in a variety of positions; changing positions can reduce the likelihood of plugged ducts and mastitis by ensuring that the breast drains fully and from all the milk ducts.
Ok, guess I have 11. This one, above ALL, is so important:
11. Ask for help. Don’t do it all. You probably can, but you shouldn’t. There are tons of resources out there to tap when you have a problem. La Leche League, Dr. Jack Newman, Baby Center, Baby Science. Breastfeeding can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Don’t feel hesitant to ask for and seek help – Facebook can be great for this; but there are so many groups centered around breast feeding and being a mom.
I think breastfeeding comes more naturally to the baby than to the mom; it truly is a womanly art, and to get it right, you need practice, support, and time.
Good luck! And by all means, add to these tips with your own in the comments!