You’ve just had your baby, Congrats! At this point, you’ve probably already decided whether you will breastfeed or bottle feed, or do a combo, or use formula. Your lactation consultant or nurses will encourage you to try latching your baby to your breast for the first time. With my second, it was easy. I knew what I was doing and had zero anxiety. With my first, not so much. I wish someone had told me all of these things ahead of time, so here are my top Breastfeeding Basics:
1. Skin to skin immediately after birth and throughout the first year helps you and baby bond, and encourages breastfeeding. Your partner can do skin to skin as well. It’s nice to do skin to skin in a warm bath before bedtime as well.
Babies already know to look for the breast! “Rooting”–turning their head from side to side, searching for the breast–is a sign of hunger. Crying is a late sign! I try to keep an eye on Teddy Bear’s cues before he gets too hungry. Nursing on-demand–whenever baby wants–is the best way to encourage your milk to come in quickly and maintain supply. There’s no need to watch the clock when breastfeeding. Just keep an eye on those hunger cues, and I like to switch sides after burping, or at least offer it.
2. When you first latch, you want baby to get as much of your breast in his/her mouth as you can, but don’t force it. Always bring baby to you. Never slouch, you’ll hurt your back. Here are some of the most common positions. For newborn, I preferred Football Hold until I get the hang of the others, even with my second. And side lying at night is what I do with my 2 month old because I’m too exhausted now to sit up.
I had a lactation consultant at the hospital trying to put my whole boob in Little Bear’s mouth. This is so wrong. If you pinch your breast between two fingers, leaving an inch or two of space between them and your nipple, you should be able to get a great latch from the start. Too shallow of a latch results in pain and raw nipples. The areola should be partially in babies mouth. I pinch this skin between my pointer finger and middle finger and let baby latch. If Teddy Bear sucks on just my nipple, it feels like sandpaper scraping, I know the latch is wrong.
3. Cluster Feeding can happen at anytime. But, specifically, it happens in the first few weeks and during growth spurts. The first week, your body produces colostrum, which turns to milk shortly after. It took about 3-5 days with both my boys for my milk to come in. Cluster feeding can last for hours. I nursed my first for 10 hours straight, switching breasts so they wouldn’t be too sore. They were. And yours will be too. No one tells you about the pains of breastfeeding the first few days. The pain from cluster feeding should only be soreness, maybe a tad bit of irritation. It was more intense with my first than with my second though. Cluster feeding helps bring in more milk. Think of this as supply and demand. Baby demands more!
4. Engorgement and Pumping
Engorgement happens when your milk ducts get backed up with too much milk. Remember supply and demand? Well, sometimes the demand is overwhelming and baby ends up not feeding as much as they were when they were cluster feeding. Your breasts feel heavier, they may leak, you may feel lumps form. It might even be hard to latch baby or baby might get fussy at the breast. This might be a good time to pull out your hand pump or express by hand. Just pump enough to relieve the engorgement, to empty your breasts, or to get rid of the hard lumps. Heat and massage helps as well. Your supply will level out after the first month or two. Then it happens again when there’s a growth spurt. The problem with pumping too much is it still calls your milk down. It’s still demanding more milk, so just pump enough to get relief unless you’re wanting to increase your supply. Engorgement can lead to some major painful infections. If you have flu-like symptoms, make sure you massage your breasts, keep heat on them (Guilty of using the heating pad over here, not just a warm cloth or shower), and KEEP NURSING or pumping. Flu-like symptoms out of no-where are always the first sign for me.
Check out Milkies Milk Savers.
5. Growth Spurts and Teething
Expect more cluster feeding, some leakage, and possible engorgement. Growth spurts demand more milk. Your baby might be frustrated during this time because there isn’t enough milk letting down, so they will nurse longer or more often, even be fussy.
Breastfeeding also relieves teething pain, so if baby feeds a lot, that’s why. If baby bites, I find saying “no bite” and trying again later helps. Or pain meds and a cold rag before nursing seemed to work. Once they understand they are hurting you (I think around 9 months mine did), it gets easier. I like Hyland’s Oral Relief Tablets, or Copaiba essential oil on little gums or jaw line. Contact me for more information about essential oils for babies/kids, or see the menu for essential oil education, tips, and ordering oils.
6. Pain and Seeking Help.
Don’t wait. If it hurts, go talk to a lactation consultant. Not your doctor. Not your pediatrician. Your consultant! And go often if it continues. Check baby for lip and tongue ties at birth. If these cause pain or frustration with nursing, you’ll be referred to someone to clip them. Both mine have lip ties (I personally have a lip tie), but it never caused me pain and didn’t affect our nursing, so I didn’t worry about it. Raw, chapped, broken skin is concerning. Use nipple butters the first few weeks of cluster feeding when baby is born. But if broken skin or bleeding occurs, go get help. If baby isn’t gaining weight or doesn’t have enough recommended wet or dirty diapers, it means they aren’t getting enough milk. Don’t be afraid to ask for help over and over and over again for emotional or physical pain! You’re not alone in this.
The other issue I face is overactive letdown or oversupply. With Little Bear I had too much milk. So, lots of engorgement. With both of them I had/have an overactive letdown, which means my milk comes hard and fast. The milk savers work well for this. But it can be painful sometimes. Massage and heat help. Pumping a little before baby nurses helps. Or I unlatch when I feel the milk let down, so baby doesn’t choke. Just make sure you have a milk saver or rag nearby or you’ll be spraying milk all over the house.
7. Long nights are inevitable. Bottle feeding or breastfeeding, it doesn’t matter. Especially the first few weeks. Once baby is meeting their birth weight and gaining, and your milk has come in, they will space out feedings naturally. About 2-4hours at first. The worst thing you can do is expect baby to sleep through the night (and sleep training is NOT recommended for children under the age of 1–and I don’t recommend it at all. Check out the group Sleepy Littles on Facebook for support and gentle techniques). Just don’t. It’s the absolute shittiest expectation society has in general for babies and toddlers. If you know that going in, you won’t be nearly as stressed out about trying to make it happen. Besides, you’re cutting the risk of SIDS by breastfeeding at night, and you’re increasing milk supply most at night. Enjoy it while you can. Little Bears don’t stay little for long, and there is absolutely no proof that formula feeding or adding rice cereal(don’t do this) will help them sleep longer. Rice cereal is empty calories. It’s fills them up, but it’s filling them up when they really need to be getting nutrients from breastmilk or formula. Bad call. Just avoid it altogether. Babies under 6 months shouldn’t be introduced to anything but breastmilk or formula, period. So, grab your headphones, put on a movie, and cluster feed that baby throughout the night. Rest when you can. If you’re a new mom, realize early on that you cannot do it all. You need rest. Leave the chores for now. Eventually you’ll find a rhythm that works when baby doesn’t need your constant attention. My Little Bear didn’t sleep through the night until he was 2. The longest stretch of sleep Teddy gets at night right now is 4 hours…maybe.
8. Nursing to sleep is okay. It’s not a crutch, and screw anyone who tells you otherwise. Breastmilk makes them and you sleepy and happy–yay hormones. Holding your baby is fine! It’s is normal and natural. Just remember to burp that baby, and don’t sleep with baby on the rocking chair or other soft surfaces where they can get trapped or suffocate! Practice safe co-sleeping and/or bed sharing (depending the age).
I’ll be honest though, if baby can take a paci once they’ve gotten the hang of breastfeeding, it’s a life-saver. Wubbanubs work for us. Nuk is the other one I like.
9. Baby Led Weaning is awesome. At 6 months you can introduce baby to solids from your plate! Cut them to proper age proportions, and skip the canned purée foods. I never even made purées for Little Bear. You’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding first and foremost. This is their main source of nutrition. Remember, you’re not trying to FEED baby. “Food before one is just for fun.” They are tasting things and learning textures. It helps them learn to feed themselves and cuts the risk of choking. It has helped my little be less of a picky eater! Gagging is normal. They learn how their gag reflex works. Don’t pat them on the back when this happens. You might choke them. Turning blue is choking, and you should know the proper way to do CPR on baby anyway, just incase. Check out the book Baby Led Weaning and Baby Led Weaning for Beginners on Facebook.
10. Nursing a Toddler.
The World Health Organization recommends nursing to 2 years or beyond. OR BEYOND. Baby’s first teeth are called “milk teeth” and fall out somewhere around 4-7 years of age. Once they do, the nursing latch is naturally broken. Most toddlers wean before this, but these ages are normal. It’s society view in general of breastfeeding that’s backwards, so keep on boobin’. Your breastmilk still has nutritional value. It never stops due to age. Hell, you can use breastmilk in a bath for skin care, use it to heal pink eye or other ailments, or put it in your own coffee if you want. I’m not judging you. It’s that or you can have milk from a cow tit… lol I prefer Almond Milk, thanks.
11. Weaning is hard if you do it before your child is ready. But sometimes you have to before maybe you’re both ready. Little Bear was 2 when I got pregnant with Teddy. Weaning him was gentle enough though, just sad. I told him mommy milkies hurt (because they were sensitive) and offered other ways of comfort. Eventually things calmed down. I didn’t want to tandem feed if I could help it. I knew one baby on me constantly was enough. Toddler still asks sometimes, but I tell him the milk is for baby, and he’s a big boy. It’s still sad to think about, but I lay with him at night before we say goodnight. It’s our time together now. He always nursed to sleep and bedshared with me before Teddy came along.
12. Have that glass of wine, mama. If you can drive, you can nurse. That’s all you need to know about that. Don’t waste your liquid gold by pumping and dumping if you drink in moderation. I usually feed baby first then have my wine. That’s about 4 hours in between nursing sessions.
Breastfeeding and pumping take a lot of work. It can be taxing, emotionally and physically. Remember you’re not alone. There’s an entire community of support out there for you. I’m an admin of Breastfeeding Mama Talk, who originally gave me the strength, courage, and knowledge I needed to succeed my breastfeeding goals–despite our obstacles and despite any negativity I faced from others. You’re never alone, so reach out to one or all of us! This is just my short list of “need-to-knows” I wish someone would have shared with me, and I hope it helps you on your breastfeeding journey.