According to a meme on Instagram (the most-trusted source of information!), women spend an average 1,800 hours breastfeeding their baby in the first year. Regardless of whether this statistic includes pumping or cleaning the pump parts, that is a lot of time and effort reserved for sitting, hands full with either a sleepy or squirmy baby. What I bet that statistic does not include is the amount of time and effort surrounding the act of breastfeeding, from pumping and cleaning pump parts, to managing nipple-health and consuming milk-producing foods.
Pediatricians and lactation specialists recommend breastfeeding for the first year of your baby’s life, if you’re able to, as your baby will still be receiving the majority of its nutrients from breastmilk, and not from any combination of other foods.
For women that intend on breastfeeding— including women who supplement with formula— the tips below are provided to help you along your breastfeeding journey, from soothing sore breasts, to increasing milk supply.
As soon as possible following birth, preferably in the first few minutes after delivery, get your baby to your nipple. If you’d prefer your baby to be placed on your tummy and have it crawl its way up to your nipple, that’s fine: I tried this with my newborn, and he made his way towards my nipple over the course of a couple of minutes, but I did help him find it too. Once I put his lips to my nipple he began feeding right away.
For women who have undergone a c-section, or who have faced other complications, I recommend writing into your Birth Plan that you’d like your baby to be presented with your breasts before being introduced to a bottle of formula (or donated mother’s milk). Check with the hospital staff to make sure they’ll allow this, but its possible that some breastfeeding complications arise due to a newborn’s initial association of where he gets his food. For example, breastfeeding babies are less likely to have colic, thrush, or skin issues.
If the hospital staff won’t allow this, don’t worry. Many babies who are presented with a bottle at birth will take up breastfeeding as soon as mommy is healthy and ready! You just may need to practice patience as your baby adjusts to your nipple. I recommend speaking with a lactation consultant to help you find the best methods for nursing, and most hospitals will have one on staff. Check with your insurance to see if they’ll cover the cost of hiring a lactation consultant beyond your hospital stay.
Recognize a Good Latch.
Most babies will instinctively latch properly at birth, but many do not. Or, perhaps, many mothers don’t know what a good latch looks and feels like. It should not hurt (but it might!) Have a nurse check the shape of your nipples because it can make a real difference in how you approach nursing your Little One.
For example, before becoming a mother, I knew that ariolas came in different sizes, shapes and colors, but I did not know how much the actual nipple differs from one person to the next! Some women have nipples that are much more suited for breastfeeding than others, but that doesn’t mean they can’t nurse! You just may need to learn different positions of holding your baby, or your breast, or, you may need some extra gear, like a nipple guard, for inverted nipples.
A good latch gives your baby fish-lips across your ariola, as your nipple will be deep inside your baby’s mouth. You should be able to hear your baby swallow, rather than hear it suck (there is a difference!). In the first few days or weeks, even with a good latch, your breasts may be sore, but a poor latch will produce much higher levels of pain, and possible complications, like chapped, cracking and bleeding nipples, or blisters.
The first few days and weeks of nursing are the most difficult. Its painful, its confusing, you’re exhausted, and for many, your baby may not be receiving enough milk or nutrition to gain weight from your breasts alone. But even if you have a searing blister on your nipple, do not stop breastfeeding(unless a lactation specialist says otherwise)! Take some ibuprofen, apply some nipple butter, and grit your teeth while letting your newborn suck and chew on your poor nipple. The pain will eventually subside, and your tolerance will increase. Your own breastmilk is the best cure for most painful nipple issues, so let your baby do its thing, and you will both be better off for it.
Also, breastmilk is a supply-and-demand kind of trade. The more you nurse (or pump), the more milk will come. So the most important thing you can do to increase your milk supply is to nurse (or pump) as often as possible!
Nipple Butter is Your Best Friend.
Especially in those first few weeks, and again when your Little One starts teething, nipple butter is your best friend. I recommend Earth Mama’s Nipple Butter, as it smells good, and I trust the natural, organic ingredients to be safe for me and my child. This soothing butter calms inflammation and doesn’t interfere with breastfeeding at all. I also found it to be a wonderful salve for my newborn’s peeling skin, chapped lips, and for my bumpy red skin that resulted from too much pumping.
Apply it before and after every nursing session, and on the breast tissue around your nipples and ariolas before pumping.
In the beginning I failed to understand how important it would be to pump in between nursing sessions. My baby was nursing all the time, falling asleep quickly, and not gaining weight. My milk was, at the time, insufficient and my poor Little One was ultimately starving, too hungry to bother sucking any more. I had to supplement with formula, dashing my hopes of exclusive nursing.
However, I began doing my research, and I eventually let it sink in that pumping was essential for increasing my milk supply. At minimum, I began pumping 3x each day, at first only producing about 1-2 ounces per session. In less than 2 weeks, I managed to increase my milk supply to 5-6 ounces per session! Now, I rarely use the electric pump, and instead use a hand pump during every nursing session.
I now produce 2-4 ounces on each side every time I nurse, and I have been able to keep a fresh 4 ounce supply of breastmilk in the fridge, as well as 6 ounces a day in the freezer. My child is getting enough to eat for every nursing session, as he is now gaining a healthy amount of weight.
Just be certain to keep your pump parts and all milk storage supplies as clean as possible, all the time. Bacteria and yeast can build up quickly, which can cause thrush, a nasty yeast infection, for you and your baby.
Get Pump Parts That Fit.
Remember how I mentioned that nipples differ from woman to woman? That means that the parts that come with your pump may not fit you! Measure the width of your nipple and consult a lactation specialist, or a baby supply shop to find the best fitting parts for you. An ill-fitting pump part will result in sore, chaffed nipples, as well as blisters. It will make both nursing and pumping excruciatingly painful!
Drink More of the Good Stuff.
That means water! On average, without breastfeeding you should be drinking 8 glasses of water a day: that computes to roughly 80-90 ounces of water daily. When breastfeeding, you need to at least double that (and when you start exercising again, increase your water intake even further)!
You’re hydrating for two now, but your baby can’t get the other nutrients it needs if its not coming in liquid form. Make sure you’re drinking as much water as possible and your milk supply will increase as well. That’s good for both you and baby, and it should allow you to begin storing breast milk for future travel, or those rare Mommy-Time days ahead when you can venture out on your own, leaving baby with your trusted care giver.
Eat More of the Good Stuff.
Yes, I’m talking about a high-fiber, vegetable-loaded diet, but you already knew that I’d say that. I’m also talking about oats, fenugreek, milk thistle, and brown rice, all of which have been trusted for millennia to increase your milk supply.
There are many sugar-loaded, pre-made lactation cookies and breakfast bars available to consumers, but I would head to your nearest health food store and pick up a large bottle of Califuria Oat Milk. This specific brand boasts its low sugar levels, making it the best oat milk on the market! 2-3 glasses of oat milk each day can vastly increase your milk supply.
Invest in a Heat Pad.
A heat pad can do wonders for engorged breasts and painful nipples. It will open your milk ducts and allow milk to flow freely in a way that warm showers and pumping just can’t live up to. 45 seconds to 1 minute in the microwave, and wrapped in a thin towel, you’ve got your best defense to some of the greatest pain your chest will ever endure in its lifetime!
Hire a Lactation Consultant.
If you still have issues breastfeeding, I recommend hiring a lactation consultant. Likewise, I also recommend attending a breastfeeding support group, which not only could help you learn other methods to improve your breastfeeding journey, but will also open you up to meeting other moms with babies, and to learn about all of the other issues mothers face every day. A support group can really help ease your anxiety about breastfeeding, and make available to you important lactation resources in your community.
Buy a Tall Stack of Breast Pads.
Let’s be blunt: your breasts will begin lactating any time of day, no matter the circumstances, and you don’t want to be caught in public with soggy nipples— milk dripping through your shirt and onto your shoes below. Breastmilk also has a beautiful yellow patina, and makes fabric rather crusty once it dries. Did I mention it smells like spoiled milk after only a few hours? Ew.
Avoid the wardrobe malfunction and head to Amazon, where you’ll find these simple little breast pads to fit in your nursing bra, allowing you to go about your day with dry clothing. They are much better than the pads that come in many nursing bras or tanks— you simply can’t rely on those to keep milk from dripping and staining your clothes.
Have Fun with Nursing Bras and Clothes!
Of course you’ll want to start slowly, as for the first few weeks from birth you’ll mostly remain in the house and not need to venture into public life too often. But eventually, your body and mind will be ready for friends and functions once again, and you’ll need to bring baby along with you. Even though bottles are always an option, you may want to nurse to avoid engorged breasts, and you’ll want to do so without getting completely undressed.
Nursing bras come in an array of styles, however, most of the cute or beautiful ones are only available online. Few stores carry more than a handful of matronly, elastic nursing bras in basic colors, which, you’ll want a few of despite how ugly they are! Your bras will eventually become stained and crusted with breastmilk, so you don’t want anything too expensive, and you can’t expect to be too cute (at least, not all the time!).
The good thing is, the matronly nursing bras are so comfortable that you’ll feel fine sleeping in them. In fact, you’ll basically be living in them, just changing out the breast pads I mentioned before to keep your breasts dry and healthy!
Nursing clothes also now come in an array of styles, from workout gear to evening gowns! Have fun with it and buy as needed. Much of your current clothing can be worn to nurse with, but you may find your closet is limited.
To date, I find Instagram to be the best source for fashionable nursing bras and clothes, over Pinterest, Etsy or Amazon.
Click to follow me on Pinterest, and Etsy!