Breastfeeding Basics

I told my husband a few weeks ago that, if I could do anything, I would open up a baby boutique with private one-on-one lactation consulting. Not that I’m a professional lactation consultant or anything. But if I was…

My background with breastfeeding

I’ve only nursed one child, and it was for six months. I was blessed with a baby with endless stomach issues. In those six months, I fought through vomit, hospital stays, and everything else to attempt to keep nursing my son, but ultimately, it didn’t work. My son had gastroparesis, which basically means his food took way too long to digest. In two hours, only 50% of a 4 oz. bottle digested when he was 3.5 months old. He’s now 15 months and still has it. However, solid foods stay down much better than liquids, so we’re doing much better. He was also allergic to soy and lactose intolerant, so I cut both from my diet. I also had overactive letdown, a breastfeeding mother’s worst enemy. So, in my six months of nursing, I have been through enough to give me the experience of a mother who’s nursed 10 babies.With all of that, I’ve sort of become a breastfeeding source among new moms in my friends and family circles. Below you’ll find my breastfeeding basics. Most of them apply to babies who are relatively healthy. Of course, I’m not a doctor or certified lactation consultant, so always talk to your doctor for medically sound advice.


 

1. Breastfeed your child within minutes of being born.

When you begin labor/delivery, tell your doctor you want to nurse as soon as the baby is born. I delivered my son, they wiped him down and did the few required medical procedures, and gave him to me. I immediately put him on the breast. He latched and nursed. This all happened within about five minutes of his birth. Also, know that not all babies get the hang of it on the first try. Some babies can take as long as a week or two to learn how to become a pro-breastfeeder. Don’t give up on them. They’re learning even more than you are about the experience.

2. Use a breastfeeding app, at least until your little one gets on a routine.

Pregnancy brain doesn’t go away once baby is born. I still have it. Really. I loved the app smallnest. I tried ten different ones–no really–for about a day each, and this one prevailed. I used it for the first four or five months until he was pretty consistent with his feeding. It has all of the basics like (a) tells you which side was your last, (b) records pumping as well as nursing, (c) tracks sleeping and diaper fun, too, (d) makes the amount of time since last feed front and center on the page, (e) reminders, and (f) super simple, modern, streamline aesthetic.

3. Use your delivery hospital’s lactation consultant as much as you need.

Before I knew what overactive letdown was, I probably drove my hospital’s lactation consultant nuts. I called her twice in the week after I came home. Most hospitals require one visit with him or her before you leave anyway. However, I did find that I had a hard time nursing when the lactation consultant was standing beside me. I think I was overthinking everything she told me that I wasn’t relaxed and going with the flow, which is necessary for successful nursing. So, I would get her to show me all of the tricks and what I was doing wrong, then she would leave, and I would try them. I also took a breastfeeding class (two nights) at the hospital before M was born. It was one of the most helpful things in terms of getting a proper latch on the first few tries.

4. Proper latch is probably the most important thing for successful nursing.

Many problems with breastfeeding stem from an improper latch. Especially breast problems. Even babies who seem to hate breastfeeding and aren’t interested–usually a latch issue. They want to, but they can’t get a proper supply because of the improper latch. Proper latch tips:

  • Tickle baby’s lips with nipple until they open their mouth wide. I mean, wide.
  • When they open their mouth wide, literally shove their face on your nipple. When I say shove, I mean in a gentle, newborn baby kind of way. However, it has to be quickly so they don’t narrow their widened mouth. This “wide mouth shove” is what ensures the nipple is far enough in baby’s mouth.
  • Baby’s mouth should cover much of your areola (at least the standard-sized one). If you’ve got a lot showing, they aren’t deep enough.
  • Make sure they are totally centered on the nipple. When nursing hurts (like a pinching sensation), this is probably the problem. M gave me a few blood blisters in his first few days of nursing because of this.
  • If they don’t latch properly, break the latch my sliding your finger in the mouth and across your nipple. Do not let them keep nursing with an improper latch. A. It will hurt. B. They will learn the bad habit quicker than you think.
  • Figure out the proper hold for a good latch. Different babies do better with different holds.

5. Do not skimp on a pump.

I think insurance companies are required to cover them now, so go all out. I tried the $20 pump. The motor was too weak, and I would hardly get anything out. Bought a $180 pump and got twice the milk out. If you have access to a hospital-grade pump, those things are heavenly. Another pump tip: breast shield size does matter. I used the standard one for the longest time until I got the larger ones. Man, did it hurt less. And I got more milk because it actually squeezing the right part of my breast, versus a smaller area.

6. Know what overactive letdown is, and don’t give up if you have it.

I found it to be more common than I though once I identified the issue. Basically, your milk squirts out randomly, and once your baby initiates the letdown, it sprays like a fire hydrant all over his or fer face–and quite forcefully down his or her throat. Baby might come off of the breast frequently during a feeding and fuss. They may choke. They may eat in the half the time. They may not get as full as they should (causing more frequent nursing) because they’re getting the more watery and less fatty milk in that crazy letdown. Well, if that’s what’s going on, you probably have it. However, do not give up on nursing. This issue gets better over time. Here are few tips on how to get through the initial phase where it slam sucks.

  • This issue gets better after your supply regulates.
  • Your baby gets used to it after a few months. They learn how to take in the milk faster. You may even have a baby like mine who learns to lightly clamp down on the breast to make the flow slow down or stop.
  • Catch the initial letdown (or most of it) in a pump or rag, then put baby on the breast. I used a rag for the most part because I wasn’t storing milk. However, I started storing breast milk for when I returned to work, so I started catching it in the pump. I didn’t pump at all. I just put the shield over my breast and let the milk fall into the bottle. This milk added up!
  • If you have oversupply versus overacting letdown, pumping will make this worse. Make sure you figure out what the real issue is via a doctor or consultant.

7. Do decide on your breastfeeding-in-public stance, and forget anyone who judges you.

My personal stance was that I was okay nursing M in public with a cover, and in my house or in family members’ or friends’ house, I didn’t cover. I get slightly irritated with other nursing (and some non-nursing) mothers–and people who aren’t even mothers and never have been, telling a nursing mother how and where she should feed her baby. I’m actually all for public nursing without a cover, but I decided to use a very light nursing cover to be more modest and to save face. However, the cover I used was ultra-light. I would never sacrifice my baby’s comfort for a stranger’s rudeness, judgement, or lack of understanding. One of my friends only nurses her baby in the privacy or her nursery, even though she knows I nursed, too, and I totally respect it. You’ll probably attempt to nurse in public for the first time, and it’s going to be super awkward and stressful. Give it one more try after that awkward attempt. Then, decide whether it’s for you or not. When you make that decision, don’t listen to what anyone has to say about it.

8. Do know breast milk storage guidelines (image from Medela, my brand of choice).

9. Do realize that breastfeeding takes sacrifice.

Due to some restrictions with breastfeeding, you will make sacrifices. Depending on your interests, this may be not drinking alcohol, not eating some of your favorite foods, or cutting certain food groups entirely. As mentioned, my son was allergic to soy and lactose intolerant. I cut all milk and soy products from my diet. I read labels. I lived off of Trader Joe’s milk and soy free products. I lost like 10 pounds in two weeks, but it wasn’t a good thing. I was willing to sacrifice my health to an extent to try to keep nursing my son. However, for me, I guess my metabolism was too fast or something, because I became too unhealthy–too thin. Along with other factors, this was one that made me switch to formula.

10. Realize that with some babies, nursing just doesn’t work. It will not make them dumber, less healthy, or any different from any other baby.

My sister-in-law just recently went through this, as I did a year ago. I struggled with finding the recipe for my son’s specific health issues. Breastmilk was supposed to digest faster, and, therefore, be better for him. But he seemed to vomit worse with breastmilk than formula. The special partially-digested formula from his gastro doctor didn’t help. Finally, I went out on a whim and bought plain old Similac Complete Nutrition formula and tried it. It took a few weeks and his health began to improve. He began to hold down liquids. Now, there are numerous other factors that could have contributed (such as him sitting up), but I think it was just sort of what was meant from my son and me. He developed just fine after the switch. If anything, he developed faster because he was no longer vomiting his guts out 24/7. My personal opinion is that the only reason one should switch is because (a) they cannot produce milk or anywhere near enough to support baby–even after trying supply tricks, or (b) there are health issues that majorly affect mom and/or baby. You may decide it’s just too inconvenient for you, but remember, being a nursing mother is about sacrificing to give your baby the best you can give. If you do make the switch, you will feel guilt. I remember crying through the first week or so of bottles–that is, until I saw him begin to improve. I felt like that tough decision was worth it. It will get better!

11. Eat healthy and drink TONS of water.

Eat healthy. Eat tons of veggies and fruits. (Be aware that some may give your baby gas or diarrhea, though). Keep taking your prenatal vitamin as long as your nurse. Make notes on your baby’s reactions to certain foods so you can avoid tummy troubles. I found the number one thing that affected my milk supply was how much water I was drinking. When I had a drop in supply, I’d just about drown myself in water, and sure enough, it would go back up in the next day. You should be drinking like 8-12 water bottles a day. A good tip is to drink water while you’re nursing.

12. If your supply drops, don’t give up too soon.

It is normal for supply to go up and down, depending on various factors in your life. Stress, diet, hydration, health, your attire–they’re all issues that can affect it. If you notice your supply dropping, try these simple things: (Note: I never tried any of the lactation cookies, etc. Not sure if they work).

  • Up your water intake.
  • Eat oatmeal.
  • Nurse on one side, pump on the other at each feeding.
  • Keep baby close to the breast. Snuggle them extra for a few days. Their presence literally makes more milk. God’s design is pretty awesome.
  • Nurse more frequently (comfort nurse). It won’t make your baby fat or clingy.
  • Lay off under-wire and constricting bras/shirts for a while (if you can).

Sometimes, supply just won’t go up. This happened to my sister-in-law recently. She tried it all, and it was ultimately stress and post-partum depression that go the best of her supply. No water could fix that! Her little girl was fussy, wasn’t taking naps at just 3 months old, and was nursing constantly. She switched her to formula recently, and she is now happy and napping like a normal baby. Sometimes, it just happens.


I hope you’ve found these tips helpful if you are starting nursing soon or just have! Comment below with any other questions, and hopefully I’ll be able to help you out!

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