I am not a healthcare professional or lactation consultant, nor do I have a lot of experience with breastfeeding. I’m a first time mom and my daughter is only eight months old. So, you’re probably really excited to read my advice!
I was prepared for breastfeeding to be a difficult, uphill battle. So I was shocked to find out it wasn’t difficult for me. I’ve seen many blog posts, articles, and chapters of books dedicated to navigating breastfeeding challenges. One parenting book I skimmed started the feeding chapter off with something like “breastfeeding will be hard for many women.” Thanks for the vote of confidence, book-that-has-since-been-given-away.
My experience hasn’t been magical rainbows at every turn, but it has been pretty great. In part due to luck that my daughter + my boobs = best friends from the start. And possibly another part due to all the advice I was given and stuff I tried (see #1-10 below).
In case you need the disclaimer: Feeding babies nutritious stuff so they grow healthy and strong is the goal of all parents. The end. This is my experience, which includes feeding my baby with milk that comes from my body. Do you/did you feed your baby another way? Okay, fabulous, let’s be friends.
Do not read on if you don’t like seeing and/or are offended by the words boobs, breasts, nipples, milk, leaking, engorged or … mwahaha. I just made you read all those words anyway! Might as well continue…
- Nice to meet you! Now, latch.
ForceAsk whoever is in the room with you when you give birth to help you latch your baby as quickly as possible. If they can’t do it, demand help from someone else. Demand nicely, if that’s your style. Ask the nurse to help you immediately upon arriving in recovery, even if you got a latch earlier. I am forever grateful that I received so much incredible help to get my baby to latch from the start.
- Learn all the things!
Your baby and body are a beautiful (possibly frustrating) little puzzle. Hopefully this is the kind of puzzle that is easy to solve, but remember, this is no ordinary puzzle. This puzzle may change as your baby gets bigger, stronger, and as your breasts change shape and release milk differently. I feel like there’s probably some better Sci-Fi reference I could make here, but those Harry Potter changing staircases is all I can think of. So yeah, your boobs are like moving staircases, I guess? I might need more sleep, forgive me. If you’re like me and can handle lots of advice coming at you (and throw away stuff if it doesn’t work for you), ask everyone for their opinions on how you should breastfeed your baby: which holds to use, should you rub your baby’s cheek, should you tickle their feet? Should you football, lie back, crossover, side lie? Talk to your nurse in the hospital, talk to your friends, to your family, talk to your midwife, doctor or other healthcare professionals you may meet. Probably don’t ask the guy who is delivering your sandwich to your hospital room right after your baby is born to check out your latch. He doesn’t have an opinion on your latch. Ahem, just trust me on this. But he will gladly run away and drag in the first nurse he finds in the hall.
- Try all the things!
Everyone I talked to had a favorite hold, a tried-and-true technique, a best practice. I heard a lot of similar advice, sure, but everyone had a different perspective. One nurse taught me the football hold and hallelujah I finally felt like my baby was eating a ton – lots of good swallowing. But a lactation consultant said the football hold isn’t her favorite because of … such-and-such. (I must have blocked out her actual reason.) I ended up using that sporty hold a few times until it didn’t work for me or my baby anymore … no harm done. It helped while it helped, and then I moved on. Sometimes things work one day/hour and feel awkward the next. If you have a clogged duct or other discomfort, you may find yourself going back to a hold you had previously abandoned or trying all manner of wacky positions to try and clear it out.
- Trust yourself!
Which leads me to #4, the MOST IMPORTANT-EST piece of advice on this list. If you’re asking yourself why I didn’t put this tip at #1, you’re asking the right questions. Tip #4 is… have confidence in yourself! In other words, trust yourself. To get a good latch you may have to grab that little baby’s head and shove it on your nipple. You can’t do that unless you psych yourself up with regular “I can do this!” pep talks. I tried to gently place my baby on my nipple at first and got frustrated that it wasn’t working. Then I realized I just needed to trust myself 150% and somehow got the confidence boost I needed to make it all click. Trust your gut. If you think something isn’t right, call your pediatrician, make an appointment to see a lactation consultant or better yet, have one of them come to you (most insurance covers at least one if not more home visits.) If you don’t like the way someone is helping you, or feel uncomfortable in some way about their advice, ask for a second opinion! And, don’t ask that first opinion for help again. You don’t need people around you that aren’t helpful or don’t make you feel good. If you feel happy and confident, your milk will flow more freely*.
- Get a pillow
At the hospital, let the nurses do their magic with arranging pillows into origami swan shapes but you probably don’t have their mad skillz so get a breastfeeding pillow. The My Brest Friend will truly be your best friend. Don’t ask why they spell breast wrong, or why they decided to name their pillow something so ridiculous. This thing is supportive, cozy, helps get baby into a good position, and gives you at least one hand free. It has a little bit of a learning curve but once you get the hang of it you’ll love it. It sits right under your bust so don’t worry if your uterus still thinks it’s 6 months pregnant. It will fit. The fact that it clicks in place with a buckle is one of the best features but also can be hard to deal with by yourself at first. Ask your partner or one of the people visiting you to help. Soon enough you’ll be able to get everything secured by yourself. I still use my pillow every single day with my baby. Oh and get an extra cover (I like the fuzzier “Deluxe” covers but they come in lots of prints, too.)
- Get a pump
Get a breast pump even if you don’t work outside the home or think you’ll want to pump. Everyone gets a free one, now, anyway. At some point you’ll want to pump to try and keep/get your supply up, to spend more than 2 hours away from your baby some day, etc. If you’re not sure about how to get a pump, call your insurance company. It’s their job to help you understand these things and give you the instructions on how to get the stuff you need. If you qualify for a program like Better Beginnings (through Blue Cross Blue Shield), ask them a zillion questions. You’ll get a zillion useful answers. In case you’re curious, I got my pump from The Medical Store (clever name, eh?) in South Burlington, VT. I just walked in, signed a piece of paper and they just gave it to me. I walked out cautiously, thinking it was too easy and someone was going to chase after me but no one did. And I was 8 or 9 months pregnant to let’s face it, I waddled slowly and someone definitely could’ve caught me.
- Get new shields
The breastshields (aka the little funnel-shaped things that are not to be used as a mini beer bong) that come with your breast pump may not be the right fit for you. It’s a conspiracy, praying on emotional new moms with engorged breasts that don’t know how to work a dang breast pump and think they’ve failed already but really it’s just that the shields that come with the pump are too small for many women. What?! Anyway, go ahead and shell over the $10 for the larger shields.
- DIY a pumping bra
If you’re already baffled at how much money you’ve spent on baby and/or postpartum stuff, make a cheap (or free!) pumping bra. Cut two little holes in an old sports bra to fit your breastshields (remember those non-beer funnels?) and ta-da! … hands-free pumping. So now you can type on your computer or eat cookies. Or pet the neglected dog. Whatever you want. Or you can skip this DIY because who has time for that sh*t, and buy a sweet nursing/pumping bra like this.
- You may need to have 7,859 nursing bras on hand
At minimum, make sure you have a sleep/comfortable bra, a tank top, and a more supportive bra you feel comfortable wearing out of the house or to see company. Certain bras may fit you one day/hour and not the next. Eventually everything evens out but I still go through phases where I have favorites. Related: Clogged ducts are no joke. A warm compress, having your baby nurse a lot and spending a bunch of time in a hot shower kneading the area helps. I never tried cabbage but some women swear by it. See #2 – try all the things! And #4 – trust yourself! Some nursing bras may dig into you and cause clogs (or some clogs might just cause themselves out of thin damn air?!) One of my favorite, stretchy sleeping bras turned out to be compressing me in a weird way and giving me a clog in the same spot over and over again. Take it from me – even a stretchy bra or tank can cause discomfort so discontinue use if you feel like something isn’t right. For a several-week stretch the only bra that didn’t give me clogs was one with underwire. That goes against everything I read online or in books or heard from professionals. Oh well, it’s what worked for weird ol’ me.
- Plan for “public.”
You probably want to venture out into the “real world” at some point so breastfeeding outside your home is going to happen. Even if you’re in a more private setting like a friend’s house and not in the middle of a busy restaurant, you’ll want to feel prepared and comfortable. Practice some holds without your beloved My Brest Friend pillow. Bring it with you if you can, though. Practice in front of a mirror if you really want to see what other people see. (Spoiler alert: They usually can’t see much except a cute baby butt.) Use a cover if you want but my favorite way to nurse in public is to wear a shirt by Boob Design. Get them online (Figure 8 Maternity is my go-to spot) or they are sometimes sold locally at the Green Life off Church St. in Burlington. They are pricey but I reach for them over everything else I have. They are discreet, too. I’ve fed my daughter in all sorts of places (like the aforementioned middle of a busy restaurant) and no one has batted an eyelash in my direction.
*Actually I have no idea if this is true but it seemed accurate for me.
I’m putting this post out there to help someone, or give someone a laugh. These are the tips I will give future Meredith if she decides to have more babies. If I could go back and tell one thing to past Meredith, though, I would say:
Breastfeeding can be hard. Really hard. But it can also be good. Really good.
I won the breastfeeding jackpot, and I know it. I also worked hard, and I know it. That doesn’t make me a good mom. …Or a bad mom for telling you about it.