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If you’ve landed on this post, it expresses your desire in breastfeeding. Yay! I would first just like to note that I am not an expert. I am simply a new mom sharing what worked for me. Keep in mind that no two women/baby are the same so my experience may be in contrast to yours.
Early on in my pregnancy, I decided that I would breastfeed. It seemed easy enough: you make the milk, baby drinks the milk. Easy and free. So I thought. My approach to having a baby was that you can never be 100% prepared. So I didn’t read the books or take the classes and decided to just wing it. I did, however, read one article about the ugly side to nursing that terrified me. It showed photos of abused nipples, lopsided boobs and depicted stories of every way breastfeeding can go wrong. If you come across such a link, DON’T CLICK IT! It will render unnecessary fear and anxiety and the beginning stages of breastfeeding is hard enough without the added stress. The most important thing I’ve learned is that your body and baby can sense anxiety so it is imperative to create a calm and relaxing environment.
What to expect:
1.) The importance of the latch: There is a certain way that babies need to latch which results in proper sucking and doesn’t destroy your nipples. If you give birth at a hospital, take advantage of the availability of lactation consultants. They are there for you. However, not all lactation cosultants are created equal. One lady kept shoving the baby’s face into my boob while another taught me the “Breast Crawl”. Google it. Babies are amazing.
2.) Breastfeeding hurts – initially: Despite the baby not having problems with latching, the initial 10-15 seconds still hurt. Keep in mind that your nipples are sensitive areas and they need time to adjust. After 6 weeks (seems long, I know), my nipples toughened up and it no longer hurt. Nursing not only hurts your boobs but your uterus too! During my birth, I said I never wanted to feel contractions ever again. Well, breastfeeding triggers the release of oxitocin which in turn contracts the uterus. On the bright side, the contractions help shrink down your uterus. So suck baby, suck!
3.) Your milk may not come in right away: I did not know this. My milk didn’t come in until 3 days after he was born. I was so worried that it would never come and that he would starve. But newborn stomachs are so tiny. Colostrum, the high nutrient milk initially produced by the body, is more than enough for them. Keep in mind supply & demand – the higher the demand (your baby sucking) the more milk your body will produce to meet the demand. So nurse, nurse, nurse!
4.) Use nipple cream from the beginning!: Don’t make the same mistake I did and wait until your nipples start hurting before you use the cream. Use it from the very beginning! While your nipples get used to getting wet, getting sucked on, drying up only to repeat the cycle – they are prone to cracking and bleeding. Using cream from the beginning can help prevent this! The hospital gave me Lanolin so that’s what I used at the start. Then, my husband asked me what it was made of one day. I had no clue aside from the tube’s claim to be “natural”. Once I looked up the ingredients and saw that it was derived from sheep’s wool, I threw it out. Coincidentally, UpSpring Baby sent me a package to try including their Wellmom Nipple Balm and I never looked back. Their balm is USDA certified organic and not derived from animal fur and I love it. One trick that helped in the beginning was to apply some breastmilk to your nipples after nursing, let it air dry, then apply the nipple balm over it. It really helped heal chapped nipples and keep the skin smooth.
Here are a few other nipple balms highly recommended by friends and family.
5.) Babies take forever to eat: Be prepared. Apollo would nurse for at least 15 minutes on each boob. He also constantly fell asleep which made the process even longer. But be patient. After awhile your baby will learn to nurse more efficiently. Don’t rush the beginning period as it helps establish your milk supply. While breastfeeding pillows are not necessary (you can use regular pillows), ones created with breastfeeding in mind was a lifesaver for my arms. Your baby can nurse comfortably while leaving your hands free to drink all the coffee. Here are some good ones. We have the ErgoBaby pillow and loved it.
6.) Baby will nurse frequently in the beginning: I nursed on demand and in the beginning it seemed like Apollo was ALWAYS hungry and I was nursing every 1.5 hours. This is fine and completely normal as the baby is teaching your body how much milk to produce. I had people suggest maybe I should supplement with formula to keep him fuller longer – I didn’t do this. Again, supply and demand is important if you want to be successful with breastfeeding. Formula takes longer to digest which means longer time for your baby to not be on you. This tells your body that your baby doesn’t need the milk and can mess up your production. As your little one grows and your supply regulates, he will be able to go longer in between feedings.
7.) Be prepared for leaks: Invest in nursing pads – whether reusable or disposable. At one point or another, you will spring a leak. Whether it’s at Target or when friends are visiting you and the baby, nursing pads will save you the embarrassment.
8.) Invest in a few nursing pieces: (Upated at 21 months – we’re still nursing). I was the type that doesn’t like to buy clothes for temporary situations – like maternity or nursing. But 21 months later, I realize how long those “temporary” situations have become. You have to live and dress with ease a convenience in mind. Invest in a couple of quality nursing bras, a few tops and a couple of dresses. They will get their share of use. Believe me.
9.) You have the right to nurse your baby anywhere: In the beginning, I stressed out way too much about what I would do if the baby got hungry while we were out. There is so much stigma about mothers nursing in public that it made me insecure. When Apollo was a week old, out of town friends surprised us by visiting. We were out to eat with them when the baby got hungry. I ducked off to the bathroom to nurse because I didn’t want to make the other diners uncomfortable. In the bathroom, I didn’t want to sit on the toilet so I stood in the stall nursing him. Bring back the point of newborns taking forever to eat. I stood there grossed out listening to constant flushes and enduring the most horrid stenches. By the time I got back to the table, my party was done eating. After that, I decided that I didn’t care and I would nurse him wherever. Because truth is, most people DON’T care that you nurse your baby. And on the off chance that you encounter someone who does, let them know that you have a legal right to do exactly what you are doing. I’m a little modest by nature so I always nurse with a cover anyway. I love the one pictured above by Copper & Pearl because the fabric is soft and breathable. It also triples as a car seat cover & shopping cart cover. Three functions for the price of one. Can’t beat that. Here are a few more covers loved by friends.
10.) Don’t be afraid to get help: Take advantage of lactation consultants at your disposal. Join a local La Leche League. Talk to other moms. You are now bonded with other moms through Motherhood. You are not alone.
11.) Take photos!: Even if it’s just for your own sake. Because one day, you will wake up and your baby will be done with nursing and that chapter in your relationship will close. We are still currently nursing but it’s down to a few times a day. And I don’t have many photos of him nursing as an infant. I regret not having these to look back to. It’s such a precious and intimate moment. Document it.
I’m sure there are plenty more out there but those are the most important things that come to mind. We have been exclusively breastfeeding for (updated) 21 months and I love it. The bond we are fostering and the knowledge I am feeding the baby the very best nourishment is worth all the initial trouble. Not to mention it is FREE! Mama’s if there is something important you feel should be added, mention it in a comment below and I’ll be sure to update and quote you. Till next time!