A beginner’s guide to breastfeedingBreastfeeding: One of the most natural things in our world today, yet in recent years especially it’s become one of the most controversial as well. Everyone seems to have an opinion on everything from should she or shouldn’t she, how long a mom should breastfeed, if it’s okay to nurse in public, if it’s okay to nurse a friend’s baby – without her permission - (no, really, it happened and we’ll allow for opinions on that one)…All that aside, at the root of it all is a mom with a very personal decision to make for herself and her baby, and she should be able to make that choice without fear of judgment – whether she’s choosing to nurse, bottle-feed, or some combination of the two.
So, whether you’ve already decided to breastfeed or you’re still deciding, we’ve got our Beginner’s Guide to Breastfeeding with 9 tips for your consideration.
You might also want to read: Choosing to breastfeed: What are the benefits and what supports are available
1. Asking for help – Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it’s a new experience and despite this being the “natural” choice that doesn’t mean you automatically know how to do this. Also, don’t be afraid to set the tone for the kind of help you want; I wanted instruction on the various holds, but I also didn’t want an audience outside of my husband.
...There's irony somewhere in that statement, for sure.
There are lactation consultants at the hospital, La Leche League leaders, classes offered at the hospitals, support groups online.
2. Understanding the latch on – Before you even settle in with your baby, make sure you’re comfortable - pillows, boppy, footstool – whatever you need to create a comfy nursing space; have your water, book, remotes within reach…Now it’s time to get snuggled in with your peanut, the American Pregnancy Association says the latch is the most important component when breastfeeding. If baby isn’t properly latched on, nursing can be quite painful. There might be some discomfort, but pain might be a sign of another issue.
Steps to a good latch-on:
- Supporting the head, bring baby to your breast rather than bending or leaning to her/him.
- Tickle your baby’s cheek as you bring her to your breast, thus getting her to open her mouth as wide as possible. Baby’s tongue should be between your breast and her lower gum – if the tongue is at the top of the mouth you’ll want to start over.
- Try to get as much of the lower portion of the areola in the baby’s mouth – making sure your nipple is deep in her mouth, creating the best suction.
- If baby is sucking and swallowing correctly, you should see those little ears wiggling.
- Baby’s chin should indent the lower portion of your breast, while the nose should be nearly touching your breast.
- Check to see if baby’s lips are “flanged out like fish lips,” says the American Pregnancy Association.
Note: Ways to tell if your baby is getting enough to eat: 6+ wet diapers a day with clear/very pale urine, seems alert/content, is steadily gaining weight, feeding on a regular schedule. –KidsHealth.org
3. The hold – Discovering the holding style that works best for you and your baby is definitely a process of trial and error. There are four basic holds to experiment with:
- The cross-cradle hold
- The cradle hold
- The football hold
- The side-lying hold
4. Taking care of those nipples – Oh the things we talk about when we become moms! But seriously, if you’re going on this adventure, then this is advice best taken. You’ll want to become one with your purified lanolin, which soothes and protects your nipples. Trust me when I tell you not to listen to yourself when you think, “Eh, I’ll do it next time.” It behooves you to stay ahead of the game in this situation. After you’ve (gently) patted your nipple dry, apply the lanolin after each feeding. Breastfeeding isn’t always easy, but this is one way you can be proactive in making your experience better.
5. Cut yourself some slack – Here’s the reality, breastfeeding does not always go smoothly or easily, some moms struggle in the beginning or throughout their nursing relationship, while others have nothing but positive things to say when all is said and done, and others still seem only to hit one roadblock after another in their nursing attempts. In fact, for some mamas it literally isn’t possible to breastfeed – something they might not discover until they’ve fought the good fight.
Hear me when I say to you: It’s okay.
I totally get how betrayed by your body you might feel. In general women put a lot of pressure on themselves – in motherhood, at work, as partners, but just know you aren’t alone. One Billings mom found incredible amounts of support and ideas from A Mother’s Place at Billings Clinic after suffering from mastitis and struggling in breastfeeding both of her daughters.
6. The pump – Ah, the breast pump…There are definitely some questions you’ll want to ask yourself before running out and getting or registering for just any old pump.
- How often will you use the pump? If it’s an every once in awhile kind of thing, you can probably get away with a hand pump, but if you’re heading back to work or if expressing milk is the solution for all feedings, then you’ll want to invest in an electric pump.
- How much can you afford to spend on a pump? Keep this in mind – if you’re planning to breastfeed and you know you’ll be heading back to work full-time, be tucking money away so you can get yourself an electric double-breast pump.
- Do check into your insurance coverage, as some policies cover the cost of renting or buying a breast pump.
- Is the pump easy to assemble and transport? If not, it might become more trouble than what it’s worth to a busy mom.
- Is the suction adjustable? This applies to electric pumps – what might be comfortable for one woman might be uncomfortable to another.
7. Nursing Pads, Nursing Bras, Clothing Choices, oh my! Nursing pads are a lot like diapers in that you don’t want to leave home without ‘em. As a new mom it never occurred to me to take extras for me…Let’s just say I’m glad I prefer black colored clothing. As for nursing bras and your breastfeeding clothing choices, I have only these words of wisdom for you – don’t make your life more challenging than it needs to be. While you don’t necessarily have to go out and buy an actual “nursing wardrobe,” (though I have to say, I am pretty dazzled by the options that are available now) you will want to purchase some good nursing bras to see you through, and as an added bonus they’re not all boring, ugly monstrosities anymore.
If you think you’ll be rocking some out-in-public nursing, then looking into nursing covers is a definite handy helper. I can’t even tell you the awkward moments I faced trying to keep a blanket on lockdown…
8. Taking care of you – Let’s be honest, breastfeeding is hard work that requires not only patience, but for breastfeeding moms to take in at least an additional 500 calories per day, according to KidsHealth.org. And in this day and age of Hollywood moms flaunting flawless post-baby bodies just weeks after giving birth…Well, it gives a skewed expectation of reality. Just as he was during your pregnancy, your baby is relying on you to take care of you by eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Obviously refrain from smoking or drinking alcohol (though, let's say there's a bachelorette party in your future, there are ways you can have a good time for the evening and safely get back to nursing.) i.e. KidsHealth.org says “it takes two hours after consuming one drink for the alcohol to be metabolized and no longer be a concern for nursing.” Your doctor will be able to tell you if certain medications will have an adverse affect on baby.
9. Trusting you…I’m a firm believer in listening to your body and recognizing its limitations. If you feel like something’s not quite right, listen to that feeling and talk with your doctor. Or if it’s less a health feeling and more of a, this just isn’t working kind of feeling; talk it out, look at your options, but ultimately this is your call.
In the beginning it's all about the learning curve and allowing yourself and your baby the time to find your groove. Here's wishing you and your little nursing buddy a wonderful experience.