I’m sure you’ve heard time and time again that breastfeeding is easy because it’s natural. Your baby wants to breastfeed so that means that you won’t have any trouble making it happen. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case. Having a successful breastfeeding experience requires a little more foresight and planning that I really wish someone would have told me about. Perhaps then my own breastfeeding journey would have been different.
My baby had a lot of problems with breastfeeding. The problem is that I didn’t really know how to help him. I didn’t realize that some of the things that I was doing in an attempt to make it easier was actually sabotaging my ability to nurse. Because of that I became an exclusive pumper. (For more information about my breastfeeding journey, please check out my post An Exclusive Pumping Story)
Now there’s nothing wrong with pumping exclusively. I’m still pumping and am a couple of weeks shy of a year, so it’s definitely possible. There are just so many things about directly nursing that would have been so much easier. So check out some of these great tips to get your breastfeeding journey off to a good start.
(If you are planning to exclusively pump, or want to know all of the ins and outs of it just in case, then my post How to Exclusively Pump from the Beginning will help you get started.)
This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you buy something through one of my links I’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I will never suggest a product or service that I don’t use and love myself because that’s just wrong. If you like reading legal mumbo-jumbo then you can check out my disclosure policy HERE.
While there is a massive amount of information on the internet about breastfeeding (this post included), I honestly think the best thing to do is to take an actual breastfeeding class.
The folks over at Milkology have an amazing online breastfeeding course that makes the process very easy. It really is a great starting point for trying to breastfeed successfully. They even have some great freebies like schedules and common questions as well that would be HUGELY helpful to have around. Trust me, you aren’t going to want to try to remember that information when your baby arrives.
Begin Breastfeeding Immediately
When your baby is born, you will want to attempt nursing within the first hour. Most babies will have no problems doing this because they are hungry and they know that this is what they need to do to get full. Skin-to-skin immediately following birth can really help to jump start your breastfeeding journey.
Benefits of Breastfeeding After Birth
Breastfeeding soon after birth isn’t just great for your baby, it is also great for you.
Breastfeeding, especially breastfeeding early, does a few different things for you. It helps boost your oxytocin levels which help you bond with your baby as well as helps your uterus contract so you can heal. The contracting part won’t feel great, but after actually giving birth it’ll just feel like period cramps. Your uterus needs to go back to its pre-pregnancy size and breastfeeding helps that to happen quickly.
Nursing right after birth also helps to send all the right signals to your body that you need to make milk.
Early Milk Production
In the first few days your body produces colostrum. It is a thick, yellow milk rather than the stuff that actually looks like milk. Colostrum is chock full of fat and nutrients for your baby because your baby’s stomach is so small. Though they may only be getting a tiny amount at a time, it is all that their little bodies can handle.
The other great thing about colostrum is it is a laxative. Trust me, that’s a good thing. Your baby’s intestines are full of this thick, black, tar-like substance called meconium. It’s to keep things from actually moving through the digestive tract while your baby is in the womb, but once your baby is born, that stuff has to come out. Colostrum kick starts that better than formula or mature milk.
Don’t get me wrong, formula and donor milk can get the job done if that is the route you want or need to take, but colostrum is specifically designed for this job so it is definitely the best option.
Your milk can come in as early as 2 days, but as late as 7. Don’t stress about when it will come in. Just know that as long as your baby is nursing frequently, he is getting everything that he needs.
You’ll know when your milk has come in by your boobs becoming engorged. You may not know what that means right now, but oh you will. My milk came in the night of day 3. I went to bed with normal boobs, and woke up a few hours later with coconuts in my bra. They were huge and they hurt. I needed to get that milk out NOW!
Your baby will be the biggest help for relieving your engorgement. Just know that it is harder for a baby, especially a newborn, to latch well onto a fully engorged boob. If your baby is having trouble, then you may need to hand express a little out first to make the breast a bit softer.
Breastfeeding Tips for a Good Latch
A good latch is the absolute best way to ensure breastfeeding success. You want your baby to open his mouth wide enough to be able to take not just the nipple, but also the majority of the areola (dark area around your nipple) in his mouth. Your baby should be latched tightly to your breast so that his chin and cheeks appear attached. His lips should also be flipped out rather that folded in. Your nipple should reach towards the back of your baby’s mouth where the palate is softer.
Following these tips will ensure that your baby will be getting the most milk with the least amount of effort. This will also ensure that your nipple will not be going through any unnecessary torture.
Don’t be afraid to take charge of the situation either. Babies don’t always just instinctively know how to latch properly, you may have to help him along. If it hurts, I’m not talking just being uncomfortable for a few minutes as you’re getting used to things, but actually hurts when you’re breastfeeding, then your baby probably isn’t latched correctly. Your baby should be on your whole breast, not just your nipple.
If you ever worry that you are not getting a good latch and you don’t know how to fix it, definitely go see a lactation consultant. They would be the best resource for ensuring that your baby is breastfeeding correctly.
Don’t Use a Nipple Shield
When I first began nursing J, his latch was terrible. I mean truly awful! The very first time we nursed my nipples just got destroyed. I had massive blisters on both sides and they were so incredibly painful just the mere thought of having to nurse again in two hours was enough to make me want to cry.
I’m not telling you this to scare you, not every baby is this bad at breastfeeding. My guy is a bit special. I’m telling you this so you know why I began using a nipple shield.
Now a nipple shield, if you don’t know, is a little piece of flexible plastic that you can put over your nipple to help protect it from the struggles of breastfeeding. Sounds great, right? While nipple shields are a great solution for women with blisters or cracked nipples, the problem starts when you use the nipple shield too much. I didn’t know that.
My lactation consultant gave me the nipple shield to use when my nipples were all chewed up to help them heal. What she didn’t tell me was that if I used them too long that my baby would have even more trouble latching.
Not only did his latch still suck, but he began preferring the plastic instead of my actual nipple. He had a bit of nipple confusion and trying to fix that was horrible.
Definitely use a nipple shield if you are in pain and need to heal, just don’t use it longer than you really need to. That’s what I did and it completely messed us up.
Try Breastfeeding in Different Positions
Breastfeeding is not a one-size-fits-all kind of scenario. What works for one woman and her baby may not work for you. Try using different nursing positions to see what is most comfortable for you and your baby.
I personally was a fan of the clutch (or sometimes called football) hold. J didn’t really like to lie down, so in this position I could actually sit him up a little bit. That and the cross-cradle holds were the easiest for me. I also felt like I had much better control over J and positioning him correctly. That kid needed all the help he could get.
Get the Right Breastfeeding Equipment
Though breastfeeding is natural, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t products out there that can make the whole process easier. I am a huge fan of work smarter not harder, and breastfeeding is the same thing.
There are some items out there that can actually be beneficial. Things like coconut oil, milk savers, and a haakaa are absolute must haves for me.
Check out this post for a full list of everything that I used to make breastfeeding easier.
Tips for Handling Pain when Breastfeeding
Like I said, breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt, not really anyway. If it does, then that is generally a sign that something else is going on.
Keep in mind that in the beginning of your breastfeeding journey, that a little pain when you first start a nursing session is pretty normal. There is a lot of pulling and tugging and rubbing on your nipples that they are just not used to. They will need time to adjust to what is being demanded of them before things will get easy. If it is really painful for more than a few minutes though, then you may need some additional help.
The first thing to do when breastfeeding turns painful, is make sure that your baby has a good latch. Slide your pinky finger in the baby’s mouth and coax your nipple out of there. Don’t just try to pull it out, it will really, really hurt.
Get your baby to open really wide and try re-latching. Did that solve the problem?
If your nipples feel sore and painful in between nursing sessions, keep your nipples moisturized with a little coconut oil. A little goes a long way, but it will make your nipples feel so much better. It will also help with any cracking or blisters that may have formed.
If you do have any wounds such as blisters that need to be treated, I would suggest using some breast shells. They are absolutely amazing for keeping your bra away from your very sore boobies and they have the added bonus of collecting all of that milk that you’re leaking throughout the day. Win-win! Just make sure you clean them out every hour if you’re planning on keeping the leaked milk.
If your breast itself hurts, check for lumps in your breast. It could be a clogged milk duct. If that’s the case then you need to act quickly to get the clog out of there in order to prevent mastitis from forming. I’ve had it twice, and trust me, you don’t want it.
If your breasts are just kind of achy because of the fullness, know that that will eventually go away. Your milk supply will regulate around 12 weeks postpartum and you’ll begin feeling less engorged. You’ll still be full, but it won’t feel as uncomfortable.
Tips for Breastfeeding in Public
Regardless of what people say, you are absolutely allowed to feed your baby in public. And no, it does not have to be done in a bathroom. Breastfeeding is allowed, by law in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Do not EVER let anyone tell you otherwise. You should never feel ashamed to feed your baby. Anyone that tries to make you feel bad about it can go screw themselves.
Now that that’s out of the way.
Layers will definitely be your friend when breastfeeding in public. You can do one of two options. You can wear a shirt over your nursing tank top, pull the top shirt up and just pull the tank top down. That way you’re completely covered.
The other option, I really like if it’s colder outside, is to have your nursing tank top and throw a cardigan type sweater over it. Still the same concept of just pulling the nursing tank down, but to me this was easier. I personally hate having to maneuver all of my clothes around just to get to my boobs.
You can get specialty nursing covers to use while you’re out and about, but I’ve always found that a receiving blanket works just as well. I will suggest practicing getting a good latch under the cover at home before attempting it in public for the first time. It can be a little tricky, especially if you have a very young baby that is still learning.
Don’t feel pressured to use a cover-up though. If it’s warm out, it can get too hot for your baby under there and he’ll just be uncomfortable. Just be mindful. Most people won’t even notice that you’re breastfeeding if you don’t draw too much attention to yourself anyway.
Breastfeeding Tips for Returning to Work
If you are planning to continue breastfeeding when you return to work, then you will need to figure out how to use your breast pump. If you haven’t already, then you need to get it out and start practicing with it.
The key elements are to make sure that your flange (the piece that goes on your breast) is the correct size for your nipple. I pumped for months with a 24mm flange only to finally measure and realize that I actually needed a 19mm. Changing my flange size actually helped me to get more milk in less time. Maymom has a great printable breast shield sizing guide.
Milk Supply Changes
When you do start pumping at work, don’t be surprised if your supply fluctuates and even drops a bit. This is all completely normal. The stress of going back to work, figuring out a new routine, and being away from your baby can all affect your milk supply. Just stick with your pumping schedule and you’ll reestablish your supply.
If you are continuing to nurse while working, then nurse your baby right before you leave for work and make sure you nurse as soon as you get home. You’ll want to adjust your pumping times while at work to allow for this. You should also ask your caregiver not to feed your baby a bottle soon before you will be by to pick him up. If he’s full, he won’t eat, and you’ll have to pump again.
Another thing to remember, is that you should introduce a bottle before returning to work. If your baby isn’t used to it, that first day with the caregiver could be awful for him. You also might have to make adjustments to your bottle choice based on your baby’s preference as well as how your baby is actually drinking from it.
Knowing if the nipple speed is too fast or too slow is something important for you to know. You don’t want to have to rely on your caregiver to give you this information. You know your baby best.
You can Succeed with Breastfeeding
I know it’s a lot, but try not to get overwhelmed with the idea of how to successfully breastfeed. For some women, the whole process is incredibly easy and natural and they have absolutely no issues. If you do have problems though, hopefully this post can help you solve some of them.
If you’re ever in question though of how to breastfeed successfully, then make sure you reach out to a lactation consultant. They really are amazing women full of great information.
I hope this guide has helped you. What other questions do you have about breastfeeding? Leave me a comment below.
Until next time!
- Eight Things Ruining Your Milk Supply and How to Stop Them
- Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?
- Myths We’re Told About Breastfeeding
- Guaranteed Ways to Increase Your Milk Supply