Breastfeeding Series: Beginning to Breastfeed

First of all, breastfeeding is very individual. Every mommy, every baby is different. You can have very different breastfeeding experiences with each child. Kuddos for attempting to breastfeed! Second, I am not a lactation consultant, I am just offering what worked well for me, so please do consult with your healthcare provider if you have concerns. I am only offering advice on what worked well for me in terms of breastfeeding my daughters.

Breast is best, but it is not always an option or desire for every mother, and whatever works best for you is right for you. I have friends who have desperately wanted to breastfeed, and for various reasons could not, and I respect any woman’s choice in terms of what is best for her and her children. I do encourage breastfeeding when possible, as it is free, the most portable feeding option, and the safest option (usually!), but it isn’t always easy. Especially in the beginning. Here are some of tips that helped my success in breastfeeding my daughters. Allison had strictly breast milk for a little over a year, and I plan to do the same with Jolie, but again, it wasn’t always easy, or comfortable.

Some things that made it doable for me: first and foremost, my husband. Without his help and support I wouldn’t have been able to breastfeed for as long as I did. Even though your partner cannot physically breastfeed your child, he or she can help make it possible for you to do so with less stress. When I was nursing my first daughter he would always be there to lend a hand if he was home—getting me things I might need, making a comfortable space to nurse in, and on the days I worked he was in charge of getting all my pump pieces organized in my bag, and promptly putting them in the dishwasher for me when I returned. It was one less thing for me to be responsible for, and I appreciated it greatly. Second in my success was having read books on the topic of breastfeeding, which offered help and advice in getting started doing so. And third, attending a class for new mothers at the hospital I gave birth at. The class was taught by a nurse and she and the other moms in the group offered lots of help and support.

When you first start nursing, especially the first child, be prepared for it to be uncomfortable. You nipples are not used to the constant pulling, sucking motion that a baby does when s/he nurses.  In the hospital, just the hospital gown touching my breast was uncomfortable, so I told the nurse and she brought me these really neat nipple shields (you can find them in stores and online) and I even found Medela had a cooling gel patch that you could put on (and reuse) to sooth soreness.  Even taking a shower, having the water hit my nipples was painful, so I wore a bikini top when I showered for the first few weeks! Best thing ever! The lanolin cream that you see in many stores is nice, although it didn’t really soothe long term. For me, after my baby finished nursing I would express a few drops of breast milk and rub it on my nipples. With my second daughter I read about a great nipple cream called Earth Mama Angel Baby Nipple Butter, and it worked wonders. It was also my second child, so that also could have contributed to the lessened discomfort, but I enjoyed this nipple butter for its soothing and anti-greasy qualities. (Side note, I also LOVED their Natural Stretch Oil. Used it daily and never got stretch marks! Although whether you get stretch marks or not is highly genetic, so for some women no matter what they do, stretch marks may still come.) And one more word about soreness, most of the books say it should only be for a few days, and for some women, it is, but for me and many of my friends, the soreness lasted weeks, just when the baby latched, but eventually it went away. (For one friend, the soreness came back when she was gradually weaning her 16-month baby, as she stopped nursing regularly.)

Another tip for breastfeeding success is to breastfeed as soon as possible after the baby is born. Many hospitals have something called Kangaroo Care, which is a practice of laying the newly birthed baby directly onto mom for bonding right away. Many babies will instinctually start nursing at this point. When my daughter Allison was born, that is just what she did, and it was soothing to have her nurse while they were taking care of the unpleasant procedures I had to receive after birthing a baby! 🙂 I didn’t care what was going on down there, because I had my beautiful baby to focus on. And if you can’t nurse instantly, because of a C-Section or other circumstances, don’t worry, just do so at the next moment possible.  With my second daughter Jolie, she was unexpectedly born at home, and although I was able hold her immediately, she nursed for only a second, and in the ambulance all the way to the hospital she wasn’t interested. She didn’t really nurse until after we had been admitted to the ER, she had been attended to, and we were brought up to labor and delivery. By this point she was pretty hungry and nursed for a long time. She kept the trend of wanting to nurse for long periods of time that first day. Interesting, when I had a visit from a lactation consultant, she clarified for me that in the first few days of nursing what brings your milk in is not how long you nurse each time, but how frequently you offer the breast. She suggested nursing for about 15 minutes on each side, taking a rest, and if the baby is still hungry, wait a half hour and then nurse again. Often in the beginning, babies just want to suckle, and I didn’t want my daughter to use me as a pacifier.

Nursing frequently, but not every 20 minutes is key. Keeping newborns awake long enough to get a full feeding, or waking them up to feed is tough, but necessary.  We would sometimes have to put our little one’s feet under the running water or undress her (which was nice for some skin to skin time!). A full feeding might not even take that long on each side, maybe 10 minutes, as long as she was actively sucking and swallowing.  I would be sure to nurse my daughters every 2-3 hours during the day, and as long as they were okay on their weight check at their two day doctor’s appointment, every 4 hours at night (if they slept that long!).  The more frequent nursing during the day led to better sleep at night because their tummies were full! My last nursing session would always be when I went to bed, even if baby was asleep. I would wake her and that allowed me to get a few longer chunks of sleep. After the first few days, when latching was well-established, and both my baby and I were more comfortable with nursing, things got easier. I learned to trust my baby’s feeding habits. If she was crying and I had nursed her well just a half hour prior, I wouldn’t feed her right away. Just because a newborn cries does not always mean they are hungry, and this can sometimes become a problem for moms. Some babies turn a nursing session into a time to pacify.

Once a baby is a few months old they often only nurse for a 5-10 minutes on each side, but every two hours, and this is what my second daughter did. As long as she was gaining weight and having enough poopy and wet diapers, I trusted her and had confidence that I was doing something right. A quick note on poopy diapers: the first two days there might be lots, but don’t be surprised if after you come home from the hospital they go a few days without having a poop! I remember every book saying they should have so many poops in a day, or in the first 5 days, and my doctor reassured me that not having a poop every day was fine, especially with breastfed babies. It is fine as long as the baby is having plenty of wet diapers! My oldest daughter pooped every other day for the longest time. And then there is spit up! Both my girls were/are spew factories! Sometimes I wondered if they even kept anything down. I once read that if you take a teaspoon of water and spill it on the counter you will see how much liquid that looks like, and compare it to spit up. It really isn’t that much. Oftentimes they might be overfeeding themselves too, as well as the fact that reflux is prevalent in babies. Just be on the lookout for signs of true GERD, or baby reflux: arching back, failing to gain weight, crying after feedings.

In time, you and baby will get into a groove, things will become natural, and breastfeeding will be what it is all about: a special, physical bonding time to nourish your baby. I remember after Allison turned 1 and I was ready to be done nursing, but then I soon saw other mothers nursing their babies and missed it a bit. I do enjoy my time nursing Jolie, and will probably miss it when I am done nursing her.

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