It’s fair to say that most women want to attempt breastfeeding their baby, it is after all one of the many incredible things our bodies were designed to do. It is an amazing bonding experience, has so many nutritional benefits for your child, and even can help reduce your chances of having breast cancer! Not only that, it’s a great excuse to sit quietly, relax and stare at your baby. After giving breastfeeding a try, some women decide to stop and there can be a variety of reasons for that. Of course, the most important thing is that our babies are warm, fed and that mothers everywhere encourage and love each other, regardless of their feeding style.
Norah has been breastfed since the day she was born and still is, at over 14 months old, we have never given her a bottle and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want to encourage the mothers out there who are really wanting to breastfeed, but might be struggling or unsure of what they’re doing. News flash: no one knew what they were doing in the beginning! It’s a learning process for yourself and your baby, you’re both figuring this out together. Eventually you’ll understand your baby’s cues and find what works for you two.
Your Milk Coming In: for the first couple of days it may not seem like you have much milk, but you will have colostrum. Colostrum is also known as ‘liquid gold’, it is super high in protein and antibodies, this is plenty of food for your baby until your milk comes in. Breast milk starts to come in anywhere from 1-5 days after you give birth, your boobs will feel full and hard and you may leak and spray! If you find that your baby is gagging, unlatching, gulping fast, making a clicking sound or tends to be very gassy and spit up often, chances are that your milk is coming out too fast. Now, you don’t want to reduce your milk supply, as this first couple of months are crucial to establishing your milk supply for the next couple of years. However, I suggest nursing while leaning back slightly, or laying on your side. Gravity will help pull the milk back a bit, so it is not so overwhelming for your baby. Stopping halfway through the feeding session to burp them can help relieve gas, limit spit up and ensures that their bellies are full of milk, not air. You can also unlatch your baby when the milk starts to come down too fast (and often can spray everywhere!) and wait until it slows down a bit.
If you find that you are leaking from the opposite breast than your baby is nursing from, I cannot speak highly enough of the HaaKaa suction breast milk catcher, it is a genius invention. While you’re nursing, you simply suction it onto the breast that your child is not eating from and watch as it fills, this will help to relieve some of the fullness. This milk can be stored in the freezer, as I always like to have a small freezer stash, just in case. This is not technically ‘pumping’ and will not create an oversupply, the cup is simply catching the milk that was coming down anyways. Because when your baby sucks, both breasts respond and milk is let down on both sides, ready for baby to eat. Having your baby eat their complete meal from only one breast per feeding, ensures that the baby is receiving all of the nutritious fatty milk at the back of the breast, it also is a great way to avoid an oversupply.
It is totally normal for the first couple of weeks for your nipples to feel sore! I mean, you are having a little human sucking at them 8-12 times a day, for half an hour at a time. This can be a difficult time, but applying coconut oil (or other natural nipple balm) can be a lifesaver and remember that it will not feel like this for long. Mastitis and plugged ducts are different, if you are feeling a hard painful lump on your breast, reach out to your midwife or lactation consultant about the best ways to help relieve the discomfort. The quicker that you recognize you might be having a problem, the easier it is to treat it and the faster you will recover.
Women who have powered through the first few months of breastfeeding, can often find themselves stuck when they find their supply beginning to diminish.
Common reasons that a woman’s supply takes a dip are:
- They’re feeling good enough to begin working out again and are keen to get their pre-baby body back. Exercising too much and too intensely can cause a massive dip, as you burn so many calories. Working out is a fantastic thing to do, but you should very slowly ease back into it, to allow your supply to adjust.
- Not eating enough calories, you burn an extra 300-500 calories per day just by breastfeeding. You need to eat enough food to sustain your own body, and create enough milk for your baby as well. Great high calorie, milk producing foods are oats, flax, avocado, spinach and almonds. Avoid thyme, peppermint, parsley and cabbage.
- Not hydrating enough!! I can’t even begin to explain how crucial this is. Breastfeeding women should consume over 90 oz of water per day. Make your water more exciting by adding ice and cucumber and lemon slices. Drinking pure (no sugar added) coconut water helps incredibly, as does eating water dense foods, such as watermelon. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Not feeding on demand, or making your baby wait. Milk is a supply and demand type of thing, if you force your baby to wait (which you should never do), your body will tell itself that it doesn’t need the milk right now. Over time, you’ll create less and less milk, which ends up being a problem when baby goes through growth spurts, cluster feeding, or just decide that they want to nurse more- this does happen.
Getting a good latch is key to having a painless nursing session, limiting your chances of mastitis and ensuring your baby isn’t swallowing any air. Be sure your child’s mouth is wide open when you go to attach them and that your entire nipple goes into their mouth. Keeping their chin up and away from their chest will help to ensure that the milk goes down smoothly, think about it, nobody can comfortably drink with their chin toward their chest. Avoid introducing bottles and pacifiers for as long as possible, some babies can get nipple confusion and end up with a bad latch. The milk from a bottle tends to just trickle out on it’s own, so sometimes if a baby has had a bottle too soon, they will realize they don’t have to do much work and will prefer it over the breast. If you find that your baby is quite gassy or spits up more than normal, take a look at your diet. Gluten, soy, dairy, sugar, caffeine, spices and even too much garlic and onion, are all things that can upset a brand new little sensitive tummy.
It is never a bad idea to hire a lactation consultant, find a breastfeeding group and talk to other moms about their experience. Remember, your body was designed to do this and you absolutely have the ability to feed your baby. It’s an incredible experience and one worth fighting for. Trust your body, listen to your baby and nourish yourself in order to nourish your baby.
A resource that can be helpful: https://www.llli.org