Woo, took a little bit of an unintentional hiatus there! Life gets in the way, you know? Either way…we’re baaaack!
Today I wanted to talk about something that is very near and dear to my heart – breastfeeding! I am very thankful that my journey (x 2!) was something that worked for me the way I wanted it to. In the end, fed is best for your babes, however it gets done! Breastfeeding is something that a new mama needs a lot of support with, and that can be hard to come by when you’re going it alone. These are some things that helped me.
1. Make sure your doctor knows you intend to nurse your baby.
During your pregnancy, the topic of how to feed your baby will come up, especially towards the end. Make sure your doctor knows your intentions! They can help you on the clinical side especially by connecting you with lactation consultants, support groups, and they can encourage you along the way as well. When it’s time to have baby, letting the hospital know your intent will help in the same way.
2. Take advantage of the lactation consultants in the hospital.
Especially if it is your first little one. You can read all the books, buy all the things, but you don’t ever know how it’s going to go until you get that new babe in your arms. The lactation consultant will be able to guide you on different nursing positions, how to get your baby to latch, things to look for to make sure they are getting enough, and just be a supportive person in general for you.
3. Read all you can on the subject.
Before heading to the hospital, it is so helpful to read all you can about breastfeeding. A website I referenced a lot was Kelly Mom. That site is full of articles, tips & help on probably every subject relating to nursing. Go to the library and check out some books. Having knowledge before starting this journey can make a huge difference & be incredibly helpful.
4. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.
Nursing a newborn was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. Some terms to know that may help a lot:
cluster feeding – baby will want a bunch of short feedings in a long period of time – it may feel like all you are doing is nursing for hours, and not every satisfying your babies hunger. While frustrating & even a little scary, it is normal!
waiting for your milk to come in – this doesn’t happen until 2-3 days after birth.
colostrum – a thicker, golden substance that baby will get for the first couple days (so don’t panic about your milk not fully being in! This is enough for them).
latch – this is very important. If baby isn’t latching properly, they won’t get enough (if any) colostrum, and you will end up in a lot of pain. This is something that a nurse or lactation consultant can and will help you with in the early days. It is not always something that comes naturally to mom or baby, it will take time to get it down. Do not let that discourage you.
engorgement – once your milk does come in, you will feel it. Your breasts will seem to double in size overnight, and even become hard & heavy. This is a good sign your milk has come in! It is important to make sure to nurse babe at least every 2-3 hours (newborns will probably want to eat closer to every 2 hours), and if the little one is sleeping for a stretch longer than that, it may be necessary to pump a little or hand express some milk out. If you go too long between feedings, your breasts will become engorged (too full, swollen and sore) which can lead to mastitis and plugged ducts – something you want to avoid at all costs.
Plugged ducts – initially, babies will nurse often enough that this shouldn’t be an issue. But as they get a little older, sleeping longer between feeds, or even preferring one breast to the other may lead to a plugged duct. You may feel a hard spot on your breast, it may be a little red, and very sore/painful. It is important that you massage the area, apply heat, take a shower and hand express to get rid of the plug. Having baby nurse as much as possible on the affected side will help too. I had this happen a couple times with each baby, and thankfully was able to get it resolved on my own after some time & effort. If you can’t, it may turn into mastitis (when the plugged duct turns into an infection in the breast tissue, which can make you feel very ill and need to see a doctor for antibiotics to clear it up), which is not something any new mama wants to deal with!
That is quite a bit of info in a short time, and there is plenty I didn’t include. While it seems like too much, or too overwhelming, just remember – knowledge is power! Issues you may come across will not seem as scary if you are aware of the things that can happen.
5. Find some support.
As a single mom, the typical partner support did not exist for me. Thankfully, I have some incredible friends who were always there for me, my mom as well. Even my oldest girl was a huge help when her little sister came along. It is very important that you have people on your side who will help encourage you when times get tough, and be there to support you no matter what. It helps to have other nursing mamas in your corner too, who can relate to things you may be going through. Even if you can’t find this “in real life”, there are a lot of Facebook groups or other online forums that will end up being there for you just as much as someone nearby.
6. Have a nursing area set up.
In the end, this may not be something that works for you, or you will find a different comfy spot instead of the one you set up initially. But the most important thing is to have a basket (or something like it) that will always be nearby for you to grab what you need without having to move too much or get up & disturb the baby, especially when you are still getting the hang of things. Also, the breastfeeding hunger (& thirst!) is real! I don’t think I’ve ever been so hungry or thirsty in my life as the times I was nursing my newborns. Things I always had nearby in my basket were nursing pads, a tube of lanolin, burp cloths, an extra outfit or onesies at least, a couple diapers and small package of wipes, a couple pacifiers if your baby uses one, chapstick, a box of crackers, a few granola bars or other small snack (I’m not kidding about the hunger!). I always had a big water bottle to use during the day, or I would’ve also included a couple little bottles of water in there. It is also helpful to have a phone charger & tv remote nearby. It’s no fun getting stuck under a baby you don’t want to disturb and nothing to do in the meantime. Sometimes I had a book nearby too, for after the baby was asleep & I didn’t need both hands. Eventually you may find yourself needing to pump some as well, and a “pumping station” will help as well. I didn’t pump often, but when I did I made sure to have nursing pads, milk bags and wipes in there too.
7. Be easy on yourself!
Nursing is a difficult thing to master(if it ever is truly mastered!), and no matter what anyone may tell you, it is NOT easy! It will be frustrating at times, you will worry about your baby getting enough, you may fight with latch issues or comfortable positions, you may feel like you are failing and want to give up. In the end, nursing isn’t something that works for everyone. And that is okay! Making sure baby is fed is most important, along with a (physically & mentally) healthy mama. Do not be hard on yourself for not making it work immediately, & don’t beat yourself up for deciding to go with formula instead. Every mama does what is best for her & her baby!
I hope these tips are helpful & make things seem a little less overwhelming!