It might be because I’m an anthropologist and know about the mammalian advantages of nursing (sexy!), or perhaps it’s because my own mother did it, but breastfeeding my baby was important to me. Unfortunately, between my friends’ horror stories and others who warned it didn’t work for them, I was concerned about doing it right. The good news is, some medical issues aside, there is a high likelihood that you’ll be able to breastfeed successfully if you put your mind to it.
To prepare, I did what most people do: I Googled and talked to other women who nursed. Here are the tips that worked best for me.
1. You will be more successful if you make it a priority
If you are committed to nursing, you are more likely to be successful. If you think that maybe you’ll do it, you’re more likely to fail because there can be a lot of hiccups in getting done what one would assume is an instinctual thing (it’s not). I found this tip in an article somewhere, and it made sense to me. Breastfeeding is like a diet. You know it’s probably going to suck, at least at first, but if you get your head right, you’ll push through and be glad you stuck with it.
2. Ask all the nurses or lactation consultants in the hospital for tips
Then use the ones that work best for you. My friend told me to do that, and I’m glad I did. Each person explained it slightly differently than the last, and some people are just naturally better teachers than others. Between at least five professional opinions, I found a method that worked.
3. If it hurts, immediately ask how you can fix it
By now you’ve probably heard many people complain that nursing hurts, so it can be natural to expect to have to white knuckle it, thinking pain is part of the experience. Don’t do this! There is a difference between discomfort, nipple soreness, and outright agony. Think about it: our ancestors wouldn’t have done it if it were prohibitively painful. Often the latch is off or maybe your baby is tongue-tied. If it hurts, ask the lactation consultant, nurse, doctor, friend, mom, or La Leche League expert how you can make it better. Keep asking until things improve.
4. Get the latch right
How the baby chomps down on your nipple (eek!) is everything for painless nursing. The baby has to open wide and get as much of the areola in his/her mouth as possible. This is key to success. You can adjust the baby’s latch. Get someone to help you until you understand, but in general, if the baby is just on your nipple, it’s going to hurt like hell. Stick your finger in the baby’s mouth to break the suction and get him to open wide and try again. He’s motivated to eat, so you can get him to try again and again until it’s right. He’s a captive audience.
5. Use lanolin
Using lanolin after feeding will reduce nipple dryness and discomfort. There are probably alternatives to lanolin out there, but in general, it works well for most people. The vegan options don’t always cut it. Expressed breast milk also protects the nipples. Keep them lubed prophylactically. Don’t wait for chapped, cracked boobs to start treatment.
6. Try not to “supplement” with formula
At least, don’t do it until breastfeeding is well-established (obviously unless your doctor says otherwise, but that goes for everything). Nursing is a supply and demand situation. If your baby nurses, then takes a bottle of formula, then nurses, your body thinks she only has to nurse twice out of three times and will make less milk. This will potentially leave the baby hungry, which prompts you to give a bottle, and then your body makes even less milk. It’s a vicious cycle. Avoid it by exclusively breastfeeding, especially in the first few weeks while the milk supply is being established.
7. Accept that you won’t know how many ounces baby gets per feed
When you nurse, you won’t know for sure how much your baby consumed. It’s hard for some women to not know how many ounces baby eats. Some wrongly assume baby’s not getting enough if she wants to nurse often (it will normally be every couple hours at first, 24/7, at minimum, FYI). This can lead new mothers to give a bottle so at least they know baby had a good feed. However, trust your baby. If she’s gaining weight and you’re doing it frequently, it’s working. You’ll go to the pediatrician often enough for the doctor to tell if the baby is at risk.
8. If possible, get the baby to drink from each breast for about 20 minutes at a time
Breast milk has varied consistencies. At first, it’s watery and quenches thirst. This is called the fore milk. It has a lower fat content than the hind milk, which is thicker, creamier, and higher in fat (and satiety). The hind milk doesn’t come unless the baby has been on the same boob for a consistent amount of time (15-20 minutes). The more hind milk the baby gets, the less frequently she’ll have to feed because the high fat content keeps her fuller, longer.
9. Offer both breasts to the baby at each feeding
Not only do you not want to be lopsided, you need milk production to be approximately equal in both breasts. If you only offer one, remember which one and offer the other next time. As always: remember the supply and demand mantra!
10. Get a good movie and/or book
I know, I know. Breastfeeding is about bonding and staring lovingly at your child. That is true, and it’s a good reason to nurse, but in reality, it feels like you’re a damn cow. And you might need more than motherly love to get you through those 3 a.m. wakeups. I gorged on Netflix and e-books. I used my iPad, which I could set up next to the rocker and keep the lights off at night. I was so into House of Cards, that I was sad when W fell back to sleep. I know a friend who stayed up well after the baby was done nursing to read The Hunger Games, so make sure you don’t get too into your entertainment:) But seriously, staying relaxed and in a good mood helps, so do something fun!
Q: What tips helped you breastfeed successfully? If you ran into trouble, what did you do to overcome it?