Now that we’re four months into our breastfeeding journey I feel like things have fallen into a nice routine for baby Leo and me. He’s got the concept down and when he’s hungry he happily chomps away at the milk bar. I love glancing down at him and knowing my body actually makes all that he needs to grow. The whole concept is still mind-boggling and just amazing to me.
However, breastfeeding wasn’t all roses and butterflies from the get-go for us, though, and in hindsight there were a few things I wish I would have known beforehand. Our nursing story starts a little different than most families’ but keep reading as these tips should be super useful for any new mom.
With Leo having been on breathing assistance in the NICU he wasn’t allowed to drink on his first two days of life and was receiving IV nourishment. Then, the doctors had him drink bottled formula and whatever I could pump so he got used to getting milk pretty effortlessly thanks to the instant flow bottles. So once we got home, he just didn’t know how to latch on to me and suck hard enough to get breast milk directly from the source. Sad panda!
Determined to make breastfeeding work, I got us an appointment at a lactation consultant. After all, that’s what everyone recommended. She weighed Leo and then put him on me. Showed me how to help him latch, said it all looked good and then weighed him after about an hour of being at my boobs. He had transferred half an ounce. Yikes! Normal for him at this point was 3 ounces in my less time, so yeah….
The lactation consultant seemed pretty baffled and just suggested to keep practicing and offering him the breast but I was pretty unhappy about that advice. I want an action plan! Tell me how I can fix this!
Plenty of frustrating “practice” nursing sessions later, Leo eventually figured it out and we transitioned from bottle feeding to 100% breast feeding. I’d have to say I’m actually more proud of making that happen than giving birth, cause dang, it was a crap ton of work, lots of frustration and quite a few tears.
Regardless of how your nursing journey is going to begin, I wanted to share some things that I wish I had known about breastfeeding before I had my baby. Keep in mind everyone is different and this is my personal experience. Talk to your doctor, nurses, and lactation consultant to see what helpful tips they have specifically for you.
1) Breastfeeding Takes Time to Figure Out
You dream of your perfect little bundle of joy eagerly crawling up to your boob, gently taking your nipple into her mouth and milk magically flowing. All the breastfeeding moms I had ever seen made it look like a super easy task so I never even thought that it could be frustrating and then I beat myself up for not loving breastfeeding. I thought clearly something was wrong with us for having such a hard time with it and not enjoying this magic bonding time.
I think it would have been so encouraging if someone who had successfully nursed their child had just told me, hey, it’s OK if it’s not super awesome butterflies and unicorns and all that stuff from the get go. You and your baby are new to this, no body is perfect. It just may take some time to figure things out.
2) Don’t Let The Breastfeeding Movement Guilt Trip You
Breast is best! Breast is best! Breast is best! I’m sure they’ve hammered that into you like crazy. They have a point. Of course breast is best. The benefits for baby and momma have been proven in plenty of studies. I’m pretty sure almost all moms would love for their babies to receive breast milk for as long as possible. But sometimes that just isn’t possible.
When they suggested Leo should get formula in the NICU I cried a little. Of course we agreed because he needed the extra calories to keep his blood sugar levels steady and to help metabolize his bilirubin levels. But honestly, I felt like a failure. BREAST IS BEST and here I was failing my little one by not being at his bedside 24hrs and having enough milk yet to help him in the NICU. Yeah that guilt really was a nice addition to already high stress levels.
So while I think the whole Breast Is Best movement has done great things in encouraging moms to breast feed, please don’t take it to heart if for whatever reason you just can’t. There’s donor milk, there’s formula, there’s pumping and bottle feeding. It’s all OK! Some things are out of your control so please don’t feel as guilty as I did. Fed is best!
3) Your Tiny Bit of Colostrum Is Enough
So when they started to give Leo formula in the NICU I saw how much he gobbled down of that and I compared it to what collected at the bottom of my pumping bottle. Errrrrrr… not even close! What my milk bar was serving though was colostrum and that is a super nutrient packed concentrate. It’s not formula and baby just doesn’t need much of it in the beginning. Your milk will change in both quantity and consistency as baby’s belly changes.
4) And Then You May Have Too Much
And oh did it change! My milk finally came in and yowzers my boobles felt like they were going to explore! Rock hard and painful. What, so that’s what breastfeeding will be like?! No friggin’ way would I last if this is what it’s like. Stick with it now!! Thankfully engorgement only lasted a few days for me and warm showers and wash clothes as well as cold ones helped get the milk flowing out and comfort my painful tatas.
On the bright side, I personally was making so much milk now that I could feed baby Leo with only breast milk and still freeze a whole bunch. My whole fear of not having enough milk made me pump just a liiiiittle longer so I wound up with an over supply. Good problem to have but waking up in puddles of milk was pretty darn annoying those first few weeks. Get yourself a good waterproof mattress pad and bra pads.
5) Your Body Adjusts to What Your Baby Drinks
I promise your milk bar will get used to its best customer’s demands. The tatas’ll wake you up at night sometimes before baby is even up because they’re so full but they get used to what he wants and will eventually let you sleep through the night again when baby starts to.
At the same time, when baby is hitting growth spurts they will adjust and make more. There’ll be days when she’s practically attached to your nipples and you think geebus kid, I just don’t make enough to fill you. Stick with it. Them trying to eat all friggin’ day signals your body that it needs to ramp up milk production. And it will. It’s pretty darn amazing. Thousand years old concept.
6) When Baby Gets Bigger Breast Feeding Gets Easier
As baby grows not only does their appetite grow but so does their mouth. Leo getting a little bigger was probably the single best improvement to breastfeeding. He had a tiny lip tie, not enough to have it fixed but enough so that I always had to flip his upper lip outwards to help him latch. Pretty annoying for both of us. Once his mouth grew a little bit and his facial muscles got stronger though, nursing became a lot easier and I didn’t need to help him anymore. So keep that in mind. They’ll get better at nursing as time goes by!
7) You’ve Gotta Put Enough in to Get Enough out
Seems like a simple equation but in the hustle and bustle of having a newborn, taking care of yourself can be quite tough and its easy to forget to eat and drink plenty. You’ll need that nutrition to keep up your supply so don’t skimp. I read somewhere that we need about 500 calories extra when we’re nursing. I believe it!
8) Set Small Goals
So before I had Leo my breastfeeding goal was always one full year. Once he was born though I quickly thought, wow, we’ll be lucky if I stick with it for a week or a month. A year seemed daunting since it was just not all roses and butterflies. Well we stuck it out for that week so I though OK I’ll try for a month, that way he’ll at least benefit from all my antibodies and the nutrients while he is this little. Once we somehow made it through that month I figured we could tackle three month. Those three became the goal of making it through the winter and until six months.
Creating small goals makes them look much more achievable and realistic and I feel that if I had to stop now or lost my supply I’d be OK since I already reached so many little milestones.
9) Stick with It for One Month
And while a year is my ultimate personal goal, I feel that the one month goal was a crucial one. Breastfeeding became so much easier for us by then. And you may be lucky and it’ll be a lot easier right from the get go. But for us by then Leo had figured out how to latch and drink well without a nipple shield, my boobs weren’t hurting anymore, and they also didn’t leak. I had finally become one of those moms that had made me believe breastfeeding is easy. Hoorah! So yes, that first month was rough but it got so so so much better! Trust me, stick with breastfeeding; it is so worth it for both of you!
10) Be Prepared
You’d think breastfeeding is such an ancient concept that you really don’t need anything to make it work but I’ve found that there are some things that definitely make it easier:
I found this book the most helpful out of a huge pile I borrowed from the library. Well organized and pretty concise. ‘Cause who’s got time to read a novel when you have a newborn?! Ergo: You may want to read it before baby arrives.
To comfort sore nipples and boobs in the beginning, get some nipple cream and hot/cold soothies. Then there are the Boppy and My Breast Friend nursing pillows that I don’t use every day but are nice to have.
Finally, you may not think you’ll need or want one but get yourself a breast pump. Health insurance companies are required to pay for one so essentially you’re getting a breast pump for free. There are several companies out there that help get a prescription from your doctor, check what models are covered and send you one as soon as you’re eligible. I have a Medela and am pretty happy with it but I also hear that the Spectra is great. Another option is to rent a hospital grade pump, which can be extra helpful if you need to exclusively pump.
Last but not least, mittens! Yep, they get their own bullet point. Our son’s finger nails grow faster than weeds and are sharp like razors (ok exaggeration there but wow, can they do damage on sensitive tata skin!). So I encourage you to not only have baby nail files (or even nicer, a glass baby nail file) everywhere so you can grind those claws down whenever you get a chance but also have mittens in all your nursing spots. They make a world of a difference, are easy to put on baby’s hands and don’t cost much at all. Buy some mittens, trust me on this one!
Wishing you all the best for nursing your precious newborns! I’d love to hear about your breastfeeding journey in the comments!
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