Last week I was asked to do an Instagram takeover and talk about my top tips for breastfeeding mamas! I started to think back to when my breastfeeding journey began and what I would have wanted to hear as guidance! I know you’re thinking duh you’re a labor, delivery, postpartum nurse, AND a lactation consultant so of course you knew what you were doing. It’s so much more than that- it’s an emotional journey, it’s a learning curve, it’s a magical bond, it’s uncharted territory, it’s a personal and unique experience, it’s hard, it’s beautiful, it’s exhausting, and sometimes it feels impossible. By about the 3 month mark though, usually it’s smooth sailing, and you will look like that mama that you see who grabs her drink in one hand and places her baby to her breast without skipping a beat. I think so many of us think that because we’re “meant” to breastfeeding and because our bodies make breastmilk that it will just happen naturally. Breastfeeding isn’t as “natural” and “easy” as I think most mamas expect it to be, but be patient mama – it gets easier.
So whether your journey starts off easy, breezy, beautiful or full of blood, sweat, and tears – know that there are some things you can do to help you be more successful. Let me break it down for ya!
1.) Expectations are a slippery slope in motherhood – we all walk into this with ideas of what we’ll be doing and what we’ll look like in motherhood. I promise it’s nothing that you’re picturing. I think most mamas picture themselves putting their baby to breast, the baby latching, eating for 30 minutes, gaining weight beautifully, sleeping well until they feed again, all with no tears being shed. I can tell you this probably won’t be at all what happens. I can also promise there will be tears- from you AND your baby. Walk into this with an open mind, be accepting of help and guidance, know you can’t do it all alone, and hear me when I say it gets easier!
2.) Educate yourself before the baby is born – knowing the breastfeeding basics will help you start your journey on the right foot! There is a lot that plays into breastfeeding success – milk supply, positions, pumping, how to latch baby, feeding cues, how to know baby is getting enough breastmilk etc. Learning about this during your pregnancy will help you understand the path ahead before you deliver.
3.) Prepare for postpartum – so many mamas prepare for labor and birth, and I think people don’t realize that there is a whole trimester after birth, the fourth trimester. For some the fourth trimester can be the hardest part of the journey through motherhood! If you’re planning to exclusively breastfeed then line up your support system, prepare your breastfeeding area(s) at home- I usually recommend one on each level of living, have easy to grab snacks and frozen prepared meals, and have a lactation consultant visit lined up within 3-5 days after birth.
4.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help – I can’t stress this enough! I think one of the more common misconceptions is that breastfeeding is painful, but it shouldn’t be! If you can’t achieve a comfortable latch it’s even more important to ask for help. Use your resources such as your nurses and lactation consultants while in the hospital or birthing place, and during the postpartum period. The breastfeeding journey is not one meant to be traveled alone. I think many mamas see asking for help as a sign of failure but honestly for me it’s a sign of strength. I like to add here – be careful where you seek advice. Make sure your resources are professional and evidence based- I can’t tell you how often I cringe looking at the question and responses on those mom facebook groups or other online forums.
5.) Learn how to hand express and do breast compressions during the first 24-48 hours after birth. Research has shown that hand expression is more effective than pumping in the first 24 hours after birth, and breast compressions can yield 1/3 more milk plus keeps baby interested in feeding (once your breastmilk supply has come in.)
6.) Room in with your baby and do as much skin-to-skin as possible. Rooming in is when your baby stays with you in the postpartum period instead of being taken to the newborn nursery. Rooming in has been shown to help bonding, bring in breastmilk sooner, help baby lose less weight after birth, and will help you gain confidence in caring for and breastfeeding your baby. Skin to skin is the act of placing an undressed newborn on your bare chest. The benefits of skin to skin are amazing, and if you’re a nerd like me do some research on this or book an infant care class with me where we’ll talk about the countless benefits, how to do it, and when it should be done!
7.) Achieve a latch within the first hour of birth or keep baby skin to skin until first latch is achieved- research has shown that breastfeeding within the first hour after birth helps to signal to the body that it’s time to bring your milk in. You will find that in the “golden hour” after birth your baby is alert and very eager to feed. Many mamas report that this will be one of the best breastfeeds their baby has in the first few days after birth. The weight, pediatric exam, and medications can wait (of course as long as there are no medical indications that say otherwise) until after the first breastfeed!
8.) Don’t time feeds and hold off on the pacifier/bottles – letting your baby take charge and placing baby to breast to feed as long as they want as often as they want is going to help regulate your milk supply and bring your milk in. Babies can also get “nipple confused” and when you place a large hard nipple from a paci or a bottle into their mouth and then try and put your own nipple back in they may say… what the heck is this? So wait to introduce bottles and pacifiers until after breastfeeding is well established – usually around the 2-3 week mark.
9.) Self-care is so important – take care of yourself mama! There should be no cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, or anything in those first few weeks after birth. Your focus should be your recovery- eating a healthy well balanced diet, drinking enough fluids, sleeping as much as you can, and putting yourself first! I always say limit alcohol intake too during those first couple weeks as I find that too much can cause sleep disturbances, increased anxiety, and can effect milk supply.
10.) Monitor your baby’s feeds, pees, and poops with a feeding log! I have one to purchase and print unlimited copies here! It’s going to be important to monitor what time your baby feeds, what side they latch on (alternate starting side with each feed and always offer both breasts with each feed,) how long they feed for, and when they pee and poop! This will be important for a few different reasons. I always found that time was a wild concept after delivery – meaning the hours and days blur into one! Keeping track is going to help you remember what time you fed and what side they latched on first during the previous feed. This is also going to be important when working with your lactation consultant and pediatrician in monitoring baby’s weight gain, feeding habits, and if they have an adequate amount of pees and poops! Feeding logs can be done the old fashioned way in writing everything down or downloading an app on your phone such as Baby Tracker.
While this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to breastfeeding I want you to know that these 10 steps are going to help support breastfeeding success. I know you can do it mama, and I promise every tear shed, every drop of sweat, and every doubt will subside as time goes on! Please feel free to reach out to me at any point during your breastfeeding journey, whether its while prepping during pregnancy or during those first few weeks and months postpartum – I am here for you every step of the way! Thanks again as always for following along and feel free to comment below on a tip that helped you along the way!