Breastfeeding to me is such an incredible experience. It is a gift that I give to my children, but at the same time provides a gift for me.
It has also been a completely different experience with each of our three boys and has given me some perspective to how different it is for each mother with each child.
Our oldest nursed from day one but our breastfeeding relationship ended when he was about 13 weeks old. I was a first time mommy that had to return to work after 6 weeks and whose body didn’t respond to pumping very well.
Our middle son was a booby baby through and through. No substitutes, no dummies; only milk straight from the tap. Some of this may have come from my overwhelming desire to make it to a year with breastfeeding so I fiercely protected that relationship.
Our third is 5 months old, drinks only breastmilk but will take it easily from a bottle, has found comfort in both a binky and his thumb, and seems the most laid back of all our boys.
So now I would like to share with you my favorite tips for enjoying your breastfeeding experience. These stem from my personal research and experiences and I hope you find them helpful.
#1. Set Your Goals
As soon as you get a positive pregnancy test your mind starts going with all kinds of thoughts and questions. One of those is whether or not you are going to choose to breastfeed and for how long. At this very beginning, I believe you set the tone for what your breastfeeding experience will ultimately look like. Maybe you want to breastfeed for a few months and then wean to formula when you return to work. Maybe you want to breastfeed for 6 months or until your little one starts cutting teeth. Maybe you want to go a year and then switch to a different milk. Or, maybe you want to go for extended breastfeeding to 2 years and/or beyond. By setting your goals before baby arrives, I feel, you have a better chance to pursue it even when you go through some of the harder days.
#2 The Right Support
Support can come in many forms but I believe you need to have a couple of different kinds depending on where you are at or what your current concerns or challenges are. There are Lactation Consultants and Doulas that can lend some professional and educated support and troubleshooting. They can be invaluable in those early days when you are trying to figure out any latch issues, supply, or other help. Then, your husband or partner is going to be a crucial support person. It is important early on (before baby arrives and while you are setting your goals) to discuss what you want or need from them to be able to encourage and support you. Now, while I realize there may not be a supportive spouse or one at all, having a close person there to encourage you and support you is so helpful. The other support person that I feel is important is a friend or relative that has recently or is well into a successful breastfeeding period. This is who you call when you are exhausted and emotional and needing to hear the perfect “I know what you are feeling and you will be okay” comfort.
Each of these people will be very important to you at one or the entire duration of your journey. Talk to them while you are pregnant, ask them questions, sit with your friend while she feeds her baby. That will be you soon.
#3 Read the Right Stuff…a little bit.
We are in the age where everything is accessible. There is enough information out there available at the click of a button to make your head spin in an instant. While I am a research fanatic when it comes to things like this, moderation is important. I recommend reading 1 or 2 books (like The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding) during your pregnancy and then I found a blog that I became a huge fan of. Her name is Meg Nagle and she is an IBCLC from Australia. Her blog is called The Milk Meg and she is a fantastic resource for breastfeeding mothers. She even provides consultations via Skype. The point is to find a few places for some good knowledge and encouragement but don’t overwhelm yourself.
#4 The Early Weeks
Baby has arrived and you are home settling in. If this is your first baby, your milk will be coming in in another day or so. If it is your second or beyond, your milk has probably arrived. These early days and weeks should just be spent cuddling your baby, drinking water and enjoying tasty food with lots of rest. Your body goes through a lot during pregnancy and then more after you deliver as it tries to balance hormones, blood volume, and heal from birth. Hopefully you have friends and family who offer to come and help take care of things for you so you may recuperate. I know they want to offer to hold the baby for you so you can rest or nap, but if that isn’t what you need from them, don’t be afraid to speak up. When they call, let them know if you are up for a short visit or if you would like to sit and talk and relax together. If they offer to help do anything, LET THEM! Let them do a load of laundry, cook a meal, vacuum your floors, take out trash, whatever will help you not do anything except care for your new baby.
Lots of skin-to-skin! When people aren’t over helping you out, take that shirt off and cuddle your squishy baby right up on your chest! This is proven to regulate baby’s heartbeat, respiration and temperature, not to mention the amazing hormone release that happens between you and baby. This is also a great way for daddy to bond with baby. Just make sure he leaves the aftershave or cologne off.
“When in doubt, whip it out.” This is one of my favorite Meg quotes! Those early days of breastfeeding can be confusing and overwhelming.
“Is baby crying because he is tired, hungry, or has a dirty diaper? But he just ate?! How could he want to nurse again?”
The beautiful things about breastfeeding is that it isn’t just for food and you can’t over-feed a breastfed baby! If baby is upset and you have tried to swaddle and soothe in other ways, try offering the breast. Baby finds the most comfort close to you where he can smell and feel you. You are familiar and safe, don’t deny baby of that because you have been told you will spoil him. You can’t spoil a baby!
#5 It Doesn’t Have to be All or Nothing
I wish I had known this with my oldest son. I gave up because I thought since I couldn’t sustain a supply through pumping that I had no choice but to wean and feed him formula exclusively. That doesn’t have to be the case at all. If you have exhausted all efforts to sustain your supply to breastfeed exclusively, and believe me there are a lot of different things you can try, you may be able to find a balance of breast and formula feeding. In my case, I could have breastfed while at home and exclusively on the weekends but allowed him to receive formula while at daycare.
This is one of those situations where your Lactation Consultant can help you troubleshoot your supply concerns, chose the best and most practical ways for you to try to boost your supply, and if that doesn’t help she can help you add supplementing to your breastfeeding journey.
If you have your goals set, your support in place, and have tried all that you can, give yourself some grace, take a breath, and enjoy YOUR nursing relationship for what it is. It isn’t going to nor does it have to look like anyone else’s.
That brings me to…
#6 Enjoy it
Breastfeeding truly is a journey, even a marathon. From cluster feeding and tender breasts to growth spurts and beyond there will be some trying days. But there will also be days and moments where when nothing else will console your baby, curling up in your arms and latching at the breast will. There will be moments that are etched into your mind for eternity like baby’s first booby grin or silly faces while trying to eat.
There is just so much, so much tenderness and nurturing and bonding that happens…to both of you!
Enjoy it all, however long it lasts.
What questions or concerns do you have about breastfeeding?
What other tips would you add for a new mother? Please leave a comment!