There are some amazing lactation consultants out there who offer terrific help with nursing, no doubt, but your time in the hospital is limited. Post-discharge consults are great but typically only happen when someone is desperate, so here are some specifics I wish my lactation peeps would have made clear (or that I wish I would have heard in the blur of those early days).
1.) This is your first big test. That may be a strong statement, but as a mother now – you have a choice to do what’s good for YOU, or what’s good for your CHILD. At week three, I sobbed – hard – at the thought of my baby latching on, even one more time, because it hurt SO bad. I decided there was nothing better for him than breastfeeding, so I stuck it out and did what I had to do. Mainly that was to take a lot of Advil, keep reading, keep trying, and pushing through! 6-7 weeks later, it finally let up and we had a great latch, minimal pain, and a super fat happy baby! Here is a fabulously helpful podcast that you can listen to anytime for encouragement and support when you think you’ve just had it!
2.) Apply lanolin before you shower. Just do it. Slather it thick, thick, thick on your nipples. A gentle stream of warm water becomes like a raging storm of hot knives when raw nursing nips enter the shower. It’s not ok. I like to use nipple cream on the regular, but when I need a shower I need something that was going to be a legit barrier like regular old purified lanolin.
3.) Massage while nursing to increase flow. This was a miracle tip! There for a few months, I was massaging my own boobs like I was making up for all the lost action. Once baby is latched well, massage around to help get some flow going. You’ll find indurated (harder/fuller) areas of your breast that it is helpful to work them from the outside in, to make sure milk in those areas is flowing. You don’t want to end up with a blocked duct or worse, mastitis, and massaging helps!
4.) You may have to milk yourself. I thought hand milk-expression was super weird and I never did it forcefully enough (because things hurt!) to actually work. Until I had a blocked milk duct that was heading towards mastitis. Pumping doesn’t quite do the job here so you really do need to hand express to clear the flow. Take some Advil, get in a warm shower, lean over, and milk away. Sexy, huh? Check out these hand expression tips for more good advice.
5.)You don’t know how much they are getting or for that matter, how much they are spitting up. For the most part, it’s really simple: keep asking yourself, are we nursing on demand? Are they happy? Are they peeing and pooping enough? Are the sleeping/napping well? If the answers are good and you have a happy, healthy baby- who freaking cares if it was 3.5 ounces or 4? And speaking of spit up? Babies just spit up! Yes, there are cases of pyloric stenosis but most spit up is totally normal. Ask yourself – are they happy? Peeing and pooping? Sleeping/napping well? If the answer is yes, cool, go do your laundry. Our Cooper was a power-spitter-upper. Not projectile like stenosis, but all the time, and lots of it, for months and months. We were dairy-free from day one, so that wasn’t the issue. He was super happy, super fat, super healthy. He was and is consistently in the 90 to off the charts percentiles. So it’s okay mamas, you’ve just got a laundry problem.
6.) Nursing on your side is the bomb. You can’t do side-lying nursing until baby has a pretty good latch, so don’t try it the first few weeks, but after a while, try laying on your side and tuck them tight into you to nurse. We actually found that during the night, our little guy had way fewer burps and gas issues/spitting up this way so we didn’t sit him up to burp after side-lying nursing at all.
7.) You have to relax. This is a big one because you won’t get a milk letdown if you’re anxious, stressed, or worried. You’ll get a letdown when the oxytocin flows – that’s the love hormone. The counter hormone to that is the stress hormone, cortisol. It’s physiology, not just a cute tip for moms. A great little behavioral cue is to repeat the word “release” when you sit down to nurse. Think: Release worry, release tension, release your muscles, release your face, release milk.
8.) Your nips might be numb. Around months four to six, you’re in a great groove, but the kid is getting more active, looking around, getting distracted when nursing. They may take your nipple with them when they look around and you realize that you didn’t even notice until you looked and saw it stretched like you never imagined possible. Yikes! Feeling may or may not come back after weaning.
9.) Use wool nursing pads. You can read about them here. Hubby says, “happy nips, happy wife”.
10.) Adjust the latch every single time if you need to. Babies don’t know what to do, just as you don’t. Lips should be flanged outward, so check each time if they are curled under and sweep your finger under baby’s lip to flange it out. Keep doing it so baby learns what it should feel like. There are all sorts of things to do to help adjust the latch, but keep adjusting it, time after time so that baby learns!
11.) A soft boob is good. A firm, full boob contains more watery milk, and a soft boob contains more fatty milk. The more fatty milk is the liquid gold and is a really good thing that baby’s growing brain needs! Don’t wait until you are ‘full,’ simply because anytime you get really full, that is a signal to your body that baby doesn’t need as much milk as you’re currently producing so it will slow down.
Nursing on a what feels like ‘empty boob’ is simply nursing with concentrated, nutrient-dense milk.
12.) Use a nursing cover at home to practice. That way you’ll be a pro at finagling baby and the cover into the right position when you’re out and about. Get a nursing cover that has the wire to keep baby visible to you – it honestly is a helpful feature – and gives baby the chance to try nursing covered. Especially when baby is small and getting the latch right, you still need to be watch and adjust, so here’s a quick video to get you started.
13.) Breastfeeding in public is legal. Hey, a friend legit asked me that, so it can’t be assumed as knowledge. Most moms prefer to be covered up, which is your choice, but know that in Ohio it’s legal to breastfeed in public. We nursed absolutely everywhere, as long as I had the cover there were no limits! We did a lot of nursing on the go, with the kid in a carrier. That doesn’t require a cover, but practice for sure. If you’re curious: Ohio Revised Code Ann. 378.55 (2005) provides that a mother is entitled to breastfeed her baby in any location of a place of public accommodation wherein the mother is otherwise permitted. (SB 41).
14.) Nursing changes dramatically as they grow. You no longer have ‘full’ boobs, ever. Often, mamas think they ‘don’t have any more milk’ and freak out, but it’s just a different game after kids really get going on solid food. We stopped nursing at 18 months and by then there is no noticeable fluctuation in breast fullness. The milk at that point is concentrated fat and immune cells, so keep nursing as long as it feels right! At 17 months, he wasn’t asking for it throughout the day, could go to sleep without nursing, and cold/flu season was over, so that felt right for us. Others would say to me, ‘just be done – it’ll give you back so much freedom’ but this wasn’t true for me. Nursing a toddler is not even close to nursing a baby. It’s only once or twice a day, usually in the evening before bed. You can skip a day or two – so no issues on drinking or going away. It just wasn’t a big deal then like it is with a baby..it was great bonding time and made both of us slow down!
15.) Using the word “nursing” instead of “breastfeeding” makes everyone a little happier. It rolls off the tongue easier and doesn’t contain a sexualized body part. It implies a nurturing, mothering action vs an anatomical function. Your dad may actually be able to ask you how ‘nursing’ is going whereas he may shy away from asking what your ‘breastfeeding schedule’ is. Just saying.