To start, we asked a panel of experienced moms to share their top tips for new breastfeeding mothers. Some of the women surveyed were long past their breastfeeding days—their children now grown adults—a few were still actively nursing children, and one mom had just recently had her first baby and was new to breastfeeding. One of the moms also works as a doula and has helped hundreds of new moms adjust to breastfeeding postpartum. This wide cross-section of experience has resulted in a beautiful heartfelt list of encouraging words for other breastfeeding mothers. If you’re new to breastfeeding or have been breastfeeding for a while, but could use some encouragement, read and savor this special list:
- Don’t give up. The first days are the hardest—especially when your milk comes in and your breasts are hard as rocks and your nipples raw.
- Be prepared with easy access bras and nursing pads. I wore my husband’s t-shirts at night and just threw them off if they got wet when my milk let down.
- Put your phone down. There were no smart phones when I was nursing, and I remember those nursing baby eyes gazing up at me. You don’t want to miss that special bonding time!
- Give yourself time to get the hang of it. I remember the first outing and breastfeeding in public. I was so nervous!
- Expect your life to be turned upside down at first. You have someone who is wholeheartedly dependent on you and you’ve never had that before. Expect the range of emotions.
- Know that the days before your milk comes in, it won’t be consistent and what they tell you in the hospital in relation to schedule most likely pertains to the phase when your mature milk has arrived and is established.
- Day three or four will the “crying day.” Baby crying because he/she wants more substance (don’t fret—it’s coming!), mom crying because she doesn’t know how to meet the baby’s needs yet (don’t fret—just nurse!) PLUS the lack of sleep all around. It’s a perfect storm of emotional/physical exhaustion. Hang in there.
- Decisions made in the moment that work—pumping or supplementing or nipple shields or bottle-feeding—don’t mean that your breastfeeding relationship is compromised. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Keep at it and hang in there. What’s helpful in the moment is just that. Helpful.
- Nursing feeds so many of the baby’s needs, not just the need to eat. Security, comfort, warmth, belonging, stress reduction, just to name a few. A schedule will not address all of the complex needs. Follow the baby’s cues and nurse on demand.
- Don’t be shy about breastfeeding in public.
- Enjoy those beautiful hours.
- Sleep with your baby so that nursing is easier for both of you (and for your partner!)
- Get a sling and wear your baby, especially if it’s your second child—it’s much easier!
- Find your local La Leche League and attend a meeting. You’ll make wonderful, supportive connections.
- Don’t bother with formula samples or coupons if they give them to you at the doctor’s office or hospital—you can do this!
- Just remember that your “sisters” did this a hundred years ago and longer.
- You don’t have to answer if someone asks how long you are planning to breastfeed that baby/toddler/child.
- Make your first latch a proper latch.
- Invest in a breastfeeding consultant to support you in the beginning of your breastfeeding journey to ensure a good, painless start.
- Drink lots of water and stay hydrated.
- Use this time to bond with your baby by gazing deeply into her/his eyes and offering your finger for her/him to wrap her/his tiny hand around.
- Try different positions to find the most comfortable one for you both.
- If your baby tends to spit up after nursing, burp her/him several times while she/he is eating.
- It will be difficult at the beginning and throughout, at times. Get support.
- Let your support team know what you need to hear. I know you can do it—hang in there—remember why you’re doing this—or whatever will work, so that they don’t feel as if they have to “fix” it for you.
- There may be vulnerable moments in the beginning. Creating the right support team will help you to ensure success.
Breastfeeding is a richly rewarding experience for most mothers, but there are times when complications develop. Some mothers have a low supply in the beginning. Staying hydrated, getting rest (nap when the baby naps!), drinking herbal teas, or using herbs can help increase supply.
Plugged ducts can often be handled through massage and ensuring that the breast with the plugged duct is properly emptied. In difficult cases, the nursing mother can get on all fours, placing the baby on his/her back on the floor. Nursing in this position allows gravity to aid in unplugging the duct. Sometimes gentle massage in a warm shower or after placing a heating pad on the breast (on the lowest setting and over a piece of clothing) can release the plug as well.
Mastitis is a more serious complication that leaves a woman feeling flu-like with symptoms like the chills, low-grade fever, and fatigue. Mastitis is often a sign that the mom is doing too much or that a plugged duct has resulted in infection. If the case is mild, it can often be managed with natural remedies, rest, and increased nursing. Some herbs have been known to help with mastitis, however, if the condition worsens, it’s important to see a physician and to take oral antibiotics.
Breastfeeding is rewarding and most mothers find that it increases confidence and mother-baby bonding. As we close out National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we want to send a shout out to the many women—mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and friends who have been affected by breast cancer. We stand in solidarity with you all.