“If your baby wants to eat more than every two hours, you need to stop and switch to formula. You’re not making enough milk!” Umm, say what!?! Just an FYI, that’s absolutely NOT true! It’s an example of the plethora of myths new moms have to contend with. Let’s do ourselves a favor and leave the old wive’s tales behind, okay. I’m going to tell you what you really need to know about breastfeeding a new baby!
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I’m not one to say that everyone needs to breastfeed, but since you’re reading this I’m going to assume that’s what you want. There are a few steps you can take to get yourself started on the right track.
When You’re Pregnant
Pregnancy is a fabulous time to start preparing for birth . You can do some things now that will make it a lot easier to succeed when your baby arrives.
- Think about your goals. Now is the time to think about what you want. You can always change your mind later (I know I did), but what is it you want to have happen? Exclusive breastfeeding? Part-time breastfeeding? Exclusive pumping? Figure out what your goals are and plan for that.
- Check with your health insurance. These days insurance companies often offer help for breastfeeding moms. See what yours has to offer as far as access to a lactation consultant (before and/or after birth), a breast pump, etc.
- Buy some bottles. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Having a few bottles on hand can relieve a little pressure. Knowing that you have a back-up plan in case things don’t quite go to plan can help you relax, and it’s much easier to breastfeed when you’re relaxed!
When You’re in the Hospital
It’s go time! You’re at the hospital and your beautiful bundle of joy is snuggled in your arms. Now what? Is there anything you can do in the hospital to help reach your breastfeeding goals? Yep!
- Limit your visitors. You read that right. Just like I said in my post about delivery, I’d suggest limiting your visitors during your recovery at the hospital. You and your baby will both be learning how to breastfeed and having people constantly dropping by can make that tricky!
- Have lots of skin-to-skin time. This is another reason to limit visitors. You should be having lots of skin-to-skin time with your baby. Research shows that having lots of time where your mostly-naked baby is curled up directly against the skin on your chest helps baby thrive AND helps with breast milk production!
- Meet with a lactation consultant. Check with the hospital you are planning to deliver at and see if they have a lactation consultant on staff. They can answer your questions, offer encouragement, and help troubleshoot. In a pinch a nurse with additional training on breastfeeding can help, but an IBCLC is the best option.
When You Go Home
Things just got real! You’re home! Now, what exactly are you supposed to do with this tiny human? How do you keep the breastfeeding going now that you’re on your own?
- REST! Seriously, I mean it. Rest as often and as long as you can. I actually wrote an entire post about the importance of rest and help during the recovery from childbirth. Not only do you need it for your own health, it’s going to make producing milk and feeding your baby much easier.
- Drink lots of water. Fluid loss is a real issue during post-partum recovery. Not only are you bleeding, and producing milk for your baby, you’re sweating like a woman in a turtle-neck on the 4th of July! If you’re not careful to replenish your fluids you’ll dehydrate and that will make breastfeeding harder.
- Go see your lactation consultant. I know you just saw this lady at the hospital, but go see her again. Sometimes after a few days your breastfeeding journey will take a funky turn. What was easy at first suddenly feels tricky. Go back and see your lactation consultant again. Even if everything is going great, she can offer some encouragement that can carry you through any hard days.
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Do you remember how in my diaper bag post I said there is a ton of gear on the market that you just don’t need? The same is true for breastfeeding! Let’s talk about what you actually might need.
- Nursing Covers: I know there is a lot of controversy over nursing covers. I’m a big believer in doing what works best for you and your baby. If foregoing the nursing cover feels best, feel free to skip it (that’s what I did). If nursing in public feels most comfortable with a cover, pick one like this that isn’t too finicky to use.
- Breast Pumps: A breast pump is a really good thing to have on hand, even if you plan to exclusively breastfeed. At some point you may want (or need) to go out away from baby and the pump will let you leave some milk behind. Also, if you end up with a clogged duct or mastitis (we’ll talk about that in a minute) it can help you recover.
- Nipple Shields: Certain breastfeeding struggles can be improved with the use of a nipple shield. It’s basically a small piece of silicone that covers the nipple and areola. If you think you might need one, contact your lactation consultant. They can help you get to the root of the problem and find the right size shield for you (they are not one-size-fits-all).
Breastfeeding is natural and wonderful, but that doesn’t always mean it is easy. Sometimes things don’t quite go to plan and you need some help. These are a few common breastfeeding struggles and how you can deal with them.
Tongue and lip ties are actually a lot more common than most people realize. While there is a tendency to run in families, sometimes it seems to appear out of nowhere.
- Signs to watch for: I’ve had four tongue-tied babies. A few things to look for are excessive pain while nursing, a baby who struggles to stay latched, repeated bouts of thrush, and ‘lipstick nipple’ (where your nipple resembles the top of a new tube of lipstick when baby unlatches). Read more about this issue here.
- Where to find help: Finding help for tongue and lip ties can be tricky. A lot of pediatricians aren’t very well informed on them. Start with your pediatrician but if her or she says that tongue ties will fix themselves as kids grow, or that they don’t impact breastfeeding, seek a second opinion. You can often also find dentists and ENTs trained in tongue/lip tie diagnosis and repair.
Okay, let’s have a quick anatomy lesson. Milk is produced within the breast in parts called lobules. When it’s time to feed baby a hormonal process called the Milk Ejection Reflex triggers those lobules to ‘eject’ the milk through ducts and out your nipple. Occasionally one of those ducts will become blocked, creating clogged ducts.
- Signs to watch for: Some things you might see with a clogged/plugged duct include pain in the breast, an area of redness (not red streaks, just an area of redness), a hard (sometimes painful) lump in your breast, decreased milk flow, and pain upon milk letdown. Side note: untreated tongue and lip ties increase the risk of clogged ducts because some babies can’t feed as effectively.
- Home treatments: You can usually treat a clogged duct at home. Completely empty the affected breast at every feeding. Apply gentle heat and massage the area of the clog before nursing. It can help to pump the affected breast after feeding to ensure it is fully emptied.
- When to seek help: Occasionally a clogged duct can progress to mastitis. If you see red streaks on your breast, have a fever, or develop flu-like symptoms it is time to check in with your doctor. You can treat mastitis with antibiotics. Important note: You do NOT need to stop nursing while you have mastitis.
Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex
Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) is a less common breastfeeding struggle, but it’s one I want you to know about. Many women (myself included) who have dealt with it have felt like they were alone and possibly crazy. The milk ejection reflex at let down can cause a wave of negative physical and emotional feelings in women with D-MER.
- Signs to watch for: D-MER is a wave, sudden onset, or overwhelming flood of feelings like sadness, anxiety, emptiness, etc. For me it was a sense of dread, a sudden and overwhelming urge to cry, and sometimes a feeling like I needed to vomit. D-MER hits just before a mother’s milk let’s down and starts to flow, but it goes away within a minute or two.
- Finding help: You can’t treat D-MER at this time. You can find support, though. Knowing you are not alone is a key part of working through it. Look for other moms dealing with the same thing and support each other.
Make Breastfeeding Work for You
I truly enjoyed breastfeeding my five babies. Even with some roller coaster moments it was a beautiful experience. The key takeaways from my almost decade plus of breastfeeding? First, figure out your goals. It’s your life and you can choose to nurse your baby as much or as little as you want. Find someone to help support those goals who can help you tell the difference between fact and myth. Then, rest and relax so that you and your baby can learn and recover together! Don’t forget to sign up to get your FREE diaper bag checklist as a member of my email community!