Most millennial mothers will decide to breastfeed, or at a minimum, give it a shot.
If you are looking for non judgemental tips and advice about breastfeeding, you have come to the right place my friend.
From the outside looking in, breastfeeding looks simple. Put the baby on the boob. Baby sucks the boob because that is what they do- it’s natural, right? And BOOM! Baby is fed.
But if you have ever breastfed, you know how complicated and confusing it can be.
If you are about to breastfeed for the first time, welcome to the party. May the odds be ever in your favor.
*This post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure here. It’s pretty anticlimactic.
*Also note that I am not a doctor or lactation consultant. I’m just a normal gal who has been squirting milk for 2+ years. Consult your doctor before you take anything that I say for gospel.
BREASTMILK: WHAT IT IS, WHY IT’S GREAT, AND HOW IT CHANGES
Before giving birth, and for a few days afterward, your breasts will produce colostrum.
Colostrum is a thick, yellow liquid that is packed full of antibodies and nutrition. It is also a laxative, which aids your baby in passing their first meconium poop.
Colostrum is low in calories, so expect your baby to lose weight. Babies typically lose 7-10% of their weight after birth, but gain it back within 2 weeks. Breastfed babies drop more weight than formula fed babies because of this caloric deficit.
After 3 to 4 days, your body will begin to produce transitional milk.
This milk is still quite yellow, but not as thick. It contains more protein and carbohydrates than colostrum.
It can be quite painful when your transitional milk comes in. Your breasts will rapidly expand and engorge, and can even become hot to the touch.
You can aid this transition with the help of warm compresses or a breast pump.
The transitional milk will last for about two weeks until your mature milk comes in.
Mature milk is what your body will continue to make for the extent of your breastfeeding journey. It is 90% water, and 10% carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Mature milk can be broken down into two types: foremilk and hindmilk. The foremilk, or first milk, is high in carbohydrates, whereas the hind milk, or last milk is high in fat.
When you begin nursing (or pumping), your breasts will automatically begin to release foremilk, then slowly transition to hindmilk. There is no distinct switch from foremilk to hindmilk, rather it is a gradual process.
ESTABLISHING A MILK SUPPLYvia GIPHY After giving birth, you should be able to begin nursing immediately, assuming that both you and the baby are stable, and there are no significant issues with the latch. Ideally, it is best to nurse within the first hour, but if circumstances don’t allow it, you will both be fine. Not having that chance to nurse immediately is not going to destroy your ability to produce or your baby’s ability to suckle. During the first few weeks, your body is trying to figure out how much milk it needs to produce. For this reason, feeding on demand is often recommended to new mothers. Most babies will naturally show hunger every 2-3 hours, and eat anywhere from 30-45 minutes. If your baby is going significantly longer than 3 hours without nursing, or is taking over an hour to eat, speak with your hospital’s lactation consultant to make sure that your baby is latching correctly, and to get ideas about how to keep them awake. It might be tempting to begin pumping so that you can produce an abundance of milk in the future, but I strongly advise against this if you are planning to breastfeed. Pumping in the early weeks can encourage an oversupply. While an oversupply of milk sounds amazing, it leads to pain, engorgement, and increased chances of mastitis. Not to mention a lack of sleep and social life because of painful, leaky boobs.
A proper latch is the most critical element for a good nursing experience. I can’t stress this enough. The difficult thing is that while sucking is a natural reflex for babies, nursing is still very much a learned skill.
My #1 recommendation in this area is to have a pediatric dentist or ENT check for lip and tongue ties within the first 24 hours.
Most pediatricians are not trained to look for these, and lactation consultants frequently miss them as well.
Lip and tongue ties will prevent your baby from latching onto your breast properly. A lip or tongue tie may:
- Be extremely painful for the mother
- Prevent baby from receiving adequate nutrition
- Cause an oversupply or undersupply of mother’s milk
- Result in baby taking 1 hour or more to nurse
- Cause colic in babies due to excessive inhalation of air
- Cause reflux
If your baby has a lip or tongue tie, getting it revised is quick and pain free. The pediatric dentist will apply a local anesthetic, then use a laser to quickly cut the ties, binding the wounds in the process.
Assuming your baby is free of lip and tongue ties, here are some great tips to help you achieve the perfect latch.
Open wide! Baby needs to have a big, wide mouth to latch correctly. His mouth should fit over much, if not all of your areola. If he doesn’t open his mouth wide enough, he will only suck in the tips of your nipples, which hurts like a mofo.
Pucker up! Baby’s lips must be flanged outward. If his lips are curled in, he will inhale air and become gassy.
Nose to boob. Make sure that your baby is close enough to press the tip of his nose to your breast. There is no need to smother him, but he should never have his head bent backward. Try drinking a cup of water like this- it’s hard!
There are several different ways to hold your baby while nursing them.
Regardless of which position you choose to nurse in, the important thing is to make sure your baby’s body is facing you (they should always be facing forward when they nurse), and that you are tummy-to-tummy.
In the cradle hold, you latch the baby onto one breast, and position their body across you, so that their feet are near the other breast. You hold their head in the crook of your arm, and often use a nursing pillow to hold them up.
CROSS CRADLE HOLD
The cross cradle hold is similar to the cradle hold in that your baby is lying across your body. The difference is that in the cross cradle hold, instead of using your arm and a pillow to support your baby, you use your hand.
In this position, you hold your baby much like a quarterback running in for a touch down. The baby lays lengthwise on the same side as the breast that they are nursing on, with their feet pointed toward your back.
In this position, you and baby lie down on your sides, facing one another. Baby is latched onto your breast with their tummy touching yours.
While some level of pain and discomfort during breastfeeding is normal at the beginning, extreme pain is not.
Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of having a pediatric dentist or ENT check your baby for lip and tongue ties. They are surprisingly common and prevent many mothers from having positive breastfeeding experiences.
Assuming your baby doesn’t have any ties, if you are still experiencing pain or discomfort, there are a few things you can do to help your breasts adjust to their new role as a human cafeteria.
- Vary nursing positions. This can help by adjusting which parts of your nipple receive the most pressure from baby’s suction.
- Apply nipple balm. Nipple balm protects and moisturizes your skin to relive or prevent cracks and soreness. I survived off of Lansinoh lanolin cream with my first baby, but I know many moms who have raved about Mother Love nipple cream. Both are safe for your baby to ingest, so you don’t have to wipe it off before the next nursing session.
- Gel pads are often quoted as “magic” and a “lifesaver” by nursing moms. Lansinoh has some great gel pads that many mothers store in the fridge to extend their use up to 3 weeks!
- Apply breastmilk and let air dry. Many mothers swear by this. Personally, I didn’t notice a difference, but hey, it’s completely free and takes two seconds, so it’s worth a shot!
- Blow dry or air dry nipples. Regardless of if you apply breastmilk to your nipples, you should give them time to thoroughly dry after nursing your baby. Warm, damp environments are a breeding ground for fungus, so if you want to steer clear of thrush, dry those puppies off before you tuck them back into your bra.
- Wear loose fitting clothing. This is helpful when you don’t have the time to air dry. Let’s be real- you probably want to sleep every spare second you have, not spend your time blowing on your own nipples. Loose fitting clothing is also helpful to relieve pressure on your breasts from sudden engorgement.
FREQUENCY OF FEEDINGS
A newborn will eat about every 2-3 hours for about 30-45 minutes (15-20 minutes per breast).
Total, this will be anywhere from 8-12 times per day.
By the time your baby is 3 months old, he should be eating every 3-4 hours, with longer stretches at night.
There are no hard-set rules about exactly how often or how long your baby will eat at each stage of development. All babies are a little different, so it is helpful to maintain a level of flexibility with your expectations. This is why many people recommend feeding on demand in the early days.
HUNGER CUESYou don’t need to wait until your baby is wailing to determine that he is hungry. There are several things that your baby will do to indicate his hunger before he becomes hangry. If you fail to recognize his early hunger cues and your baby moves into hangry zone (it happens to the best of us), you will probably have to calm him down before he is able to eat. Recognizing a baby’s hunger cues is a learning process. In fact, it’s really confusing as a first time parent. Everyone who told you that you will just know forgot what it’s like in the beginning. You will learn, just as they did. And by the time your baby is 6 months old, you will have gotten so used to meeting their needs that you will feel like you just know. Here’s a handy infographic of cues to help you out until you get there.
HOW MUCH MILK YOUR BABY SHOULD DRINK, AND DIRTY DIAPERS THEY SHOULD PRODUCE, BY AGE
How much should you expect your baby to eat? How do you know if he is getting enough?
Those are nerve-wracking questions, and the answers change daily in the life of a newborn.
To help you out, I created this handy little info graphic.
I feel that it is critical to note that if you are pumping in addition to breastfeeding, the amount of milk that you collect is not necessarily reflective of how much you are actually producing.
That probably sounds ridiculous, but it’s not. Some women just don’t produce as well for a pump.
Additionally, babies are much better at emptying the breast than a pump is.
The best indicators for whether or not your baby is receiving enough milk is if they are meeting the wet/dirty diaper quota, and gaining weight steadily.
Many first time moms freak out because their baby was born small and stays smaller than other kids their age. They assume that they are not producing enough milk.
The reality is, genetics also play a role.
Smaller people have smaller babies. Bigger people have bigger babies.
While it’s possible for some mothers to produce enough milk while on a diet of pizza and pop tarts, it won’t be for most of us.
For optimal milk production, your diet should be high in protein, carbohydrates and dark leafy vegetables.
One of the most overlooked parts of a nursing mom’s diet is WATER.
A great goal to shoot for is a half ounce per pound of body weight. So if you weigh 150 pounds, try to drink 75 ounces of water.
It sounds like a lot- and it is- but dehydration can shrivel up your milk supply like a prune.
The best way to do this is by using a water bottle with measurements on the side. My personal preference has always been Blender Bottles because of their tight seal.
Another factor to consider about your diet is potential allergens for your baby. Some babies are sensitive to certain foods in their mother’s milk.
These allergens will cause your baby to have an upset stomach which makes them pretty cranky and not a lot of fun to be around.
By not a lot of fun to be around, I actually mean miserable to be around.
Unfortunately, the most common allergen is dairy.
I know. It sucks. I feel for you. I’m in your boat right now.
To determine if your baby has a food sensitivity, begin by eliminating dairy for 2 weeks. It takes a while for the cows milk protein to clear your system.
If you notice a difference in your baby’s behavior after that time, jackpot!
If not, you should seriously consider doing an elimination diet. It sucks, but it’s better than getting screamed at for hours a day.
One Last Note
I feel like it is really important to say this: Not every woman will be able to produce enough milk for her baby, and that’s okay.
Throughout history, as long as there has been a record of lactating mothers, there has also been a record of mothers struggling to meet their baby’s nutritional needs.
Being unable to provide enough breast milk for your child does not make you any less of a mother.
I repeat, being unable to provide enough breast milk for your child does not make you any less of a mother.
There are many factors that go into breast milk production, some of which are outside of a woman’s control.
In the past, if a wet nurse was not readily available, the baby would die. Animal’s milk was sometimes used, but it was largely unsuccessful for infants.
Today we are fortunate to live in a time where babies are able to survive and flourish regardless of access to breastmilk, assuming there is access to clean water and pure formula.
While many breastfeeding activists are quick to boast that breastfed babies will fare better in terms of intelligence, risk of obesity, and overall health, sibling studies show otherwise.
While breast milk is undeniably more nutritious than infant formula, when we look observe long term results, breastfed children have the same outcomes as their formula fed counterparts.
You probably don’t believe you, and I don’t blame you. I encourage you to check out the study for yourself. It’s not the most exciting read in the world, but it’s worth your time, especially if you are feeling guilty about not producing enough milk.
On a personal level, I absolutely support breastfeeding. I have, and continue to breastfeed both of my daughters, the oldest of whom is 2.5 years old.
That being said, I have experienced significant psychological damage from breastfeeding; damage that hindered me from being able to connect with my oldest child for quite a while. So I also realize that it isn’t the best option for everyone.
I don’t think that any mother should be guilted, shamed, or scared into making decisions that compromise her wellbeing.
So while the health of children is important, so is the health of mothers.
Good luck on your breastfeeding journey! I hope that you find it to be a wonderful, rewarding experience.
But if by chance you don’t, know that you are not alone.