You may have had a dreamy picture in your mind, of a new mom sitting in a cozy wicker chair, cradling her little newborn who is feeding contentedly at her breast, both of them surrounded by a magical glow. I know that is what I imagined it would be like!
It is possible to achieve that ideal in real life, but it may take a few screams – from both of you before that is achieved.
Breastfeeding is natural, right? So, it must be easy. Wrong!
It surely can’t be painful, can it?
How do I even start?
I would like to share some of my tips to help you make breastfeeding one of the most enjoyable aspects of motherhood.
Helpful breastfeeding tips:
1. Be informed
Why is breast milk best?
If you are wondering whether breastfeeding is the best option for you and your baby, then you will be interested to know what the benefits are before you begin your breastfeeding journey. During your pregnancy, take time to read about the advantages of breastfeeding for you and your baby, as well as some of the possible problems that you may encounter.
It is best to have some idea of what breastfeeding entails before the baby arrives. And, believe me, as a new mom, you probably won’t have too much spare time on your hands initially, so forewarned is forearmed.
Firstly, most mothers instinctively want the best for their babies, and one of the main benefits of breastfeeding is complete nutrition that is specifically formulated for your individual baby’s needs. It also adapts as the baby grows and its nutritional needs change.
Recent research indicates that an added benefit of breast milk is that your little one could possibly have increased intelligence and fewer behavioral problems in later years. This is probably as a result of having their nutritional and emotional needs met from the very beginning of their lives.
Breastmilk gives babies active immunity directly from the mother, which means that they are less vulnerable to illnesses. If they do contract an illness, they often suffer reduced symptoms compared with babies who have not been breastfed.
There are also benefits for the nursing mom because studies show that mothers who have breastfed, have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
Also, once you get the hang of it, you will find that it is a very convenient way to feed your baby with this “liquid gold”, and it provides a wonderful bonding opportunity for both of you that will last a lifetime.
Attending antenatal classes will ensure that you have information about many aspects of breastfeeding and a safe place to ask questions about things that are bothering you.
After the baby is born, make sure that you know where to get support and advice from breastfeeding organizations and a lactation consultant. Moral support from other mothers, as well as real-life breastfeeding tips, will make your experience so much easier. This can be via meeting places such as Baby Cafes, online forums or your local medical center.
2. Be prepared and organized
- Sore Nipples
Knowing what to expect and being mentally prepared will give you a head start to successful breastfeeding. For example, I did not realize that the sucking action of the baby can be so strong that it causes the nipples to crack and bleed. It was a very unpleasant shock.
So, after making a good start, I was definitely not sure that I wanted to continue after a few days when it was agony at every feeding time. I also wondered how long the pain would continue and what I could safely do to relieve it. I thought that it would be a whole lot easier to grab the formula.
I then found out that there are many brands of nipple cream available that are safe to use and I wished that I had had them to hand. For example, “Motherlove Nipple Cream” is organic, so it will not harm your baby and it’s easily available on Amazon!
- Pain relief
After the birth of a second baby or subsequent babies, breastfeeding stimulates the muscles of the uterus to contract intensely, and the cramps can be very painful. A warm hot water bottle on the tummy may help, but be sure to get advice on the use of painkillers from your doctor because of the possibility of the medication getting into the breast milk.
- A special place for you and your baby
Organise a special place in your home where you can breastfeed in peace and comfort. With your newborn baby, you will probably start feeding in bed, so a nursing pillow will give you the necessary support.
Later, you may like to be seated in a comfortable chair and have a table or storage area nearby so that you can have everything you need close at hand.
For example, here is a list of items that will prove to be very useful: nipple cream, bottled water, wet wipes, burp cloths, nursing pads, and a stash of healthy snacks.
Adding a soft nightlight will make things easier for you—and less disturbing for others near you if you do not have a separate nursery.
While it will probably be a cherished time when you are breastfeeding your baby, there will be moments when you want or need to do other things simultaneously.
Keep a notebook and pen handy for jotting down things you have to remember, as well as the times of the feeds. You could also use an app on your phone for this purpose.
Some mums find it useful to have a way of remembering which breast was fed from first after the last feed so that they can alternate the breasts.
Some hacks that mums find handy for this purpose are: wearing an elastic hairband on the wrist of the side that the baby is feeding from and remembering to swap it over to the other wrist at the end of the feed. In this way, you know that you always feed your newborn from the side with the hairband. Or change the nursing pillow from one side to the other. There are many creative ideas for this, and you may come up with one of your own.
Having your phone (and charger) nearby, as well as a magazine or book will ensure that you don’t feel totally cut off from the rest of the world. This could be a lifesaver if you have to spend many hours without any adult company.
3. Give yourself as much time as you need
Because breastfeeding is natural, it does not automatically fit into our strict, time-dominated lives. You need to be prepared to fit in with your baby’s feeding needs, which will initially feel like you are on twenty-four hour demand. A positive thought is that this is probably the first time in your life that you only need to focus on one thing—your precious baby.
It will also take time for you and your baby to adjust to each other as well as finding the ideal feeding position for your baby. There are a number of recommended positions, so it is worth researching and trying out a few different ones.
Remember that breastfeeding can be very demanding on the mother’s body, and it is perfectly normal to feel very tired most of the time, especially in the early stages. In the first weeks, don’t expect to be able to do much else during the day and take naps as often as necessary. Age-old advice from experienced mums is, “When the baby sleeps, you should sleep!”
Ask for help and lower your housekeeping standards in the short term if necessary.You might need to limit the number of visitors at first, and don’t try to keep up with all the phone calls and texts until your life has settled into a normal routine.
Be kind to yourself and keep in touch with your own needs. It can be quite overwhelming to be responsible for a helpless newborn, and fears—whether real or imagined—can threaten to make this a very stressful time for you.
Some women suffer from postnatal depression, and you should be on the lookout for any signs of depression or feelings that you are not coping as well as you should be.
As your breasts are in constant demand, you could buy yourself some new, pretty feeding bras, which will serve the dual purpose of making you feel a little more attractive as well as giving you comfort and support for your boobs.
4. Tips on what to do when breastfeeding is not going well
These are some of the most common breastfeeding problems:
- Latching on
If you are unsure how to start getting your baby to latch on, you could try the “Birth Crawl” for the first feed after giving birth.
This is where you have the baby lying on your tummy with your skin touching, and the baby will nuzzle and wriggle until it finds your nipple. Just watch and enjoy, and make sure the baby doesn’t wriggle in the wrong direction.
Some babies struggle to latch on to the nipple and may need a little help to get it positioned correctly. Using your finger to press the nipple into the baby’s mouth is something that comes with practise. If you hear a clicking sound when the baby is drinking, it could mean that it has not latched on properly and is taking in air with the milk. This will lead to a lot of discomfort and possibly colic.
According to the La Leche League, it is possible to breastfeed even if you have inverted nipples, although you may need a bit more patience in helping your baby to latch on. A nipple shield could do the trick.
5. How much and when to feed?
Your breasts should not still feel full and hard after a feed, so make sure that your baby is draining them. It is not possible to overfeed a breastfed baby, so let them drink as much as they want, and check that they are gaining weight appropriately. Remember that engorgement of the breasts is painful and can cause mastitis.
It’s a good tip to feed babies on demand. That will keep the milk production high and helps your baby to settle into its own feeding pattern.
Giving your baby formula, in addition to breast milk, can have many disadvantages. It will make it difficult for you to persist with breastfeeding when things get tough and will also reduce your milk production.
If your baby has been nursing well, but suddenly starts refusing to feed, there are a couple of checks to make before you become distressed:
- Does your baby have a sore mouth? Look at the inside of the mouth and the tongue to check for signs of thrush. Feel the gums to see if your baby has started teething.
- Have you had a change in your routine? Babies are sensitive to changes in their environment and can sense stress in you. Try to remain calm and re-establish a routine as soon as possible.
- Is your child suffering from a cold and a blocked nose? This will make it difficult to nurse. Also, check for ear infections which will make your baby cranky and reluctant to feed.
- Are there too many distractions around the feeding area? Babies need stimulation, but not when breastfeeding. Try to keep sounds and movements to a minimum, especially when the baby has started to take in more of its surroundings.
6. Learn how to express milk
It is a skill that you may find very useful, especially if you need to store breast milk for future use. You can express milk by hand or use a breast pump. Breast milk storage need not be complicated as it can be kept in the fridge short term or in the freezer for up to six months. You should always use sterile milk storage bags. Why not try making breast milk popsicles to soothe aching gums.
Expressing milk means that you can still give your baby the best nutrition possible and give yourself a few options to make your life easier.
There are many reasons why women need to express breast milk, but the main ones are:
- Needing to return to work
- An illness that requires a hospital stay
- Your baby requires special care
- You are suffering from engorgement or you need to boost your milk supply
- Your partner wants to share in the feeding routine
7. Don’t be ashamed of being a breastfeeding mother!
It’s natural to feel a little bit shy about breastfeeding in public to begin with. However, if organisations such as the World Health Organisation recommend breastfeeding, then society should recognise this and encourage mothers to perform this natural, healthy option without embarrassment.
Breastfeeding in public is protected by law in many countries, as well as being positively encouraged in others.
A nursing mom may feel more comfortable in a breastfeeding room rather than in public, but that is your choice. Many stores and restaurants provide rooms for baby changing and nursing, but you should not feel pressured to hide away when breastfeeding your baby.
There are many comfortable and pretty breastfeeding covers that keeps things private when in public—and babies don’t seem to mind them at all.
8. Tips for breastfeeding when you are out
There is nothing as amazing as feeling the “let down “ as the milk gushes in for feed time! But, if this happens when you are out, it’s a good idea to be suitably dressed.
There are many options for performing the act of breastfeeding in a discreet, but comfortable way. For example, use an infinity scarf or shawl for covering your breast and giving your baby a shaded place to feed or wear loose tops with buttons and a nursing bra underneath. Many stores stock special breastfeeding clothing.
Prepare your reaction should you meet with disapproval from anyone and know your rights. My advice is to smile confidently, safe in the knowledge that you are doing what’s best for your baby.
I once forgot to replace my swimming costume bra on the side where my baby had been feeding. It was only when I felt the cool sea breeze wafting past my breast that I realised that I had left myself exposed. Fortunately, no-one noticed/complained, so I guess I got away with it that time.
Helpful tip: Remember to check that you are all tidied up after breastfeeding as you may get distracted and end up revealing more of yourself than you had planned to.
I wish that I had been able to have easy access to helpful breastfeeding tips when my children had been born. It was before online help was available, and I had no close family to turn to. However, I was committed to breastfeeding, and I enjoyed the process that provided my baby and myself with a wonderful emotional experience.
If you prepare yourself and your surroundings well before you give birth, you will be set up to succeed at breastfeeding.
Remember to take your time, take care of yourself, and be on the look-out for signs of problems so that you can deal with them quickly and effectively. Do not hesitate to ask for help, because there are many people out there who would be delighted to support you in caring for your baby in the best possible way.
Most importantly, be proud of your choice to breastfeed your baby!