What I Wish I Knew Then About Breastfeeding

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When I became pregnant with my first child, I was beyond ecstatic. As the months passed, the feeling of happiness started getting mixed in with anxiety. I felt like there was so much to learn to prepare myself, yet so little time. I spent that nervous energy researching away… From topics like what my body was going through, what to expect during labor and birth all the way to exciting things like picking out things for baby. Breastfeeding was not at the top of my list to read up on. After all, it’s a natural thing to do, right? The innate instincts of motherhood should take over as humans have existed for centuries. Piece of cake! I was wrong!

When baby arrived, I was completely unprepared to breastfeed. I had no idea what to expect and I didn’t have the support that I needed. There is a La Leche League in town, but I didn’t call. In fact, I didn’t know who to call. Most of my friends didn’t breastfeed and the few that did told me they had an easy time. By the time my eldest was six months old, I was mix feeding. I was crushed! Some of you are probably thinking, “Sam, don’t be dramatic! Babies can survive on formula.” Yes, they most certainly can. You know that feeling when you’re trying your hardest and you had your mind set on one thing, only to fail? Frustrating, isn’t it? That’s how I felt.

Fast forward to today, along comes baby #2. I’m happy to say that I’ll be celebrating my 6-month mark with baby completely feeding on breastmilk! I did something different the second time around and I truly believe that it increased my chances of being able to successfully breastfeed.

As soon as baby is born:

Delay your newborn baby’s bath

This gold nugget was shared by a wonderful nurse who is the Coordinator of Prenatal Education at a local hospital. How does delaying baby’s bath relate to breastfeeding? According to a paper published by the International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA),

“Delaying the first bath encourages successful breastfeeding, enhances bonding, and facilitates early skin-to-skin care. Leaving vernix on the skin would lead to decreases in hypoglycemia, weight loss, and jaundice along with better temperature stability.”

– Smith, Elizabeth and Shell, Terriann, “Delayed Bathing”, International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA), 2017, https://icea.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ICEA-Position-Paper-Delayed-Bathing.pdf

The hospital monitors baby’s blood glucose levels. If it drops too low, the hospital will certainly offer formula. There are papers that show to delay newborn bathing between 8-24 hours. I delayed my baby’s bath by 16 hours.

Keep baby awake during feeding time

Newborns are sleepy little critters. Do what you can to keep them awake during feeding. That nicely done swaddle that the nursery made? Remove it! Provide enough clothing for baby since he can’t regulate his body temperate well. Another method is stimulating baby’s sucking reflex. You can stroke baby’s cheek and the underside of his chin with your finger.   

Hand express the colostrum

When I found baby too sleepy to feed, I would squeeze the colostrum into baby’s mouth. I can see it come out and I know baby is getting something to eat.

Pick the Best Feeding Position

I envisioned peacefully cradling my newborn while breastfeeding. That was my naiveté speaking. Even with the professional help, it was a battle! The lactation consultants promoted the football hold. It took a lot of pillows on the hospital bed to get comfortable. It was like competing in the Olympics for a sport that I’ve never even practiced for.

In a week’s time, I was able to switch to the cradle hold. My nursing pillow became my constant companion, along with baby of course. I highly recommend My Brest Friend Original Nursing Posture Pillow.

An article by The Summer Wine Diary called “Breastfeeding Tips for New Moms” covers position and latch in greater detail.

Seek Help from Lactation Consultants

My eldest was born in a birthing center with no access to a lactation consultant. On the other hand, my second was born in a hospital with lactation consultants roaming the rooms of moms who just delivered. I couldn’t thank them enough. Every time I panicked or doubted if baby was latched properly, I didn’t hesitate to call for help.

I did have a lactation consultant who offered me a nipple shield. I know moms who have found this very useful and in some cases, even necessary. However, baby was feeding well without the help of a nipple shield when she insisted that I needed it. Out of respect, I tried it, but baby struggled more with it. Finally, I thanked her and told her I was going to try again without it. Moms, trust your instincts.

Here are the things that I did to establish and maintain my supply:

Wake up for feedings or pump

The first few months were grueling. I was up feeding baby every two hours. I was sleep deprived, yet I kept going. I knew how crucial the first weeks are to baby’s survival. My eldest lost so much weight within a few days after birth that her pediatrician advised me that she needed to be on formula. She was such a sleepy baby and had no interest to eat. We had to feed her with a medicine dropper as she was too tired to feed.

There are many resources available online, some conflicting on how often to feed baby. Should I continue feeding baby every 2-3 hours? Let baby sleep until he cries? I continued to wake baby until the pediatrician gave me the go signal to let baby sleep through the night. For baby#2, it was deemed that he was gaining enough weight at 2 weeks old. As exhausting as those nights were, I was faced with waking and feeding baby or pumping as my milk production was on overdrive during those early weeks. Our bodies are smart, the moment baby feeds less, our bodies produce less. Refer to my blog on “A Mom’s Survival Guide to the First Month with Baby.”

Pump the excess milk and store

I didn’t use my pump as baby constantly nursed up until 2 weeks before I had to return to work (right around 6 weeks after baby was born). Different moms have different preferences. Some prefer expressing by hand, some rent out a hospital grade pump. My pump of choice is the Spectra Baby USA S2 Hospital Strength.

Start Stocking Up

If you plan on returning to work, get ahead on your milk stash. Don’t expect to start building your stash in the early days. Expect to produce clear colostrum until your milk matures, usually between 2-5 days.

I fed baby on demand. Our bodies are very much like factories… If baby doesn’t nurse as much, supply goes down. I began pumping and storing 4 oz a day of milk at week 6. I froze my milk, labeling each one with the amount, date and time that I pumped. I highly recommend using the Kiinde Twist. They do take up a little bit of room, so be ready to make room in your freezer. If you’re interested in the Kiinde System, refer to my post on “A Review of the Kiinde Breastmilk Storage System“.

Power through plugged ducts

Mastitis… Nursing moms are all too familiar with it. Hot compress, warm showers and gentle massages helped. However, it didn’t go away. What did help was letting baby nurse on it, as painful as it was. I tried the pump without success. Baby is definitely more efficient at extracting milk and it’s perfectly safe for baby to nurse while experiencing plugged ducts.

Let baby nurse and spend as much time with you

Upon return to work, I would spend early mornings, evenings and weekends nursing baby. I noticeably get a boost in the amount that I pump early in the week, then it drops off by mid-week. What the pump extracts is not an indication of how much baby is getting, but it sure is nice to replace what baby has eaten during the week. I try not to let it bother me on days that I couldn’t produce what baby would eat. My goal was to continually be two weeks ahead on the stash. On weekends, I continue to get 1 or 2 extra pumps in to replace my deficit.

Try a drink of mother’s milk tea

When I feel a dip in my supply, which I noticed at 4 and 6 months (and maybe it’s just stress in general), I would make me some mother’s milk tea. By no means am I a tea person, but anything for baby and boosting my supply. I have been using Traditional Medicinals Organic Mother’s Milk Women’s Tea.

From a mom who tried and failed the first time, but successfully made it the second time around, I hope this encourages you to try if you’re serious about breastfeeding. No mom guilting or shaming here… do what YOU believe is best for you and baby. This is meant to educate and inspire those out there that want to make breastfeeding a success. Best of luck!

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