Breastfeeding - What I Wish I Had Known Before I Began
Updated: Aug 20, 2018
Breastfeeding reduces your risk for postpartum depression, helps you get back to pre-baby weight, decreases your risk for breast cancer and provides more benefits to your baby then I can possibly list here... but it's not always easy or intuitive!
As I approached my due date our midwife recommended we take a breastfeeding class. It was hard not to roll my eyes.
As a midwife, I helped many women through their first latch, and as an ND, I constantly help woman problem-solve when breastfeeding issues arise. I believed I was an expert and that a class would have nothing new to teach me.
After all, in midwifery school we watched videos of newborns that wiggle their way up to a nipple and latch on all by themselves. (I even saw this happen in real life at a birth I attended as a student. It was awesome!) Additionally, I had witnessed many mama friends pop their baby on and nurse mid-conversation or even mid-hike, seeming to multi-task with ease.
I figured nursing my new daughter would come naturally and intuitively. It would feel so good to nourish my child, and I looked forward to snuggling my baby to my breast.
If you haven’t guessed yet... this was not my experience at all!
The first time we tried to nurse in the middle of the night I was awkwardly holding the baby and trying to hold my boob. I had my husband come around to support the baby’s head and line up her nose. I knew her lips were supposed to flange out, but her bottom one loved to curl under, and sometimes I was just too tired to try and latch again.
I struggled with spending hours in the chair feeding her. I tried to watch shows and listen to audio books to distract myself from how much I didn’t want to be there. It was hard to tell if she had eaten enough, and I was constantly questioning and stressing about it.
I had trouble with my supply and was taking herbs every 2 hours and pumping in between feedings and for an hour on and off at night after she went to bed. My nipples felt like they were on fire, and would glare at my husband when he looked at them.
It wasn’t all bad… there were sweet moments where she latched and we gazed at each other, where I would feel her body relax in my arms and it felt good to have calmed her down. Now that I am 21 months into it, there is a part of me that wants to wean, but at the same time, I also don’t want to give it up. You know?
Looking back, I actually had a relatively easy time breastfeeding overall, but it could have been so much easier if I’d know what to expect. (Yeah, I know. I should have taken that damn class!) So I put together a few tips for you.
Here are some things I wish someone had told me before I started my breastfeeding journey:
1. Breastfeeding is hard work. Your arms, neck and back get sore from holding a baby for long hours in a single position. Your nipples get sore from the ongoing friction. It takes lots of time and lots of problem solving. It’s inconvenient and interferes with many of your plans for the day.
Try to keep this in mind… it’s worth it! There is nothing like breast milk. It protects your baby from illness, supports the development of a healthy digestive tract, and is ever-changing to be the perfect food for your baby. This is the kind of hard work that has major payoffs for your child so go all in. Surrender to the inconvenience and the uncomfortable for now, and take comfort from the knowledge that, most likely, things WILL get easier.
2. Trust your intuition. Your baby will nurse for long periods and have some snacks. He or she will eat when hungry, but then the milk and oxytocin will make them fall asleep while they are still softly suckling for comfort. Plan to nurse about 12 times in a 24 hour period, but that can vary slightly from baby to baby and day to day. If you’re prone to anxiety like me, try not to obsess over timed nursing sessions or schedules; just do what feels right.
3. Get support. Maybe this is your second baby and you feel like you should know what to do, but every baby is different. Or maybe you’re a trained midwife and naturopathic doctor confident you’re ready for what lies ahead who ends up struggling. ;-)
Lactation consultants have a wealth of knowledge and can help you figure out even minor problems to help ensure your breastfeeding experience is more pleasant and productive. If you can’t see a lactation consultant, reach out to La Leche League or even other nursing mothers; we all pick up tricks a long the way.
4. Drink plenty of water. It’s easy to get distracted but you need extra water to produce all of that milk. Make sure you drink an 8 ounce glass every time you breastfeed. If you need help staying hydrated, check out these 5 tips!
5. Nurse in a calm environment. Being as relaxed as possible allows your milk to let down. If nursing doesn’t feel relaxing then watch a funny show, listen to a meditation tape or put on some good music. Use pillows to support good posture in order to minimize pain and discomfort.
Note: if you hear a clicking or sucking sound while nursing, that means there is a problem with the latch; start again and work on the baby’s alignment. If this keeps happening, get evaluated for tongue and lip ties.
There are a number of other common problems that can pop up while nursing. I put together another list to help you trouble shoot, but like I said, if you’re having difficulty (pain, frustration, anxiety, etc.) get some help from a knowledgeable professional.
Sore or cracked nipples - it is normal for nipples to be sore initially. This also can happen if you start pumping more frequently whether you go back to work or you’re trying to increase your supply. Be sure to alternate breasts each nursing session. You may want to only nurse on one side each time so that each nipple gets a longer stretch of rest. Go without a bra and let them air out as much as possible. Use a nipple cream between feeds. There are many on the market, but Calendula Nipple Whip by Wild Carrot Herbals is my favorite.
Engorgement or overfull breasts - get in a warm shower or bath and massage breasts to release some of the milk. Be careful not to pump as this will only encourage excess milk production again. Cabbage leaves also can help alleviate the discomfort, but should be used with caution in women with supply issues as it may lower supply.
Mastitis - if your breast develops a lump that becomes red, hot and swollen, and you develop flu-like symptoms such as body aches and fever, you likely have mastitis. At first sign of infection, echinacea and vitamin C can stave it off, but if you haven’t felt well for more then 12 hours you will likely need antibiotics. To avoid mastitis nurse regularly to make sure breasts are being emptied frequently. It’s also important to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables with adequate protein. If you end up taking antibiotics be sure to take probiotics or add lots of fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chi or miso to replace the good flora and avoid developing thrush.
Thrush - thrush is a yeast infection of the nipple and often develops concurrently with a yeast infection in the mouth of the baby. It can be passed back and forth from baby to mama and so both need to be treated. The hallmark of thrush is pain with latch that doesn’t resolve. One mama I know described the sensation as, “true toe-curling pain, like passing broken glass through my nipples.” OUCH. The nipple often is very red and cracked. It may be shiny and very itchy. Overly moist breasts, cracked nipples, a diet high in sugar and the use of antibiotics or steroids in mom or baby are all risk factors for developing thrush. Mild cases can be treated with a calendula wash and probiotic creams or pastes. If you have a more severe case, topical treatments include gentian violet and prescription antifungals like nystatin or fluconazole.
Low Supply - your breasts respond to demand. The number one thing you can do to increase milk output is to empty more completely and more frequently. Pumping at the end of and/or in between feedings is the first most important step. A number of herbs including fenugreek, blessed thistle, goat’s rue and others have been shown to improve supply. Be sure to work with a provider to get appropriate dosing.
The action that made the most difference for my low supply was power pumping. After my daughter went down at night I would sit in front of my favorite show, This Is Us with my pump attached via a hands free bra and use my phone to time 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off for 1 hour. This on and off sequence with the pump simulates cluster feeding during a growth spurt, and tells your body to make more milk.
If you are having any other troubles with latch, experience pain, or lose your motivation, be sure to get some support. Having someone talk you through your current situation can work wonders for a successful breastfeeding journey. I promise, it’s worth it, so don’t give up!
Work With Dr. Hillary Roland, ND
In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week I am offering a 25% new patient discount for breastfeeding mamas between Wednesday, August 1st and Wednesday, August 8th.
If you are a new mama suffering from fatigue, hormone issues, or postpartum depression, or if you’re a nursing mama who's struggling, schedule a New Patient Visit with me in Evergreen or Boulder this week to discuss what's going on.
I am here to support you and help you address your specific breastfeeding challenges.