Maybe it was just us, but when we were pregnant with our first babies, we assumed that breastfeeding would be the easy part. Its natural, right? It should just happen on its own, right? Baby and mom will just know what to do, right? We were certain that after our babies were born they’d find their way to the breast and both mom and baby would blissfully embark on their breastfeeding journey like a sweet little unicorn momma and baby duo riding off over a rainbow.
Let us just say this…breastfeeding did become mostly magical and beautiful and wonderful…EVENTUALLY. But, if you want the real honest truth? It typically does not start out that way. If you are a unicorn, we love you and are over the moon happy that your journey (in this specific area) wasn’t as challenging.
We want to keep it real though for those who may encounter challenges or for those who are expecting and haven’t given it much thought. (That was us!) Truth be told, if we had been given this information prior to having our babies, we may have both experienced a lot less anxiety, sadness, frustration, fear, etc. at the rocky path we endured in those first few weeks.
If only we had been told that it wasn’t us failing, it wasn’t our babies not knowing how to nurse or “failing to thrive”, it was just a matter of learning the ropes, getting to know one another, cringing through that initial nipple toughening, and knowing that with time it would all sort itself out….well…we probably would have been spared a few tears.
SO, in honor of our fallen tears, let us share with you some new momma nursing tips that may make your life a bit easier in those first few life altering, beautiful, sleepy, euphoric weeks.
PS....If you are an experienced breastfeeding momma, please feel free to email us your story, your tips, your hardships, we love hearing it all! We always LOVE connecting with you and if you’re up for it, highlighting you in future community shares both in blog posts and on instrgram.
#1 YOUR MILK (for most mommas) DOESN’T COME IN RIGHT AWAY
Say what? You mean I don’t just latch baby on and my nutritious, plentiful milk doesn’t just pour right out? We know, we know…what a concept to wrap our heads around!
In those first few days after birth, your baby is only getting colostrum from you. Colostrum is a nutrient dense, syrupy, pre-milk liquid gold that your baby needs in its first few days of life. Baby’s stomach is SO tiny right now, so just a little bit goes a long way. Your milk will likely start to come in around day 3-4 but sometimes it takes as long as a week or more. If you feel at all concerned, ask your doctor/midwife for lactation support resources and definitely USE those resources. But also, know that your body just went through a lot bringing that perfect baby earthside, it all takes adjustment and time, be kind to yourself and patient with the process as you enter this new phase of life.
#2 BABIES MOST OFTEN LOOSE WEIGHT AT FIRST
Newborn babies are born with some extra fluid, so it’s very normal that they drop some ounces in the first few days of life. A thriving newborn will loose on average up to 10% of their birth weight and will start to put it back on in the first couple of weeks of life outside of mommas womb.
In our experience there can at times be a lot of pressure put on momma when baby starts loosing those ounces. As a brand new momma it can feel scary, defeating, hard and sad, then to hear the words “supplement with formula”, it can literally throw you into a downward spiral of emotions, questions & feelings.
It’s our hope that should you encounter any of this, you remember that you can also ask for a second opinion, find a lactation consultant that makes you feel warm and secure. You can also always follow and lean into your momma intuition as you will find throughout your motherhood journey. If something feels off, its worth exploring further. And of course, at the end of the day, a fed baby is the goal. Supplementing might not have been the plan, it might feel so hard to wrap your head around but it might just also give you the peace you need for a few days while you work on latching and supply.
Again our biggest reminder to you is to PLEASE take it easy on yourself in those early moments that can come loaded with the unexpected.
#3 BABIES NURSE A LOT
Newborn babies are hungry, and they will typically feed every 1-2 hours in the first few months of life (except when cluster feeding which we will touch on later). Remember how we mentioned baby’s stomach is super tiny (like the size of an egg)? It’s no wonder they need to refuel up so much more frequently than we do.
Also, your breasts work on a supply and demand schedule. Meaning, the more baby nurses, the more your body will produce in response. It is actually a pretty magical system that nature created where our babies communicate to our bodies what they need. So get comfortable, start that Netflix series, find someone to prep you some meals, fill up the biggest water jug you can find and settle in.
#4 CLUSTER FEEDING
Oh yes, as if feeding baby every 1-2 hours wasn’t enough, it is actually a thing that babies will go through periods where they will feed more often than that! Sometimes every 30-45 minutes…sometimes they will actually prefer to just LIVE on your boob.
While we totally empathize with how hard this can be (especially with those sore nipples), rest assured that research shows babies typically cluster feed before growth spurts, not necessarily because you aren’t producing enough milk. What they are doing is gearing your body up for a higher supply need (remember the supply and demand schedule above?) by latching on and creating that demand. You may notice after a cluster feed period that you suddenly are engorged again. Congratulations! Baby did their job! It won’t last forever, although it feels like it in the moment. As a brand new momma for the first time, these were generally the days when we would just wear a robe, lay around all day and let baby latch as much as they want.
#5 TRY NOT TO WORRY TOO MUCH ABOUT YOUR SUPPLY
While it is possible to have low supply (and/or oversupply), it’s also easy to get stuck in your head about how much baby is getting from you. In fact, during periods of cluster feeding, new moms will often second guess if they are giving baby enough milk, wondering why their baby seems to ALWAYS be hungry even after just eating. Without being able to see how much baby is consuming, it’s hard to feel secure in knowing you are filling up their tummies.
How much milk you pump is also not an indication on how much baby is getting. Babies are naturally much more efficient at pulling milk from the breast than a pump is. If baby is wetting at least 5-6 diapers a day, your supply is likely just fine. Again, if you have any concerns, reach out to a lactation consultant who can help assess how much milk baby is getting by weighing baby before and after a feed.
You may also find it reassuring to know that even when your breasts feel empty, there is always more milk in there. Full breasts may be a sign that you need to nurse more often. Removing even small amounts from soft, comfortable breasts increases production. Lastly, its important to remember that babies nurse for comfort as well as for food. And those little in-between comfort feeds can really boost supply.
For more on this you might want to check out https://www.llli.org/
#6 TENDER NIPPLES
Let’s face it. Our nipples are already a sensitive part of our bodies and getting them used to having a tiny human with a tiny mouth sucking on them practically 24 hours a day is likely going to cause some discomfort. If you are someone who lifts weights, you know that it takes time to build up callouses on your hands. Well, your nipples are kind of the same. They have to, for lack of a better term, toughen up.
While pain during nursing can be caused by an improper latch (again, please reach out to a lactation consultant if you are experiencing severe pain during nursing), it is likely due to your nipples trying to adjust. So what can you do in the meantime?
Go shirtless. Really. Letting your nipples breathe and dry between feeds is one of the best things you can do. Putting breastmilk on them directly after a feed will also help heal any sores and prevent excessive dryness. Lastly, if you need some extra backup, we recommend this cream.
#7 INCREASING SUPPLY
So, what if you really do have low supply? There are lots of ways you can help increase it. First and foremost, make sure you are staying properly hydrated. One of the main reasons you may be low in supply is because you aren’t drinking enough water. Drink, drink, drink!
Mothers Milk Tea is another great tool to add to your arsenal, along with oats.
We’ve heard great things about these cookies and Premama lactation support
But, most importantly, latch baby as often as you can and if needed, add in some pumping sessions here and there between feeds to really get that demand up.
#8 ENGORGEMENT, CLOGS, AND MASTITIS
Now, to the flip side. You may think that low supply is the hardest thing to overcome, but oversupply can be equally as frustrating and anxiety provoking. If you struggle with oversupply, you may be more prone to clogs, and by default, mastitis.
Clogged milk ducts occur when one of your milk ducts get blocked, resulting in a hard and tender lump in your breast. If you feel one of these coming on, its important to act quickly to get it cleared out. We’ve found success in massage under hot a hot shower, using the flat side of an electric toothbrush, and latching that baby preferably with their chin in the direction of the clogged duct. Some who are more prone to clogs also swear by taking soy lecithin.
The reason you want to clear that duct as quickly as possible is because if left too long, it can result in mastitis. Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast tissue that can sometimes turn into an infection. Its painful, warm, red, and is usually accompanied by fever and chills and just an overall feeling like you got hit by a truck. It resembles the flu but it comes on quick and is accompanied by pain in the breast. If you think you may have mastitis, make sure to reach out to your healthcare provider so they can help you treat it and get you back to your healthy self!
#9 DO WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU AND BABY
Lastly, if breastfeeding is not for you, or if it is causing you to feel anxious and depressed and is affecting the way you are bonding with baby, do not feel bad about letting it go. Your mental health and happiness are far greater of an importance to your babies wellbeing than your breastmilk is. Breastfeeding is a personal choice, and you have every right in the world to decide how you choose to feed your baby.
If you envisioned a breastfeeding journey that did not go as planned, we know that can be a really hard pill to swallow. Give yourself grace, empathy, and understanding and know that you did everything you could to do what you felt was best for your baby. Try not to let guilt and shame dominate your thoughts, and know that however it works out, you are the perfect mother for your baby. If you do feel yourself slipping into those feelings, please reach out for help. Either your partner, a friend, a family member, or your healthcare provider. We’re all in this together momma, and you are never alone, even in what may feel like the darkest moments!