While it is true that breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t mean that it will come naturally to every mother. After having five children, I feel like I have experienced just about every breastfeeding obstacle imaginable, and yet somehow, each time I was able to overcome these difficulties and successfully breastfeed all of my children thanks to a wealth of support and resources.
Now, as I begin another breastfeeding relationship with our fifth baby, I feel confident knowing that I have a plethora of resources at my fingertips to help with any challenges I may have along the way.
I am hoping that I can share what I have learned and what has worked for me over the years so that other mothers can also feel like they have a bag of tricks to reach into and to know that whatever they are going through, there are resources available, and they are not alone.
1. Knowledge is Power
By educating yourself about breastfeeding before your little one is born, you will be better equipped to deal with any troubles if and when they arise.
- It Will Hurt at First – Especially if this is your first, breastfeeding is going to hurt a bit for the first couple of weeks, and then like some sort of magic, the pain will fade, and you’ll become a seasoned pro! The pain after latching shouldn’t hurt for more than about 5-10 seconds though. If it does, you may be dealing with a bad latch, thrush, or some other issue. (More on this later.)
- Benefits of Breastfeeding – Breastfeeding has so many amazing benefits such as the transfer of antibodies from mother to baby (so less illness), the decreased likelihood of allergies and dental caries, and the appropriate jaw, teeth, speech, and overall facial development to name a few. Mothers will benefit from reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer in addition to saving time by always having a perfect food source warm and ready to go. (Read about more benefits at the La Leche League website.)
- It’s Not as Common as You Would Think – I think there’s an overall misconception that breastfeeding will come naturally, easily, without complications, and that everyone is doing it. The reality is that 21% of women in the U.S. will not breastfeed at birth and that only 49% of women are still breastfeeding after 6 months (according to 2014 CDC data).
2. Nursing a Newborn
The first 24 hours after your baby is born are crazy! Here you are reveling in the miracle of the birth process…sweaty, bloody, possibly still having yet to deliver the placenta, and here is this tiny creature placed upon your chest, covered with vernix, blood, and breathing oxygen for the first time.
- Skin to Skin – The first hour of life is a very precious time, and if a baby is put on its mother’s chest right away there are numerous observable benefits including better respiratory, temperature, and glucose stability, decreased stress and less crying, and most importantly, the ability for the baby to find the breast and self attach. With midwifery care, this is standard practice, but if you’re having a hospital birth, you may want to put this into your birth plan.
- Rooting and Sucking Reflexes – Babies are born with the natural ability to root, which means they will open their mouths if you touch their chin or cheek as they look for the nipple. The sucking reflex is also primitive and allows babies to express milk out of whatever touches the roof of their mouths.
- Breast Crawl – Babies are born with an instinctual reflex called the breast crawl, where if you put a newborn on his stomach, he will scoot himself up to the breast and latch on by himself. I heard about the breast crawl before my fourth birth, and I kind of tried it, but I just wanted to cuddle him close rather than make him work to find me. Needless to say, it’s pretty cool how babies are perfectly designed so that their needs met.
- Pumping and a Dropper – Even though we were able to get Ruby to latch on at the birth center, I couldn’t get her to latch on once we got home for what seemed like an eternity. So in a moment of desperation (and brilliance), I pumped my colostrom into a bottle and fed it to her with a dropper until she was able to latch. (This is a good way to avoid the introduction of formula if you’re having a bit of a rough start.)
- Stomach Size – Newborn babies have VERY tiny stomachs (the size of a marble for the first few days), and do not need an abundance of food. By day three or so when your milk comes in, their stomachs will be about the size of a walnut and ready for increasingly more milk.
3. Best Position to Nurse
By the time my babies are about 3 months old, I feel like an old nursing pro. I can get them to latch on without looking, even while lying down and half asleep. But when we are just beginning our breastfeeding relationship, I need to keep these things in mind.
- Get in Position – By sitting on the edge of my bed or in a rocking chair with a nursing stool, I will lean forward slightly to get in the best position to feed my baby.
- Cradle Hold – This is the easiest hold to master. In order to do it correctly, make sure that your baby’s chest is lined up with yours and that his or her feet are stacked up on top of each other. His or her head should be nestled in the crook of your arm, and his or her lower arm should be tucked behind your back. I LOVE using My Breast Friend to support this position. A bobby can work too.
- Other Holds – You might also find success with the crossover hold (same as cradle but with arms reversing jobs and the hand cradling the head), the football hold (where you tuck the baby under your arm like a football with its legs sticking out towards your back), or the reclining position (where you nurse lying down).
- Room to Breath – Make sure that your baby’s nasal passages are free from boogers (I love using a rolled up tissue to pull boogers out or a saline mist and the Nosefrida for congestion) and that your breast isn’t covering up your baby’s nostrils as you begin feeding.
- A Comfortable Head Rest – I have found that if I just put the baby’s head in the crook of my arm it gets all sweaty and uncomfortable, but if I tuck a soft blanket under the head, they are much more comfortable. I also like to use the blanket as a way to cover myself if I’m nursing in public and to shade my little one’s eyes if they are falling asleep.
4. How to Get a Good Latch
Once you’re in a good position, the next thing to think about is establishing a good latch. A good latch will be both comfortable and effective. Sometimes when a baby first latches on there is a bit of discomfort, but the pain shouldn’t linger and it shouldn’t be excruciating. If it is, you may have a bad latch.
- Open Wide: Make sure the baby’s mouth is wide open. You can stimulate this reflex by rubbing your nipple on his or her upper lip.
- Nipple Flip: Flip the nipple into the baby’s mouth for a deep latch.
- Roll the Nipple: If the nipple is flat, roll it until it becomes hard.
- Pinkie Trick: If the baby is having difficulty latching on, put your pinkie into his or her mouth (nail side down) until he or she establishes a good sucking motion. Then, do the old bait and switch by pulling out your pinkie and quickly inserting your nipple.
- Break the Latch: There might be a bit of pain initially as you get used to the feeling of breastfeeding, but if the pain persists, break the latch by inserting your finger in between your nipple and the baby’s mouth and start over.
- Keep Trying: If the two of you are not getting a good latch right away, don’t stress out about it. Just keep switching sides, taking breaks, and trying again. You’ll get it eventually. If it’s really taking awhile, you can pump some colostrum and feed it to your baby with a dropper. Their stomachs are the size of marbles at this point, so they don’t need much.
- Avoid Nipple Confusion: I would avoid using nipple shields. They might work in the short term, but it will be even hard to get your baby to latch on to your nipple after successfully latching on to the nipple shield. I would also avoid all pacifiers and bottles for the first few weeks (or until nursing is established) to avoid nipple confusion.
5. Feeding on Demand
Even though newborns need to eat every 1.5-3 hours (with never more than 4 hours in between feedings), I have never felt like I was on a feeding schedule or had to wake my babies up to feed them. Sometimes my babies cluster feed (typically in the evenings), and other times they go long periods just sleeping without eating at all.
I typically nurse on my left side first because it doesn’t produce as much milk and then switch to my right side that produces a LOT more milk. If my right side isn’t fully drained, I’ll start there at the next feeding. (Draining the breast helps to ensure that the baby gets the fatty “hind milk” and prevents you from getting plugged ducts and mastitis.)
When I feed my babies on demand, they always get really chubby. I love the rolls upon rolls and the squishy little cheeks! Some people worry that fat babies will lead to obesity down the road, but studies actually show that the fatter the baby, the skinnier the adult. So feed those babies!
Signs Your Baby is Hungry:
- Getting a little fussy
- Opening and closing mouth
- Rooting around your chest
- Sucking on objects
- It’s been a couple of hours since the last feeding
6. Setting Up Nursing Stations
You will want to have at least one primary nursing station set up in your home stocked with everything you’ll need while nursing. As our family and our home has grown, I now actually have three separate nursing stations set up.
My main nursing station is in our mini living room and not only does it have everything I’ll need while nursing, but around it are things to keep my little ones entertained while I’m sitting down to nurse. My 2 year old, Julian, LOVES playing with cars, so I have boxes of cars and ramps for him to play with and my 3 year old, Ophelia, loves doing puzzles and reading books so I have a rack of puzzles and baskets of books for her.
Everything You Need for a Nursing Station
- Rocking Chair – Each type of rocking chair serves a different purpose.
- Gliding Rocker – This is the most comfortable day time chair for me. I use this type of chair in our mini living room where I spend most of my time during the day. I love the way it glides back and forth and the arm rests are great for nursing.
- Old Fashioned Wicker Rocker – I found mine at a garage sale, otherwise these are kind of hard to come by. I LOVE the sweeping up and down motion of this rocker. It is really good for calming a fussy baby.
- Rocking and Reclining Arm Chair – This chair is soooooooo comfortable, and I am so sad that I waited until baby #5 to get one. I love snuggling up in it at the end of the day to cluster feed before bed time.
- Nursing Stool – This will help you to get into the best position possible for nursing in any rocking chair.
- My Breast Friend – I have tried the Boppy, but this is way more comfortable. It’s a little tricky to put on if you’re holding your little one, so try to get it clicked before you pick him or her up.
- Manual Breast Pump – Having a double duty battery operated breast pump like this is really great, but having a noiseless hand pump has helped me on numerous occasions as well. It’s also nice to have a dropper in case you’re having a hard time nursing at first.
- Water Bottle – I always like to drink lots of water whenever I nurse. I usually just fill up mason jars and use lids like these.
- Nose Frida with Saline Spray– I like to use this snot sucker with saline spray to get the boogers out.
8. Take Care of Your Nipples
The first two weeks of breastfeeding are the toughest. As a first time mom, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed as long as I could, but I was a bit discouraged during my first two weeks because of how much it hurt. After two weeks, however, my nipples weren’t as sensitive, we were figuring out the whole latch thing, and it suddenly became much much easier. After a month, I felt like an old pro, and after 3 months, I was nursing in my sleep. Here are some tips for dealing with sensitive nipples.
- Use a Nipple Cream: If your nipples get sore or cracked, this stuff is great. Just keep in mind that whatever cream you start using, your baby will get used to and won’t like it if you switch!
- Use Breast Milk: If your nipples are just a little dry or sensitive, give them a little milk bath. It’s very healing.
- Let Them Air Out: Walk around the house with your shirt off or just cover up loosely with a robe. Your husband will love it and so will your nipples.
- Cover Them Tightly: I have always been a sleep in a t-shirt kind of girl, but when I’m nursing, I hate the feeling of fabric rubbing against my nipples. I like to bind them up with a bellaband or nighttime nursing bra. The pressure feels great, and it prevents them from leaking all over the place.
9. Avoid Coffee
Even though only a small amount of caffeine is passed to the baby, the half life (meaning the time it takes for the caffeine to be at half of its potency) of coffee in newborns is 97.5 hours (versus 4.9 hours in an adult, 14 hours in a 3-6 month old, and 2.6 hours in a 6+ month old baby). With Ruby, our firstborn, I would drink coffee after nursing each morning, and then like clockwork, she would experience a “witching hour” for four hours every night where she was inconsolable. By the time we started experiencing this with our third child, Ophelia, our midwife told us about the half life of coffee and how it affects babies. I stopped drinking coffee and noticed that Ophelia no longer had any inconsolable fussy times anymore.
Read more about caffeine and breastfeeding here.
Alternatives to Coffee
- Teeccino – If you add cream to this it tastes very much like coffee.
- Red Raspberry Leaf Tea – Although it is most beneficial during pregnancy, red raspberry leaf tea can help to decrease post natal bleeding and increase milk supply. (Source)
- Mother’s Milk Tea – This contains many herbs (like fenugreek) that help to stimulate milk production.
- Kombucha – Kombucha is a great alternative to soda and beer and is full of healthy probiotics. If you don’t want to buy it, you can make your own.
- Glass Water Bottle – Drinking lots and lots of water is very important so that you have enough fluids to make all of that milk.
10. Best Diet for Nursing Mothers
I feel like I am at my hungriest when I’m nursing, especially when they start to get closer to that 6 month mark. The time right before they are introduced to solid foods, but still somehow gain tremendous amounts of weight…all from my milk! I love it!
When babies are in the womb, they have our bodies and the placenta to help them filter through whatever food we’re eating, but when they are nursing, they have to go through digestion alone. This is why it is even more important to eat a healthy diet and stay well hydrated. A healthy diet for pregnant and nursing moms should include plenty of raw milk, pastured eggs, butter, cheese, yogurt, grass fed beef, wild caught fish (like salmon), bone broth soup, organic soaked grains, and organic fruits and vegetables.
The important thing is to have healthy meals prepared ahead of time so that you’re not reaching for a bag of chips or tempted by fast food. I like making a making a big pot roast, rotisserie chicken, or healthy soup so that there is always something nourishing that I can grab from the fridge. Things like hard boiled eggs, chunks of cheese, cut up veggies, sourdough muffins, and fresh fruit make good snacks to keep around.
11. Things That Can Make Breastfeeding Challenging
For some women, breastfeeding is easy, for others it is more of a challenge. I highly recommend contacting your local La Leche League (an incredibly helpful breastfeeding organization) before you give birth so that you will a nursing support resource ready to go. Also, if you are a first time mom, I highly recommend taking any classes that are offered and talk to your doctor or midwife about what breastfeeding support they offer.
- Epidural – The effects of anesthesia or an epidural make both the mother and the baby tired and sluggish which can make breastfeeding difficult at first.
- Traumatic Birth Experience – If you had a traumatic birth experience, it can have a negative effect on both you and your baby in terms of breastfeeding. Read more about healing from a traumatic birth here.
- Lip Tie/Tongue Tie – You can see if your baby has a lip tie by trying to flip his or her upper lip to see if it’s tethered by a flap of skin. Babies with lip ties will have difficulty forming a good latch and you may notice a lip blister from the top lip not flaying out while nursing. You can see if your baby has a tongue tie by looking under the tongue to see if it’s tethered to the bottom of the mouth by a flap of skin. Babies who are tongue tied have difficulty forming a good latch. Read more about identifying and dealing with tongue and lip tie here.
- Thrush – If you had a yeast infection when you had a vaginal birth, the candida can transfer to the baby and cause thrush. Thrush will present itself in a baby as white patches in the mouth that will bleed if you try to scrape them away. It also makes nursing extremely painful for the mother if she gets the thrush in her nipples. Read more about thrush here.
- Nursing Strike – Maybe you introduced a pacifier or bottle too soon and now your baby isn’t interested in your breast, or maybe there is some other external factor that is making your baby not want to nurse. In order to overcome a nursing strike, you just have to keep trying different ways to establish closeness with your baby. I have had success taking a warm bath with my little one to reestablish nursing after a nursing strike.
- Plugged Ducts and/or Mastitis – If you don’t fully drain each breast after nursing, the ducts can become plugged and eventually lead to mastitis (which is VERY painful). When you’re nursing, make sure you are draining each breast fully and switch sides in a regular pattern so that both breasts are getting the chance to be drained. It may also be helpful to massage your breast as you are nursing to help express all of the milk.
12. What to Do if You Can’t Nurse
- Warm Bath – When nothing else seems to work, taking a warm bath with my little one has always helped to improve things. This is a very womb like experience for your baby that is quite relaxing.
- Get Support – Contact your local La Leche League for support, let your midwife or doctor know what is going on, talk to a friend, talk to your spouse, and get as much support as you can to continue your breastfeeding relationship. It is very helpful to have someone to talk to when things aren’t going very well.
- CranioSacral Therapy – CranioSacral therapy (CST) is a gentle, noninvasive form of bodywork that addresses the bones of the head, spinal column, and sacrum with the goal of releasing compression in those areas to alleviate pain. It is especially helpful for babies who seem unwilling or unable to nurse properly.
- Chiropractor – Going through the birth canal or being delivered by cesarean can misalign a baby’s delicate structure that can lead to problems nursing. A chiropractor can gently work on an infant as soon as they are born to get everything back into place.
- Supplement – If for whatever reason, nursing is just not working out for you or you are in need of supplementation, you don’t have to go straight to formula. On the Weston Price website, Sally Fallon explains how to make raw milk baby formula. Using clean whole raw milk from cows certified free of disease and fed on green pastures with ingredients like gelatin and expeller-expressed oils (making it more digestible for the infant) added is the next best thing to breast milk. For sources of good quality milk, see www.realmilk.com or contact a local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
I will always treasure the special time I’ve had with each of my children as I’ve nursed them. In the first few months when everything is new and my little one is attached to my breast 24/7, I cherish these times more than anything in the world. It is an honor to bring life into this world, and it is an honor to be able to sustain the life that I delivered with nourishment from my own body. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.