Prior to having my daughter, I attended a breastfeeding class, and thought I had all the basics down. How can it be that hard, right? It’s natural, it’ll come naturally. Ummmm, no. Breastfeeding had many more challenges than I expected, and had I been aware that it might not come as easily as I had thought, I might have sought out help earlier and had an easier time. Here are a few tips and strategies that looking back, I wish I’d known at the time:
Tip #1: Have lanolin or coconut oil in EVERY room!
For the first two weeks (ish), nursing can be quite painful as the sensitive skin adjusts to having a small mouth tugging on it several times a day. I was advised to have lanolin around to apply after every nursing session, and I definitely found it to be helpful. What I didn’t do, however, was to buy one tube for by the bed, one for the nursery, one for the living room etc. For a couple of dollars per tube, I consider that a good investment, as once you’ve nursed you’ll want to have it handy without having to get up and/ or disturb a hopefully sleepy baby. I didn’t find coconut oil gave me the same relief and protection that lanolin did.
Tip #2: Find referrals for a good lactation consultant in your area before you even have your baby.
It doesn’t hurt to be prepared. In the midst of having a newborn, healing from birth, and trying to feed this tiny thing that is so dependent on you, is not the best time to be scurrying around trying to find a good professional to go and see if you need help. Seek them out in advance, and if you don’t need them, then great; but if you do, you’re one step ahead. Lactation consultants can also help diagnose tongue tie and lip tie, which are major stumbling blocks to breastfeeding if not identified, but which are quite easily fixable if they are caught early.
Tip #3: Learn how to use your pump before you have the baby.
Now I’m not saying you hook it up and pump for 20 minutes, but just to have unpacked it from the box and have a working knowledge of how to turn it on is a good idea. By the time I was 10 days in, was fully engorged to the point of “almost mastitis” (which did then develop into mastitis), a visit to the local breastfeeding store revealed rock-hard, glowing red boobs, and the poor ladies there nearly had a fit. They promptly sent me home and told me to pump to relieve the pressure, but I had no idea how. Thankfully, my ever so generous breastfeeding class instructor came over to my house to save me – but while the pump is fairly simple and straight forward, my lack of familiarity with it made it overwhelming to try to navigate on my own. (See Tip #1 – lactation consultants can help with this if you know who they are!)
Tip #4: Decide early if and when you want the baby to have a bottle.
We thought it was nice and convenient for baby to be able to have a bottle once or twice a day from someone else, and I also had to go back to work after 8 weeks, so it seemed to make sense to give her a bottle sooner rather than later. My mistake in retrospect was to get too dependent on the bottle, so when I did want to nurse her, she wasn’t really interested. She’s a down-to-business kind of girl, and I think after the efficiency of a bottle, nursing was too time consuming. We were using the newborn nipples on the bottles so we tried to slow the flow as much as possible, but she still took to that, and I ended up almost exclusively pumping and not getting to nurse her as much as I wanted. I was happy she was still getting the benefit of breast milk, but missed the bonding experience of the nursing itself.
Tip #5: Recognize that over-supply is as much a challenge as under supply.
Most mamas I spoke to along the way struggled with the challenge of having enough milk to feed their little ones. My issue was just the opposite. I had an oversupply, which got me into big trouble in the beginning. I ended up severely engorged, and with a nasty bout of mastitis, which is no fun. As I mentioned, I had to quickly learn to use the pump to drain off the excess, and manage supply in the early days. Where Valentina was happily sleeping four or five hours, that would be torture for me as I would be engorged and in major pain if I didn’t feed her or pump. The lactation consultant that I saw 2 weeks in really helped to me identify this and suggested a solution – any time I felt like my supply was potentially causing problems, I would take sage tincture for a day or two which would reduce the supply. I had to do that a few times, and it worked like a charm.
These are a few simple things that would have saved me a lot of anxiety in the first 2-3 weeks of being home with Valentina after her birth. No one wants to have a pessimistic attitude with the expectation of things not going smoothly, but I do believe that some strategic planning can relieve a lot of stress, and could potentially make the difference between being able to breastfeed or not.