Those little eyes looking up at you with profound trust, the feeling of such a tiny person in your arms receiving everything he needs to grow, the sound of baby once she has a good latch and is taking in the milk she loves so much. A dear friend once called breastfeeding a hidden well, and it truly is. What an incredible resource in our very own body, to care for the little one we are entrusted with.
In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, let’s share some experience and some encouragement as nourishment for mamas on their breastfeeding journey. The season of nursing our babies is so beautiful and joyful, it calls for celebration. However, the process of breastfeeding can be difficult and that aspect calls for assistance and support. I had to ask my friends, my aunts, everyone I trusted and could reach out to, for advice and some encouragement as the ups and downs of natural exclusive breastfeeding continued. It was wonderful, it was sometimes painful, it felt fulfilling, it was beautiful. These are only some emotions and reactions you may experience as you embark on the journey of feeding your little one! Every unique and individual person will experience nursing a little differently, but a few good old reliable tips are always helpful.
When I began to breastfeed, when my first baby was born, it was actually very hard to find any practical advice once we left the hospital. There at the hospital, we were fortunate enough to have a lactation consultant. Baby and I were able to take a quick class with the consultant and other new mamas and infants, and receive guidance on at least the basics of breastfeeding. I gained reassurance that I was doing things correctly and that Baby was eating. Even then, I had to just forge ahead and do my best! Most mothers simply have to do their best and continue, persevering through discomfort and changes in nursing patterns. It was challenging, and without answers I did feel very discouraged at times. In the moments when breastfeeding doesn’t go perfectly, we could all use some comfort and some solid advice. For these reasons, here is a short list of extremely practical and workable tips for breastfeeding.
- Get your baby’s tiny mouth all the way onto your breast. Infants have teeny-tiny mouths, and although they want to nurse, sometimes they may not want to or be able to latch properly. The technique provided to us in the lactation class was to brush baby’s lower lip and chin with the nipple, and when they open their mouth, quickly insert the breast. I found that a quick brush on the chin, then an upward brush on the lower lip, allows you to bring their mouth far enough on your breast so that it won’t hurt the tip of your breast. Baby’s mouth should be past the areola, or as far over it as possible. Especially watch on the bottom and make sure their chin comes far enough up the boob. So, a quick brush on the chin, and an upward movement across the lower lip, inserting boob quickly when the baby’s mouth opens. Aim for the roof of their mouth and support their head, bringing them close to your chest. This page from the American Pregnancy Association has more specific information on latch and position if you are having issues. This method I have described is simply for the first few days of nursing, using baby’s reflexes. I promise, usually they will become accustomed to nursing, and then latching is effortless.
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water EVERY day. Additionally, take a cup of water with you at night when you go to bed. Your body’s hydration levels are depleted every time you nurse, so imagine the amount of milk leaving your body and translate that into water you need to take in, in addition to the normal amount of water your body requires daily. It is so easy to forget this need, and become dehydrated which affects your milk supply, your own energy levels, and your health overall. Be sure to drink that water! Nurture your body in order to nurture your little one.
- Use breast pads (or a folded washcloth), especially overnight. When milk comes in after baby’s birth, it is produced slightly in excess and almost always leaks in large amounts. For every couple of hours, or more often even, you want a clean dry breast pad. I have used circular breast pads I sewed from thick layers of terry cloth, folded clean washcloths or hand towels, even clean cloth diaper prefolds, which are very absorbent. Just something to keep you and your baby dry and comfortable until your milk supply levels out and you do not experience as much leakage.
- If you feel breast discomfort or pain, be gentle to yourself. Nursing a baby almost always results in temporary discomfort and even pain. I have a resource list below of my favorite products to relieve discomfort during those first days of breastfeeding. But if you do not have these products, you can still comfort your sore boobs: Lightly massage a little coconut oil or almond oil onto your breast, just very lightly. Take a lukewarm shower, to relieve your full breasts. The trick is to relieve the pressure but not to cause a strong let-down (milk flow) with very warm water. If your breasts leak milk out, let it happen and even press gently just to relieve pressure. If you have nipple soreness, a frozen washcloth outside your bra will soothe it a little, and I recommend a balm if your nipples become sore or even bleed a little like mine did. This discomfort will only last a few days, while your breasts and your baby harmonize the breastfeeding connection. My initial days of breastfeeding were very uncomfortable, but were followed by months of simple and enjoyable nursing.
- Catch your excess milk. The discomfort during the beginning of milk production is due to an excess. At first it is just exasperating to leak so much, and you just want to stay dry, but as soon as you can, start saving all your milk. Many people call breastmilk liquid gold, and with good reason! You can save it for a day when you may need it for baby, or you can share it by donating to your local hospital or milk bank. However you may put it to use, you can easily save milk when it is abundant: Milkies Milk Savers are specifically designed for this, by a mama for mamas, and they are a lifesaver. Honestly, I often just use a small mason jar to save my milk and then I label it and freeze it right in the jar. Here’s how: as you nurse on one side, place your Milk Saver or jar on the other breast. If you have a strong let-down like I do, milk will drip or flow into the container on its own. If you need to encourage the flow, just press your thumb in a downwards motion down the breast towards the nipple. This method of hand-expression of milk is very handy, and has always yielded for me better than a breast pump! If you freeze the milk in your little mason jar, be sure to only fill each jar about two-thirds full, leaving space between milk and lid.
- Let baby stay latched on, nurse when baby asks, and nap together. These small and simple methods of feeding will create a harmony between your body and your baby’s. The more baby stays latched and sucks, the more milk is produced. Nursing when your baby expresses the hungry cry will create trust and again stabilize your milk supply. You will recognize that hungry cry, each baby is different but you’ll hear it! Napping together creates a rhythm as you nurture baby’s growth, and napping at all if it possible (I know, I know, but that quick rest is worth it) refreshes your own body as well!
- Always offer each side to your baby. Latch and feed baby on one side, and nurse long enough so that he drinks the hindmilk, the filling and calorie-rich milk that is released after the foremilk, which is thinner and relieves baby’s thirst. After finishing on that breast, try to consistently offer the second breast. At every new feeding, begin with the breast that was not fully emptied, to encourage both breasts to produce as equally as possible!
- If your baby feels gassy and fussy, use the Football Hold. This is a safe and soothing baby hold, and has always been the best for us, relieving gassy tummies in our children when they nursed. Support baby’s entire trunk on your arm, against your body. Be sure their face is outward, their cheek is resting just in the bend before your elbow. Hold their bottom by supporting their crotch with your hand. Then pat their back with your free hand to relieve the gas bubbles. And laugh at the ensuing belches, so enormous it is hard to believe they came from such a tiny person!
- Gather a few good books to your nursing place. Instead of holding your phone (I am so guilty of having my phone while nursing when I need to get something done!) which is not necessarily good for baby’s health and steals your attention from what you and baby need, try having a few books on hand. While you nurse your baby and she is awake and alert, eye contact and talking to her is invaluable and enhances her development. When she drifts off, catch up on a bit of reading. And take in her precious face. They grow so quickly and this season seems to go by in merely a moment, so cherish every second of its beauty.
- As Baby grows, his or her milk needs will change often. Even from one day to the next, the demand for milk adjusts according to baby’s growth. During a growth spurt often baby will grow and then the milk supply needs to catch up, so you might find yourself breastfeeding constantly as your milk production is increased. The more suckling, the more milk is produced. Conversely, when a growth spurt is finished (for the time being) you might end up with extra milk again. This rising and falling in milk demand is natural.
- Increase your milk supply in fun and yummy ways! There are profuse methods and ideas for making your milk supply plentiful, so have fun gathering inspiration… I always receive the best tips from friends. One of my favorite suggestions is to drink a beer, this is a time-honored way to increase milk supply and relax your body so your milk let-down is easy and successful. Certain smoothies are amazing for nourishing the milk supply, and you’ll find a few of my favorites here. Try this strawberry and banana recipe from Lauren Mcbride here! And of course I have to include lactation cookies from Lifestyle Hunting, such a tasty way to nourish you and your baby. One of my top tips, from my own mama, is to drink chicken or vegetable broth as a snack. Mmmm
- Be encouraged! You are providing nourishment for the one who needs you most! How incredible, to make a person, bring them into the world, and nurture them as they grow. Breastfeeding is hard when you begin, but honestly can be bliss once you and your baby have your rhythm. Reach out for support and help. Many resources are out there, but La Leche League is considered an authority and can connect you with support and friendship local to you. As I mentioned earlier, I had a little bit of difficulty finding answers as I began my breastfeeding journey, so if you still have questions or need some advice or just want to chat about it, please reach out and e-mail me! I am passionate about breastfeeding and its beautiful place within motherhood.
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These are the core tips I have to share with you, just a few pointers that I wish I’d had when I began breastfeeding my littles a few years ago. Some of the tips may seem very obvious, but because I had to learn them as I went along, they are treasures I now share, with pleasure.
I also want to share some of my favorite products for comfort during the season of breastfeeding. Some of the links shared below are affiliates, others are not. I only list here what I love and recommend to every breastfeeding mama.
My favorite company for balm and healing ointment is Earth Mama Angel Baby. Their Bottom Balm is my favorite go-to for any pain, rashes, scrapes, even as a gentle 1st Aid ointment for the children since it is a natural antiseptic. Earth Mama Angel Baby has a beautiful Nipple Butter which I highly recommend as well. It has all natural organic active ingredients, so just check the list for allergies and you’re all set. They even offer soothing breast pads, their Booby Tubes which provide relief like the washcloth described earlier.
Another beautiful small company for soothing breast pads is lil’ buds who make and sell gorgeous natural breast comfort packs. This is my favorite pack, Aloha Mama, and this set would coordinate beautifully with the organic baby ball we make here at the Tiniest Seeds (wink!).
And finally, a nursing pillow is always a good idea, a dedicated and comfortable part of your nursing place, for the day-to-day rhythm of this part of life. If you do not have one, you can improvise with a pillow folded in half to be a square, or a blanket rolled up and placed under your arm and baby, around your tummy. If you are ready to purchase one , he Boppy is a classic, and it is what I use and enjoy. Many sweet mama-owned shops on etsy sell beautiful covers for your Boppy if you want to personalize it.
Here’s to loving and nurturing with our very bodies, from carrying our children through pregnancy, to childbirth itself, to growing them with our very own supply from the hidden well within ourselves, that is breastfeeding.
This Midland, MI photographer beautifully pictures life in its most precious moments. Find her work here