Wednesday, January 21, 2015

10 Favorite Postpartum Breastfeeding Tips {31 Days of Postpartum Health & Healing}

(Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links).

There are so many ways to prepare for birth: exercises, visualizations/prayer, reading books, and taking classes (see my book recommendations here!)...but no one can really prepare you for breastfeeding. It is an experience that is different for every woman and every baby! Some take to it easily, and for some it's a hard-won battle.

My good friend just had a darling baby girl and like many new mothers, breastfeeding has been a struggle. Why is something that is so natural so difficult? I found this to be true for all three of my kids, but fortunately had the wonderful resources available to make it work, even after being told by the NICU doctor that I didn't make enough milk and probably wouldn't, and having all three need frenotomies for tongue and lip ties. It was not an easy journey by any means, but I'm of the stubborn sort and I had the help of a wonderful lactation consultant. 

I recently stood at my kitchen counter after texting with my friend and quickly jotted down the top 10 basic "tips" I would give to a new mom. I hope they help someone! (For the purposes of ease and because I have three daughters, I'm referring to baby as Her and She.)

As a reminder, the information below is not intended to be medical advice. I am not a medical professional or a board-certified lactation consultant, so please consult with one of these, preferably a board-certified lactation consultant, for any and all of your breastfeeding difficulties. 

1. Get comfortable and go skin-to-skin!

The enemy of getting your baby to latch comfortably is an anxious, tightly-wound mama. Babies are kind of like animals - they can sense fear and tension. Let her know you've got this so she can relax and do that hard work of learning how to get milk out of your increasingly-engorging breasts!

Get comfortable by using regular pillows or a nursing pillow. Prop yourself up so you won't be hunching over, and support your elbows. You may even want to try a little biological breastfeeding and lean back in a semi-reclined position - especially if you have overactive letdown. Go to the bathroom. Have your water/book/snack/remote handy. Suck on a Rescue Remedy lozenge. Put on relaxing music. Do whatever it takes to get relaxed. Get that shirt off, undress that baby, and get your cuddle on!

2.  Do not wait until baby is starving!

This is really important. If your baby is already having trouble getting a good latch and is also hungry, this is the perfect storm for a freak-out. You could be the most relaxed, hydrated, and prepared mama ever but if your baby is hangry, it's not going to go well. Learn infant cues for hunger (crying is a late cue) and be watching for them - you're already staring at your gorgeous baby anyways, so get to know her hunger cues. Practice latching on and positioning BEFORE she's reached Hangry status!

It takes 2-5 days, or anywhere in between, for a mother's milk to fully come in. The clear colostrum at the beginning is nourishment, and enough of it, plus antibodies and nutrients! A newborn's tummy is incredibly tiny - we're talking teaspoon(s) - and that liquid is the best thing for her and the only thing she needs. So please don't assume your baby will be pounding 3 ounces per feeding from day one, or let expert-whoever tell you that you "aren't producing enough." You honestly can just not know this for a fact until many days or sometimes weeks later. Did you know that it can take up to three months for your supply to fully establish itself? And pumping is not even a good indicator of how much you are actually making.

That said, be in communication with your medical provider and/or lactation consultant about any troubles you may be having.

Check out a book written by a board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) to get solid research and experience backed advice, like the Breastfeeding Mother's Guide to Making More Milk by Diana West or Boost Your Breast Milk by Alicia Simpson.

3. Check latch and positioning

OK, so you've caught baby before she's hangry, got yourself comfy, and brought her to your body. Now, you can make sure she's latched correctly. Proper positioning is mostly based on preference and there is no one "right" way - you can do a traditional cradle hold, football hold, or follow the ideas of "biological" breastfeeding.

Now, the reality is that if you're having your baby at a hospital, you may not be surrounded by the most encouraging or knowledgeable nurses. Many of them are lactation "experts" but not board-certified lactation consultants (IBCLC). Nurses are busy people with a lot on their plates - rounds to make, a clock to watch, and if you need help, like it or not, you're their patient, thus you're on the clock. Please don't let a rushed nurse rush you to feed your baby, especially if he or she is not an actual IBCLC. Have someone present who can support you regardless of who is making the rounds.

Watch your baby latch. Is it too shallow? Is baby chewing on the nipple? If needed, take baby off the breast and start again to get a better latch. This is where YouTube videos come in handy:

If latch is correct and still very painful after two weeks, this is the sign of an issue and more questions should be asked (preferably in partnership with an IBCLC). The first and most important is checking for tongue and/or lip tie. If severe, as in the case of all three of my girls, then they do need to have treatment by an ENT to release the tie. Sometimes if the tie is mild, it can be stretched. This is where the knowledge and experience of a lactation consultant who has knowledge and experience diagnosing ties is invaluable. There are many different kinds of ties and not all are obvious, and not all ties need to be treated.

4. Slow down, slow wayyyyy down

Let's go a little woo-woo here. I love me some woo-woo! But also, there's science. Heard of Pavlov? Deep breathing exercises can encourage a quicker letdown, with the benefit of relaxing your body.

I mentioned earlier to grab the remote/book while getting comfy but here's a caveat: sometimes it's better to simplify, simplify. There are so many distractions and we live in a world that values multitasking. Maybe that's part of the problem; we think we should be able to do things quickly, easily, we're used to the touch-of-a-button lifestyle. But a newborn isn't a button, right? Try putting down other stimuli, getting comfy, taking some deep breaths. Just BE. There is plenty of time for books/TV/phone conversations while nursing later, when you and the baby are down to a rhythm. But that can take some time.

I love the affirmations of Leslie Davis in her Mothering article Breathing In: Breastfeeding as a Spiritual Practice. She writes,

"Breathing in, I am nursing my lovely baby. Breathing out, I am mother. I tried several hundred variations on this theme: Breathing in, I love my baby. Breathing out, I feel calm. Breathing in, my baby wants milk. Breathing out, milk flows freely."

Pick some of your own tailor-made affirmations and say them as you nurse your little one. See what happens!

The tips for encouraging letdown near the bottom of this KellyMom article are excellent.

5. Have supplies ready

So we often read that "breastfeeding shouldn't hurt!" and while that is true for the long run, it is also true that your nipples may be a little sore at the beginning (just like the rest of you!). Almost all mothers experience some sort of nipple soreness or pain. Have a nursing basket ready with nipple cream or coconut oil, cotton breast pads, snacks, a water bottle, and whatever else you need. Invest in a good bra with no underwire and an all-cotton sleeping bra. Keep everything handy so you don't have to get up from your nursing "station."

Check out my post on my postpartum must-haves here.

6. Throw out the idea of a "schedule"

For those who thrive on schedules, this is going to be a hard truth. Newborn babies rarely, if ever, have any type of schedule. Plan on spending most of your days at the beginning nursing, preparing to nurse, finishing up nursing, eating, taking a bathroom break, or snoozing with baby.  But that is really all should plan to do the first little while. Your baby will want to eat between 10-12 times per day for varying amounts of time. She may want to go a few hours between nursing sessions or she may want to "cluster feed" and eat every 20 minutes. This doesn't mean you aren't making enough milk - that's just what your little smart child wants to do. It's all very normal, and takes a little bit of surrender on mom's part to follow baby's lead.

If you can do this, truly, you'll be setting yourself up for a rewarding relationship with your baby that will (eventually) astound you in its beautiful symbiosis.

7. Read and ask questions

There are invaluable resources online for the nursing mother. Get lost on these sites and glean some awesome information. Three of the most helpful sites are:

KellyMom (example: Breastfeeding Your Newborn)

La Leche League (example: "How can I tell if my baby is getting enough milk?" and Nipple Pain)

Breastfeeding Basics (example: Establishing Your Milk Supply: Starting Out Right)

Check out my favorite breastfeeding books here. 

8. Eat and drink enough

Breastfeeding burns a lot of calories. Basically, your diet should look similar to the patterns you followed during pregnancy - assuming they were healthy. Lots of good fats, protein, green leafy veggies, and liquids. Soups are convenient and you can make/have someone make a big pot and feast off of it for a few days. Same with stews! Even a good ol' nut butter and jelly sandwich is great fuel for a nursing mom.

A good practice is drinking a glass of water before you begin breastfeeding. You don't need to go overboard and be OVERhydrated, as this can cause problems too, but you do want to keep all the juices flowing in your body with a good amount of liquids, and that will probably be a different amount for different people.

9. Hire a knowledgeable lactation consultant

I know what it is like to dread nursing your baby because of the discomfort or anxiety, or to feel like something is just not quite right. Guess what? You now have the gift of a mother's intuition, and this is something you should heed. The best way for you to set yourself up for success if you're struggling is to PROactively seek help from a very experienced and highly recommended IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). Sometimes this simple request for help will make or break your breastfeeding relationship. Don't hesitate to seek professional help. Many bill insurance, too.

Need help finding an IBCLC? I wrote a post on that, too. Or ask around on Facebook. Mothers will love to share if they've had a good experience with someone!

10. Reframe your brain: Give yourself grace and surround yourself with encouraging supporters. Naysayers and negative talk is not allowed.

This goes along with relaxation: stress can actually lower your supply. It's true. Instead of thinking about this process in black or white - success or failure - think of it as part of the journey. Your baby has been earthside only hours. Give her and yourself a break and take the time necessary to dig in and work at it. It's not a burden, and if you think of it in those terms, then you'll most likely throw in the towel.

Don't let negative people speak negatively into this process. Post a sign on your front door, if need be. You don't need to hear anyone's horror stories. This is YOUR story, let it unfold and, as difficult as it may be when the going gets tough, enjoy the journey. It is over much too soon.

Also: Check out this awesome Tear-Sheet Toolkit from La Leche League - printables on positioning, feeding cues, common concerns, etc. for your own reference, and free!

I also have a lot of breastfeeding information listed on my Twins Resource page. 

What would you add to this list to make sure a new mom knows? 


  1. Well said, Megan. I will definitely be sharing this with my pregnant friends!

  2. I love this guide, thanks for sharing!

  3. thanks cayce! I think I wrote this after our conversation that one day ;)


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