For some new moms, breastfeeding comes naturally, but for others, it brings anxiety, fear, challenges and a lot of questions: Will I make enough milk? Will my baby latch? Will it hurt? Breastfeeding is one of those things — you just don't know how it will go until you try. The first time may be the most challenging, but give it a chance because it can get better with time. Having breastfed my three children in some capacity, I’ve dealt with latch issues, oversupply, mastitis and more. Here’s what new moms should know about breastfeeding.
While each breastfeeding experience is different, I could not have navigated the challenges without support. Christine Ridings, a Lactation Consultant and Pediatric R.N. at Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego suggests surrounding yourself with family, friends or a Lactation Support Group.
“Confide in encouraging mamas who have trekked the breastfeeding trail before you,” Ridings advises. “They are a treasure of knowledge and support as you journey through this new adventure.” Taking a prenatal breastfeeding class can help start your breastfeeding journey on a strong path, according to Ridings.
Establish a Good Latch
It’s all about the latch when it comes to breastfeeding successfully. Ridings recommends putting baby to breast early and often to establish a good latch. “It might be painful in the beginning, but it will pass once you get the hang of it,” she says. If challenges arise, seek help from a lactation consultant.
I found using a nipple shield helped with many breastfeeding challenges, including latching. With my first-born, we never established a good latch, so he drank breast milk from a bottle. I wish I had known as a new mom to find support from a lactation consultant.
Pumping is Breastfeeding, too
Using a breast pump is another form of breastfeeding that does not require a baby to latch. I was a nursing and pumping mom and at one point an exclusively pumping mom. Pumping isn’t always necessary, but it is helpful for moms who work outside the home or have a hard time nursing. A lactation consultant can help moms get fitted for the proper flange size to ensure enough breast milk is being expressed without causing pain.
Take Care of Yourself
Giving birth, being a mom and breastfeeding are hard work—it may feel like there is no time to take care of yourself. Be sure to drink plenty of water and eat extra calories to replenish what is used to make that liquid gold. I drank a pint of water at each feeding/pump session and always had snack bars handy. Other tips: Use nursing pads to manage leakage and warm compresses for clogs, pain or engorgement. Nipple cream and coconut oil are great for dry or cracked nipples. Keep these items in a basket or nearby breastfeeding station.
Try Not to Worry
Many moms wonder if their baby is getting enough milk. Adequate diaper output and weight gain (after the initial weight loss after birth) are good indicators. Cluster feeding or wanting to breastfeed more often than usual is normal. Just because a baby wants to breastfeed often does not mean he is starving. Sometimes the reason points to a growth spurt or the need for extra comfort.
Although it is exhausting, babies will eventually eat less often and fall into some sort of schedule. Try not to stress about breastfeeding on a schedule, especially during the first few months when feedings are often unpredictable.
If supplementing with formula or donor breast milk is necessary, it doesn’t mean failure. A fed and loved baby is all that matters in the end. By the time kids are in preschool, no one can tell the difference between breastfed kids and formula-fed ones! One thing I’ve learned is that moms do not owe anyone an explanation for how they choose to feed their baby or if breastfeeding doesn’t work out.
Breastfeeding Can be Amazing
The moments when your baby is nursing and gazes into your eyes are amazing. That giant smile with milk running down his face makes it all worth it. Those moments made me happy I never gave up on a bad day. Breastfeeding is a relationship that can be wonderful once you find what works. Setting goals helped me get through tough days. I rewarded myself for reaching a breastfeeding goal, even if it was only to get through one more day.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
There are highs and lows of breastfeeding. At a time when we experience mom shaming and mom guilt, remember that any amount of breastfeeding is good — and not breastfeeding isn’t bad. Don’t compare yourself to others, as each experience is different. Breastfeeding is a full-time job, but so is being a mom. In whatever way a baby is fed, motherhood is still the hardest, but most rewarding, job there is.
Tabitha Frost is a Carlsbad-based blogger and freelance writer. She is a mom of three, former preschool teacher and breast milk donor.