When you’re new to breastfeeding or need a refresher, the amount of information can be both overwhelming and completely unhelpful. Everyone has an opinion, but few have real answers to offer. Sorting through it all can be frustrating when all you want are the basics. What do I need to know to take the next right step? Start here, with Breastfeeding 101, and I’ll walk you through just what you need to know to keep moving along your breastfeeding journey.
Breastfeeding 101: Self-Care First
Before any dos or don’ts, it’s very important to remember that your body is still working very hard, long after the baby has arrived. Each time baby is at the breast, you are burning calories and using up fat and nutrient stores. The physical, mental, and emotional output involved in breastfeeding is extraordinary and not to be taken lightly.
- Make sure you have plenty of water nearby – a full gallon you can pour from, for the days when you never seem to leave your nursing spot – or some Nursing Nectar tea already made up.
- Snacks are important, too, to keep your energy up. Fruit, nuts & seeds, crackers, cheese – quick and easy things to grab and eat while you nurse or while baby naps on you.
- Take time to stretch your body, leaving that hunched-over position we tend to get in when admiring baby or analyzing their latch.
- Step outside now and then. You both could use the sunshine and fresh air.
- Ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.
You are doing amazing work! So honor your body and care for it. The very first step is self-care.
Perfect the Latch
Aside from a healthy mama making milk, the baby’s latch holds the biggest learning curve and the key to success. Don’t just assume baby is on right. Try, try again, until you see all the signs of a good latch:
- Flanged lips, fully open and not even a bit tucked under on both the top and bottom lip
- Wide open mouth, no pursed duck lips
- Jaw movements and prominent swallowing movements
- A mixture of short suckles and deep draws
Especially in the early days as you and baby learn each other, you’ll need to work to teach him to latch properly. Try holding your breast with a C-hand and rocking baby’s head onto the breast, bottom lip first. This will help to push the bottom lip open rather than allowing him to suck it in.
You can hold baby cradled, under your arm like a football, laying on you belly-to-belly...Honestly there’s not a wrong way to hold them as long as you get a good latch, so experiment to learn what works best for you both.
Accurately Gauge Supply
A big concern that new mamas have is whether their supply is enough for their baby’s hunger. Without seeing a bottle drain, it can be unnerving wondering what’s going on and if baby is really getting what she needs.
- Frequent nursing is NOT a sign of an unsatisfied baby; this is how they regulate your supply. Feed baby at the first signs (tongue out, smacking lips, open mouth and turning head looking for the breast, fussing) as frequently as she “asks.” This can be a lot in the early days, and that’s okay. She’s bringing your milk in.
- A newborn’s stomach is incredibly small, and baby expects only colostrum right away. That’s the thick, nutrient-dense, “liquid gold” that you’ll produce in small amounts right away. The thinner, blueish-white milk can take days to come in.
- Once milk has come in, baby’s satisfaction during a nursing session is usually visible, with her hands and body relaxing as she gets full.
- The best gauge of a consistent supply is the wet and poopy diapers that baby puts out. The first day will be slow, usually one wet diaper and some meconium, increasing more over the next few days to at least 6 wet diapers and several poopy.
- Finally, baby will lose weight initially and then re-gain it as milk comes in. Over the first two weeks or so, baby should return to birth weight and then gain steadily (it will be different for every baby).
You can support existing supply or help a faltering one with regular nourishing teas, or really support your milk supply with a Let There Be Milk tincture. If you still suspect low supply, reach out for troubleshooting help with your care provider, a La Leche League leader, or an IBCLC consultant.
Normal and Abnormal Discomfort
Some discomfort is to be expected at first and for awhile. Your body is getting used to new sensations. Even when it’s not your first baby, the early days can be uncomfortable. Using a healing nipple salve that is safe for baby can help your body to heal and adjust fast and more pleasantly.
However, actual pain can be an indicator of a problem. Shooting, stabbing pains are often signs of thrush or impending mastitis. Redness, particularly hot areas, streaking, knots and swollen areas, and fever or chills are all signs of mastitis that should be treated right away.
Get Help When Needed
Again, you don’t have to do this alone. If you have friends or family who are good sources of help, it’s important to take advantage of that and allow them to support you on this journey. If you don’t have a good support system (and even when you do), adding others such as a La Leche League leader can improve your nursing relationship immensely.
These early days are only the beginning of a long and lovely nursing journey. Stick with the basics in the early days before moving on to worrying about pumping and other concerns. Keep doing the next right thing, and let your love and milk flow!