What to Expect as a New Mom Breastfeeding Baby
“Oh my goodness”, is the newest vocabulary I have picked up with the arrival of our angel. Our baby girl, born on March 31st, 6:40 am at 7.4lbs, is in good health and has the cutest Mongolian spots. With our daughter reaching 5 weeks and feeding well, I can now reflect on the many ups and downs of my new full-time job, breastfeeding. It is so complex that, according to the CDC, about 38% of infants globally are exclusively breastfed during their first six months of life. At 6 months only 25% remained exclusively breastfed in the United States, short of the AAP goal of 1 year and WHO goal of 2 years. Knowing these numbers now reflects the complexity of breastfeeding. That it gets harder with time, and, for a myriad of personal reasons, not everyone can breastfeed. However a baby is fed it is knowing and believing that whatever choice is made for the family is the right thing. There really isn’t a right or a wrong way when it comes to this stuff, so no matter what you think or how you feel you’re doing a good job mama and you should be so proud of yourself, I am!
Doing things right?
As a first-time mom, I thought the most difficult part was going to be the birth, but for me, it was breastfeeding. I had no idea how long I wanted to breastfeed, but I knew I wanted to try. If I was capable I was going to give it my best. It turns out breastfeeding is not graceful or “natural” as I had imagined. It’s a learned skill that we mothers and babies need to work together on to establish. Prior to the birth, I had let my obstetrician-gynecologist, pediatrician, and birth doula know that I planned to breastfeed. All gave me a reassuring “good for you”. With their support, I didn’t think I needed a lactation consultant on my care team at all. I had a few complications postpartum (see par. Mastitis) that required me to take extra bed rest and medication but breastfeeding is not medical so I couldn’t turn to them. With this sudden ability to supply for our babies the pressure to provide and do it right is immense. As breastfeeding is unique to each family I am providing the holistic and practical information I found that helped me on my journey.
My breast friends
- As newborns have little to no muscle control a good breastfeeding pillow is key to feeding relaxed, with shoulders down, and not straining in the wrists (carpal tunnel anyone?). While there are many famously branded pillows out there, for me, they all ended up as back pillows. The only one I used because of its firmness and back support is My Brest Friend. Now that she is big enough and latching well I have passed on the pillow to a friend to use.
- Breast shields really work to teach the baby to latch. If the latch is correct breastfeeding should not hurt or bruise the nipple. I thought we had it in the first few weeks while using nipple cream for tenderness. Still, once latched not always latched, confusion can happen. Babies need reminders from time to time of how to latch correctly, especially if offered a pacifier, or bottle and are starting to find their fists. Try using the breast shield at the beginning of a feed if not latching correctly, then, place your pinky in the corner of the mouth to unlatch the baby, remove the shield and try relatching again. Here’s a great video explaining how to breastfeed.
- A recliner for laid-back breastfeeding is key for someone whose milk gushes out. To feed I use the Babyletto Kiwi Glider which is made with eco-performance fabric from recycled plastic bottles, is stain resistant, and water repellent.
- A breastfeeding stool may sound strange, but your feet do need a good angle and height to prop up the baby without straining or tippy-toeing. Poufs are much more decorative but at the end of the day, cute does not mean effective.
- Boobs out! Many women opt for a nursing bra when breastfeeding, but I recommend going braless and air drying your breasts after feeding as much as possible. For day-to-day, I prefer a wireless ribbed bra that won’t shape the breast. Both Storq or Bonds are super comfy with nursing pads. When held in tightly the milk tends to fill in unnaturally and clog up, so try not to wear the baby in a carrier during the first few months as well and leave that up to the daddy.
- Do get your breast pump before delivery, so you don’t have to stress when you need it. At first, I rented the Medela Symphony, but, even with a hands-free bustier, being tethered to a pump in the same sitting position 6 times a day was not realistic when I needed to get back to work. I switched to the Willow wearable breast pump and have been super happy since! Here is a review of the Willow pump I found helpful in making my decision.
- Sunflower Lecithin is known as a holistic way to reduce the viscosity of breast milk without thinning or reducing the quality of the breast milk itself. This ingredient is widely known to defer fats from clumping together; however, it’s important to know that these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. I can attest that it works and am taking it twice a day for maintenance.
- Forget foremilk and hindmilk. It’s a myth or a broad explanation at best. Yes, fats are heavier and sit in the duct so when engorged your milk will be more watery and will leak out. You can put the Nature Bond on the available breast to collect the leaking milk and draw the higher-fat milk forward. My friend Janet Hsieh gifted this to me for this purpose, but I ended up using it to clear clogged ducts with an Epsom salt hack. Simply fill it with warm water to the lip with a spoon of Epsom salt and attach it to the affected breast so it can draw out the blockage. Some say it works, others don’t. In the case of natural remedies, the best case is just to try them and see. If they don’t, it’s no harm.
- For those mamas who can never seem to drink enough water try getting a cute half-gallon (easier to carry than a full gallon) water jug – or a chug glug as I like to call it. As breastmilk is 90% water I make a point to drink 1-2 of these daily.
- Finally, have your support team ready! If like me you tend to resist professional help because breastfeeding is natural, we have the internet or books to support us, know that you and your baby are unique and will need support to either begin or to wean off. Traditionally women had their community and tribe of women to support them with breastfeeding but with us in urban cities and lifestyles, we need sound, solid, personal advice from someone we trust, and will come easier if we have established a relationship with an IBCLC lactation counselor prior to giving birth. Remember, breastfeeding is a learned skill, so some knowledge-based resources to support like SWEHL and Expectful apps don’t hurt to have on your side either.
I never understood why mothers say “if I can breastfeed I will” until now. No amount of milk omits the variables that come with breastfeeding. One might think that oversupply is luck, but the rock-hard engorgement with mastitis and clogged ducts pain did not feel lucky. While I understand that many mothers do not produce enough milk and it can be stressful for them, my experience with over-production is equally as frustrating as we don’t have an option but to produce. For milk production, it’s not the size of the breast that matters. Large-breasted women do not have more milk ducts but rather more fatty tissue; however, “the grass is always greener on the other side”. In the end, if you choose to breastfeed, you will feed 6-8 hours a day in the first month of the baby’s life. What matters is that you are latching correctly, relaxed, and feeding on demand to establish your supply and regulate with your baby.
For moms who have mastitis, clogged ducts, or feel pain when breastfeeding, do consult with your doctor or a lactation consultant first for treatment. Along with antibiotics, my breast recovery kit consists of a cold compress, Lavie massager with oil (9), sunflower lecithin (7), Epsom salt (8), pumping to drain the boob (6), lots of skin-to-skin, and breastfeeding in different positions, so the baby’s chin will help to massage a clogged area. When I took antibiotics thought that I should pump and dump; however, on a call with Stephanie, my lactation consultant, she explained that the milk is not tainted as the acid in our gut breaks everything down and wouldn’t be able to pass through the body’s filtration system.
The honest truth is that we are going to have to separate from our babies at some time. Not to stress. Take your time to establish a pumping routine within your breastfeeding routine. It’s not recommended to give a baby a bottle or pacifier until breastfeeding is well established as this can cause nipple confusion; however, depending on your own timeline, expressing milk and storing it is never a bad thing. In the first weeks of life, it is natural for the baby to lose weight. Many parents worry that they will need to supplement and that they are not providing enough milk. This is when education and a professional support team are key to drowning out the noise (see par. my breast friend #10). When pumping we often want to see large volumes; however, as we are pumping as an extra feed, it takes time for our body to adjust to heightened demand. We will often only pump as much as our babies are taking, which may only be a few ounces at first. Stress is the enemy to “let down” because milk is regulated by our hormones. This is contradictory cause there are so many hormones shifting in our bodies that it’s even harder to sit and let the experience unfold. Wah! Breathe mama, it will all be ok.
With all this pumping and feeding we are going to be ravenous. While lactating we need an extra 500 calories a day. While breastfeeding does support our body’s return to pre-baby weight, not all moms lose weight. Exercising on top of this deficit is difficult, but we should reintroduce the exercise we enjoyed prepartum after clearance from our doctor. Breastfeeding moms worry that what they eat has an effect on the baby. All babies, of course, pass gas. We burp them after feeds, but sometimes they have gastrointestinal upset, bloat, and cry more than usual. When this happened me and my friends immediately went to the internet and discovered the world of elimination diet. Not good. A very small percentage of infants are allergic, so the chances of them being allergic to your milk is extremely low. As breastmilk is made from your blood and body stores it is impossible that what you eat can cause gas to your baby. If we want to lose weight we must eat nutritious food for our bodies to replenish. Eating wholesome home-cooked food will help with feeding ourselves, so we can feed our babies.
Getting a good night’s sleep seems almost impossible postpartum; however, rest is key to recovery and feeling good enough to feed your baby. Birth is a traumatic somatic experience because the body has gone through major anatomical and hormonal shifts. Whether you lean towards getting a masseuse or specialist I would recommend seeking therapy, bodywork, and incorporating extra self-care techniques to help you cope with the changes and get the needed rest.
- If you are having difficulty adjusting to your baby’s feeding schedule, a great ingredient to unwind is Natural Vitality Calm Sleep. The magnesium & melatonin helped me to repeatedly fall asleep after waking up to feed & pump.
- Insight Timer is a mediation app I have recommended before. Not wanting to rely on medication for too long I turned to “True Trust” by Amanda Penalver to assist me in repeatedly falling asleep throughout the night.
- As we heal movement becomes key to managing the stress we take on. Exercise is not recommended for the first 6 weeks, so I sought out a friend and chiropractor Dr. Brian for regular treatment. His adjustments helped me to deal with the added pressure on my body from breastfeeding to rebalance, realign, and release stress.
- Finally, I would highly recommend encapsulating your placenta for balancing your hormones, mood, and overall well-being. A few of my girlfriends swore by the benefits and a quick search led me to the decision to ask Andrey, my doula, to encapsulate it for me. A nationwide resource for anyone in the USA is Lancaster Placenta, a company that helps mothers make their placenta into gummies, tinctures, balms, and much more.
You’ll want to include a breast massage in your self-care and maintenance routine. I use my hands prior to pumping or during feeding to encourage the milk to head toward the nipple and avoid blocked ducts. It’s important to maintain good circulation and lymphatic drainage.
- Before massaging your breast, rub your palms together to warm up the oil or jade tool.
- Do not be harsh on your breasts. They are delicate organs, and they should be massaged gently.
- Watch one of the video links above for instructions on how to massage breasts kindly.
- Massage your breasts regularly prior and during to feeding or pumping.
- Don’t stress! Breastfeeding is hormonal and emotional so be kind to yourself and your breasts.
Good job mama!
Don’t be discouraged! Your breasts are intelligent and your baby is perfect. It takes time to get in sync, but it is worth it, and you can do it. In the end, Lyla and I made it to 19 months of exclusively breastfeeding! I love nursing her and I am grateful for those times in our day when we get to have those intimate moments. If you are having difficulty breastfeeding, feel free to reach out to me, your friends, family, or doctors anytime you need advice. We, mothers, are warriors – our medals being healthy happy babies.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! 💐
*This article is written personally by Liv. If you find it insightful, please copy the link & share it with friends. Sharing is caring 💞