Breastfeeding: The practical stuff they don't tell you
One thing I've learnt from my own experiences and from chats with other mums is that breastfeeding is definitely not all sunshine and roses for everyone, particularly not in the first few days and weeks. I've successfully breastfed two munchkins to 12 months of age and am currently feeding a newborn. This by no means makes me an expert... but I definitely have some practical advice/tips that I wish I had been given before I started out on my first breastfeeding adventure.
1 | Get comfortable: This could take a while
In the early days breastfeeding sessions can take quite some time. Not necessarily for everyone. My first was a slow and steady type man. Often spending 40 or more minutes at my boob, while my second was a guzzler getting what she needed in a much shorter time. Number 3 seems to be somewhere in between. Same boobs but 3 different experiences! If you do have a tortoise for a feeder rather than a hare... you definitely want to be comfortable whilst you're doing it.
My breastfeeding comfort essentials
- A comfortable place to sit. Be it a chair, couch, bed or bean bag. I personally don't think you need a specific breastfeeding chair, but you do need a comfortable spot for breastfeeding.
- Pillows. I found a breastfeeding pillow invaluable. I have the weakest wrists in the world so I find it difficult to hold my babies whilst feeding until they grow and have good neck control. Lots of people feed without pillows... but if you need one, use one... Not everyone is physically designed to be a super mum who can wander the house whilst breast feeding bubs single handedly. I saved my limited wrist strength for feeds when I was out and about. I also find a pillow behind my back makes me maintain good posture.. Hunching over your baby when breastfeeding can cause sore, backs, necks and shoulders.
- A warm cardigan or robe that you can throw on as you get up for a night feed. It can get awfully chilly in the middle of the night
- Something to pass the time...Terrible I know but my smart phone takes a real hammering when I'm breastfeeding particularly during the night time feeds. I can; surf the net, spend way too much time on Facebook, send family and friends annoying emails with yet more photos of cute kids. Catch up on news, read ebooks which I've downloaded, do a spot of online shopping, and not to mention write a few blogs ;-)....all one handed...
But my biggest tip for being comfortable while breastfeeding is to:
Sort out your needs first before you pick up your baby!
i.e. go to the toilet, grab a drink, put on some warmer clothing. I know its hard to listen to your little baby cry.. but a couple of minutes at the start will make your experience much more pleasant.. There is nothing worse than feeling like your bladder is going to burst during a feed.
2 | First Aid For Breastfeeding War Wounds
Nipple related injuries are pretty common in the first few days of breastfeeding. Sometimes just one sleep deprived session with a poor latch can be enough to leave you with a tattered and torn nipple.
- Lanisinoh nipple cream is inexpensive, readily available at supermarkets and pharmacies and is brilliant stuff.
- Rite Aid Hydrogel Breast Discs: Literally a nipple lifesaver, instant relief as soon as you put them on. A touch pricey but if your nipples are a bit worse for wear I cannot recommend them highly enough. You can a read review I wrote about them earlier
- Mastitis is nasty nasty nasty.. if you have any symptoms which make you think mastitis: Sore red boobs, temperature, flu like symptoms. Then get thee to a doctor/midwife without delay. I am not speaking from personal experience, (only probably because of pure luck, not through any skill) From the experience of friends and acquaintances, all the feedback is get seen early!)
3 | Eat, drink and be merry
We are often quoted the saying 'Eating for Two' when we are pregnant. But it is when we are breastfeeding that this statement is most true. Growing a baby outside our body i.e. producing breast milk requires more nutrition than it does to be pregnant and grow a baby inside our body. You also need a lot of fluid/water to make milk...So eat, eat eat and drink drink drink.
My breastfeeding diet tips
- Don't diet! As I said you need a lot of nutrition to make good breast milk.. so the first few weeks after birth is not the time to diet. There is plenty of time to worry about regaining your post baby physique. When you are establishing your breast milk supply is not the time!
- Drink water all the time. A good glass full whenever you are thirsty, a good glass full before or during each breast feed. Take a water bottle with you when you are out and about. Keep a water bottle or large glass of water next to your comfy breast feeding spot. Drink at night feeds as well not just during the day.
- Don't forget to eat. Sometimes as mums we get so caught up with meeting our baby's needs that we forget about our own. We often meet all our needs when baby is asleep. i.e. grab a bite to eat when bub is sleeping. But what if bub is unsettled and isn't sleeping? Or you are so tired that as soon as bubs is asleep you are too? I can assure you, your baby won't mind if you stop for a snack. You aren't eating just for you, eating and improving your breast milk supply is benefitting bub as well. Things you can eat with one hand can also be useful. I almost think the mantra should not be 'Sleep when Baby Sleeps' But 'Eat when baby Eats' .
- Don't restrict your diet unnecessarily. From what I can tell the evidence for your diet causing wind/colic/gas/unsettled babies is relatively limited (I've looked and looked but could not find many good quality clinical papers at all) Some mums find that food plays a definite role, while many other mums find that what they eat has no bearing on their babies behaviour. It does not seem to be a one size fits all thing. So what I'm saying is don't always blame it on what you are eating. It could be something completely different. Babies can be upset for many reasons. If you do feel that what you are eating could be upsetting your baby, by all means look at making some dietary changes but do it sensibly. i.e. Keep a diary of bubs symptoms/behaviours while you are eliminating foods. If you see no improvement then you may as well reintroduce the food. But if you do see an improvement then great! Personally I've had no problems with the food I eat affecting my baby, and still enjoy my daily cup of coffee! (Thank goodness! With three under three years of age a coffee is not a treat it is a necessity!) If your baby has been diagnosed with a food allergy, then restricting your diet could well be necessary, but your baby will probably have more symptoms than just gas/wind, and a Healthcare Professional such as a Dietitian should give you the dietary advice you need, because every time you take a food out of your diet, you should make sure it is replaced with something. I have seen poor mums end up on a hugely limited diet and feel terrible because they just aren't eating well.
4 | Breastfeeding: Sometimes its a messy business
Breastfeeding is not always as clean and tidy as we would like it to be. Babies can make an awful amount of mess so protective items can be a necessity.
- Old school cloth nappies make the perfect burping cloth. Lots of newborns do squirty poo during a feed, crazy poo that can escape nappies. A cloth nappy under them prevents the squirts getting on you, the pillows, the furniture. Old school cloth nappies are amazing and cheap. Get yourself a pack you will be amazed at the number of uses you find for them.. Both baby and non baby related!
- If you are blessed with a really spilly baby (my number 2) then a mattress protector draped over your comfy breastfeeding spot could well save your furniture. I love 'Brolly Sheets' They are great for protecting furniture, make an amazing nappy free time kick mat and will be really useful when you are toilet training a toddler.
- Commercial baby wipes: I am not a big fan of using commercial baby wipe on newborn bottoms (they have always given my sensitive skinned munchkins nappy rash so I stick with water) BUT they are great for cleaning up milky spews... I don't know what exactly is in them but they get milk out of carpet and furniture really really well.
- When you are packing your nappy bag for a trip out with baby, consider packing a clean top for yourself as well. There is nothing worse than doing a spot of shopping in a vomit covered shirt.
5 | Lower your expectations
This point might be a touch controversial. But I would advise any pregnant mum who is planning on breastfeeding to go into it with low expectations. i.e. expect it to be a hard slog in the first few weeks. Not everyone finds breastfeeding hard (or harder than they thought it would be) but many people do. So I think if you go in expecting it to be possibly tough going, then if its not it will be a pleasant surprise. I promise for most mums it does get easier and easier. But I do think many of us (myself included) struggle with it for at least the first few days/weeks. I had no idea that breastfeeding could end up being tricky, I just assumed it would be easy. I went into it with my first baby wearing rose tinted glasses, and it was quite a shock to find out that it was something quite difficult to learn.
Breastfeeding is a team sport. Both players, mum and baby need to acquire the necessary skills and learn to work together to create the optimum partnership. If we took up a new team sport with a partner we didn't know, such as doubles tennis. I am sure we would expect to need some practice before we got it right. I think the same holds true for breastfeeding. Obviously, some people will be lucky and will instantly click with their new teammate, whilst others of us will be a bit hit and miss for a while.
6 | Ask for help
If you are having problems feeding don't battle on by yourself ask for help, and keep asking until you feel confident. Use the resources available to you during your hospital stay like the midwives and lactation consultants. When you get home if you are still struggling then just keep asking for help until you find advice/techniques that work for you. From my personal experience phone counseling services such as the ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Association) or the LaLeche league are great at providing support and encouragement to breastfeeding mums. But if you need practical 'How to' advice then nothing beats a one on one session with a Lactation Consultant or Midwife.
7 | Breastfeeding When out and about
Most first time mums can be a bit nervous (or a lot nervous) about tackling the first few feeds when out and about. My advice:
- Ditch the breastfeeding cover. If anything these things make breastfeeding more cumbersome. I am pretty sure because of the difficulty in using them most people end up being less discreet than if they just fed without a cover!
- Be confident (or at least fake it until you make it). I think your confidence rubs off on everyone, the other people, your baby. If you are confident and look natural people don't tend to bat an eyelid and the world carries on about their business
- Feel free to look up and make eye contact with people. What you will undoubtedly find is that people are smiling at you, happy to see you and a little baby doing so well. I have never been given anything but encouraging looks from members of the public when I feed. Not once have I seen an evil look or judgemental stare. And, if the looks aren't positive, then a confident smile from you is the best medicine.
Good luck to everyone who embarks on a breastfeeding adventure, I hope some of this advice might be useful. I have a follow-on article to this breastfeeding with a toddler in tow... now that's when things get really interesting!
I am also a huge proponent of fed is essential. Not fed is best but fed is essential. Boob, Bottle, Formula, Finger or Spoon, no matter how your baby is fed I think it is important mums feel supported. I have personally used baby formula and would not hesitate if I needed to. So if you are looking for info on formula, you can find that on my site too. Choosing the best baby formula for your baby , Gold vs Standard Formula what is the difference and A guide to Allergy Baby Formula