Breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby. It is one of the first essentials that you can offer to your child when entering the world. Breast milk contains just the right amount of nutrients and ensures that your baby is on the right track for being healthy. Yet, many mothers often quit breastfeeding before the baby is three months; and by twelve months only about one-third of breastfeeding mothers still continue to breastfeed. Why, you say? Well, you will soon find out one of the many reasons; breastfeeding can be difficult. If you are a soon-to-be mother, or already a mother, and thinking of embarking on the breastfeeding journey there are a few things you should know.
1. It Hurts
Yes, you read that correctly. Breastfeeding hurts and it is the number one reason mothers quit. When I breastfed for the first time, it was not what I had imagined. It was quite painful, and unexpected. It is not the smiling mom looking down upon her child in awe. You know the ones. When breastfeeding after your baby is born there is an overwhelming amount of sudden pain that erupts in the breast and uterus. The good news, after a few days the pain will subside. Congrats! You have officially made it through one of the hardest parts of breastfeeding! However, that is only if you have nailed the latching portion of breastfeeding; you do not end up with engorgement; cracked and bloody nipples; or any of the other things that could go wrong!
Nipple Stimulation during breastfeeding causes the female body to release a hormone called oxytocin into the bloodstream. This hormone causes the muscles and uterus to contract until they are back to their normal size and shape.http://www.healthychildren.org
Latching is probably the leading cause of breastfeeding pain outside of the first few days of breastfeeding. If you feel like you do not know what you are doing, you are not alone! I felt the same way when I first started breastfeeding. I was constantly asking questions about all of the do’s and don’ts to latching. If you are unsure you are breastfeeding correctly reach out to a lactation practitioner, they will be making their rounds to your room during your stay, so please don’t be afraid to ask! Be prepared to show those tits though – they are very hands-on, at least that was my experience, so don’t be caught off guard. Should you not see a lactation practitioner at your hospital be sure to ask your doctor or nurse for one and they will make the proper accommodations for you. If you have chosen the option of a midwife or doula even better! They are pretty good about helping you through the breastfeeding process as well. Whatever you do, do not be afraid to speak up, thats what THEY ARE THERE FOR. If you have breastfeed before, do not assume that you do not need help, every baby is different.
Tip: A good rule of thumb to have if you are concerned that the baby is not latching properly is by ensuring that the bottom part of the areola is in the babies mouth and not just the nipple. The areola is the dark ring shape surrounding the nipple.
Cracked & Bloody Nipples, go hand and hand with poor latching. Cracked and bloody nipples are never any fun as it makes latching and unlatching quite painful. If you ever experience this, unfortunately, you may be doing something wrong and you may need to reconsider reviewing your latching methods. Cracked and bloody nipples is something you will want to get under control as soon as possible as it can lead to other issues when breastfeeding . It was one of the hardest things I struggled with up until my latest child, Shiloh. If you find yourself in this situation, it would be wise to clean your breast before and after each feeding, apply gel compresses on your nipples after each feeding, and have some lanolin and coconut oil to help with the healing process.
Engorgement & Clogged Ducts always happens without fail when I come home from the hospital. When I leave the hospital, my breasts are always overfilled with milk. I’ll never forget the day I came from the hospital after my first baby with what felt like DD breast implants and green veins that were bulging out of my chest! Ohh, the pain! It hurt so bad, I wanted to cry. My chest was so tight and arms were so stiff, I remember begging my husband to pump my boobs for me because I was too tense to do it myself (back when automatic pumps were way too expensive and insurance didn’t cover it). Since then, breast pumps have advanced over the years and many are affordable and covered by insurance, thank God! If you are responsible enough to pack you an delivery bag, I would recommend mothers to pack a small manual breast pump in your delivery bag. Depending on delivery, you never know how long you may be required to stay in the hospital so a breast pump would be great to have.
Engorgement can be serious if left untreated. It can lead to clogged ducts and clogged ducts can lead to mastitis. Mastitis is a painful infection in the breast tissue that can cause extreme pain, warm skin, and redness. The good news, you will still be able to breastfeed but you will need antibiotics to treat it. So please, if you decide to breastfeed, regardless of the type of pump you choose, make sure you have one on hand or a few for that matter that are readily available. Some of my favorite places to keep a breast pump not including our home, was the car, and work you will be happy you did.
Thrush is quite common during breastfeeding. It is a yeast infection on the breasts and requires the baby and the mother to take an antibiotic to get rid of. This is something that I experienced with three of my children during the early months of breastfeeding. It usually occurred between 1-3 months of age, and I would begin to see white, slightly raised spots in certain areas of the mouth such as the tongue and sides of the cheek. Sometimes there will be redness in the surrounding areas of the white spots. However, this is not always the case, a good way to know, try wiping the babies tongue with a clean cloth and if it wipes off its milk. If it doesn’t, it is more than likely thrush. Here are a few ways to prevent thrush while breastfeeding:
- Wash your hands often. Always make sure to wipe your breasts with a cloth before and after each feeding.
- Avoid lotions, creams, and ointments in this area unless necessary.
- If you are using breast pads to prevent leakage make sure to swap out often/hourly depending on the mother. For moms that sweat excessively in the breast area, you may have to wipe your breasts more often and swap out your shirts and bras throughout the day when this happens.
- Make sure to wash all items you and baby may come in contact with in hot, soapy water like: pacifiers, bottles, teething toys, and bras. Moms, this would not be a good time to forget washing your bras for a week as this can pose as a sanitary risk for baby.
- Eat a healthy, well, balanced diet thats low in sugar and implement probiotics like yogurt in your diet.
Back Pain: When breastfeeding it is important to have the proper support. Make sure whatever you do, refrain from slouching over. I know there will be many tiresome days but if you can maintain good support while feeding, it will be good for you and the baby. Should a particular feeding position not work for you or the baby there are many other positions to try, so test it out and see which one works best for you. I’m not sure when exactly I decided to develop this bad habit, but I can tell you I regretted it later. My back was so sore from bringing my breast to the baby it got to the point my body was shaking in pain while I fed. The best preventative measure for this is to make sure you are always bringing the baby to your breast and not bringing breast to the baby. Also, it is always good to have plenty of pillows and a nursing pillow, so you can save your back for a later date.
Oh Hell Nah! He just Bit Me!
Baby Inflicted Pain: Over the years, my children have beat up my breasts like a misused toy. My breasts have been scratched, tugged, pinched, bit, kicked, elbowed, and just about anything else you can think of. Scratching has left so many scars on my breast I’ve stopped counting. I get upset with myself because I’m too lazy to clip his nails. Our breasts are durable for sure. However, it is not the worst pain you can experience, I mean, after all, breastfeeding means that at some point you will be breastfeeding during the same time your child is teething. If you have an early teether my heart goes out to you! The bite, is probably one of the moments we have been trying to prepare for but are never ready for!
When Shiloh bit down for the first time I remember screaming out, scaring him half to death but all I was focused on was seeing if I still had a nipple. I must say getting your nipples pierced is nothing compared to a baby biting one. To make matters worse, babies miss the nipple, and it hurts. If you are wondering how to keep this from happening, don’t worry, you won’t. When you have a biter or a baby with a strong latch, the best thing to do is to NEVER PULL! You can damage your breast this way, and 9 times out of 10, he’s still holding on when you pull away. Simply, place your clean finger at the corner of the babies mouth while gently gliding your finger between the baby’s lips and gums to the other side of the mouth; while pressing down on your breast at the same time. Sounds weird, I know but it will break the painful latch/bite every time!
2. Breastfeeding Squad!
Support is one of the most underrated reasons that women give up on the breastfeeding journey. Moms are struggling to find the balance between work and home life. After having a baby we as mothers will experience many ups and downs throughout our journey. As mothers it’s in our nature, to want someone rooting for us when we get weak or lack motivation. Which is why it is important to establish a support system, one that you can rely and depend on when the going gets tough. Most importantly, how and when to communicate to family and friends about what you wish to achieve during your breastfeeding journey.
Let’s just say husbands are extremely supportive of you breastfeeding until you start breastfeeding. A few weeks in and he starts dropping hints; you start finding milk formula in the cabinet that you know you didn’t buy. He starts passing you shots of Tequila and before you know it you have tainted breastmilk. Other times, it’s your mother-in-law, that keeps questioning you on why you decided to breastfeed like it is a crime to do so.
Spouses need love too. With a new baby it is easy to be consumed in the day-to-day tasks of caring for a little one. Many times during the breastfeeding journey it is quite common for our spouses to feel left out. Which is why it would be good, whether its helping out with a feeding, providing skin-to-skin while you sleep, or even getting the baby dressed in the morning. All of these are roles that spouses can help with to help feel apart of the journey. Moms, I get it, he’s got rough hands, the last time he cradled the baby he didn’t support her neck correctly. He may even agree with you in this area. The only way to know is through trying and working together to get the job done, so don’t limit him! Of course, be sure to thank your spouse for their support and remind them how much you value their help.
Support comes in many ways. Whether its getting help with house chores or cooking dinner for the night. So it is important to establish your breastfeeding team prior to your baby’s arrival. Discuss with your breastfeeding squad on your decision to breastfeed and what you will need assistance with to reach your goals during this journey. Some people may not understand your decision in choosing to breastfed and that’s okay. Most of the time, our support system has no idea that they are coming off as unsupportive. So be vocal about what you want and make sure you communicate with your partner and team when you feel that you are not being supported
3. My Bitch, Coffee.
Caffeine: You made it through everything else when it comes to the hefty task of breastfeeding and you may now be wondering what the dos and don’ts are to the foods and drinks that you can consume. I can tell you right now, sis, it is a waste of time. The best thing for mothers to do when breastfeeding is to, ACT LIKE YOUR PREGNANT! No really, it makes all the difference when breastfeeding. In the morning, I am cranky without my coffee. Coffee has a way of setting the tone for the day. I have always had a soft spot for Starbucks; if I could I would have it for every meal. Its just something about that venti, hot, white chocolate mocha, that just makes my day go better. Unfortunately, I had to cut back on the double shots of espresso due to the amount of caffeine in the drink. There is nothing wrong with having a cup of coffee, but please don’t go over do it with the caffeine. Could you imagine what type of baby I would be dealing with had I kept those espresso shots!
Alcohol: I don’t know what it is about pregnancy but the first objective for some mother’s is to get fucked up! Yeah, you heard me right, chocolate wasted, after birth. I get it, you spent nine months of your life not being able to consume things that you wanted and now all you want to do is let loose. Sorry sis, breastfeeding does not work like that! You are not going to be able to get chocolate wasted if you intend on breastfeeding. However, there is nothing wrong with that nightly glass of wine, as it can always be washed down with a glass of water; to those of us concerned with how drunk we got our new baby. Now moms, what I did not say is after your two days in the hospital go out and get that glass of Stella Rosa or go out and take that shot of Bacardi you so longed for. Give yourself time to get acquainted with the new bundle of joy, a new schedule, and go from there.
Simply put, if you did not consume alcohol or caffeine before the baby, there is no need to start habits that you did not previously have. The more children you have the easier this becomes. Many first-time mothers may struggle with alcohol and caffeine more than mothers that have already gone through this. As, I too was once her, I remember breastfeeding my son with the belief that after two months or so I could get chocolate wasted for the weekend. Luckily, I was informed that was not the case, breastfeeding did not work like that. So, please make sure that your are taking the proper precautions when consuming alcohol and caffeine as your milk may not be safe for consumption; you can ruin your milk supply; and engorgement hurts!
drugs drugs & more drugs
Tobacco, Herbs, Vitamins, Supplements, & Medication, are other things to consider when breastfeeding as many of these pose as a risk with impacting your breastmilk and your baby. Never be afraid to speak up to your doctor about breastfeeding as there are usually alternative options out there, should you need it. Unfortunately, much like pregnancy, when breastfeeding there are not many safe options that can be substituted in place of certain herbs, medications, vitamins, etc; due to the impacts it may have on the baby. As always, using tobacco is never safe for you or baby, and it comes with a great deal of side effects. If you do not trust it, then do not consume it until you have verified that it is safe for consumption. So choose wisely, most importantly, research and ask! Though the internet is at our fingertips; it may not always be the best at getting the results we are looking for in this area.
4. Let’s face it, It’s Time-Consuming!
Breastfeeding is great, but sometimes it can be hectic! Especially when you are trying to do laundry; while dealing with a one-year-old that likes to get into everything when you decide to conduct one of your feedings. Or, when you have a doctor’s appointment in thirty-minutes; a doo-doo diaper to change, and a baby to feed because you did not think he was going to wake up before you left. In my life right now, this happens quite often, so make sure to prioritize and include that what-if scenario. Before the baby arrives, it would be good to develop your breastfeeding plan regarding feedings. You will need to decide the following: How long will you breastfeed for? Will you exclusively breastfeed? Or breastfeed and supplement with formula? Will you follow a strict schedule when breastfeeding, or have an open schedule? Will you need milk, for going back to work? Will you need to communicate with your job about your breastfeeding plan? When will you pump? How will milk be administered, breast or bottle? Whatever you decide is your choice, however, once decided, you should begin planning your routine and schedule before the baby’s arrival as it is quite beneficial!
5. The Truth about Low Milk Supply
At some point during the breastfeeding journey, you may experience low milk supply or have the belief that you are not expressing enough milk. Do not fret! Your milk is still there! Whatever you do, continue to breastfeed! I stopped breastfeeding one of my children because of this. I wish I hadn’t! There are many misconceptions about low milk supply. However, unless your baby is showing signs of poor weight gain, an insufficient amount of wet/dirty diapers, or indicators of dehydration then your baby is getting adequate milk. As mothers, we find ourselves wanting to have heaps of breastmilk, but it takes a lot of work to achieve. Plus, many moms begin pumping immediately after birth and stay consistent to get there. Here are a few common causes for low milk supply:
- Mom is not emptying breast enough. Remember to always breastfeed or pump every 2-3 hours. A typical feeding on each breast takes about 15-20 minutes at a newborn level and about 5-10 minutes on each breast when babies get older; if you are double pumping be sure to pump for at least 15-30 minutes (times may vary, depending on mother).
- Mother may not be using the correct nipple flange size when breast pumping; on average mothers use sizes 24mm – 27mm.
- Mom may not be consuming the required additional calories while breastfeeding. Bottom line, baby eats what you eat. If you are not eating, the baby is having a difficult time eating. As a reminder, mothers should add at least 500 additional calories to diet.
- The average person is dehydrated, so stay hydrated. Moms should be drinking at least 12 glasses of water a day.
- Lastly, women with thyroids, diabetes, and hormonal disorders may experience difficulty in producing milk. Though, that may not always be the case. If your milk supply is impacted be sure to reach out to a certified lactation specialist.
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Every mother’s breastfeeding journey is different, you may experience all or none of these problems when breastfeeding. If you do, always remember that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. There are many free resources at our fingertips, so never be afraid to seek it. If you are thinking about breastfeeding, great! It is one of the best decisions you can make as a mother for your child. Breastfeeding can be hard work, but nothing you can not overcome! With a little patience, time, and support you can achieve any of your breastfeeding goals.
For a list of my Breastfeeding Essentials click here to help get you started on your journey.