This post is a guest post by Maranda Bower. She is sharing the top 10 ways to make breastfeeding a success! This is definitely something I wish I had read when I had my first baby.
Much like natural childbirth, breastfeeding can be an empowering and enlightening experience. As childbirth is the birth of a new mama and baby, feeding our baby is the beginning of a healthy parenting relationship.
And if you’re like me, you probably hold this gorgeous picturesque image in your head of a blissed out baby at the breast of a smiling and glowing mama. 24 hours into your own breastfeeding journey, you learn really fast how fanciful that image is! We have this expectation that breastfeeding will be “easy”. That because it’s a natural part of life, that it will come without challenges. Or that, in the very least, it will be something we as mamas can master quickly.
However, this isn’t every mama’s experience. Some walk away without a challenge in sight, which is exactly how my third baby is. But as a doula and childbirth educator whose passion lies in the postpartum period, I saw how rare those “perfect” breastfeeding stories were. And it became my personal mission to learn why we struggle with the innate ability to nourish our babies.
It turns out that however innate breastfeeding may seem, it isn’t exactly that intuitive. Although a baby instinctively knows how to suckle from the breast, breastfeeding a baby is a learned skill.
We see this fairly often with captive and isolated mama primates. Those who were born and raised in captivity without the privilege of seeing other mamas nurse, don’t know how to do so. In the case of Maki at the North Carolina Zoo, it wasn’t until an army of local Le Leche League mamas stood in front of Maki’s home to show her how they breastfed that she finally realized that she should put her baby to breast for nourishment.
And this all makes plenty of sense if you think about the history (or HERstory) of women. Before industrialization and the evolution of our medicalized (male-created) culture, women served each other as healers, midwives, and doulas. Women had a “village” to help raise children. But when our ways of life shifted, we became more isolated. We had to raise our children by our lonesome and figure out the whole mama thing by ourselves. It’s no wonder formula took off in the 50’s, which is also the same time La Leche League was created.
Breastfeeding is a social skill, learned from the mamas who surround us.
We see how it’s done, and more importantly, hear the stories of commitment, love, pain, guilt, and joy. We hear the challenges (they’re aren’t such a surprise!) and we have the knowledge gained from those shared experiences to shift our own. And we have a team of mamas to help us during the most vulnerable time in our life; the postpartum period.
After nearly a decade of supporting women in childbirth and postpartum care, it all made perfect sense. Seeing breastfeeding and hearing the stories of breastfeeding are what makes the difference.
And when I started collecting breastfeeding stories from mamas all over the world for Supported in Breastfeeding: Stories of Nourishing Wisdom, it became even more evident in the power of stories. Women THRIVE on stories. Hearing mamas share their tales of heartbreak, truth, and bliss are the keystones to successful breastfeeding. And after the book became published, it hit home for many mothers, and their words only solidified my theory.
“Maranda has created an amazing resource that belongs on every shelf next to Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding and The Nursing Mother’s Companion. From evidence-based educational information to emotional tales of joy and struggles, “Supported in Breastfeeding: Stories of Nourishing Wisdom” covers every facet of the highs and lows of breastfeeding. I was in tears before I had finished the introduction and closed the book with a profound respect and deeper understanding of both breastfeeding and the needs of breastfeeding women.
But clearly, getting back to the village way of life isn’t so simple nowadays and planting yourself next to a breastfeeding mama at the local market may be a bit awkward. So what do you do to help make sure breastfeeding becomes a success?
Here’s a quick guide to making breastfeeding a success.
You can also download The Essential Breastfeeding Guide here. A special FREE 12-page PDF download for The Pistachio Project readers (eek!! The excitement, I know!).
Top 10 Ways to Make Breastfeeding a Success
1. Take a Breastfeeding Class.
Milk ducts, hind milk, and a proper latch; these are but a tiny sample of the many things we can learn regarding breastfeeding. Although breastfeeding is a natural part of parenting, it isn’t something most of us are familiar with. To help curb the amount of hands-on learning when your baby is born, take a local class to get some training in advance. It could make a world of difference in your early days of feeding your baby.
2. Find a Lactation Consultant.
Just as you have done in finding the right provider to help you birth your baby, take some time to find a lactation consultant that you connect with. Lactation consultants help mothers in all stages of breastfeeding, whether answering simple questions by phone or meeting in person to address any concerns, they are a wealth of knowledge. If you find you need one, locating a consultant in advance helps reduce any additional stress.
3. Go to Le Leche League Meetings.
This is an amazing group that brings breastfeeding and soon-to-be breastfeeding mothers together. LLL Leaders are always present and trained to provide support where needed. This is a fun time to get to know others, share stories, and connect with women who are going through similar experiences. Here, you’ll see you are never alone.
4. Nurse Immediately After Birth.
Although not always possible in certain medical situations, immediate skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby, along with latching within the first hour helps create a stronger breastfeeding relationship. Studies show that babies who are placed on their mother’s abdomen immediately after birth and encouraged to breastfeed, are more efficient in their latch. This is also a time when baby is in the quite alert state, which is the most attentive time for baby to practice their innate wisdom of how to eat from the breast.
5. Get Dad Involved.
Partners in the postpartum experience are crucial support anchors for continuing breastfeeding. And sometimes they feel a bit left out of the beautiful bond you share with feeding your baby. Give your partner the chance to get involved by including him in classes and any appointments with a lactation consultant. Show him what you’re doing as you breastfeed and talk to him about your experiences as they happen. And feel free to pass you baby to him for a good burp and diaper change after you’re done. Dads need bonding time too.
6. Ask For Help.
Through the beauty of breastfeeding and parenting a newborn, there may be times when you need some help. Whether it’s receiving a few meals, running a few of your errands, or holding your baby while you shower or sleep, receiving help can make a significant difference in how quickly you heal postpartum, as well as reduce any stress or frustration, both of which make breastfeeding that much easier. If you don’t have a nearby friend or family member that can offer their time for a short while, look into hiring a postpartum doula. They are simply one of the best small investments a mother could make.
7. Stay Skin-to-Skin.
Your milk supply is greatly affected by your baby’s needs. Your breasts have the ability to sense what nutrients your baby requires in their milk, how much your baby needs, and even adjust themselves to the correct temperature to keep your baby warm. Staying skin-to-skin for the first two weeks (or as long as possible) will help your milk come in and reduce your chances of getting engorged in the early weeks following the birth. Staying skin-to-skin also allows for ample bonding time and supports the learning process of latching correctly.
8. Feed on Demand.
As you probably know, babies aren’t run on clocks. Their stomachs, about the size of a cherry at birth, require constant filling (especially as their digestive system figures out the inner workings of processing food). If your baby is showing signs of hunger, even minutes after being fed, then feed again. Waiting
too long to feed your newborn can interrupt your milk supply and cause harm to your growing baby. Sometimes you’ll feel like the only thing you’re doing is breastfeeding. That’s okay! And it’s quite normal. Feed your baby as often as your baby demands.
9. Avoid Bottles and Pacifiers for the First Several Weeks.
When babies breastfeed, they have to work their muscles and jaw, all while practicing several reflexes at once. In other words, breastfeeding is work. If you offer a bottle in the early stages, a baby can begin to prefer it over the breast as it’s much easier for them. In turn, this makes breastfeeding very challenging. Providing baby a bottle can also negatively affect your milk supply, as do pacifiers. In the first several weeks, a newborn’s comfort comes from the breast. If a pacifier is introduced, feeding cues can be missed, milk supply can decrease, clogged ducts can happen, and so on. Both bottle and pacifiers may also cause what’s known as “nipple confusion,” making latching on to the breast difficult and challenging.
10. Rest Your Body.
Giving birth is hard work. Healing, adjusting to motherhood, learning and adapting to breastfeeding, all take time and require rest. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation with a newborn is a real concern. Getting the sleep you need through multiple naps and sleeping when your baby sleeps is critical to healing and recovery. Proper rest may look different now but sleep is crucial to staying away from breastfeeding illnesses such as mastitis and keeping your supply healthily flowing.
Maranda Bower is a birth + postpartum educator and creator of SerenityGrows.com, a place dedicated to educating, connecting, and reviving the hearts of postpartum women. She has supported hundreds of mothers and mothers-to-be navigate the uncertainty of birth, breastfeeding, and the postpartum period. She lives on her beautiful 20 acres just north of Palmer, Alaska with her husband and four children.