Breastfeeding for the first time is an adventure! On the one hand, new moms hear that breastfeeding is “the most natural thing in the world” and that it’s the best way to give their child the nutrition it needs to thrive. On the other hand, for first-time mothers, breastfeeding can feel more like a skill than an instinct. They may even worry about whether they are “doing it right” or whether their experience is “normal.” So, with so many opinions out there, where should new mothers turn for help?
One option is to rely on reputable sources of information, like our own Medela Breastfeeding Asia blog is a great place to start. Our goal for the blog is to demystify the breastfeeding experience and give new moms the information they need to have a positive time breastfeeding.
Another option is to talk with women who already have breastfeeding experience. Fortunately, at Medela, we hear from hundreds of mothers. So, to save you a little time, let’s look at some of their advice. Here are 10 things that breastfeeding moms wish they had known the first time around.
There Is More than One Position to Breastfeed
Magazines have a tendency to show breastfeeding moms holding their babies sideways, against their chests. The truth is that this is not the only way to breastfeed. Far from it! Many women are surprised to discover that their baby prefers a different position. Others find that their breasts feel better when their child nurses from a certain angle.
Every baby and mom pair is different, so, be prepared to learn together. There are no “rules” when it comes to finding a position that works for you. It’s perfectly normal to breastfeed while lying down, with or without a pillow. To help you on your breastfeeding journey, we have prepared an article explaining some of the common types of breastfeeding positions. Just like many other activities, breastfeeding takes practice, but, once you get the hang of it, you will find it a wonderful exchange between you and your child.
It is OK to Ask for Help
Many women say that they wish they had asked for help with breastfeeding earlier. It’s important to remember that you are not alone! If something doesn’t feel right, or if you have concerns about your breastfeeding experience, speak with a healthcare professional, like a lactation consultant, right away. Lactation consultants are certified professionals who specialise in helping women to have a successful experience breastfeeding.
Your doctor or midwife can also be a valuable source of information. Just remember that, even if you are experiencing challenges, it’s not your fault. More often than not, breastfeeding challenges are caused by the baby and not the mother’s supply of milk or breastfeeding technique.
There are Ways to Deal with Overactive Milk Supply
Breastfeeding moms who produce too much milk often assume that there is nothing that they can do about it. Or, they may even believe that “more is better.” After all, isn’t it a good thing to produce a lot of milk? The truth is that producing too much milk can actually cause problems for new moms. If you have an overactive milk supply, you may be at risk for painfully engorged breasts, plugged ducts or mastitis. At the beginning of the breastfeeding period, the body knows that the baby is born but not the appetite of the baby. So most mothers at the beginning have a slight overproduction of breastmilk. Over time the milk production will be adjusted to the baby’s need. If a mother still has huge overproduction after two months, she should consult a health professional.
Invest in a Good Quality Breast Pump
If you are going to use a breast pump as a part of your breast milk feeding routine, keep in mind that it will need to last a long time. Depending on the number of children you have and your schedule, you may need your breast pump to last two years or more! As a result, many breastfeeding moms look back and think, “I wish I would have gotten a better breast pump.”
Take the time to choose a breast pump that matches your lifestyle and individual needs. For example, if you are going back to work, you may want to get a pump that is portable and as quiet as possible. If you are going to be pumping a lot, you may want to consider a double pump. If travel is a big part of your life, you will almost certainly want a light unit to take with you.
Getting the right breast pump does more than making it easy to maintain your milk supply. It also makes it easier for your partner to get involved in feedings. It may even help you to continue to travel, while you are breastfeeding. For more information, check out this guide to choosing the right breast pump.
Breastfeeding Can Be a Bit Uncomfortable at First
Some women are surprised to find out that breastfeeding is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, breastfeeding can be a bit uncomfortable, until you get used to it. Many women say that they wished they had known to expect an adjustment period, while their nipples got used to being suckled on by their baby – sometimes quite aggressively!
If you know what you expect, you’ll have an easier time overcoming the initial discomfort and helping your baby achieve a strong latch-on to the nipple. The good news is that your body will naturally adjust to breastfeeding within 2-3 weeks.
In the meantime, one way to deal with early breastfeeding discomfort is to use Medela Purelan lanolin after every feeding. This is a hypoallergenic, anti-inflammatory, moisturizer that helps to soothe and heal your nipples after breastfeeding. It's also safe for babies, so you don't have to worry about washing it off before your next breast pumping or feeding session.
If you are still feeling pain or experiencing sore nipples after the first 2-3 weeks, talk to a lactation consultant or your doctor. They might advise you to switch to breast pumping instead of nursing for a while to give your nipples time to heal.
Breastfeeding Can Be Hard Work
In the early stages of life, babies want to feed regularly and don’t have a lot of respect for our need to sleep. This means that breastfeeding can feel like a 24/7 job, with a wide range of feeding times and durations. Research has shown that individual breastfed babies can feed between 4 and 13 times per day, with feeding sessions ranging from 12 to 67 minutes. Many women are totally surprised at their baby’s hunger for breastmilk.
To Not Allow “Let-Down” Get You Down
One side effect of breastfeeding is “let-down” – a sudden powerful reflex that releases breastmilk. This important reflex helps you to feed your baby, but it can also cause your breasts to leak, sometimes at inopportune times.
The best way to deal with breast leakage is to use breast pads. Worn under your clothes, breast pads can protect your clothes from being damaged by breast milk and will help keep them from developing a sour milk odour over time. Just remember to change them after each feeding or pumping session since this will also help keep your breasts healthy. Also, don’t be surprised if you experience uncontrolled let-down when you hear another baby crying or even when you think about your child. This is a normal part of the process.
You May Feel Hungry All the Time
Many women are surprised by how hungry they feel during breastfeeding. Actually, perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, since breast milk production consumes about 500 calories per day. To soothe your hunger pangs, take a snack and drink (in a thermos or enclosed mug) to bed with you. This will give you something to nibble while you are giving a night feeding. It’s also important to establish a healthy diet while breastfeeding. Use this opportunity to get stronger while your body is giving you a natural calorie-burning boost.
Breastfeeding Should Be Fun
People like to talk about the “challenges of breastfeeding” so much that it’s easy to forget that breastfeeding should be fun! In fact, many women wish that they had known earlier that breastfeeding can be such a pleasant experience, once you get used to it. Don’t feel like breastfeeding has to put limits on your life. Get out of the house now and again to enjoy nature and meet up with friends to renew and energize yourself. And while you breastfeed you can also stay engaged with the outside world and be productive. Once they get used to breastfeeding, many moms find that it’s easy to send e-mail, check Facebook, read books, write, do crafts, talk on the phone, listen to music, sing or even dance with their baby! The bottom line is that you can still have a fun, active, full life as a breastfeeding mom.
Your Baby Knows Best
Babies may not be able to do much at the beginning of their lives, but, they instinctually know a lot about breastfeeding. After all, this is what babies have been doing for millions of years and they’re pretty good at it! Many mothers are surprised that babies have a “breastfeeding instinct” where they innately know how to find the mother’s nipple and take their first feeding of breast milk. Follow your baby’s lead. Even if it seems like your baby is nursing “too much” or “not enough,” the chances are, your baby is getting exactly what they need to grow healthy and strong.
Are you breastfeeding for the first time? What has your experience been like so far? Have you already breastfed one child and are now on your second? What advice would you give to the other members of our community? Please add your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on the Medela Facebook page.