Nursing your baby is no easy feat. Luckily, I have rounded up the best lactation tips you'll ever need, from the experts who've figured out the smartest tricks, shortcuts, and solutions.
Nursing may be natural, but it's also downright difficult. While 83.9 percent of parents chest-feed soon after birth, only 56.7 percent are still nursing six months later, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's a surprisingly low number considering that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive chest-feeding for about six months. The benefits of chest-feeding range from prevention of childhood obesity to decreased risk of infection, SIDS, and allergies.
If you decide to give chest-feeding a try, rest assured that with a little bit of patience, some smart planning, and a firm resolution, you have an increased chance of success. Read on for some simple, proven tips to help you make it through those early days.
Pre-Baby Chest-feeding Prep
Line up help. International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, or IBCLCs, have had the most intensive training on chest-feeding. Consider meeting with a lactation consultant or another nursing expert such as a Certified Breast/Chest-feeding Counselor before you have the baby. They can share tips that will help in the beginning, and you'll know whom to call if you have a problem.
Tell the hospital what you want. Ask to keep your baby in the room with you at all times if possible. Rooming in will help you bond with your baby, learn feeding cues, and better establish chest-feeding, especially "on-demand".
Create a space for chest-feeding. Before baby arrives, create a "nursing station"— an area with a comfortable chair, a breastfeeding pillow, and a side table for snacks, water, nursing pads, burp cloths, diapers/wipes, your phone and a long phone charger, and a good book. You'll spend a lot of time there! This is also a great option for those who will be pumping.
Nursing station setups to consider.
See the real thing. First hand visualizations can be a wonderful way to learn. If you have a friend who's nursing, ask if you can observe. Not in a creepy lurking way, but for tips and suggestions from someone who has personal experience. If not, attend a La Leche League meeting or another chest-feeding support group where you can see lactating parents feeding their babies.
Lactation Tips for the Hospital
Try to nurse within the first hour after delivery. As a Birth Doula, I help my clients try to latch as soon as baby is born and placed on their chest. Two hours later, many babies will be hard to rouse. It may seem like you're producing very little at first – maybe just a few drops of colostrum – but a 1- or 2-day-old baby's stomach is only the size of a marble.
Don't wait to get help. If the nurse in the hospital says your latch 'looks great' but it still hurts, call a lactation expert (IBCLC or Certified Breast-Chest Feeding Counselor). If your doctor says your baby is not gaining enough weight, call. If your nipple is injured, call. If your gut says something isn't right, speak up. You can save yourself weeks and weeks of pain and trouble.
Enlist Your Partner/Family. If possible, your partner should be there when you meet with the lactation consultant, both in the hospital and afterward. Partners can be good problem-solvers, and you may find yourself feeling so overwhelmed and sleep-deprived that it will be hard for you to process information.
Focus on those little feet. Babies always seem to nurse better when their feet are touching something, like your leg, the arm of the chair, or a pillow tucked next to you. It makes them feel more secure.
Avoid formula at first. Even if you're not sure how long you'll be nursing, go all in while you're in the hospital. Any formula that's not medically necessary can affect your milk supply.
How to Get a Deep Latch
Don't push the back of your baby's head. That triggers baby's instinct to resist and chomp down. Instead, put your hands at the nape of your baby's neck, and bring him swiftly to your chest. Don't bring your chest to baby.
Position yourselves nose to nipple, belly to belly. Make sure that your baby's stomach is touching yours, so baby doesn't have to turn their head to latch. And point your nipple at baby's nose, not at the mouth, so baby will lift their head up, open their mouth wide, and latch on deeply.
Encourage a mouthful. If you're chest-feeding sitting upright, bring your baby to your mammary gland/breast once baby's mouth is completely open. Press between baby's shoulders firmly at the nap of the neck to bring baby to you, while you support your mammary gland/breast. Your nipple will fill the roof of baby's mouth. If it still hurts after the first few sucks, de-latch and reposition.
Nursing in the First Few Weeks
Avoid pacifiers at first. The AAP recommends delaying the pacifier for the first month because it can suppress hunger cues and steal time from nursing during a critical period. After that, offering a pacifier shouldn't hurt.
Don't count minutes. You can leave your baby nursing on the first side until they come off on their own and then offer the second side. It's typical for some babies to take one side at some feedings and both breasts at some.
Try a nursing stool. It can help give you more of a lap, especially if you're short, and it takes the pressure off if you've had an episiotomy. When I watch a mother use one, I can see right away on her face how much more comfortable she is.
Lie on your side. It lets you rest your shoulders and lower back if you tend to hunch over, and it's good for parents who've had a C-section, who have carpal tunnel syndrome, or who are just exhausted. Put a pillow between your knees and your arm under your head, and bring the baby in facing you. Have someone help you at first.
Don't buy a whole nursing wardrobe. It can be easier to just lift up your shirt. If you wear a blouse over a camisole, you'll have a lot of coverage.
Lose the snooze. If your infant keeps falling asleep while nursing, try tickling the bottom of their feet, stroking under the chin, or touching them with a wet washcloth.
Pay attention to your diet. You'll need even more calories when breastfeeding than while pregnant— about 300 more per day than in the last trimester, even more if you're exercising or have multiples. But don't go overboard; three well-balanced meals a day plus healthful snacks should cover it.
Offer the first bottle at 4 to 6 weeks. If you wait until 8 weeks, you risk bottle refusal. Have someone other than you give the first one – and leave the room or get out of the house so you're not tempted to help out.
Step Up Your Milk Supply
Look at your baby, not at the scale. I've seen so many moms whose baby looks healthy, nurses well, and meets milestones, but they've lost confidence in breastfeeding because their doctor told them that their baby's weight was not on the charts. If you received a lot of IV fluids during labor, your baby could be artificially 'heavier' at birth. If he has low weight gain, but he's smiling, his linear growth and head circumference (Boys / Girls) and neurological development are notably okay, I'd get a second opinion before giving formula.
Try a stronger pump. Some hands-free pumps and the ones covered through insurance aren't as powerful as you need when you're establishing your milk supply, so you may want to rent a hospital-grade one, at least at first.
Returning to Work While Nursing
Ease in. Consider starting back on a Thursday rather than a Monday, so you have only two days away from your baby at first. You can also go on date night a few times before returning to work to test it out.
Feed the baby, not the freezer. You don't need to pump like a maniac on your maternity leave. You may end up with clogged ducts, mastitis, letdown that's too fast, and exhaustion. You need only a small reserve.
Understand how much milk babies actually drink. Unlike those on formula, human milk-fed babies need the same amount of milk per day when they're 6 months old as they did when they were 1 month old. Really! By about 1 month, a baby has established how much milk they'll need and you don't have to keep increasing how much they eat as they grow. But a lot of nursing parents (and docs) are still applying formula rules to human milk-fed babies. So remember: If you'll be pumping for the next day's feedings when you go back to work, all you really have to do is maintain your current supply.
Pump Up Your Pumping
Get in the mood. To help encourage letdown, download a galactogogue - a relaxation recording designed to stimulate milk production. Search 'podcasts for breastfeeding' on iTunes for a free one.
Make cleaning a breeze. Parents may be glad to know that as long as your baby is healthy, you really don't have to clean your pump parts every time you've finished pumping. You can simply put all the parts in a plastic bag, store them in a fridge or a cooler, and pull them out to use again a few hours later.
Get the right fit. A lot of nursing parents don't realize that pump flanges come in different sizes. If the standard shields that come with your pump are too tight or too big, you won't pump as much milk and you could even cause damage. A lactation consultant or breast/chest-feeding counselor can help you choose the right ones.
Make your own DIY hands-free bra. You don't have to spend a fortune on a fancy bra designed for pumping. Instead, buy a sports bra that's snug, cut little slits in it across the nipples, and stick the breast shields in there.
Fixing Common Nursing Problems
Heal damaged nipples. Use water-based hydrogel pads or apply enough purified lanolin to keep nipples moist between feedings.
Prevent blocked ducts. Avoid anything that puts pressure on part of your breasts. That includes baby carriers, diaper-bag straps, and even sleeping on the same side every night.
The Tools Every Nursing Parent Needs
Nursing pillow. Unlike other pillows, it wraps around your body and helps with positioning bringing baby to your chest and not your chest to baby. It can also relieve stress on your back, neck, and shoulders.
Sore-nipple soother. Lanolin-based creams are a proven remedy, but some consultants prefer organic coconut oil or Motherlove nipple cream, which are not animal products. (Lanolin comes from sheep. Either can occasionally cause an allergic reaction in a sensitive parent.) All are considered safe for babies. Water-based hydrogels can also promote healing. But your nipples won't heal unless you first solve any underlying latch problems.
Milk collector. Some nursing parents will experience leaking milk. Using a reusable-washable cloth nursing pad is wonderful to have to keep your clothing from being soiled with milk. However, you may want to collect the milk and store it in the freezer in milk bags. Using reusable milk collectors are wonderful for this.