Having Trouble Nursing Your Baby? 9 Tips for Moms who breastfeed. By Athena Gabriella G of Hija Del Sol Birth Services
When most people talk about breastfeeding, you often hear the usual spiel about it being the ‘most natural thing’ or ‘the way nature intended.’ As true as that may be, what you don’t always hear is: just because it's ‘the way Nature intended,’ doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the easiest way to do it or that complications won’t arise. Let’s be honest- at some point in the breastfeeding journey, we all have a very real ‘WTF’ moment... As a mother and a Community Birth Doula, I can tell you, whoever you are, that it’s worth it, but it can be work.
Breast milk provides all the nutrition your baby (or babies) need for sound development as they grow. Not only that, but breastmilk is easier to digest than alternatives, affordable, encourages earnest bonding, and is linked with significantly lower levels of infant illness and chronic conditions (like SIDS, diabetes, and/or allergies). The coolest part (especially for a Biology dweeb such as myself) about breastmilk is that this nectar is a living substance that modifies itself according to your baby’s needs. What’s it made of? Water, fats, carbs, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antibodies (that protect baby from disease).
With my work as a Community Birth Doula the last three years, I’ve dedicated much of my platform, studies, and work to all things related to maternal health. Although, I can’t speak for perinatal professionals everywhere, much of my work has led me to suspect lack of education at the root of some of the health disparities we see. I’ve had clients I’ve supported through pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum (for lactation support as well). I’ve come across many different hiccups but one thing is for sure: a fed baby is best.
Below are 9 tips to consider if you are about to begin a breastfeeding (or chestfeeding) journey, have been dealing with your fair share of nursing trials and tribulations, feel like you may be experiencing anxiety at the thought of nursing your babe(s), or simply want to educate yourself on the matter.
● Get a healthy balance of book advice and advice from experienced nursing moms
As you may know, it's helpful to find time during your pregnancy to educate yourself to further your understanding of what your experience breastfeeding (or chestfeeding) may be like. Asking for book suggestions from your healthcare provider or a perinatal professional could be a great way to find evidence based research to ensure a healthy breastfeeding relationship. Similarly, being open to suggestions from experienced nursing moms can shed some light on an issue in a way a book, blog or online article couldn’t. Most advice stems from a genuine place of wanting to help so try not to let suggestions offend you so try to blend the book knowledge you find with real world experience .
● Find you and baby’s most comfortable breastfeeding positions
The more comfortable you are while breastfeeding, the better it is for you and baby. Whether you are feeding one baby or tandem nursing, a release of oxytocin (the ‘love hormone’) encourages bonding and can help relax you (if done comfortably and properly).
While every nursing mom and babe(s) will find the positions that lend best to their comfort, some of the go-to nursing positions are referred to as: the cross-cradle hold, cradle hold, football hold, and side-lying hold.
The cross-cradle hold looks like the baby across your lap, one hand behind the babe’s head while the neck rests between thumb and index finger and the palm of your hand is rest between shoulders or upper back. Be sure to use pillows to raise baby to nipple level or support your elbows and arms. Side-lying hold is a great position for relaxed feeding as you and the babe face each other on your sides. The baby is at nipple (chest) level and you cradle baby with back pressed against your forearm. Another “go-to,” The Football hold can be good for nursing one or two babes at the same time. By supporting the baby’s head in your palm and back along the inside of your arm, you can maneuver the baby to be facing your nipple. The baby’s lower body and feet are tucked under your arm and your arm may be stacked on a pillow or two for support. If you have multiple babies, place one baby on each side and follow those guidelines.
● Learn your baby’s cues, strengths and weaknesses
Every babe is a bit different which is why learning the meaning behind the cries, moans, sighs, and nonverbal cues are crucial to avoiding unnecessary stress. I’m not saying “don’t stress,” I’m saying stress only what matters to you. While some cries mean different things, try to remember that it is simply a means of communication. Balled up fists have been generally attributed to a sign that most babies are still hungry and unsatisfied. Once they release their fist and reveal an open palm after a feeding, this is generally a nonverbal cue that lets the parent(s) know that baby is satisfied and relaxed. Ask yourself: What are my baby’s strengths? Weaknesses? Identifying these will allow you to figure out viable solutions so you can make sure your baby continues to gain weight and thrives.
● Don’t let physical conditions or afflictions stop your breastfeeding journey
Struggling with soreness, tenderness, raw skin, painful, and/or bleeding nipples or areolas are not supposed to be a normal part of feeding your child. Though these do happen, figuring out how serious the issue is and then how to stop it from being a major factor in ending the nursing journey is important. Keep nipples moisturized with products safe for human consumption (coconut oil or a safe nipple balm) or by rubbing your breast-milk onto and around the nipple as much as possible. Clogged ducts can be extremely painful if left to harden and lead to even more painful engorgement. Massage the breasts firmly to begin to break up the “rock hard” lumps you may feel as soon as you feel them emerge; Emptying the breasts constantly by hand expressing or latching the baby on to eat can help appease this issue. Another painful occurrence: Mastitis- which is the inflammation of the mammary glands is generally caused by a bacterial infection and may be at the root of symptoms like tenderness, swelling, body aches, (persistent) fever, chills, pus, and a few other uncomfortable ailments. Speak with a healthcare provider to assist with getting rid of the infection and reach out to an experienced lactation consultant, doula, midwife, or perinatal professional for more assistance.
● Making ‘you’ time yours- learning to disconnect to create a healthier relationship
The connotation of the terms, “new mom” and “experienced mom” tend to insinuate the existence of a (mom-based) fictitious spectrum that dictates some range of incompetence to proficiency. There’s no earning a “proficiency” in motherhood. Setting time aside for you is okay and even encouraged! Self-care is just as much of a part of a healthy breastfeeding (or cheestfeeding) relationship as anything else. Your mental, emotional and spiritual health really do affect your physical well being and your child can benefit from a happy you. Nursing all day every day can sometimes make you feel a bit too ‘attached’ to your little one and as comforting as that is- it can get a bit overwhelming. Make it a priority to do one thing daily just for you... Maybe a luxurious hair wash, shower alone, face mask, ten minutes for writing or journaling, a few minutes to read a book, a call to a friend or family member, or working on a project. Self-care saves lives.
● The more you milk em, the more milk you’ll get
Don’t assume that waiting longer will mean that your body will make more milk... The more you stimulate the breasts, the more milk you’ll be “telling” it to make to satisfy baby’s needs. According to The Medela Breastfeeding Guide, “Your breast milk is produced on a supply and demand basis. How often and how much milk is removed from the breast are the main factors that determine how much milk will be made. In other words, the more often the milk is removed from the breasts (by baby or breast pump), the more milk the breasts will produce.”
● Pumping moms are still nursing moms
If complications should arise, always remember that as important as it is to feed and connect with your baby, getting baby fed is what matters. Carry a manual or electric pump with you for emergencies or keep one close by so that you can pump a “rainy day” supply for matters that require time. Some issues cannot be fixed immediately, so build an emergency supply when things are going well. Just so you know- finding a pumping bra will COMPLETELY CHANGE THE PUMPING GAME. A simple Google search for a "pumping bra" will pull up available options... I, myself, fell in love with my Lansinoh pumping bra when I was a daily pumper. Trust me... Give it a try before you give up!
● Mastering the latch
The way your baby latches can make all the difference in the ability to effectively feed. I sometimes come across moms concerned and anxious because of the comments the pediatrician has made in reference to lack of ideal weight gain in the baby even though the baby is gaining weight. The pediatricians don’t really take the time to look at the baby’s latch unfortunately. According to Dr Ghaheri’s blog, a Doctor who practices in Portland, doctors aren’t taught how to ‘examine a baby who is having breastfeeding problems’ even though, their “first year of medical school includes proper examination technique.” Dr Ghaheri acknowledges “intraoral restrictions” that can influence your nursing relationship... What does that mean? Well, ankyloglossia or ‘tongue tie” as well as “lip tie” are restrictions caused by tight + restricted fold or ridges of tissue that support beneath the tongue, or between the lip and the gums. This restricted skin in the mouth prevents baby from latching properly. Finding a specialist to identify if your baby is suffering from tongue tie or lip tie can be a great step in determining next steps.
● Eat well, eat enough (and then a little more), and keep yourself hydrated
Nursing demands you be accountable for nourishing yourself properly or else you’ll feel ill while feeding or during regular parts of your day. Did you know that you burn calories just from feeding your baby? Makbib Diro, M.D., associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine s ays, breastfeeding “can burn 300-500 calories a day.” With this in mind, it’s recommended that while nursing, you consume an additional amount of food to compensate for what you’ve burned. Great things to add in to your daily diet: a gallon of water a day (spruce it up with fruits and herbs to make it fun to drink or use the gallon towards drinking lactation teas), coconut water, oatmeal (and grains), leafy greens, beans, nuts (almonds), fennel, fenugreek seed, yogurt, apricots, papaya, nuts, salmon, and avocado. Seek a dietician or nutritionist for competent dietary support and assistance with building a sustainable meal plan to nourish you and baby. The right diet can increase your milk supply... Think about that when you wonder if any of this is “worth it.”
All in all, this article is nowhere close to the amount of information available on nursing your babe(s). I hope this article is just a step in the right direction as you take on this journey for the first time or find yourself returning as your tribe grows.
Stay tuned for more blogs as I am completely inspired to start writing on a number of topics and want to really connect with other parents out there.