While breastfeeding is one of the most natural things a mom can do for her child, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or even intuitive. Whether you’re figuring out how to hold your infant, what her cries mean, or why he doesn’t seem to latch, nursing can feel completely overwhelming, especially when you’re running on just a few hours of sleep.
To help you out, we’ve compiled our 10 favorite tips to help you on your breastfeeding journey.
1. The Right Latch Is Key
Habits form fast so it’s VITAL to get the latch right at the beginning. During your recovery time at the hospital or birth center, ask for a lactation consultant or nurse to check your latch whenever you nurse.
La Leche League gives wonderful tips on what a good latch looks like:
- Your baby’s nose is nearly touching your breast
- His lips are flanged outward in a kissy face
- Her mouth is positioned over the nipple, covering half an inch of the lower breast
You’ll see your baby’s jaw working all the way back to the ear. The temples will wiggle and you may hear a swallowing sound. Stabbing pain is NOT normal.
Gently place your finger in the baby’s mouth to break the suction and try again. You’ll be tempted to just grin and bear it–anything to get a fussy baby eating–but trust me, you’ll both be happier if you insist upon proper form from the beginning.
2. Ask for Help
Lining up the right help from day one will help you build the confidence you need to weather high or low milk supply, fast or slow letdown, latching difficulty, tenderness, or clogged milk ducts.
Let your partner help; sometimes it takes more than two hands to get everyone and everything into place.
Many women leave the hospital before their milk has come in, so it is very important to know where you can get help after you have left the hospital.
Your pediatrician, obstetrician, or hospital may have breastfeeding support groups for new moms. Some baby boutiques host events or breastfeeding support groups. La Leche League can put you in touch with experienced mom leaders who can help.
You can also seek the help of a lactation consultant; the cost may even be covered by your insurance. A Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) can come to your home, and help you position yourself for good latch whether in your rocking chair, on your sofa, or in your bed. She can also let you know if you should seek assistance from an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who can identify tongue and lip ties or other issues.
3. Try Different Positions
Lactation consultants have plenty of advice, but the best may very well be “make sure YOU are comfortable.” If you're hunched over while nursing, you may end up with an aching neck and back, which will make it harder for you to have a successful breastfeeding session.
Most first-time moms are familiar with cross-cradle and football holds, but if these aren’t comfortable for you, try something different until you find what works. Side-lying can be delightful as it will allow you to nurse and rest in bed at the same time.
If you need a little extra support, try a nursing pillow like My Brest Friend can make all the difference. For fast letdown, you can try lying back with the baby on top of you. If you’re having any kind of pain, alternating between different positions should feel better.
4. Get the Right Equipment
I thought I had it all: the muslin blankies, the Bum Genius diapers, the car seat, the musical swings, the storybooks, the Moby and Ergo carriers, wet bags, burp cloths, and bibs. But I forgot to shop for myself.
Comfortable nursing bras and sleepwear can make all the difference during those long nights of cluster feedings. Even if your baby is a champion sleeper, the quicker you can get your baby to your breast, the better.
While regular tank tops or maternity shirts can be loose enough to allow access to the breast, a good nursing top can make everything easier and provide you with a little extra modesty if you're nursing away from home.
5. Eat and Drink
You may have eaten a lot while you were pregnant, but you don’t know the meaning of bottomless pit until that first month of breastfeeding! Consider this: you only need 250-300 extra calories to grow a baby, but you need 500 extra calories to make milk and feed your baby!
Be prepared by keeping a water bottle and basket of snacks next to your usual nursing spot. Snacks like nuts, and granola bars, dried fruit, coconut strips and more. String cheese, yogurt, and chocolate milk make great snacks too (but don’t leave them out in your basket!). Partners, family, and friends are always looking for ways to be helpful, so ask yours to keep you fed you while you feed the baby!
6. Get Cozy and Comfortable
Consider setting up a favorite spot in your house for nursing. You may be able to find a couple of glider chairs at a thrift store. If so, put one in the baby’s room and one in the living room. Stash a few nursing essentials (lanolin, burp cloths, breast pads, snacks, etc.) within easy reach, and place a pillow and favorite blanket nearby.
You might enjoy having something to do while nursing - so you can load up a phone or tablet with games, books, and music – or you might prefer to soak up the relative quiet and enjoy the solitude.
If you have older children, you may want to keep soft books or quiet toys nearby so they can play within eyesight as you nurse.
7. Avoid Nipple Confusion.
Lactation consultants recommend avoiding artificial nipples (both bottles and pacifiers) until breastfeeding is well-established (usually somewhere in the 2-4 week range).
When you begin looking for a bottle, you may have to try several before you find the right one for your baby. It may sound silly, but your baby will probably want what is the most similar to you.
8. Accept (and Ask for) Help
Many moms feel pressure to be supermoms and do it all, but the best thing you can do for yourself (and your little one) is accept help when it’s offered and ask for help when you need it.
It truly takes a village to raise a child, and that starts with the fourth trimester. Whether it’s letting your neighbor bring dinner over or asking a friend to take your older kids to a favorite activity, getting assistance from your loved ones can go a long way towards reducing your stress and exhaustion.
9. Expect Challenges, but Remember It Gets Better!
Breastfeeding isn’t a cakewalk for most moms, and it can hurt, at least a little, at first. Your nipples can be cracked and raw from the constant action, and your breasts are full and sore. If you’re feeling pain, be sure to reach out to a healthcare professional.
Do what you can to minimize the stress and focus on the good – you’ll be glad you fought hard for breastfeeding. After all, most things in life that are worthwhile are sometimes difficult. But in the end, you’re glad you did them.
10. Breastfeed as Long as You and Baby Want To
Breastfeed anywhere, anytime! Sitting home alone or structuring your life around a breastfeeding schedule can feel like a chore. You may be nervous about nursing in public, but once you get over that hump, you’ll feel free to go places and live your life.
Many moms cut back on breastfeeding after six months, others go for a year or two, and some go even longer. You’ll know in your heart of hearts what works for you! Many babies suckle for comfort and enjoy that special bonding time as much as you do.
More about Breastfeeding from Kindred Bravely:
- Why Every Breastfeeding Mom Needs the Right Nursing Bra
- Must-Haves for Every Nursing Mom
- Encouragement for Breastfeeding Moms
- Where to Find Breastfeeding Support
- Our Breastfeeding Glossary