Easygoing Advice for the Breastfeeding Mama

File Aug 17, 8 01 58 PM

I haven’t written an article in a while because–shocker!–taking care of a newborn is basically a full time job. Between the sleepless nights, dirty diapers, tummy time, full hampers, packing away newborn size clothing, and rocking Liam to sleep using a creative array of methods, Joe and I have both been pretty busy (and exhausted).

But before you swear off kids, I promise you that being parents is the best thing in the world. It really is.

I am sure I’m not the only first-time mom to say this: you pretty much feel incompetent during the first few weeks at home with a newborn. Whatever you’re doing, you wonder if you’re doing it wrong. You ask your pediatrician hundreds of questions about the smallest things, spend countless hours on the internet researching newborn care, and get anxiety (and leaking breasts) every time you hear your baby crying, even if it’s just over a dropped pacifier.

To be perfectly honest, I am just starting to feel like I might be doing a good job as a mom after all.

Breastfeeding is one of those things. At the hospital, the nurse or midwife shows you how to hold your baby and you wonder if you’ll ever get the hang of it. A bad latch gives you a bruised nipple and you worry it’ll affect your ability to breastfeed. Your baby is eating too often and you worry you don’t have enough milk. The list goes on and on.

Truth is, you just need to relax — Things will fall into place before you know it.

First, don’t listen to anyone who tells you you need to be breastfeeding on a schedule. Breast milk is digested much quicker than formula, hence newborns need to eat more often. If they don’t get their intake of calories during the day, well guess what, they’ll want them at night. Before your baby is about 4 months, make sure you nurse when your baby seems hungry. You’ll soon know how to tell. Even if he is fussy, nurse him — it doesn’t have to be at exactly 3 hours on the dot. Especially in the summer, keep in mind that breast milk is the only source of hydration for your baby. Don’t deprive him of that!

A good latch is important. If you want to make sure you don’t get hurt, help your baby right from the start with his/her latch. There should be a good amount of areola in his mouth (especially covered by his lower lip) and both lips should be turned outward. Remember that breastfeeding should never be “painful” (slight tingling should go away within 5-10 seconds of latch) and should even be enjoyable for you. It’ll only get easier with time — soon enough you’ll forget all about those fancy nipple butters you invested in.

Learn your baby’s cues. You’ll know exactly when your baby is hungry after a few weeks spent together. He opens and shuts his mouth, puts his fingers in his mouth, cries more sharply than usual… As the weeks go by, you and your baby will become expert communicators.

Empty both breasts. This one is for you, Mamas. Otherwise, expect some rock hard breasts and pain along with that! However, make sure that your baby is the one who decides when he is done with the first breast.  The last bit of milk that he gets, called hind milk, actually has a higher fat content (and calorie count) and is usually what makes your baby content, full, and sleepy. It’s super important that he gets it. Offer the second breast when your baby decides he is done with the first. Remember not to let your baby sleep at the breast for too long — keep him sucking and alert.

Don’t time baby’s feedings but keep track of time. As punctual as they sometimes are, babies aren’t robots. And neither is your body! Feedings can last between 15 and 45 minutes and that’s totally fine. As your baby becomes a better eater, he will usually feed for about ten minutes at each breast. Be aware of the time but don’t rush your baby if he’s taking longer than usual, especially during a growth spurt.

Don’t let your lactation consultant, nurse, or anyone scare you about pacifiers and/or your diet. If your baby isn’t premature, latches on successfully, and is gaining weight, there is no harm in using a pacifier. When we met with our lactation consultant, she gave us a look when we pulled out Liam’s pacifier. You know whether or not your baby is having trouble breastfeeding — if he’s not, don’t stress it. Same goes with diet — don’t let anyone convince you your diet is the reason for your baby’s late night gas and fussiness. I stopped dairy for two weeks and guess what? Liam’s gas never went away. All newborns have immature digestive systems and gas (some just deal with it better than others). Over time, it’ll get easier. In the meantime, try probiotic drops (ours are by Gerber); they help maintain a natural balance of good bacteria in the infant’s digestive tract helping to promote digestive comfort.

Do what feels right for you, your family, and your lifestyle.  With everything you are reading and hearing about breastfeeding and the advice (most of the time unsolicited), remember that only you know what’s best for your family. A good bedtime routine for your baby might be very different from someone else’s baby. Be educated about breastfeeding but if something doesn’t feel right to you, follow your gut. You know your baby better than any other person (or website.)

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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