Breastfeeding is not only a way to feed your baby, it’s a relationship. In any relationship there is a push and pull on each side, as both parties involved figure out how to coexist (hopefully) peacefully.
Ask for Help with Breastfeeding
The most important step toward a thriving breastfeeding relationship is asking for help when you need it – as soon as you need it. There’s no badge of honor for “pushing through” with bleeding nipples, I promise. Breastfeeding should NOT hurt. The main lesson I teach about breastfeeding to new parents during my HypnoBirthing classes is this: “If it hurts for more than five seconds, unlatch your baby and start again. If it still hurts after that, get help from a breastfeeding professional.”
Gone are the days of village life where you’d witness your sister, aunt, cousin, and mother breastfeeding their babies. That was a time in history where new parents were already familiar with the ins and outs of breastfeeding before they even hit puberty. Now in our nuclear families, many of us have never seen a baby breastfeeding until our own is suddenly lying on our chest, and this is why breastfeeding professionals have become so important.
Breastfeed on Cue
When breastfeeding a newborn, you’ll feel you’re constantly attached to the little creature…because you basically are. Your milk supply is based on how often they empty your breasts. Feeding them often is the best way to build your supply and ensure that your baby will develop on track. Babies have instinctive hunger cues for a reason – it is their way of showing us that they need to eat. The composition of human milk is low in fat and protein, which is why babies get hungry so often, especially in the early weeks and months.
I promise you that your baby’s schedule WILL regulate. I also promise you that implementing an arbitrary, strict schedule for feeding and sleeping WILL affect your milk supply.
Avoid Artificial Nipples – Within Reason
Using pacifiers, nipple shields, or bottles can affect your baby’s breastfeeding latch if used too early or too often. These tools can be wonderful if used in the right circumstances, but often they are overused and actually impede breastfeeding success. It’s a great rule of thumb that these artificial nipples should be avoided until breastfeeding is firmly established, which generally happens between 6 and 10 weeks postpartum.
There are absolutely circumstances where these tools are incredibly helpful. For example, if your baby cries nonstop on your drive to pick up your older children every day at school, using a pacifier is less harmful than letting your baby scream their head off. Similarly, if your baby is colicky or sick, a pacifier can be a wonderful comfort to them as you both navigate the situation. Another situation is if the breastfeeding parent is separated from their baby for an extended period of time, a bottle is obviously needed. The mantra is “everything in moderation, when possible.” If you have a young infant and need to use an artificial nipple, it’s a great idea to check in with a lactation specialist to ensure your latch does not suffer.
Be Easy on Yourself
Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s not always easy. On top of that, there are a thousand differing opinions online about the best way to approach breastfeeding (this blog included). On top of that, your hormones are all over the place, you probably are sleep deprived, your partner may have gone back to work, your maternity leave may be terribly short (and unpaid), you may be a single parent, your baby may be high-needs or colicky, you may not have access to breastfeeding support, you may be stressed out by your unkempt house, you might not have extra help from family and friends, you may be recovering from a difficult or traumatic birth; the list could literally go on for miles.
Be easy on yourself as you adjust to this completely new version of life with a new baby. It’s the hardest thing anyone has ever done.