Ah, breastfeeding. Such a natural thing. Yet, so difficult for soooooo many women.
I never thought twice about whether or not I would breastfeed B. If not for the many health benefits for both parties involved, then for the convenience and cost savings.
Nutritious. Free. Convenient. Really, why would you not?
Well, as my pregnant belly grew, I heard more and more stories of women not being able to for a variety of reasons. I don't think I heard a single story about a babe coming out of the womb, latching on, and nursing happily without some issues along the way. Poor latching. Blocked ducts. Tongue ties. Lip ties. Cracked, bleeding nipples. Mastitis. Thrush. Over-active letdown. No letdown. Low milk production. Yikes. Ouch. Yikes.
These things scared me more than labour and delivery.
On one hand, the whole boob-is-best campaign is threatening me with "you better breastfeed your babe or else...", and on the other hand, there are all these mummas, books, and blogs scaring the crap out of me, saying "GOOD LUCK SISTER! MUAHHAHA!"
Talk about pressure.
I wonder, do other mammals in the animal kingdom have as much difficulty nursing as we Homo sapiens seem to? Do they struggle with proper latches? Do they get sore, cracked nipples? Without lactation consultants, pumps, bottles, tubes, formula, meds, ice, or heat, what does an animal mumma do?!?!?
These questions kept me up at night.
Pregnancy. Labour. Breastfeeding. Three new adventures for my body.
I saw these three things in a similar light when I was pregnant. I could prepare somewhat for each, but ultimately I had NO idea how my body would manage each one until I was fully submerged. Prrrretty scary stuff for the control freak in me.
And so I prepared for breastfeeding the same way I prepared for pregnancy and birth - I educated myself and found some great people to be on my team. And thank goodness I did, because between the issues that did crop up, the sleep deprivation and the hormones, I fully understand why some women wave the white milk flag and turn to formula.
Here's how I prepared for breastfeeding:
1. have a Fairy-Boob Mother (AKA the Lactation Consultant) on speed dial
If you are pregnant, as soon as you have finished this paragraph, put down the computer and go and find yourself a lactation consultant. Ideally, find one that that does hospital and home visits for those first few days. Plug her contact info into your phone. Do this. Now.
Not sure where to look? Check out La Leche League in your area. They offer all sorts of breastfeeding help for expectant and new mummas. Search their site for a certified lactation consultant in your area.
If you have a nursing store in your area, ask them for a referral. Here in Ottawa, we have Milkface that offers breastfeeding classes for expectant parents, lactation consultant referrals, and even a Breastfeeding Café where mummas can come together to chat, ask questions (it is run by a wonderful LC) and nibble goodies.
I dutifully stuck a recommended LC's contact info to our fridge door when I was eight months pregnant. I am so thankful that someone suggested that I do this, and that I did. My LC was ahhhmazing. Even though things seemed to be going pretty well the first 24 hours after B was born, I still had her come to our house to check his latch, and answer a few questions the day after he was born. She taught me a few things, and helped me out with positions. It turned out that I needed her more and more as the days and weeks went on when I started having problems with an over-active letdown and a little thing called Mammary Constriction Syndrome. She came to my house within 24 hours if I called, and would check in with me regularly. She was my fairy boob-mother.
2. Read a Book, or Two
Here are my top breastfeeding book picks:
Dr. Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding. This is considered by many to be the breastfeeding bible. I love Jack. I read his book. I studied his online videos the week before I gave birth. I emailed him when I was having insanely intense boob and back pain after nursings. He knows a thing or two about breastfeeding.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. And an art it is. This book is produced by La Leche League International, and they kinda know their stuff as a world leader in breastfeeding support. The book takes you through the various stages of breastfeeding (new baby, growing baby, daycare baby, weaning baby), while discussing common issues and concerns along the way.
Breastfeeding Made Simple. I roll my eyes at the title of this book considering I found nothing simple about learning to breastfeed. But I like how this books lays it all out in a simple to read way. Each chapter is devoted to one of their seven natural laws of breastfeeding. Also, the foreword is written by Dr. Newman, so you know it's good stuff.
3. Have some reliable resources on your Rolodex
There is a ton of breastfeeding advice out there. Some good, some not so good - like all advice floating around the www. When I was having my insanely intense post-nursing pain I searched and searched online for answers. It sounded like thrush, but there were no signs of yeast anywhere. It sounded like Raynaud's, but there were definitely some dissimilarities. It was finally Dr. Newman who suggested it might be something I'd never come across online. Thank.You.Jack. If I hadn't contacted him, I likely would have followed the long and tedious suggested remedies for thrush - with no relief. It pays to seek out help from reliable professionals, or at least the information available on their websites.
Here a few sites that I believe to be pretty trustworthy, and worth exploring:
Breastfeeding Inc. is Dr. Newman's site, and is definitely one to explore (shocker!). I especially like this series of videos - pretty hard to learn to breastfeed from a book, a video is the next best thing, besides actually doing it. And, as I mentioned earlier, you can email Dr. Jack Newman directly.
La Leche League. Their website layout is pretty terrible, but there is great info and forums that you can peruse.
4. Emergency Supplies
When we're pregnant, we tend to focus on buying stuff for the little person we've been making, but there are a few essentials you should have ready to go before becoming a breastfeeding mumma.
When I was pregnant, I read that it was a good idea to moisten and freeze some pads for when you got home from the hospital. These, I was told, would come in handy to help with perineum pain and healing postpartum. Well, in a desperate, sleep deprived state I discovered that they also offered tremendous breast pain relief...
There is some debate over whether you should heat or ice your boobs, if anything at all, but I really think it depends on what's going on. I didn't have cracked nipples, but they did feel like they'd been through a wringer from B clamping down trying not to drown in my firehose flow. After one feeding, I desperately reached into the freezer, grabbed a pad and shoved it in my bra (I guess we didn't have any normal, lunch-bag variety ice packs kicking around). Relief! I got smart and switched to the smaller, boob pads after that. My husband took on pad duty, constantly moistening them, popping them in the freezer, and making sure I always had a good stash of clean, frozen pads. He'd run downstairs in the middle of the night to grab me fresh ones after each feeding.
Ahhh, I can still feel the relief from those pads like it was yesterday.
Nip Cream - pure lanolin, coconut oil
Again, much debate on what works here. I religiously expressed a little milk after each feeding, rubbing it around my nipples. But you're nursing so bloody much in those first few weeks, and I was so worried about my nipples drying up and cracking like the Sahara, so I also used Lanolin and coconut oil. I'd smear that stuff on like nobody's business. All in the name of prevention. Thankfully, I never had any Sahara-like nips.
I also ended up getting Jack Newman's All Purpose Nipple Cream (from my midwife) as I was at wits end with my odd breast/back pain. I am not sure if it is what worked in the end, or just the fact that B learned to handle my firehose flow, but it did provide some pain relief when I was dealing with my Mammary Constriction Syndrome.
When I think of a bra, I think of support. And so I don't really like to think of my initial nursing bras as bras. They were more like boob covers, and devices to hold my ice pads, and keep the milk/Lanolin/coconut oil off my clothes and the furniture. Otherwise, I probably would have walked around with nothing on since it seemed like all I was doing was nursing in those first few weeks.
The last thing I wanted was something restrictive around my engorged, tender boobs, telling them where to go. Tank-tops with the built in "shelf" were great. And still are, especially at night. I started with a bunch of these ones, and eventually got more supportive ones, like these. I also used these nursing bras, but again, the goal was containment, not upping my cup size. It was up enough. I suggest looking for soft, flexible (your boob size will be all over the place), "support" for the first few weeks. Three or four devices should suffice.
At around four to six weeks, you should be okay to progress to more supportive (and prettier!) ones. This is currently one of my favourite everyday kinda bra. And this is my favourite sports bra (great for postnatal exercise class when you're a sweaty mess and need to feed your babe after class).
Ergonomics, mummas. Ergonomics. The hours and hours and hours that you will spend breastfeeding demand that you put your posture on the priority list. Or you will pay. Back, neck, shoulder and wrist pain are all too common to breastfeeding mummas. Sore backs from bent over, slumped over, crunched up spines. Neck pain from keeping a close eye on that latch. Shoulder and wrist pain for holding the little person in position. I loved My Brest Friendbecause it supported me, with the little lumbar pillow, and my babe nicely. And I liked that I could buckle into it so it stayed put. Other popular choices are the Boppy, Plush n' Posh, JJ Cole Nursing Pillow.
When you are picking a nursing pillow (and it could be a pillow you already have at home) consider the length of your torso. If you are on the long side like I am, a skinny pillow may not be enough to bring your babe up to your breast.
5. Mental Prep
Breastfeeding is like a sports match. You have no idea how it will play out. Things might start off great - winning! But in the second period, your team mate starts dropping the ball, and all of a sudden you're sidelined. Game over.
Or maybe the game never gets started.
I think it's important to recognize that there is no guarantee that breastfeeding will go well, or at all. No matter how much you want it. Or how much you prepare. Recognize that it may or may not work out. And that is OKAY.
But do know that you can make the road a lot less bumpy and increase your chance of success if you find great people who will play on your team, and support you along the way.
If you've settled into breastfeeding, and the boobs feel pretty good, but the rest of your body aches from hunching over for hours on end, there's help for that too!
* This post contains no affiliate links, just stuff I've found helpful!