As a lactation counselor I get all kinds of unusual and intimate questions throughout the day, in and out of the office. It's an interesting and fulfilling job, and I absolutely love supporting moms in this precious and intimate time in their lives.
Here are 5 things that I, as a lactation counselor, want new breastfeeding mothers to know:
1. Breastfeed early + often.
This helps establish your supply. Moms like schedules—really, we do —but babies don't (at least not in the beginning). Their job is to eat, sleep, poop and cuddle with their parents. Your job is to take care of your newborn, and recover/relax as much as possible. So spend time on the couch, enjoy the snuggles and binge-watch as that little one cluster feeds all night long. It's normal, and I promise it won't always be like this. (In fact, you might soon miss this stage!)
2. Find support.
Breastfeeding is an ever-evolving relationship with your body, your baby and your daily routine. Surround yourself with cheerleaders, professionals and people who are going to encourage you during your hardest nights. Get your partner and your family on board, and give them specific ways to help you (watch the toddler, bring the nursing pillow, get me some water—please!). You can do this, but it helps to connect to a community made up of millions of mothers and the experts who support them. You are not alone in your joy or your struggles.
3. Know that there are no silly questions when it comes to breastfeeding.
It's truly one of the most unnatural, natural things you will do. Mama needs to learn and baby needs to learn. We all have some innate abilities when it comes to breastfeeding, but there is also a HUGE learning curve. Before your first baby was born you'd never had a small human hanging on your nipple for half an hour... right?
Find a Certified Lactation Counselor or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in your area. Set up an appointment or attend a breastfeeding support group. Your questions are valid and have most likely been asked before.
4. Realize that pumping is a learned art + you might need help.
If you're going back to work, or need to spend time away from baby, find a friend or a professional who is really proficient in pumping and ask for their guidance. There are many tricks that can make pumping an easier experience. Here are some of my top tips:
- Make sure you have the correct flange size, which will help the milk to flow without irritating your breasts. Keep in mind that your nipples change size over time. You might start out with a 24 mm flange and need to go up to a 27 mm after you are pumping a while. You might use a 27 mm on your right and a 24 mm on your left. Figure out what works for you, because it really affects output.
- Refrigerate your pump parts after your pumping session and wash everything once a day. This saves you from washing after every session: life-changing!
- Get a hands-free bra. I love the Simple Wishes bra, but there are a ton on the market.
- Buy a second set of all your parts so you aren't running around like crazy if your dog eats a flange—hey, it happens!
- Get some fun accessories. Pumping is not glamorous, but you can feel more fashionable is you have a nice bag! I love SarahWells bags. She was an exclusively pumping, full-time working mama. This lady gets it.
5. Trust the process. Trust your baby. Trust your body.
Your body was made to make milk. But we live in a society that wants hard and fast evidence for everything. Moms want to see *exactly* how much their baby is eating, but that's not how breastfeeding works. It's also not how parenting works. As a mom, breastfeeding taught me to relax, how to read my baby and how to make decisions that were right for MY family.
Is your baby pooping and peeing on a regular schedule? Do your breasts feel drained after a feeding? Is baby gaining weight and meeting developmental milestones? If so, then your baby is getting enough! A baby might nurse every hour one day and every three hours the next. It ebbs and flows. Follow baby's cues and you will make milk for as long as you wish to nurse.
Everyone will have an opinion. Take the good ones, toss the bad ones and believe that you know your baby and your body better than anyone else.
And remember, the most important thing is to feed your baby, not necessarily what you fed your baby.
You were born to do this. And so was your baby.