Everyone knows that religion and politics hold the top two spots on the list of taboo conversation topics.
Every parent knows that breastfeeding and sleeping arrangements replace religion and politics while you’re in the throws of the babymaking years.
So, you’ve been warned. This post is about breastfeeding. If you do not like talking about, reading about, or thinking about breastfeeding, you have a unique opportunity available to you. This is a very neat concept. You can stop reading right here!
The Biggest Misconception about Breastfeeding, or Parenting for that Matter….
…is that it’s instinctual. That once your baby is born, you will “just know” what to do. First time moms will know…..this is simply not true.
Back in the day (waaay back in the day) women bore children from a very young age often up into their late 40’s and 50’s. It was extremely common for women to be having their last batch of babies along side of their oldest daughters and sons. There was no 10 or 20-year gap between children and grandchildren. There were always babies around. Babies needing to bed fed, held, changed, played with, and cared for when sick. So by the time a young woman became pregnant with her first child, she had seen and helped her mother, aunts, friends, and cousins raise babies galore. She knew what to expect. She knew what to do when everything went right, and she knew who to ask when everything went wrong. Without even knowing, she was already a fountain of knowledge and a resource herself. And…..she had support. And when the baby came, she “just knew” what to do. But it wasn’t instinctual as it may have appeared. It was due to years of watching, helping, and supporting other women.
Fast forward about 150 years to 2016. Convenience and technology rule. We have books and magazines. We have apps. We have doctors, nurses, and people everywhere telling us how to do parenting. What we are missing is experience .
When I had my first baby, I hadn’t held a baby in years. I had never seen anyone breastfeed a baby. And that whole love at first sight feeling that everyone told me about was there….but it was hugely overshadowed by the “what the hell do I do now?” feeling. I’ve shared a little bit about my experience breastfeeding my first baby on Instagram, but it’s still difficult for me to talk about.
I’ve been either pregnant, breastfeeding, or both for 5 and a half years now. When I had my first baby I was 22 and hadn’t even thought about how I was going to feed him. When I went into labor 6 weeks early, I was given the choice to have him in Washington where I had planned on delivering. But if he needed NICU he would have to be transferred to St. Louis and I would have to stay in Washington, meaning we would be separated. So I chose to be transferred to St. Louis to have him and be close to him no matter what. I hadn’t taken any classes on childbirth and had no idea what to expect. Laboring unmedicated, uneducated, and alone in the back of an ambulance was terrifying. I had John shortly after we arrived at Mercy in STL. They took him to NICU immediately where he would spend the next 18 days with restrictions on when and how long I could hold him. I remember sitting in a hospital bed alone as my family had went to be with the baby. I had no bag, no clothes, and no baby. I didn’t feel like a mom, I didn’t feel like anything. I will never forget the door opening to my room and a nurse walking in with a contraption I’d never seem before. She said, “This is a breast pump. Use it now, and then set your alarm to use it every 4 hours. Your baby is sick and needs your milk, this is your most important job right now.” I was too embarrassed to ask her how to use it. So I spent the next half hour reading the instructions and trying to figure it out, and eventually got it. Pumping milk for John gave me purpose as a mom. Even when I couldn’t hold him, and had to leave him to return to clinical for nursing school, I could pump for him. It took months of trying and tears, but we were eventualy able to latch and have a great breastfeeding experience. I’m forever grateful to that nurse for bringing me that pump. And proud of my 22 year old self for never giving up. #worldbreastfeedingweek #sustainabledevelopmentgoals #lactationconsultant
Well, three babies a Bachelors of Science in Nursing degree, and certification as a Lactation Educator and Counselor later, I kind of know what to do now on the breastfeeding front. It’s like riding a bike. It’s a science…and an art. It takes a ton of practice, patience, and support. And when you finally take off those training wheels (or ditch the nipple shield or boppy pillow) and really get the hang of it…..it seems like the easiest thing in the world.
I’m here to share the stuff of breastfeeding that your doctor can’t teach you. The little details that will make or break your experience. The art of breastfeeding.
Well, a little bit of science, too.
1. Babies are NOT born hungry.
Your baby spends 40ish weeks in utero. During this time, she receives a constant, steady supply of nutrition and comfort. She is always warm, even the loudest noises are muffled and the brightest lights dimmed by the amniotic fluid, and she is constantly rocked by your movement and held tightly. And then birth happens. She experiences cold, bright lights and loud noises for the first time. But she doesn’t experience hunger…yet. Babies are born full of poop. Meconium, to be exact. And when people are full of poop, they are not hungry. At birth, her stomach is the size of a marble. Which is perfect. Because each breast holds about 5-7 mL of colostrum at any given time at the time of baby’s birth. For the first 24-48 hours of baby’s life, she does not cry out of hunger. And she does not latch at the breast to eat. She latches for comfort. And she latches to prepare her mother’s body to make more milk…because in a few short days, she will be hungry, very hungry! The amount of time that baby spends at the breast in the first 72 hours of life will determine the adequacy of mom’s milk supply throughout the entire breastfeeding relationship. (More stimulation = more milk) Read more about the prolactin receptor theory to learn why the first 72 hours matters.
2. Babies. They Can’t Tell Time.
Now that you know why a baby latches to the breast, (comfort, stimulation, and nutrition) it’s easy to see why feeding schedules can wreck milk supply. Baby’s are not born wearing miniature watches with tiny alarms telling them when they should be hungry, need comfort, or need to latch to stimulate milk production. They just know. When they show hunger cues, feed them. It’s actually a lot less stressful. No need for apps, or timers, or feeding logs, or schedules.
3. Forget the Cheeks. It’s Nose to Chin.
Maybe you’ve seen videos of someone tickling a baby’s cheek to elicit the “rooting” reflex. Baby turns head and starts searching for food. The problem here is that when baby turns her head, she places strain or herself and creates an asymmetrical latch which can lead to cracked and bleeding nipples, and poor stimulation resulting in inadequate supply. Ouch and Uhhhhh. The proper “technique” to get baby to open her mouth and latch is Nose-to-Chin. Click here to see how this is done. This one little trick can save you and baby so much pain and frustration!
4. Hug your Baby. Belly to Belly.
Everywhere we look, we see pictures of baby’s being held in the cradle hold with baby’s side to mom’s belly. This ties in with Nose to Chin. When a baby is fed side-to-belly, she has to turn her head quite a bit which, once again, leads to asymmetrical latch and strain. No matter which position you are feeding in: football, cradle, laid back, etc. Make sure baby’s belly is facing your belly and that her neck is aligned properly: straight up and down with her body. She will be more comfortable and relaxed, and feed more efficiently.
5. The Pillow Table. Husbands, this is You.
Boppy feeding pillows and those of the like are great. But a regular pillow will do just fine too. Actually, several pillows will be your key to comfort and maintaining a good latch in the first few months of baby’s life. When you lack proper physical support when feeding baby, your arms get tired. When your arms get tired, you move. You bend over to accommodate baby. You end up uncomfortable and uptight and baby can sense that. She also becomes uncomfortable and breaks her latch frequently. Husband, significant other, support person, whoever: this is your job. To create the pillow table. Help your wife and baby to get comfortable in such a way that she isn’t straining at all to reach baby, baby is at nipple level and belly to belly. Then hold that spot with as many pillows as it takes. One under each arm, one under baby, one behind her back, one behind her head, one under her knees, one for her feet….you get the picture….whatever it takes so that she is comfortable.
6. Fish Lips. Not Just for Overly-Tanned Girls.
Your baby’s lips should be flared out when feeding. It should look like this. If it doesn’t, your will end up in a lot of pain. If baby’s lips are turned under, DON’T break the latch to fix this!!! Simply use your little finger to turn baby’s lips outward. Eventually, baby will take the hint and do this on her own. It’s rough learning to be a human on the outside, be patient with yourself and your baby! If baby doesn’t seem to be able to adjust to a proper latch, check for a tongue or lip-tie. This should actually be done IMMEDIATELY (yes I used all caps because it is that important) after birth. It takes 2 seconds to flip baby’s lips and tongue to check for this potentially huge hurdle in latching. A Lactation Consultant is the best person to do this.
7. Gravity. Work with it.
We eat. Food goes down. Not up. Hopefully. Think of a time that you ate a huge meal and then laid down. Heartburn city. Keep baby upright for at least 30 minutes after feeding to allow her to digest her food and prevent “spitting up” and fussiness. The laid-back breastfeeding position is the all-time best for this and for many other reasons. Baby can fall asleep after or during feeding while gravity works its magic.
8. How do You Know Baby is Getting Enough?
Refer to point #1. Baby’s latch to a bottle and a breast for many reasons. Hunger is just one of those reasons. A completely “full” baby will often drain and 8oz bottle when given the chance. That baby’s stomach will stretch to accommodate the extra-large volume of food. And that baby may also spit up everywhere after taking the bottle. Continuing to drink more milk after breastfeeding is NOT a sign that baby isn’t getting enough. If your baby is having an adequate amount of wet and dirty diapers, feeding at least 8-12 times within a 24 hour period, has audible sounds of swallowing while at the breast, gains about 4-7 ounces a week after the fourth day of life, and checks out in all other areas of health….she is getting enough! Click here to read more about that.
Happy Breastfeeding, y’all!