As a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor (CLEC) for the past seven years, I often speak with women who have trouble breastfeeding. I talk to women who can’t get their baby latched on. I talk to women with breast infections. I talk to women who can’t figure out if their baby is getting enough milk, and I talk to women who don’t know how to handle engorgement. I talk to women who love breastfeeding, and I talk to women who want to love it but don’t.
You know what’s amazing? Nearly all of the problems nursing moms encounter can be solved over the phone with a little education and encouragement. Here are six tips that will turn your life around if you are a nursing mother.
- Newborns nurse a lot. Like—a lot. I don’t want you new moms or women who have never had a baby to freak out, but for newborns, nursing every two hours is not uncommon. That much stimulation of the breasts and nipples signals your brain to produce milk. It’s how you establish and maintain a milk supply: frequent nursing. Your breasts make exactly the right amount of milk for your baby, as long as you let them nurse frequently and for nice long stretches. It feels nuts for the first week—like you’re losing your mind. But it’s not forever, I promise. Let your baby nurse frequently especially for the first three months. It’s normal.
- Look to poop and pee for an indication of how much milk a baby is getting. So many women think their baby is not getting enough milk. It’s one of the most common reasons women are afraid to breastfeed. Do not freak out. Your body is made to produce milk, and chances are you have enough for your baby. Doctors can help you figure this out by weighing the baby frequently. Newborns should make a diaper wet or poopy about 6-12 times in a 24-hour period. The only way they can make diapers soiled is from the milk you put into them. If they are making wet or poopy diapers with that frequency, the baby is getting enough milk.
- Sometimes breasts hurt. In my training, I was taught that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. For the most part, breastfeeding should not hurt! However! My experience with both of my sons was that breastfeeding did hurt my nipples. Everyone has different levels of sensitivity, and nipples can feel bruised or chafed. That’s normal, and it absolutely will go away, within weeks in most cases. Pain when the baby latches on and which disappears during a nursing session is also something I experienced. This also goes away; I promise! Pain throughout a feeding indicates a latch problem and can also be an indicator of thrush (a yeast infection on your breasts ouch!) or other problems in the breast or the nipple. Discomfort can be helped by icing your nipples before a nursing session (yes, you heard that right!), or by using a breast soother, which can be kept in the freezer so you can have some cool relief between feedings. This will not last forever!
- You don’t need to pump. It takes milk 4-5 days for milk to change from colostrum, which is what you make at first, to the milk we think of when we think of milk. For the most part, the vast majority of women do not need to supplement before milk comes in. Keep offering the breast and the baby drinks colostrum, and that’s all a baby needs. While working breastfeeding moms do need to return to work eventually, which may require a pump, newborn moms pumping often introduces problems with establishing a supply that is appropriate for their bodies. Pumping can also introduce an anxiety about supply, which often leads to fears that you don’t have enough. (Note: a baby is the most efficient extractor of milk; a pump is not an exact measurement of how much milk you even have!) If you can hold off even six weeks until you pump, great. If you can’t, make sure you are working with a counselor or consultant.
- You can’t spoil a baby. Skin-to-skin contact and holding a baby a lot and wearing a baby in a sling rather than putting them in a stroller or in a crib are great for milk supply. These things do not spoil a baby. These are things we do to meet a baby’s needs, which are the same as their wants for the first year. Meet your baby’s needs. That’s not spoiling them.
- Nothing is forever. The hormones of new motherhood are designed to make you vigilant, attentive and oriented toward the well-being of your newborn. This is not your permanent hormonal profile; this is now. It’s not forever. It is so important to know that the way you feel now is not forever: the exhaustion, the frustration, the resentment you might be feeling (toward your partner for example, or toward God for making you the one who had to give birth)—these are temporary. The first six weeks are a train wreck in my opinion and experience. The first 3three months is a huge milestone, and you can do it.
You are already a great mom. You will be OK. Get help if you need it. Rest. Don’t do too much. Try to enjoy this time. Slow your brain down. Breathe. You’ve got this.
For National Breastfeeding Month, Grok Nation is running a series about nursing by our founder, Mayim Bialik, who is a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor (CLEC). For her past posts, see here.