I found the first three or so weeks of breastfeeding to be bit challenging…and based on talking to other moms I think I was one of the lucky ones. You think to yourself, you have these boobs, you have a baby…surely they will just go together like ramma lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong. WRONG. Breastfeeding is a skill. And it is all about the latch. As you might have gathered I tend towards being uber prepared so before Baby C was born I spent hours reading about breastfeeding, looking at diagrams of breastfeeding and watching youtube videos of breastfeeding. So I knew going in to it that it is all about the latch. But knowing that it is all about the latch doesn’t actually make the latch any easier.
So here are my secrets of the latch.
Basically you do not want your baby sucking on just the nipple…they should be sucking on as much boob as you can get into their mouth. The goal is to get the nipple to the far back of your baby’s mouth…for those who appreciate anatomy this is where the hard palate meets the soft palate. Of course this is easier said than done.
Let’s say you are going to offer your baby your left boob. You hold the sides of your left boob with your left hand. At this point your baby has no head control so you have to hold your baby’s head with your right hand. Line up the baby’s nose so it is next to your nipple. Use your nipple to tickle the baby’s upper lip. And then wait, wait, wait until your baby’s mouth is open wide, wide, wide. When the mouth is open wide…and keep in mind their mouths are tiny so wide is a bit relative here…you scoop as much of your boob into their mouth as possible. This is the kind of exercise where it would be really nice to have four hands.
I found that even when Baby C was latched on correctly the first few seconds of breastfeeding stung…like little needles in my nipple. But if he wasn’t latched on correctly it really hurt. And the worst part is if the baby isn’t latched on correctly then you need to break the suction and start again…and this can really, really hurt. You have to stick your pinky finger in the corner of the baby’s mouth and kind of slide your nipple out…and your baby does not want to let go! Now your nipple will be sore, your baby will be crying…time to take a deep breath and start again.
Like all things for a first time mom with a newborn, when you are trying to master breastfeeding, your baby will be likely be crying, your hormones will be insane and it will all seem overwhelming. So get help. Have the midwives at the hospital watch you every time you feed. If you are still not feeling confident ask for a referral to a lactation consultant. If you find you develop problems once you are out of hospital try your local community child health centre (http://www.health.qld.gov.au/rch/professionals/cchs_0-12.asp). And I can’t say enough about having a partner who understands that breastfeeding is important to you and to your baby, who supports you and who is willing to help as much as someone without mammary glands can.
Choosing whether or not to breastfeed is personal decision and one that has become very political. I am not here to tell you what to do…just to share my experience. I found breastfeeding to be easy…at least eventually…and rewarding. If you can get through those first few difficult weeks there seems to be a point where it all just clicks. For me it was when I could nurse like the women in the videos. At the beginning when Baby C would latch correctly I would not want to move a muscle lest I somehow disrupt him so I would nurse in some contorted positions…hunched over with my hand still wrapped around my boob. But one day I found I could nurse him with just one hand…in the traditional craddle hold. Now I just hold him near the nipple and it is go time! Breastfeeding is definitely a learning process…you and your baby will learn!
Okay…now things you need to help you and your boobs out.
1. Boppy Pillow
I haven’t seen too many Boppy brand pillows here in Australia…I bought mine on amazon.com…but I have seen similar things in Target and Big W. Basically the Boppy is horseshoe shaped pillow that you put around your waist to lift the baby up closer to nipple level. But it has a zillion uses beyond breastfeeding…your baby can take a nap in the Boppy, they can practice tummy time in the Boppy, you can use the Boppy as a pillow for yourself when you get to take a ten minute nap on the couch. After about four months you won’t need a Boppy because your baby will be big enough to nurse without a pillow…you can retire it from it’s nursing duties and put it to use helping your baby practice sitting!
One word about nursing pillows…they are great but you don’t want to get too attached to them if you ever want to nurse outside the home. Unless you want to drag the Boppy with you to the cafe I would practice occasionally nursing without one.
2. Lansinoh Cream
The best for sore or cracked nipples. When Baby C and I were working to master breastfeeding my nipple wouldn’t always make it to the back of his mouth…I could feel it chaffing and when I took the nipple out I could see a little red sore on it…Lansinoh to the rescue. I would just smear a little cream on there and it would be better. I had tubes of Lansinoh everywhere. I am actually still finding tubes around the house…I even found one in the car the other day. It is also great for chapped lips…which you will likely get because breastfeeding can dehydrate you like ten days in the dessert.
A midwife did warn me not to coat my nipples too heavily with this stuff as it could lead to a clogged duct…a little goes a long way.
3. Nursing Bra
These are not sexy. These are the bras you promised your teenaged self you would never buy. But then you went and got knocked up and as a result have big knockers and you need one of these over the shoulder boulder holders. Before Baby C was born I went to Big W about bought two Bonds nursing bras. I just guessed on the size…I think I went up one cup size from my pregnant boob size…so probably up two sizes from my original boob size. After Baby C came I went back and bought two more nursing bras and two nursing tanks. The nursing singlets are especially fantastic…you can get your boob out easily without having to undo buttons or lift up your shirt so they are easy for being out in public…plus an added bonus is they kind of suck your stomach in. Anyway, you will live in these bras for months…at the beginning I was even sleeping in them because my boobs were so sore and having them contained made them feel better…so get something comfy and don’t worry about them being ugly. These are the work horses of lingerie.
I never used nursing pads because I found the cotton cups of these nursing bras and tanks to be absorbent enough for my day time leaking…nothing could stop my night time leaking but that is a story for another time. And I had enough nursing bras that if one got too damp or started smelling too much like milk I could just change.
4. Formula, Bottles, Pumps
Knowing that I wanted to breastfeed and being in a sort of denial that it may not work for me I didn’t buy any formula or bottles or a pump before Baby C came along. I figured I could buy them if and when I needed them. And that is exactly what I did…or rather my husband did when I ended up in hospital. Most of the moms I know who didn’t start off with feeding accoutrements did end up buying them for one reason or another. But there is so much to buy before the baby comes that if you plan on breastfeeding you could probably leave formula, bottles and a pump off your list.
Boobs are crazy and amazing things. Did you know that the milk you make in the morning is different from the milk you make in the evening? The evening milk has a secret ingredient in it that helps the baby to relax and start to feel drowsy. Did you know that milk from a full boob can literally squirt across a room? Despite all the potential difficulties and dramas associated with breastfeeding I think there is no better feeling than when Baby C is crying and I put him on the boob and he sucks his way to contentedness.
And speaking of sucking, have your husband put his finger in the baby’s mouth to get a feel for how powerful that suck is…if watching you give birth didn’t make him think of you as a wonder woman, feeling that suck will!