If there’s one thing about breastfeeding that everyone can agree upon, it’s that nursing your little one is a labor of love. It isn’t only about nurturing and providing for your baby; it’s an emotional act for most moms, too. But let’s be clear… there’s an emphasis on the “labor” part. Breastfeeding can be a lot of work at first, especially when you’ve never done it before!
There’s a lot of literature out there on nursing (kellymom.com is a respected resource if you’re into reading more about specific topics)… and a lot of it can be scary. Thrush, bleeding nipples, plugged ducts, mastitis, low milk supply, oversupply, bad latch… the list goes on. And of course there are a whole bunch of useful products to help you along the way! But what a new mom really wants to know is the nitty gritty. What exactly SHOULD you be doing every day to ensure that your breastfeeding relationship is preserved for as long as you’re intending to nurse?
Here are the three easiest (and most important!) things you should do:
1.) Stay hydrated & eat!
Breastmilk is 88% water… so it makes sense that you’ll need to keep yourself hydrated throughout the day if you expect to make enough milk. Nursing makes you really thirsty, anyway, so it shouldn’t be too hard to remember. A good rule of thumb is to drink a glass of water each time you nurse baby (or at least 8 glasses a day). You’re also going to be very hungry; milk-making burns 500 calories per day! So keep extra snacks handy wherever you usually sit down to nurse, and try to eat nutritious meals (although the occasional donut won’t hurt anyone).
If you’re wanting to boost your milk supply, the easiest thing you can do is eat oatmeal for breakfast every morning. Some people also claim that drinking dark beer can help, so if you want to crack one open at the end of the day after baby’s gone to bed for the night, it’s a good reason to do so (but do limit yourself to just one… remember, you’re a nursing mom now!). Some people also swear by taking all natural fenugreek supplements (which, oddly enough, will make your sweat and pee smell like maple syrup) and drinking lactation tea. The flavor of the tea is pretty tolerable as far as tea goes, and it will help you meet your daily water quota, too!
2.) Nurse baby on demand (and pump when necessary)!
There’s a whole school of folks out there who nurse their babies on a set schedule (this in itself is a whole other topic of debate that this post is not about to tackle). But what worked for me… and what most lactation consultants will tell you… is to nurse your baby “on demand”. In other words, whenever baby is hungry, offer the boob. This will work out to at least every 2 to 3 hours, and even more frequently if baby is experiencing a growth spurt. This will seem like a never-ending task that goes on all day and night in the beginning days, and that’s because IT DOES! Newborns are hungry little things! But remember… the more often you nurse your baby (or pump to empty your breasts), the more milk you will make! So this is the #1 goal you should have for yourself until your milk supply is well-established (which won’t happen until several weeks in).
Also, if you’re super engorged, or if baby is sleeping longer than the requisite 2 to 3 hours, then feel free to pump a little bit of milk to relieve the pressure. Pumping an ounce or two here and there will NOT drive you into oversupply; however, NOT pumping and letting your breasts remain engorged for long periods of time CAN cause your supply to begin dropping eventually because your body will interpret your overly full breasts as a signal that baby doesn’t need that much milk. You definitely don’t want that to happen, so pump if you need to! Just don’t overdo it. (Unless you’re trying to build up a freezer stash to go back to work, in which case you’ll need to pump a lot more often and for longer sessions.)
3.) Take care of your nips!
In the beginning, your nipples will be VERY sore. It may hurt to wear a bra, or a shirt, or even to let water from the shower hit them. I personally spent most of my nursing sessions wincing in pain and crying buckets of tears for about two straight weeks. But I promise you, this problem eventually becomes a distant memory! Your nipples WILL eventually get used to nursing, and it will NOT hurt at all! But if you expect to make it to that point, you’re going to have to do some troubleshooting in the beginning to help yourself stay as comfortable as possible.
The easiest thing you can do is go braless (or topless) at home. Just draw the blinds, and who cares otherwise?! It’s YOUR home! You can also use lanolin ointment on your nipples before and after nursing baby; this one REALLY does help! If you visit a lactation consultant, they may offer you hydrogel therapy pads that you can tuck into your nursing bra in between nursing sessions (you can also buy them online if you don’t have the ability to see a LC). These feel especially soothing on your nipples when they’re ice cold from the fridge! If you experience cracked or bleeding nipples (totally possible… I did!), the absolute BEST and fastest remedy is something that lactation consultants will recommend to you: “All Purpose Nipple Ointment”. It’s not something you can buy unless you live in Canada, but you can read here about how to easily make it at home from three simple over-the-counter products (this is the same recipe prescribed to me by my hospital’s lactation consultant). And if your nipples are in really bad condition, you can even temporarily try using a nipple shield until your nipples are healed up enough to nurse again.
What advice would you give a newbie to breastfeeding? Share your tips in the comments below!
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