Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Best Breastfeeding Advice I've Gotten

I'm exclusively breastfeeding Coco, just as I did Zuzu, and I'm relieved and happy to say that it seems to be going well. At least, if Coco's cheeks are any indication.

I was thinking about how much I stressed about it the first time around. I was absolutely determined to breastfeed because I was convinced that it was the best thing for my baby and I was so furious at my body for failing Eliza, that I was going to force it to work for Zuzu. Turns out you can't really control that sort of thing, but I was fortunate that I was able to breast feed Zuzu for fifteen months and then she weaned herself with zero drama. (It's probably the last time she did anything without some drama.)

This time around, I know that breast feeding is not actually the best choice for everyone, and I was just hopeful that it would work out again. I haven't been stressed about it and I haven't really tried to schedule Coco. She cries, I give her the boob. Works like a charm. I'm still having some over supply issues, which include a super fast let down that nearly drowns her. She's also spittier than Zuzu ever was, so that threw me for a bit of a loop, but we are getting things figured out (translation: I do a lot of laundry but the baby is getting enough to eat!).

Anyway, in the course of breastfeeding, I asked for lots of advice. I have consulted many, many times. I've attended La Leche Meetings and other breast feeding mom groups. I've talked with lactation consultants and other breastfeeding moms. This is a compilation of the best advice I've gotten.

1. Remember that it gets easier.
As I mentioned, last time around I was so determined to breastfeed that there's nothing that could have deterred me. This time around, I had kind of forgotten how much IT FREAKING HURTS at first. Even if your baby is latching correctly. Even if you're holding the baby in a "proper" nursing position (ear, shoulder, and hips all lined up straight). It just freaking hurts at first. It hurts so much that it's hard to believe people actually keeping doing it!

And then all of a sudden, it doesn't hurt anymore. It gets super easy.

I went to one breastfeeding support group at the hospital and the lactation consultant passed out a graph comparing the ease of breastfeeding to formula feeding. At first, formula feeding totally beats out breastfeeding in terms of difficulty. But somewhere between the 4 and 6 week mark, when baby starts getting some neck control and your nipples have stopped feeling like they are being shredded, breast feeding just gets easier. Simpler, less messy, and super convenient. All you need is the baby and yourself (and, if you're me, a burp cloth to catch the overflow of breastmilk shooting everywhere).

2. Attend a breastfeeding mothers group.
I was totally the pregnant girl attending the breastfeeding mothers group when I was expecting Eliza. That made it kind of hard for me to want to go back, even when I had a baby to take with me. I cried when introducing myself the first few times because it was hard for me to talk about having lost Eliza, but I didn't want to leave her out. As difficult as that was at first (it's easier this time around), it was worth it for me to get advice and feedback from other people. It also helped me to see other people who were struggling with the same issues I was--and seeing some moms battling low supply or serious latch issues reminded me how fortunate I was that I was able to do this.

The first time around, I was really anxious about Zuzu's weight gain, so I'd go to breast feeding groups so I could weigh her before and after I fed her. This time, I haven't felt the need to do that, but it's nice to know the option is there.

3. Slather on the lanolin and use gel pads.
Zuzu had a great latch from the very start. Coco was born with a little tongue tie that I noticed right away in the hospital. After consulting with three lactation consultants and two pediatricians, we decided to have it clipped at the hospital. I was worried about it hurting her, but they assured me that there are very few nerve endings there. I made David go watch and he said she fussed when they did it but stopped crying as soon as it was over. I noticed a difference in the way she latched on immediately.

BUT I was still really sore for the first 10 days with both girls. So I smeared on the lanolin all the time. Actually, my favorite stuff was this MotherLove cream. It's awesome. I used it every time Coco nursed until I forgot to use it because it didn't hurt anymore!

I also used these soothing gel pads--keep them in the fridge and feel the relief. AHHH-mazing.

4. Air out your boobs.
Some good advice I got was that you want to avoid smooshing your sore boobs/nipples in clothes all the time. But lying around with your boobs hanging out may or may not be an option for you, depending on who is visiting and how you feel about them checking out your boobs. In that case, you need these breast shells (ask for them at the hospital).

I would smear on the MotherLove cream and then stick these in my nursing bra and give a little sigh of relief.

Also when my boobs were engorged and it was August and I was hot and cranky and sweaty, I would put a sock between them so they wouldn't touch each other. (UGH I hate engorgement.)

5. Save that milk. 
Speaking of over supply, when I nurse Coco on one side, the other side leaks milk. And by "leaks," I mean "shoots out about two ounces."

I ordered one of these milky cups from Amazon (they've gone up in price since I bought mine, but it was worth the investment for me) and when I nurse on one side, I stick it in my bra on the other side. I pour the milk from the milky cup into a bag or bottle and keep it in the fridge and add to it after each nursing session during the day. At the end of the day, I stick the bag in the freezer.

This allows me to start building up a little stash of frozen breast milk without having to pump. I don't want to pump because (1) I hate pumping! and (2) I don't need to increase my supply at this point.

One thing I was concerned about was the issue of foremilk and hindmilk. But I asked a lactation consultant about it, who checked with someone who has a PhD in lactation (did you know they have those?) and she said that it would not be an issue because there is not an absolute distinction between foremilk and hindmilk (it all comes out of the same tap) and the milk in the first few weeks is especially full of good stuff.

6. Use Sonicare and shower massage for plugged milk ducts.
I have had a couple of plugged milk ducts this time around and I was really concerned because of my experience with mastitis when Zuzu was the age that Coco is now. (Mastitis is the worst!).

A friend advised me that the best thing you can do for a plugged milk duct is take a hot shower and use the shower massage setting to spray right on the duct. You should also massage the duct (if you can) while the baby is nursing.

And the other weird but effective thing I learned from a LLL leader is to hold a Sonicare toothbrush handle against the duct and let it vibrate through a brush cycle. It totally helps!

7. Get fitted for a bra and then fitted again.
Getting fitted for a bra can seem really awkward, but I sort of gave up on modesty after I started breastfeeding and seriously it's not like the ladies fitting you for a bra care at all about what your boobs look like. The last thing I feel like doing is trying on several bras to see which one fits best. So I followed the recommendation of a local friend and I just let the lady at the bra shop eyeball me, bring me a bra, I put it on, it fit. Bingo!

Right now, I mostly wear nursing tank tops (I also let the bra lady tell me what size to get), but once my milk supply settles down (it takes about four months, so I'm almost halfway there!), then I'll get refitted for a couple of nursing bras that I can wear under regular clothes.

8. Don't worry about pumping. 
I stressed about pumping the first time around and had this idea that I had to have a huge stash of milk already pumped before I went to work. I know that works well for some women, but for me, that wasn't the case. I was so relieved when a lactation consultant told me not to worry about pumping for the first several weeks. I ended up not pumping much at all until I went back to work, and that's my plan this time around, too. When I'm at work, I pump what baby needs for the next day and that was that--and if necessary, I can supplement with the milk I've frozen from the milky cup.

But also don't worry about pumping because it's not as big or weird a deal as it seems. I got one of those hands free bras (super sexy!) and I'd just check my e-mail or read blogs at work for 15 minutes while I pumped.

9. Drink a lot of water.
I'm thirsty all the time. I use my trusty Starbucks cup or a Tervis cup or the mug from the hospital and I chug water. I definitely underestimated how thirsty I would be. I carry a cup with me everywhere I go and I drink more water now than I did when I was pregnant!

10. Enjoy it.
Last time I was so worried--did I go too long before pumping? Is she getting enough to eat? Is there too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk? Last time it took me a long time to figure out that I had an over supply (I ended up diagnosing myself via kellymom after Zuzu started having neon green poops), while this time I started nursing on one side per feeding in the first week and that helped enormously.

But BOTH TIMES the baby is doing fine. We're doing fine. While I was still nursing Zuzu, I had a friend tell me that if she could go back and do it again, she'd do everything the same except not stress out about it. And that's what I'm trying to do.

The truth is that sometimes there are other things I want to or need to take care of and I wish that I didn't have to take the time to sit down and feed the baby. It's those evenings when Coco wants to cluster feed and she's squawking, and in a second she'll start screaming, and it's only been an hour and a half since she last ate, and I'm tired of small people touching and grabbing me all day long, and if I could just do x, y, or z...

But everytime I sit down and feed the baby, I relax. I breathe slower. I enjoy the endorphins. People don't talk about breastfeeding feeling good because that sounds so weird, but it does. I look at Coco's sweet face. I check my instagram feed, or I watch TV, or I do a little reading. I never regret the moments I spend nursing her. It never feels like a waste of time. In fact, I can't really think of anything more important or rewarding that I could be doing. It's that good.

I remember a friend telling me that breast feeding is hard at first and then it's "pretty much the best thing ever." I was so skeptical, and I know that's not the case for everyone (for various reasons that may or may not be in your control) but in my experience it's been true.

Would you add to this list?


  1. Good list. I did and do worry about pumping though because of all the trouble keeping my supply up with Finn and being paranoid about it this time around.

    Also, for me nipple shields were wonderful, especially at first with Finn, as I had flat nipples that needed some help. Some people say not to use them, but they were game changers for me being able to establish a nursing relationship with Finn and not freak out he wasn't eating. Once he could latch without it, we were good to go.

  2. I would like the section on HOW THE EFF you get your toddler to leave you alone so you can feed without the baby being distracted and turning (smiling, cooing, giggling) and thus end with milk spraying everywhere but where it belongs?

    Seriously, Benjamin is now to the point where he says "Put baby down. No feed baby" and goes out of his way to be annoying when I am feeding to distract and end things quickly. It works. I threaten leaving the room (and often do), but by then, the baby is not into it anymore. Baby mama drama!

  3. I would add that if breastfeeding doesn't happen to work out for you (for whatever reason), don't let yourself feel like a failure or guilty or inadequate! I think it is fabulous that it works for so many people and I will admit that I am a bit envious that I just couldn't do it, but I so wish that I didn't waste so much time being down on myself and crying when I discovered it just wasn't in the cards for me.

  4. I would probably give the opposite advice about pumping for new moms. I have had major issues pumping enough milk to cover the time that I'm away. I pumped a lot in the early weeks with Eleanor because I had way too much milk, which is pretty normal. We weren't that careful about storage and even ended up tossing some pumped milk because I assumed that I would always have plenty. By the time she hit six months, we started supplementing with formula for the time that I was at work because I could not pump enough. I was crying in the break room because I was so stressed.

    This time around, I froze as much as possible at the beginning, and we made it all the way to 10 months without formula. Obviously formula is fine, but it's really frustrating to put all that time into pumping and then not have enough.

  5. Those milky things are awesome... Until you forget it's there and lean over to pick up your water cup, burp cloth, blanket... and then you feel like an idiot for dumping all that wonderful "extra" milk all over you and the baby! So my big tip is just don't forget it's there! ;)

    And also if you've had any breast surgery at all, read the sections on breastfeeding after surgery. I'd had lumps removed when I was a teenager, and didn't equate that to reduction / augmentation surgery, never gave it a thought. But you can do things like take lecithin to reduce the risk of blocked ducts, and scar tissue really increases that risk. I found out about that *after* my mastitis turned into an abscessed duct. And no matter how crunchy you think you are - take the antibiotics. Take them early and often! It's a toss-up whether it was my medical history or my reluctance to take medication that resulted in the abscess, but please feel free to learn from my foolishness. I went from "no thank you I don't want abx while nursing" to four consecutive rounds of abx, the last three of which were sulfa. Argh. But I was so grateful to my doctor for his patience and advice that helped me avoid additional surgery, which would have ended nursing much sooner than we'd planned.

    Live and learn! Sorry for the book. And definitely take a moment to enjoy it when it's going well!

  6. It IS the best and I miss it terribly.

  7. Great post! Breastfeeding was sheer hell for me in the beginning but now it's GREAT! Now 7th just looking for easy nursing tank tops...I really hate wearing those breast pads that shift constantly..