Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things about being a mom and although your body and your baby are designed for it, that doesn’t always mean it comes naturally.
It certainly didn’t for me.
I breastfed both of my daughters for a little over a year, and there were unique challenges with each.
Not only is there a learning curve but between painful, sore nipples, problems with your latch and milk supply, and what seem like 24/7 feedings, I quickly realized breastfeeding was no easy feat.
Add to that challenges like breastfeeding in public and returning to work, and it’s no surprise that only about 50 percent of moms are still breastfeeding at 6 months.
Still, there are ways to make breastfeeding easier. Here’s my advice.
1. Start breastfeeding as soon as possible
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend moms and babies have skin-to-skin care immediately after birth or as soon as the mom is able to, and continue to do so for at least an hour.
Studies show moms of babies who have skin-to-skin care following birth are more likely to be exclusively breastfeeding at 6 weeks postpartum.
Keeping your baby close right after birth also helps you to recognize when he’s rooting and ready to feed.
About 50 percent of hospitals have rooming-in practices, but if yours doesn’t, it’s a good idea to keep your baby in your room since studies show it can increases the initiation and duration of breastfeeding.
2. Ask for help right away
After you give birth, ask to have a lactation consultant come into your room to show you breastfeeding positions that are comfortable and how to get the latch right.
Although I found the lactation consultant in the hospital to be helpful, once we were home I still felt unsure about how to sit and hold my baby and I worried if she was getting enough milk.
One of the best things I did was return to the hospital for a private consultation with two lactation consultants. My husband and I spent more than hour with them learning what the latch should feel like and how to position her, and they weighed her to make sure she was getting enough milk.
The hospital or birth center you deliver in is a good place to start or ask your provider for a referral.
Support through La Leche League, a new mom’s group, or from a friend can also help you navigate the breastfeeding journey with ease.
3. Get the right gear
It’s more affordable than formula feeding, but getting some basic products can make breastfeeding easier.
I found nursing bras, receiving blankets, a double electric breast pump, breastmilk bags, nursing pads and the Boppie to be invaluable.
4. Know the signs of mastitis
Between 2 and 10 percent of breastfeeding moms get mastitis, an inflammation of the breast tissue that can cause redness, tenderness, or firmness around the breast as well as fever, fatigue and malaise. Mastitis may or may not be accompanied by a bacterial infection.
Mastitis usually happens when a milk duct becomes blocked from engorgement, but it can also happen from wearing a tight bra or clothing.
To clear mastitis, make sure you fully empty your breasts when you breastfeed or pump. If you have pain, applying heat to the area can also help with let down.
Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics if the symptoms have been present for 12 to 24 hours or if you’re feeling ill.
It’s important to get plenty of rest, eat healthy and drink plenty of water too.
5. Get your spouse on board
When you bring your newborn home, you’ll probably be breastfeeding night and day, but just because you have the breasts doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.
Your spouse can take one of the nighttime feedings with a bottle of your pumped milk, but you’ll want to make sure you pump so your milk supply doesn’t decrease. I found that waking up to pump when my husband fed our daughter didn’t make breastfeeding easier for me, but you might be able to make it work if you can pump before you go to sleep, for example.
As an alternative, you can feed your baby and then let your partner take over with the diaper change and putting your baby back to sleep.
6. Eat protein
Breastfeeding places high demands for protein on your body so it’s important to make sure you’re getting plenty at every meal and snack you eat. Eating protein will also stabilize your blood sugar, give you energy, and help you lose the baby weight.
Excellent sources of protein include:
- Lean meats
- Tempeh, tofu and soybeans
- Nuts, seeds and nut butters
7. Drink plenty of water
A misnomer about breastfeeding is that drinking plenty of water is important for your milk supply, but upping your intake of H2O actually doesn’t increase your milk supply, according to Kelly Bonyata, an international board certified lactation consultant and founder of KellyMom.com
What drinking plenty of water can do however, is help prevent you from feeling even more fatigued than you probably already do.
The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine says the adequate intake (AI) for water while breastfeeding is 3.1 liters but notes there’s no data to suggest that kidney function and the amount of hydration breastfeeding moms need is any different than moms who are not breastfeeding.
Rather than keeping tabs on how much water you’re drinking, a good rule of thumb is to drink for thirst. Keep a water bottle near you during the day to make sure you’re staying well-hydrated and be mindful of symptoms of dehydration, which include dark urine, constipation, and fatigue.
If plain water isn’ your thing, add slices of cucumber or strawberry for a hint of flavor. Water from other sources count too: fruits and vegetables, soups, juices, milk, tea and coffee.
8. Get sleep—when you can
Let’s get real for a second: it seems that everything you read about having a new baby at home comes along with the advice, sleep when your baby does.
I don’t know about you, but after I had my daughters—and for several years later—sleep was a pipe dream.
My toddler and infant weren’t always on the same nap schedule and when they did nap, there were always things to be done like laundry, cleaning, bills, etc.
Still, it’s really important to sleep when you can because it’s important for your physical and mental health: it affects your hormones, immune system, appetite and your overall function. Although sleep deprivation is inevitable, realize that it can contribute to the symptoms of postpartum depression.
9. Wean slowly
When I started to wean my older daughter after her first birthday, I landed in urgent care.
I already had been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) years earlier, but I had such intense anxiety and nausea I knew something else was going on.
The doctor I saw suggested I follow up with my primary care physician about gallstones, but I knew he was wrong.
Something that I think is not often spoken about is that weaning can cause sadness, depression, irritability, mood swings and anxiety, according to Bonyata.
Wean too quick and you can also set yourself up for engorged breast and mastitis (see #4).
When you start the weaning process, my advice is to do it slowly.
Try eliminating a feeding and waiting a few days until you drop another one. You can also gradually lessen the amount of time you breastfeed during each session.
Weaning can take 2 to 3 weeks to be complete so be patient—and enjoy this time with your child.