Practical Guide for Breastfeeding: Tips, Tricks, and Troubleshooting
This article started as an dive into the culture of breastfeeding and the evidence behind it. As I wrote, more and more aspects of breastfeeding surfaced...
So now this is a 3-part post on navigating the nuances of breastfeeding in those first days and weeks! Enjoy!
If breastfeeding is difficult, it is especially so the first two weeks. Sometimes four. But by week six, the rhythm usually finds its flow.
It is smart to think about breastfeeding before you're breastfeeding. Babies feed 8 to 12 times a day. If every feed is 30 to 60 mins long, that is 4 to 12 hours of breastfeeding every day.
That ranges from a part time job to overtime! It makes sense to prepare for it.
Robust breastfeeding information and support is not a given for many mothers. Learning and thinking about the journey beforehand can make mamas more resourceful and resilient in facing not-so-helpful comments and unexpected obstacles that seem to dig their way into our confidence just when we start feeling like we're on a roll.
First, I share my thoughts on advice articles for mums out there. If you're looking for just the breastfeeding tips, scroll down to TIPS.
An quick opinion on quick-fix articles...
I am not a fan of "how-to" articles.
The promise of one article solving all the obstacles just doesn't sell to me. Everyone sees a similar problem from their own angle; there's always a tweak in the typical problem-story, and a unique solution.
The academic side of me find the bullet point evidence summaries falling thin of, well, evidence. Most things are unclear. Eliminating the uncertainty is not beneficial because when one hears contrary information it is even more confusing. Some things are uncertain; we can expect to hear different theories.
Instead, I've comprised tips I have given many times over that may help you in figuring out your way to breastfeeding. Set aside the books and research, and turn to some tried and tested tricks to just get the process working.
Here is a summary of what I’ve gathered from my experiences to get a positive start on breastfeeding:
This post: Part 2: Part 3:
TIPS TRICKS TROUBLESHOOTING
Setting up Working Out the Logistics Adjusting the Latch
Working with the Baby Pillows and Positioning Scrap it and Re-latch
The Latch Alternative Methods
Setting up a space,
for the mind and the body
The first few days, you might not get it. The baby might not get it.
As a rule of thumb: the first day is for recovering, the second is for practicing, and the third day the milk flows.
Channel your inner child. Remember the one who endured hours of practice to get the hang of something? You're doing it again, and it's your baby's first ever time.
Your first time of many, learning together.
Make yourself comfortable.
Like setting up a workspace, create an ambiance for 'special'.
Some people claim that breastfeeding is a “special time” to bond with your baby, where you feel the magical empowerment of what your amazing body can do.
Some people say that is bull-crap.
It heavily depends on how you approach breastfeeding and how you prepare yourself.
Not every feed will be magical, but your entire breastfeeding journey can be one that you think back on fondly, and proudly; and with the power of memories, maybe even magically.
Trial-and-error with set-ups that feel comfortable and create the atmosphere where you can calmly try with your baby:
Have a glass of water nearby: some women feel parched as soon as the milk starts flowing!
Have snacks ready: baby eats, you eat
Put on a favourite show (something to do): I had a client who once watched the Olympic games while she breastfed!
Pick a well lit or dim room, depending on your preference
Choose a comfortable seat: Usually, something that lets you sit upright, rather than leaning back
Curate a support team: a team cheerleading you on is much better motivation than you alone in a dark room crying, with a crying baby
Fuel yourself with nutritious food and rest.
It is common sense, but we forget it sometimes.
Other times, we remember but just can’t make it happen...because there is a baby to take care of 24/7.
I’ve made a separate post just for nutrition and rest while breastfeeding.
Take your time.
Getting the hang of latching your baby takes perseverance.
You may feel very determined and want to continue trying at the single feed for hours on end. This effort is commendable, but it is not sustainable because you have 8 to 10 feeds left for the day.
My tip: set some time to give it a solid try, then stop.
If it’s been 30 to 40 minutes and not working, take a break. Feed your baby an alternative way, perhaps a family or partner can do this. You drink some water, relax, and freshen up for the next try.
Approaching the morning or midday feeds with longer tries can be a good idea. You’re fresh from the baby’s typical longer stretch of sleep in the dawn hours, your breasts are full, and you’re ready.
Working with your baby:
cultivating cohesion with a new teammate
Feed your baby when they ask for it.
You do not need to wait for them to cry
...by then they’re probably too angry to calm down and focus on practicing this new skill!
You will know their cues, you’re probably staring at their sleeping faces all day long anyways!
Here’s a start: if they’ve been asleep for an hour or so, and they start to stir, suck their hands, bobbing their head back and forth like a baby bird, it’s more likely than not, feed time.
You don’t need to hold out longer until you hit the “3 hour” mark someone told you. Baby's gotta eat when baby's gotta eat.
Timing between feeds is measured from the start of one feed to another.
The break seems shorter because it is shorter.
When the nurse or midwife at the hospital reminded you to feed the baby every 2-3 hours, this meant: if feed #1 was at 8 in the morning, feed #2 can be expected around 10 to 11 in the morning.
If it takes you an hour to feed the baby, then it is quite normal for the baby to be up in an hour or 2 requesting their next feed!
This is another reason to be mindful of how long a feed is taking and how long to be trying.
Hold your baby in a way where you have grip.
Maintain wide range of motion holding with one arm.
There will be lots of different methods and advices flying your way on this one!
Here's the gist:
Test your hold by moving the baby away and closer to your body.
There are many different suggestions you may hear, but the most important thing is that you can easily move your baby towards you.
Usually, this involves placing your hand behind their neck and between their shoulder blades while resting the weight of their body across your forearm.
A sleepy baby
A "good", sleeps-all-day baby still needs to eat.
The first few days after birth, it is not uncommon to find a sweet, sleepy angel in your arms. If that’s the case, and they’ve already had one longer stretch of sleep (give or take 4 hours), do wake them every 2-3 hours to remind their tired little bodies it needs to eat.
Key to breastfeeding bliss
Stop if it hurts.
(Perfect) practice makes perfect. Bad practice makes bad.
Don’t power through a bad latch because it took so much time and effort to finally get the baby onto the breast. Damages to the nipple will exacerbate every feed, and be an obstacle in establishing breastfeeding in the long run.
Some pain or discomfort when the baby first latches on is common. It should subside in a few sucks. If it doesn't, stop. Try troubleshooting or re-latch.
Wait for a big mouth to latch.
Timing is everything.
It is crucial that when the baby opens their mouth, you make the most of it and quickly put them (shove them) onto the breast.
This is where the strong hold becomes useful. Newborn babies can open their mouth but they do not have the strength or coordination to reach their head out and grab the nipple, so we have to give them the encouraging push (shove).
How do I know the latch is good?
A good latch is simple:
1) it doesn't hurt, and,
2) the baby feeds effectively.
Not the same as long feeds or constant feeding.
I have read that new mothers NEED TO “feed their babies more frequently” to produce milk. Frequent means the every 2-3 hour ballpark the midwife may have given you, otherwise known as: whenever the baby wants to feed.
But more precisely, it’s the quality of the latch that matters. Ineffective feeds do not stimulate the mum’s body enough to produce more milk. Feeding the baby 24/7 while they're just using your nipple as a pacifier is not going to bring in milk, it's going to bring in nipple damage, depleted mamas, and hungry babies.
On the flip side, a baby effectively drinking is less likely to need help from us to dictate "how frequent they should feed". They know what a full belly feels like and they have the energy to make that known.
Effective feed means the baby is draining the milk from the breast.
How can you tell? I made an infographic.
You might run into some moments of "is there an easier way?" Here are some tricks and a troubleshooting guide in parts 2 and 3:
Practical Guide to Breastfeeding:
TRICKS (Part 2)
TROUBLESHOOTING (Part 3)
There you go! I hope this post is useful for expecting mothers to start visualising their breastfeeding journey, and for feeding mamas to have in their back pockets during those trying sessions.
Writing these series of posts, I realised that the “troubleshooting” section of the actual latching technique is shorter than all the preparations. That sums up breastfeeding! It is quite simple. Simple can just be hard.
There’s not much to “master”.
Majority of the roadblock is taking care of yourself, assessing and adjusting your mentality, surrounding yourself with support, and making consistent, conquerable efforts.