When I gave birth to my son earlier this year, I remembering telling a nurse I wish I had six arms to help position my baby to nurse him. The combination of supporting an unstable newborn who might be crying or wiggling or thrashing his arms around plus having to hold your breast just right so your nipple is latchable and waiting for him to open his mouth wide enough and breaking his suck to try again when the nurse tells you it’s not right . . . it felt like madness. Not to mention how often newborns nurse! I wondered to myself when were things going to get easier. Was I going to spend the next 6 months to a year holding my nursing child all day and all night? So here is my personal experience in when breastfeeding got easier for me.
- Hurdle One: Holding the baby. There are different positions you can use for nursing, and that doesn’t just mean the baby! Cradle, football, cross cradle, cats in the cradle, how is it possible for you to breathe and eat like that cradle . . . Look up pics online and ask for help. Use no less than 6 pillows and your nursing pillow to get all of you just right, and then the baby will have a poosplosion and you will have to start again.
- Hurdle Two: Latch. I thought this was going to be a lot easier than it ended up being. Just put the mouth on the nipple, right? WRONG. You gotta get them to open up real wide and stuff your whole friggin nipple in there like a sandwich because they have to get your nipple all the way back to their soft palate. This involved a lot more concentration than I had expected. I had to have a nurse or lactation consultant physically help me with this one, which is what you should expect!
- Hurdle Three: Pain. It’s not enough that you popped this little angel out your hoo-ha or had your body sliced open for them. Now they put their (surprisingly strong!) little gums and tongues on your other most sensitive body part. My doula gave me a little phrase that helped me. She called the first few seconds to minute of pain the “Six second sizzle.” Or the “Sixty second sizzle.” I don’t know. Either way, she was acknowledging that when the baby first latches, it can be uncomfortable while he gets your nipple into the right place to suck. But even after that, lack of knowledge or the anatomy of your unique baby can cause pain and red, cracked, or bleeding nipples. There are several kinds of nipple cream that can help alleviate the pain, as well as a little bit of a cold compress. But the biggest thing to help heal is to learn how to help your baby latch right. This last part ties into Hurdle 6, below.
- Hurdle Four: Milking coming in. Somewhere between days 2-5 after birth, your breasts will swell to their fullest and your will leak, no spray milk all over your sweet baby’s face, their clothes, your clothes, the couch, the bed – EVERYWHERE. What no one told me about being engorged with your milk coming in was that your breast can be so hard that your baby can’t latch on and you need to do some work to help them out (reverse pressure softening worked for me). Milk coming in is uncomfortable and sometimes painful, but your supply will regulate as your body figures out whether you are feeding one baby or more.
- Hurdle Five: Asking for help. With the parade of medical personnel in the hospital barging in every 15 minutes (no, really) and family all clamoring outside your door when you get home, you would think getting help would be easier. But it’s not. I so recommend having the number or email of a lactation consultant so you can get more help in the following few weeks. My hospital had a wonderful service where you could call and speak to an IBCLC and even set up an appointment with one in the hospital. I had it even easier, in that my doula was also an IBCLC and we had a follow up meeting to talk about my birth experience and I was able to email her questions about breastfeeding.
- Hurdle Six: Do I have enough milk? I think every nursing mom has wondered this at least her first time around. My baby is crying and how can I know that they are getting enough? Part of you yearns to bottle feed so you can measure and see how much they are eating. Between spit up, short nursing sessions, marathon nursing, and cluster feeding, it feels like a total enigma. The tried and true ways to know your baby are getting enough milk are – how many wet and dirty diapers are they having and how much weight have they gained. Our hospital had a time each day when you could come and weigh your baby for free, or you can buy a baby scale. Thankfully, relatively few women actually have difficulty producing enough milk for their little one, so talk to you pediatrician about what you can do. Pumping after nursing, allowing your baby unlimited time at the breast, and letting your baby use you as a pacifier are all ways to help boost milk supply. It’s also totally fine to supplement with formula if that is what your family needs – I would just recommend talking to your pediatrician and lactation consultant for other options first if you are really set on exclusively breastfeeding.
- Hurdle Seven: Night feedings. Holy moly, if there’s something that will break down anyone it is lack of sleep. One of the few things that is so hard about breastfeeding is that YOU are the baby’s supply of food. Even if you want to skip actually breastfeeding the baby during the night, if you want to keep your supply up with your baby you need to pump when he is given a bottle (may as well just nurse in my opinion). Feel free to give your sleeping partner a death glare while you keep your precious child alive and they rest. Night feedings will become less frequent as your baby adjusts to being awake during the daytime, but you also may have to help them give up night feedings when they are older (eg after 4 months).
- Hurdle Eight: Attached at the boob. Again, since you are your baby’s source of life and all, it can be really tricky to get time away. It can be surprisingly tricky to pump a lot of milk after about 3 months postpartum, so having someone else give the baby a bottle while you are away isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. Especially if you are irrationally protective of your stash of frozen breastmilk like I was. Getting some space from baby may take extra effort and planning, but it’s worth it to have some time to yourself. Whether it’s seeing a friend, going to a movie, or just sleeping without interruption for a few hours, you will want to figure out how to get some space.
As you can see, most of the hurdles in breastfeeding are at the very beginning of your journey. You may run into other issues such as a clogged duct or an infection, but rest assured that breastfeeding does get easier. The biggest hurdle can definitely be Asking For Help, especially if you don’t feel you are getting the care you need. Ask for help again, or from someone else, or ask your partner or a family member or friend to get you help. Breastfeeding can become very easy over time. Now, I can easily latch my son and eat or type on my computer or walk around the house. I can even breastfeed discreetly in public without a cover! You may not get it the first one hundred latches, but after a few weeks it will get easier.