Breastfeeding is a natural process in women - and, yet, many, many women struggle with it, especially in the beginning. I did, too. I breastfed my daughter Lily for sixteen months and am now also breastfeeding my son, Finn. While breastfeeding came without any major issues for me, the start of the experience was completely different for my two kids. Lily and I had a rougher start, including two milk blisters, nipple soreness and an intense surplus of milk. Especially as the start with Finn has been so much smoother, I reflected on what helped me to make it easier for me this time round - although I will say I can only vouch this for myself. Every woman is different, as is every baby and breastfeeding relationship. I can also tell you that my tips are far from inventing-the-wheel-new and you might have heard of them from somewhere else before; however, I share how they helped me and what I did during my two breastfeeding starts.
1. Feed the first time as quickly as possible after birth
I think this was the major difference in the breastfeeding beginnings for Lily and Finn. After Lily was born, the midwife and doctors were too busy trying to stitch me up that they didn't help me latching her on. Suddenly, they said I needed to undergo surgery for my injuries and I was wheeled away. As there were some problems with the intubation, surgery took longer than expected and Lily only fed the first time over two hours after birth. By then, she was already really tired again and I had to permanently motivate her to feed.
With Finn, he was put on my chest immediately after birth and started searching. I guided him gently to my breast and he latched on minutes after he was born. The midwives were astonished he latched on so early and well, and it was the beautiful beginning of a wonderful breastfeeding journey. My milk supply was also much more balanced than with Lily, who almost drowned under the cascades of milk spilling out of my boob.
2. Breastfeed lying down as often as possible
A comfortable breastfeeding position is key to a successful breastfeeding start. Babies also have to learn to latch on properly, so the less you and baby are twisted in the angle to the breast, the better. While many positions can get your baby in the right angle, I personally find breastfeeding lying down the best for various reasons. First of all, there is less chance of you cramping up your back. When we bend over to latch baby one when we're sitting, we tend to make a hunchback, which leads to back pain. Secondly, it's the most comfortable and you and your baby can bond beautifully lying spoon to spoon while you can read your e-reader behind baby's head (if you don't have an e-reader and are expecting a baby, I strongly recommend you getting one. Reading a book with one hand is infinitely harder and you can read in the dark as well when you put baby to bed).
Another reason why breastfeeding lying down is great is that you get used to it quickly for the nights. We co-sleep with our children and, in my opinion, it's by far the best sleeping setup as it allows you to stay in bed when baby needs a feed, and even continue sleeping after they've latched on. When you become a pro at lying-down-breastfeeding early on, your nights are going to be infinitely easier. Also, if you have surplus milk supply like I had, baby is less smothered by your milk in this position.
Little extra tip if your nipple isn't in the perfect angle when lying down. Fold a cloth nappy and put it under the breast. This way, your breast is elevated and the cloth sponges up any surplus milk.
3. Have cooled curd and wool grease at home
Regardless how well you prepare for breastfeeding, it can still be painful in the beginning. If it hurts it doesn't necessarily mean you're doing something wrong, so don't beat yourself up. Especially with the first child, aching nipples are very common - I was in agony for a week or two. However, there are many little house remedies to help. With Lily, I had a starting mastitis, which I immediately cooled with curd from the fridge and it went away before it became a problem. It's very simple: you put curd in the fridge and after each feeding, you put some curd on a kitchen roll and fold it over, so the curd is inside. Place one or two "curd rolls" on either side of the boob. However, DO NOT put the curd directly on your nipple. Curd has bacteria cultures and they might get inside your milk ducts and cause an infection. These curd rolls are really just for the breast.
For aching nipples what really helped me are wool grease and fresh air. If possible, let your breasts hang out as much as possible in the early days. Bras can obstruct milk ducts and are the perfect environment for bacteria to conglomerate. Plus, fresh air is the best remedy for aching nipples. Additionally, you can smear pure wool grease on your nipples (sounds disgusting, but it helps). You get grease in every pharmacy and some drug stores as well.
4. Organise a midwife for the postpartum period
The curd and grease tip were given to me by my midwife. I think it is essential to organise a midwife for your postpartum period for ease of mind, a good breastfeeding journey and for your mental state - at least that was the case for me. Every woman I know who've had struggles breastfeeding to the extent that she gave up did not have a midwife caring for her after giving birth. As I've written before, breastfeeding, albeit a natural process, comes with its challenges and a midwife can help you navigate them.
First of all, a midwife checks your baby, which gives you ease of mind, which decreases potential stress and stress isn't good for breastfeeding or healing postpartum. Secondly, she can give you tips, look whether you and baby are latching on alright, and adjust if you don't. You can ask her all the questions and find reassurance when you're facing troubles - because, believe me, these women have seen it all.
Finding a midwife isn't easy - and in some countries it is also a financial challenge. You basically have to register for one the day of the positive pregnancy test, but it is really worth it, in my opinion. Especially with Lily, my firstborn, I had so many questions and we both needed guidance with latching on - I am not sure how our breastfeeding journey would have gone if I hadn't had my great midwife.
5. Prepare your breasts and practise the massage
Finally, it may be beneficial to prepare your nipples and breasts for breastfeeding. Opinions are divided whether that's necessary, but I feel like it can't hurt to try. A few weeks before birth, you can start practising the breast massage - and you may even get a few droplets of colostrum already. Some women I have talked to prepared their nipples beforehand by not wearing bras anymore, so the nipple gets "roughed up" and isn't quite so sensitive anymore. You can also place your palm on your nipple and gently rub up and down. I must say, I didn't try this with either kid, but I stopped breastfeeding Lily about four months before giving birth and breastfeeding Finn and I didn't have any pain with him at all - so maybe roughing up your nipples beforehand may help.
The breast massage is very simple, but it has various benefits to know it. First of all, you can "warm up" your breast before baby latches on. Often the first strong draws of the baby to get the breast milk going are the most painful in the first days, so if you get the production started before baby latches on, you can circumvent that. Secondly, if you have a slow milk supply, your baby may get frustrated if it takes a while to get the milk out. If you gently guide the milk out beforehand, baby gets milk quicker and cries less. And finally, if you have surplus milk supply - like I did - you can gently express milk when your breasts feel extremely full but baby doesn't want milk at the moment. Just make sure not to express too much, or the milk supply may even increase - just enough to take away any discomfort.
How to do the breast massage? You can find loads of videos on Youtube like this one or ask your midwife. In general, it's very simple. You take your breast in your washed hands and gently rub it between your hands. First from above and below the nipple, then from both sides. Then you can slowly and gently use one hand to massage towards the nipple from each side (this is also great when you have a blocked milk duct). Finally, place your index finger and thumb gently in a C-shape around the nipple and squeeze carefully to express milk.
I hope these tips may help you or at least give you support knowing that plenty of women go through struggles in the beginning and still have wonderful, long-term breastfeeding journeys. I wish you all the best for your breastfeeding journey.
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