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When it came to breastfeeding, I was very lucky. Jack wanted to eat right away, picked up nursing like a champ, and beyond a little bit of discomfort for the first few weeks (and a couple cases of mastitis), it went very smoothly. Some may say too smoothly, since Jack didn’t stop nursing until he was almost two. Ha!
I’ve had some friends ask me at different times for tips for breastfeeding success. While I’m no expert, I feel like I learned a lot about it, and I do have some tips for success. I’m not writing this post to make people feel bad if they couldn’t (or just didn’t want to) breastfeed – I know for some, it’s just not an option. However, I hope this may help someone out there who can be successful…be successful!
And I wrote this post before having my second son, who I had a lot more trouble with. I’ve tried to update this post where I can, but be sure to peruse our breastfeeding archives for more information!
Ask for help
I think a lot of women are afraid to ask for help, or they don’t know where to turn. Fortunately there are so many wonderful resources out there, with people who really want to help mothers succeed with breastfeeding.
At the hospital
Before I had Jack, my mom told me that when I was in the hospital, request to have a nurse come every time I fed him to make sure I was doing it correctly. I took this advice, and I really think it made such a difference in my experience. Labor & Delivery nurses are there to help you, and I found that all of them were more than willing to come in and make sure everything was going right. They gave me some great tips and advice, which made it so much easier.
The hospital I delivered at also had a lactation consultant that worked there during the day, and she made rounds to see all the breastfeeding mothers. She gave a free consult and gave me some good advice on how to succeed.
When You Go Home
Obviously, you won’t be at the hospital forever, so thankfully, there’s still many resources to help you afterwards.
WIC (Women, Infant, and Children) is a program that offers a lot of benefits to lower income families. One of the valuable offerings that they have are free classes, as well as breastfeeding support. While I didn’t go into WIC, I know several women that did, and they had a lot more success with nursing afterward. Just search for your counties local WIC office to get started. They also offer free breast pumps for women who qualify.
Lactation Consultants are so important for breastfeeding mothers! These are the experts when it comes to breastfeeding and infant nutrition. Search for a local IBCLC or CLC in your area if you need help with anything breastfeeding related – pain, latch issues, a baby who is having trouble gaining weight, etc.
The La Leche League is a non-profit organization whose goal is to help women successfully nurse their children. They are a world-wide organization, and there is free support for women who need it (whether it be by a phone consult or in person.) They really have some wonderful resources available to all women. Their website has some great resources as well.
Make sure the latch is correct
If your baby isn’t latching on correctly, chances are, you’ll have issues breastfeeding. BabyCentre.UK offers the following tips when checking if the latch is correct:
- Her mouth is as wide open as possible before she attaches to your breast.
- Her tongue, bottom lip and chin touch your breast first.
- Once attached, her chin is touching your breast, and her nose is free
Typically, if they start eating right away without an issues, they latched on just fine. It may take some time to get them to latch on correctly, but once you get it done, it will be much easier. The link I referenced above has some more information on this topic.
Try different positions
There are so many different nursing positions out there, and they don’t always work perfectly for everyone! I remember trying these different positions when I was in the hospital, and feeling like some of them were so awkward and uncomfortable. I quickly learned this – it shouldn’t be uncomfortable to hold your baby when nursing. For me, I found that the cradle hold was the easiest for me, and it was basically all I did from then on. Here is a little slideshow that shows several different positions. Experiment to see what works best for you and your baby!
Avoid Bottle at First
I’ll admit, we gave Jack a pacifier from the day he was born, and he never had issue with nipple confusion (like the lactation consultant warned us would happen.) However, if your child seems to be having issues nursing, avoid using a pacifier or giving them a bottle. They may get confused, or start to prefer a bottle over nursing. While you should absolutely NOT starve your child and force them to breastfeed (and withholding a bottle), it is important to try not to introduce a bottle until they are in an established routine and you both have breastfeeding down!
If you do need to supplement in the first few weeks, consider feeding the supplement via a syringe, an SNS, or by cup/spoon feeding. It will help prevent nipple confusion.
Are they Getting Enough?
While I was doing research for this post, I read that many women quit or reduce breastfeeding in the first few months because they are worried their baby isn’t getting enough food. That is totally understandable – don’t we all want to make sure our babies are growing?! Fortunately, with the majority of women, they are producing enough milk, and their child is getting enough. When you are breastfeeding, it’s hard to gauge this though.
If your baby is growing and gaining weight, they are getting enough to eat. In the first few months, babies eat a lot, and often cluster feed – so you may feel like maybe you aren’t feeding them enough for the first time. However, it’s not something to be concerned about unless they aren’t gaining weight. Most pediatrician offices (as well as places like WIC) are more than happy to do a weight check to make sure your baby is growing.
Here are a few other ways to know if your baby is getting enough to eat:
- Seems content after eating
- Regular bowel movements and 4-6 daily wet diapers
- Is alert
They may not be getting enough if they aren’t gaining weight (as I mentioned), they act hungry ALL the time, they don’t have enough wet diapers, or they cry all the time. I’d be careful with equating fussiness with hunger, though, because that can be related to different issues (which I will mention later.)
I was told that you should just nurse your baby whenever they seem hungry when they are a newborn, so don’t feel like you have to get on a strict schedule right away! Feeding on demand is the best way to ensure supply and good weight gain.
You can also do a weighed feeding if you are concerned. Any IBCLC or CLC will be able to do one of these for you. Or you can use your own scale at home! We have the Hatch Baby Scale, which is awesome. It connects with your smart phone, and it does automatic weighted feeds, which I love. It is a bit expensive, but I think it’s a great tool to invest in. You can get $20 off using the code CLARKS20. You can read more about our experience with the Hatch Baby Scale here.
Some discomfort and pain during the first few weeks is normal and to be expected. However, it shouldn’t be an excruciating experience, especially after you’ve been nursing for awhile. If it is, chances are something might be wrong. It may be something as simple as your baby not latching on correctly, but there may be a larger issue at hand.
If you are in excruciating pain, I highly recommend speaking with a lactation consultant. They are trained to identify issues with breastfeeding, and they may be able to give you suggestions or ideas on what to do. There may even be an underlying health issue causing you to have issues. Sometimes, a tongue or a lip tie can cause a lot of pain when nursing, so be sure to ask your lactation consultant to check your infant if you have pain that just isn’t getting better.
I think the worst thing you can do to yourself is to suffer in silence. You shouldn’t go on in pain, feeling like you have to keep breastfeeding, and that pain is normal. It’s worth it to to talk to a professional to see if they can help you. And, if you just can’t keep breastfeeding (for whatever reason), it is okay to stop. For most women, it does get easier. But don’t feel like you are a failure if you aren’t one those women!
Possible Breastfeeding Issues
While the majority of women and babies should be able to breastfeed without too many complications, there are some conditions that may make it harder. Here are a few common ones (and you can read more about common breastfeeding problems here).
Lip Tie and Tongue Tie
This is something that is fairly common – I feel like I’ve had quite a few friends who had this issue with their child. If they go untreated, they can be completely detrimental to a breastfeeding relationship. If you feel like your child may have one, seek out a pediatric dentist who specializes in them or in IBCLC.
Low milk production
At one point or another, most women will be concerned about the amount of milk they are producing. In most cases, this isn’t actually the case…but it can be distressing if you don’t know if you are producing enough milk. In the first few months of breastfeeding, you will leak milk, feel more “full”, etc. This is because your body is trying figure out just how much milk it needs to produce. Once your body regulates it a little bit, some of those initial “issues” stop happening, which might cause concern.
However, if you are concerned, it’s fine to get checked out (because if you truly have a low milk supply, your child may be at risk for malnutrition.)
So, why might a woman have a low milk supply? Sometimes it is related to certain birth control (that contains estrogen), not drinking enough water or eating enough calories, or not nursing your baby enough. Sometimes it may be related to a condition that a woman has (such as a thyroid problem), or a procedure she has had done. More often, it’s a problem that can be fixed. The majority of women who experience a drop in milk can reverse the effects.
There are ways to make sure your supply is higher though. Here are a few tips:
- Feeding your baby more often! This is one of the best ways to boost your production. Even if your baby isn’t hungry, you can try and pump in between feedings to stimulate more production.
- Lactation cookies (there are tons of recipes for these on Pinterest.)
- Drinking lots of water
- Avoid supplementing with formula – the more you supplement, the less your body is signaled to make. If you have to supplement, you should always pump after that feeding.
- Power pump!
You can read more about increasing milk production here.
I didn’t experience a lot of pain or discomfort when I was nursing Jack, except for two very specific times – when I had mastitis. Mastitis is when your breast tissue becomes inflamed. Typically, it’s due to some kind of infection, though this isn’t always the case. It can occur from having cracked nipples, plugged milk ducts, or even engorgement.
It typically occurs within the first few months of breastfeeding, though it really can happen at anytime. It happened to me when Jack was about three months old, and when he was almost a year. And boy, was it painful.
If your breast is red, sore, or warm, or you have a fever and are particularly fatigued, you may want to consider talking with your doctor. They will likely give you some at-home ideas to try before they prescribe any medication.
I mentioned my friend Anita above, and she talks in her post about how she was diagnosed with Raynaud’s Phenomenon. This has made breastfeeding very difficult for her. I’d never heard of it, so I thought I’d mention it in case someone who reads this does. Basically, it’s where your nipple doesn’t receive any blood while the baby is latched on. This makes it very painful when a baby is latching on and off, and other times as well. Anita said if your nipples turn white, are very painful and turn from red to deep red, you may have this disorder. She writes more about this here.
Sometimes your milk can get backed up into the duct, which causes the tissue around the duct to become swollen/inflamed, which can cause a blockage.
This doesn’t always cause a lot of problems, but it can be uncomfortable and lead to an infection, such as mastitis. If you start to have symptoms (which include small lumps or tender sports, redness, or the area feeling hot), you should definitely treat it right away. The best way to treat it is to nurse – it may be painful, but it will hopefully relieve the pain soon. I experienced this a few times, and yes, it was painful, but it did help heal it. If your baby doesn’t want to eat, you can try pumping or hand expressing. You can also relieve the pain with ibuprofen or by applying heat (such as with a heating pad).
Fussiness – burp them, eliminate foods, etc.
As I mentioned above, fussiness shouldn’t always be attributed to low milk supply or your baby not getting enough to eat. Many babies have sensitive tummies, and if you are nursing, they are going to be affected by what you eat. Most babies will outgrow these sensitivities (though not all do – Jack sure hasn’t!) If you are noticing your baby is super fussy, first of all – make sure you are burping them! This is super important, especially with younger babies. If you are doing that, you can try eliminating foods. Here are some common foods babies have issues with.
- Anything spicy
I think Jack bit me once, which was when he was almost one. I know a lot of people who stop nursing the first time their baby bites, and while that’s fine, it’s not necessary. It does hurt, yes, but it’s not something that will probably go on forever.
According to La Leche League, it is impossible for a baby that is latched on correctly to bite. So, as soon as your baby appears to be satisfied or about ready to latch off, take them off. It will prevent them from biting you. The post linked above has some great tips, including the importance of proper nursing position.
Before I had Jack, I wasn’t even sure if I would need or want a breast pump. I wasn’t planning on being away from him much, I wasn’t working full-time (I was mainly trying to finish my degree). I did use it a few times though.
The ACA made it so all health plans were required to provide women with a breast pump, so when you have your baby, make sure you get yours! WIC also will sometimes provide them. I’ve heard awesome things about the Spectra pumps.
It’s best to not pump during the first few weeks of breastfeeding, as it can lead to an oversupply, which isn’t good! If you need to get back to work, start pumping a few weeks before. Remember, you only need enough for their first day (though a nice little stash can be comforting.) When you feed your baby, make sure you practice paced feeding, and follow the rule of 1 to 1.25 ounces per hour.
One of our most popular posts is about breast pumping tips, so be sure to check that out!
Tools on Breastfeeding Success
There are definitely ups and downs when it comes to breastfeeding! However, there are many tools and resources that can help it be a little easier. I’ve already mentioned several resources and tips above, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite products that I think make breastfeeding easier!
This is a MUST for everyone. Nipple cream helps prevent and heal sore nipples. I would definitely have at least a tube of this when you first start nursing. I absolutely love the Earth Mama Angel Baby brand. I know some women rave about just using coconut oil!
I know some people are all anti-nursing cover, and if that’s what you choose to do, then so be it. However, I know I personally wouldn’t have felt comfortable nursing without a cover in public, so I spent a lot of time finding one that I felt was functional and worked well. I had no qualms nursing wherever, but I did want to make sure my back and front was covered!
At first, I tried out this free nursing cover apron (just pay shipping with the code C113D4), and while it worked fine, I just really wanted something that would cover my back. So, I made this nursing cover shawl, which was AMAZING and super easy to make.
I also am a big fan of the Covered Goods nursing cover. They often give you 10% off when you go their website and sign up for their emails!
I really didn’t think I would need a breast pump, since I felt like I’d be around Jack most of the time. He really only took a bottle twice the whole time he was nursing, but I am still grateful I purchased a breast pump. It was so helpful in the first few months when my body was still trying to regulate how much milk to produce, and I would sometimes feel very engorged when Jack wasn’t hungry (or he was asleep.) Pumping helped relieve that so much! I only bought a single electric breast pump, but it was so nice to have.
Most insurances will now cover a breast pump as well with an order from the doctor. If your plan covers it, definitely take advantage and save some money!
I have heard AMAZING things about the Spectra pumps. They are one of the most affordable pumps out there, and many women compare it to the quality of a hospital grade pump.
Most women will experience breast milk leaking at some point or another. To save yourself from embarrassment, or having to change your shirt, these are great to have. I only used them for about four months, but they are good to have. I’m a big fan of the Lansinoh disposable nursing pads, but if you want to save money or the environment, I recommended these washable nursing pads (you can get them free, minus shipping, using the code C113D4 again). The Bamboobies brand is also very high quality.
I had a Boppy, and it was one of my favorite products. It made it easier to nurse, my arm didn’t get as tired trying to hold Jack up, and it was just nice to have. I don’t recommend using it when you are first trying to get the hang of nursing, but it is helpful to have later on. It’s also nice to prop your baby up in! I loved my Boppy, but you can also get a free nursing pillow (minus shipping) here with the code C113D4. I can’t personally vouch for the quality, as I don’t own one, but it’s definitely cheaper than other nursing pillows out there
Invest in quality nursing bras. You won’t regret it, and it will make your life so much easier. I recommend going into a maternity store and having them fit you for the correct fitting bra. I have been told the Cayke brand is the best!
Nursing Tops and Dresses
It may be annoying to not be able to wear your favorite shirts, but trust me on this one – you want shirts and dresses that make breastfeeding easy. One day I was at church, and I realized that my dress was not one that made it easy to do, and that made for a rather awkward day! Be sure to check out this post for the best places to find breastfeeding clothes.
Katie Clark is a Certified Lactation Educator, Certified Breastfeeding Specialist, and IBCLC student. She has helped thousands of mothers and families around the globe navigate breastfeeding challenges and questions since 2015. She has a passion for creating research-based, helpful breastfeeding education and helping parents find a way to make breastfeeding work for them. Katie is a mom of three little boys and lives in the great state of Colorado. She also has a degree in Communications with an emphasis in print journalism.