I’ve counseled a lot of women for lactation support and there’s usually a common theme I hear initially. Women and families usually comment something along the lines of, “I’m glad I knew that before I delivered,” or “I wish I had known that before we started breastfeeding!” I wanted to share with you today three basic things I (as a Certified Lactation Counselor and as a new exclusively breastfeeding mama) think everyone should know before they deliver their baby and start breastfeeding.
Without a doubt, one of the biggest misconceptions about breastfeeding is that it’s supposed to hurt. This is absolutely, 100% false – please don’t let anyone tell you this! Breastfeeding is not supposed to cause pain. Pain can actually inhibit your success with breastfeeding; besides it really inhibiting your motivation and desire to breastfeed and causing doubts, the pain physiologically can actually affect your milk production negatively. Now I will say, I know I and other lactation counselors I’ve worked with have said there is a difference between being uncomfortable and pain. It’s okay to feel a little discomfort at first – this is the first time (or first time in a while, if you’re breastfeeding a second, third, or more go around) that your breasts have been used in this capacity, so a little discomfort isn’t necessarily abnormal. That said, there’s a big difference between discomfort and pain. If you’re having pain that lasts the whole session – ask for help. If your discomfort is crossing into toe-curling, gasping pain – ask for help. If your nipples are getting cracked and bleeding – ask for help. Please!
Once you’ve had your initial skin to skin and the baby has latched for the firs time, remember the expression “nose to nipple”. Oftentimes babies don’t get quite a deep enough latch, which is a one-way ticket to pain for mama. If you bring the baby’s nose to your nipple, what happens is that the baby’s head has to tilt back a little in order to latch, which enables their jaw to open wider and they can take in more breast tissue for a deeper latch instead of just latching on to the nipple (ouch!). Again – this is something that any lactation specialist can help you with, so if you’re having a hard time with latch or getting baby to latch deep enough and figuring out the “nose to nipple” – ask for help!
I bet you didn’t see this one coming, huh? But seriously – one of the number one things any pregnant mama needs to know before she delivers and begins her breastfeeding journey is to know her support network. See if your doctor’s office or hospital offers any prenatal breastfeeding classes. Most do. In fact, sometimes these courses are free if your hospital is emphasizing community education on breastfeeding, or your insurance covers it, or you’re working with another agency, such as Healthy Start. If you qualify for WIC (Women, Infants, and Children – check your local health department) or Healthy Start (also check your local health department), or any other agency specific to your area, you’ll likely also be able to receive some prenatal breastfeeding education and postpartum breastfeeding support. These agencies have staff that are highly trained in breastfeeding assistance, and often employ CLCs (certified lactation counselors) and IBCLCs (international board certified lactation consultants). Your baby’s new pediatrician’s office will likely offer some breastfeeding support as well, so be sure to ask about breastfeeding support resources when you’re interviewing pediatricians.
Also know the people in your life who will be able to support you. It makes the world of difference to have support, whether it’s your significant other who can help out in the early days (even just bringing you a cup of water when you’re feeding – again!), or a family member who has breastfed before, or that girl friend who has breastfed and you can text whenever for those “help is this normal?!” or “I need a friend!” moments. But just be careful – find friends and family that will actually support and encourage! When you and your baby are getting your breastfeeding groove together, the last thing you need is to hear someone else’s horror story and doubts on breastfeeding.
Okay, and because I can’t help myself, I have to throw in one little bonus tip here: know how to break the baby’s latch! If you have pain or any difficulty in the beginning, the best thing that you can do is break your baby’s latch and help them re-latch so they can learn to latch correctly. Now I get it – this can be a very tedious process (when your 24-hour-old baby is screaming and just wants a boob, again, you’re just going to want to give the boob and put up with any pain or discomfort – don’t do this!). It’s worth the temporary frustration to just be consistent in showing your baby how to latch correctly. So if your baby didn’t quite latch great the first time, break the latch and try again. You can break the latch by inserting a (clean) figure into the corner of the baby’s mouth – you may need to wiggle your finger or rotate it slightly, just enough to break the suction so you can take the baby off the breast without causing more pain to the nipple. And of course, if you have any trouble – ask for help. 🙂
What other questions do you guys have about breastfeeding, and what other kind of information would you like to see about breastfeeding and infant nutrition? Feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!