In this guide you will find all you need to know about breastfeeding, and what it takes to succeed. I wish I had read a similar post 5 years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, Pat. As a first time mom, there were so many things I didn’t know about pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding, and I didn’t even know what to look for. I remember I spent a lot of time reading about birth stories, but I did not pay too much attention to the breastfeeding part. It felt like this was something that would come natural, so why should I worry? Well, I was wrong, and when the breastfeeding pain hit me, I got lost. So, if you are here, please take a moment and go through this post, as I hope that some of the information provided here will be useful. This article was written based on the knowledge I gained from my two breastfeeding experiences, the breastfeeding experiences of friends and family, and tons of hours spent on breastfeeding and parenting online communities, and social media, such as Facebook groups, and BabyCenter communities.
Reasons to Breastfeed Your Baby
Even before giving birth, it is important for you to understand the benefits of breastfeeding. This is a crucial step on the breastfeeding success path, as you will need to come back and remember the reasons why you decided to breastfeed, once the pain hits in. And this will happen more than once.
- Breast milk contains antibodies. Your baby is born with no immune system, and the antibodies from the breast milk will help your baby to fight the bacteria and viruses in his first three months. However, different studies shown that there is not such a big difference in the health of a child who is breastfed and one that is fed with formula. From my experience, I have to agree with those studies. Little Pat was in a perfect health, although he was partially fed with formula. He was actually gaining more in weight than his sister, who was breastfed.
- Breastfeeding time creates a special bond between the baby and his or her mother. Although I agree that there is something very special about the time Anny and I are spending together when she breastfeeds, I would not say that I feel like I didn’t have a special bond with Pat when he was a little baby. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this time with her, and I wouldn’t change a thing, it’s just that if you don’t decide to breastfeed, or if you don’t succeed, don’t feel too sad, or guilty, there are other ways to bond with your baby.
- Makes the feeding time easier, especially at night. Yes, that is a real advantage over formula fed babies. You don’t have to wake up during the night, and prepare the formula, and then go to your baby. All you have to do is to go straight to your baby, and feed her. If you co-sleep, then things are easier, as you don’t even have to go off the bed. From my personal experience, breastfeeding makes the night waking so much easier. No milk bottles to wash and sterilize, no extra water that needs to be boiled and cooled down to the right temperature – in order to prepare the formula.
Here are some interesting links that you should have a look if you want to know more about the benefits of breastfeeding. The first link is from UNICEF (click here), while the second one is if from NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway) (click here), where they talk about different studies on breastfed and formula fed babies, and their results showed that the formula fed babies are as healthy as the other ones.
Teaching how to breastfeed a baby is not an easy task, and this is done most of the time “on the spot”, which means, that there aren’t many things you can do before giving birth. However, here is a list with things you can do, to prepare for the big moment:
- Talk to your midwife, or doctor, or whoever is in charge of your pregnancy. They can re-direct you to a breastfeeding specialist, where you can have all your questions answered. In Norway, we don’t get to see a doctor during our pregnancy, unless there is a medical reason for it – but we do spend a lot of time talking to midwives. They are very well educated and prepared to answer most of our questions.
- Read books on breastfeeding. While you can’t actually practice the breastfeeding process itself before the baby is born, you can read about it, and understand what it involves. Before deciding if breastfeeding is for you or not, it is recommended to do some research into it.
- Be part of a parents, or children community – Get to meet new moms who are going through pregnancy in the same time as you. In this way, you get to share your experiences as they are happening. It is also a great opportunity to meet more experienced mothers, who have tons of good advice to give, and would be happy to help.
- Talk to family members – that have been through one or more pregnancies. If you have the opportunity, talk to your mother about her breastfeeding experiences.
After giving birth – The First Week
The first week after giving birth is crucial. In my experience, this is the week where you would really decide (if you haven’t done it already, and are firm about it) if you are going to continue with the breastfeeding process or not. The first days are the most painful as well, as the baby doesn’t know how to latch, and neither do you. Both of you will have to learn so much in this week. Make sure you are in contact with a breastfeeding specialist who will not only tell you how to latch the baby, but it will also show you. Again, in Norway, the midwives in the hospital are trained to show us how to do it, until we get it. We also have a breastfeeding specialist that comes and shows us the techniques, and answers our questions. This happens in the first 2 days, while still in the hospital. Asking for help, every time your baby is trying to latch is super important. In this way, you get to make sure that your technique is good, otherwise you will have a lot of pain. While you might learn in few days the latching technique, your baby will not. It will take a longer time for your baby to have a perfect grip, and until you will be pain free. For me, that was 8 weeks. For some could be less, for others more.
After you leave the hospital, make sure that you have someone to come over to your house in the next weeks, to show you how to properly hold your baby, for a perfect latch. If this is not possible, maybe you and your new baby can attend some breastfeeding classes. Search online for breastfeeding classes in your area, and subscribe. This is also a great way to meet new moms that have babies within similar age range.
The “12 Weeks” Plan
If you were smiling when you read the title of this section, then let me tell you why you need a plan when you want to have a successful breastfeeding story to tell. Here is a list with the things that WILL happen to you while you are busy trying to get the perfect latch:
- Your nipples will be sore – I can’t even start to describe the pain you will be having. I remember that after my first day, every time I would hear Anny or Pat cry, and I knew that it was feeding time, I would start crying together with them- for different reasons though. The anticipated pain was killing me. Giving up has been a very tempting thought for a long time.
- You will be bleeding – yes, your nipples will not just be sore, but you will start bleeding. You will not be able to sleep comfortable because of the pain.
- Your breasts will hurt because they will be extremely engorged. Forget about sleeping on your belly- this will not happen for a while.
- Your clothes will get wet – so many times. In the beginning, your milk supply might be higher than the baby’s demand, so there will be times when your milk will just pop out of your breasts … on your clothes. Now, if you happen to fall asleep and sleep more than 2 hours, you will wake up in a “lake” of milk. You might need to start wearing breast pads, which is really annoying, because last thing you want to put on at this stage, is a bra.
- You will get mastitis – this is a conditions that occurs in the first weeks after you start breastfeeding. It is also known as “breast infection”. If you don’t get all the milk out of your breasts, they will be inflamed and very painful.
The list could be longer, but I think these are the most important things you should know beforehand. My first breastfeeding experience was not a successful one, as you can ready in my other post where I talk about the struggles that I had while trying to breastfeed Pat (go to the post). Because of that, when I got pregnant with Anny, I decided to make a plan, to follow, so that I will not give up breastfeeding as easy. The nurses from the hospital where I gave birth told me that usually, it takes about 12 weeks for both the mother and the baby to be comfortable with breastfeeding, and enjoy it.
“12 Weeks Plan to a Successful Breastfeeding Experience”
- Divide the 12 weeks in groups of 3 weeks, and take them one at a time. Setting smaller time-frame milestones, made me feel good about myself. I felt that I was winning even if I stopped after the first 3 weeks.
- Get yourself a gift, at the end of each week. In this way, you have something to look forward to, and it will take your mind off your pain for a minute or two.
- Be kinder to yourself, and don’t set up too high expectations this period. Let the others spoil you. You will be in pain, so you deserve to be spoiled and taking care of for a while.
- Avoid mastitis. Since mastitis was the main reason my breastfeeding experience with Pat was a failure, my first objective for this second round, was to avoid the breast infection at all costs. Read in the next section on few things I did to stay away from mastitis.
- Don’t overdo it. When I felt the pain was too unbearable, I gave myself a break. Don’t push yourself too much.
- Get more sleep. Try to sleep as much as you can. People advice to sleep when your baby sleeps, but if you have the chance, I say sleep even more than that. From my experience, the sleep I was getting while my daughter was sleeping, was not really helpful, as I could not get to rest very well. So, if you have the opportunity to leave the baby with your partner, or a family member, or even a babysitter, from time to time, please, take the time to rest.
- Find a good spot for breastfeeding during the day. Besides the pain, the other struggle that I had with breastfeeding was that it was very difficult to find a comfortable position for me. I had so much pain in my neck, in my back, and in my arms because I was not able to sit comfortable. I tried breastfeeding pillows, my pregnancy pillow, different other pillows, and nothing worked. Until I found my “Rosita” – for those of you who are Friends fans. … the ARMCHAIR. The arm of my chair was holding my elbow at the right height for my baby to reach my breasts. I did not need any more pillows from the day I discovered the armchair. Unfortunately, it took me 6 weeks, and it was all by accident, but, it was a miracle.
- Find a good breastfeeding position during the night. From my experience, finding a good breastfeeding position for you, helps more with the baby’s latching, than trying to find the perfect position for the baby. I did not like the idea of waking up and getting out of the bed during the night, to go and breastfeed in my perfect spot – the armchair- , so since my baby’s bed was right next to mine, I needed a new position that would allow me to stay in bed.
How to Handle the Pain While Breastfeeding
This one is tricky. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to go through this process painless, however, there are some few things you can try, in order to make the pain more bearable.
- Make sure you have a proper lactation technique. This is the number one issue with the breast pain that needs to be addressed. If you get this right, then more than 50% of your pain is gone.
- Use nipple cream. Make sure the cream is in your hospital bag long before your due date. Ask your doctor for recommendations. I am a big fan of the Purelan from Medela. This cream doesn’t have a smell, and it does a great job to moisturize your cracked skin. You can buy this at the local pharmacy, or you can order it on Amazon: Purelan 100 Nipple Cream - 37g. You can read more about best organic nipples creams here.
Buy on Amazon
- Use the breastmilk to ointment your nipples and let them dry out, after each feeding. Make sure you give your breasts plenty of time to dry out, do not use a bra immediately after breastfeeding. You want to make sure you give your nipples plenty of time to heal.
- Use nipple shields. Some lactation consultants, and doctors will recommend to try out the nipple shields. They have never worked for me, but I know a couple of mothers that were really happy about them. What I found uncomfortable about the shields, was that it was very difficult to make them stick on my skin, and even more difficult for the baby to reach to my nipple while sucking. However, if you decide to give them a try, you can order them on Amazon. They are cheap, and worth a try. Here are some that are really cheap Philips Avent SCF156/01 Nipple Protectors Standard (21.6mm), Clear.
Buy on Amazon
- Check for mastitis. If your breasts get red, very hard, and you have “flu” like symptoms, probably you have a milk ducks’ infection. Call your doctor, as you will need to get antibiotics. If you are just in the first stage of getting the mastitis, try to take hot showers, and massage your breasts, while pushing the milk out.
How to Avoid the Mastitis
The first thing to do to avoid mastitis, is to know about it. With my first child, I did not know what that was, so when I got a flu like symptoms, I started to take paracetamol, and hoped to get better. I ignored the fact that my left breast was hurting, since I thought it was part of the breastfeeding pain deal, and I didn’t notice that it had turned red, since I hadn’t had the time, nor the energy to look the mirror. After 5 days of fever, I decided to call the doctor, and since it was weekend, they asked me to go to the ER. They admitted me in the hospital for 3 days. The nurses showed me the red spots on my hard rock breast, and helped me massage it, and pump the milk out manually. This experience has caused my son to take a milk bottle while we were in the hospital (with my breastmilk), and he has never turned back to breastfeeding since. Due to this unpleasant experience, I decided that I needed a good plan to follow with my second child, to avoid mastitis at all costs. My advice is:
- Make sure your breasts are always empty after each breastfeeding session. Instead of forcing your newborn baby to continue breastfeeding until your breasts are empty, try to use a manual or an electric pump, to take out the remaining milk. If you decide to not breastfeed your baby during the night, make sure you pump before going to bed, and very early in the morning the next day.
- Check your breasts frequently. If you feel that one of your breasts is slightly harder than the other, and have a little bit of pain, then take a hot shower, or use very hot compresses over the place you feel the pain, and pump again while massaging your breast. If the pain is too strong to use a pump, try to use your hands.
How to Get the Baby to Latch – latching techniques for breastfeeding
In order to get the best advice on latching techniques, ask your doctor, or midwife for recommendations for a lactation specialist. The best way to learn how to properly and successfully make your baby latch, is by having someone explain it to you, and showing you what you are doing wrong. However, if you do not have an opportunity to have a one on one meeting with lactation consultant, or you don't have the time, or the money to take a breastfeeding class, here is a step by step guide into how to do it:
- Find a comfortable position for yourself. You might not realize it yet, but this is actually very important. Typically, your baby spends 20-30 minutes breastfeeding on each breast, so it will be really hard on your neck and back, if you were to spend 1 hour in an uncomfortable position.
- Place the baby next to the breast you want to start with. Always start with the breast that is less painful, or has the highest engorgement.
- Hold your baby’s head in your hand. Make sure that you are holding his neck properly.
- Place your nipple in the other hand and start rubbing the baby’s lips with it. In this way, the baby will smell the breastmilk, and will start open his mouth. If he doesn’t do that, then try to gently open his mouth, placing your nipple between his lips, aiming for the upper lip.
- Repeat until your baby gets a perfect grip. You will feel a suction when your baby gets a proper latch. Otherwise, you will feel an excruciating pain, and you'll have to stop, and start over again.
If these steps are difficult to follow, here are some pictures that describe how the latching should be done. There are also different positions that should help with attachment.
Breastfeeding versus Pumping. Advantages and disadvantages.
If you are here because you still haven’t decided if you would prefer pumping over breastfeeding, then you should probably read a little bit about the benefits of breastfeeding (in the beginning of this post). If you are still not convinced, here is a list with advantages (green) and disadvantages (red) for both options.
Level of tiredness
Decreasing over time
- Pain level. While breastfeeding is more painful in the beginning, it will go away after a couple of months. Typically, it is expected to have a pain free breastfeeding experience after 12 weeks. If you decide to pump, you should expect to have some moderate type of pain, that it will decrease over time, but it will not completely go away until you stop pumping.
- Accessibility – When you breastfeed, your baby has access to your milk all the time, even when you are on the go. If you pump, then you need to take a 30-40 minutes break, find a place where you can pump, and then spend another 20 minutes to feed your baby. Although this is a disadvantage, it can easily turn into an advantage when you start working, and you won’t have your child with you. Then, you can pump the breast milk, and save it for later use.
- Level of tiredness – This is more applicable for the night feedings. You will get more sleep if you don’t have to wake every 3 hours to pump, during the night. Even if you have to wake up to feed the baby, it is still easier to breastfeed, then to pump.
- Milk supply – Your milk supply will increase while you breastfeed for the next months. However, when you pump, your milk supply will increase in the beginning, but it will start decreasing quite fast. My milk supply was gone after the first 5 months, as I was pumping the breast milk for my son. With my daughter, she is 16 months, and we still breastfeed. However, every mother has its own metabolism, so if it happened to me, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will happen to you as well. The general rule is that the milk supply will decrease over time, when you pump, and it applied to me.
- Feeding management - By that I mean the time you spend for each feeding. When you breastfeed, you just take your baby into your arms and start feeding. When you pump, you need to make sure that your pump's pieces, and the milk bottles are washed and sterilized before every use (or after). Then you spend 30-40 minutes, up to 1 hour to pump the milk out, and then another 30 minutes to feed your baby. Now, if you are alone at home when you pump, and your baby decides to cry … that is not nice. I have experienced many times this, and I tell you, it’s not easy to pump while holding a crying baby in your arms, even if you have the special bra that holds the milk bottles in position.
When to Stop Breastfeeding Your Baby
Deciding when to stop breastfeeding can be a tough decision to make. If you are not forced by the environment conditions, such as your job, or a disease, or a long trip, then this might take a while. In those cases, most of the time, the mothers decide to self-wean the baby. However, if you feel like you have had enough of it, and want to go back to your old life, then it’s better to sit down and make a plan on how to do it properly, so neither you or your baby will suffer.
There is no such time as the best time to stop breastfeeding, as it depends on each one’s experiences, however, there are times that are better than others. It is not at advised to stop breastfeeding when your child is sick, or you have a major change in your surroundings, such as moving to a different place, or when your baby goes to a growth spurt.
The common thing you will hear from your doctor, or nurse, is that it is recommended to breastfeed for at least 6 months, and up to 2 years if it’s possible.
If you decide to go with the self-weaning path, then start looking for clues from your baby, and encourage them. If she doesn’t ask for the milk, try not to offer it to her. This, of course, applies for babies that are 1 year and up, assuming that they are already eating solid foods.
How to Stop Breastfeeding Your Baby
Breastfeeding is a tough journey to start with, and even tougher to put an end to it (in some cases). All of this is true, assuming that you decided to not wait for the baby to self-wean. You will have to take into consideration two things:
- How to make it easier for you- and here I mean, how to make sure that you don’t get the milk ducts infection (mastitis), and how to properly stop your milk supply without any pain.
- How to make is easier for the baby – A happy baby means a happy mom, so you have to make sure that you take it easy on your baby in the beginning. You might struggle a little, but there are some few tips and tricks that can help you along this process.
I have written two posts on how to stop the breastfeeding. The first one focuses on how to stop the night breastfeeding (go to the post), while on the other post I talk about how to make a plan and put an end to the breastfeeding journey (take me there).
Breastfeeding and Pumping Accessories
In order to make your breastfeeding, or pumping journey easier, there are few accessories that you can get. Some of the items I mention are only useful for breastfeeding moms, other just for the ones that decided to pump. However, there are few items that can be used for both of you. Here is a list with the items I found useful:
|Item||For moms that||Comments|
|Nipple cream||Breastfeed/pump||Very important to have.|
|Nipple shields||Breastfeed||Somehow useful.|
|Breast pads||Breastfeed/pump||Very important to have, can be found disposable or reusable.|
|Nursing pillow||Breastfeed/pump||Can be useful, but not mandatory.|
|Electric/Manual pump||Breastfeed/pump||Very important to have.|
|Sterilizer||Pump||Very important to have as it will save you a lot of time.|
|Milk bottle heater||Pump||Somehow important. If you don’t want to use the microvawe, or you don’t want to wait too much for the milk to warm up in hot water, then a milk bottle heater is a good choice.|
|Hands free bra||Pump||This one is super important, especially if you are spending the time alone with your baby. If she starts to cry, you will need your hands empty in order to comfort her.|
|Breastfeeding clothes||Breastfeed/pump||Very important for breastfeeding moms, and nice to have for the ones that pump. They come in handy when you need to breastfeed in public, and you need easy and non-reveling access to your breasts.|