Tips and Tricks for the most POSITIVE Breastfeeding Journey
Updated: Oct 7, 2021
So I’m going to start by being a little real here...
There are a BILLION things that can impact your breastfeeding journey and make you want to quit. I have been so lucky in the fact that I'm an experienced breastfeeding mama, I was a NICU nurse before I had my first baby so teaching mamas to breastfeed was part of my job, and I have a lot of friends and family around that have breastfed their babies. So for me, I was pretty set up for success. But I STILL have had road blocks!
With my first, my road blocks were...
Stress. (My anxiety was so high during those first few months as a new mama)
Low milk supply. (I struggled the entire 15 months I breastfed Wes... and I'm pretty sure it was because of my stress levels, and then pumping at work, and then pumping at yoga, etc)
Going back to work and not always finding enough time to adequately pump or pump often enough during my shifts.
Fast let-down = screaming baby at the breast (I wasn't prepared for this, I thought there was something wrong with us! Little did I know that this is normal, and gets better over time!)
Now with my second baby, my road blocks have been...
Stress. (Hello trying to figure out how to take care of a needy toddler while feeding and caring for a newborn - my hands have never been so full, my days have never felt so long!)
THRUSH - This is one thing I want to talk about in this post. I know how to prevent thrush, yet I totally slipped up in some big ways and here we are! Maya Grace and I both got a crummy case of thrush (baby Maya in her mouth, me on my nipples). And this is one of those things that can be so painful and uncomfortable for mamas, such a mess to get rid of and treat, and add a layer of stress to your breastfeeding journey. This is one of those things that makes mamas want to quit, and I totally understand why.
If I have experienced these road blacks after feeling so prepared and supported in my breastfeeding journey, I just think of those mamas who lack the support or resources in their journeys... It's a tough road sometimes even if you are completely prepared. So I'm not surprised that so many mamas experience those tough first few weeks/months of breastfeeding and decide to quit.
I just want to tell you that I see you, I feel you, you're DEFINITELY not alone in this experience. And if you decide that switching to formula is right for you, that's great! As long as you feel good about your decision. If you have any doubt or it's on your heart to keep trying despite whatever breast-feeding challenge you are facing, I'm here to empower and encourage you to keep going. Those tough moments are temporary, real, and very normal. We all experience them. But I want to encourage you, and tell you the tough moments are temporary. You will get through it. Breastfeeding can be really enjoyable too, especially once you have a rhythm.
So here are my tips to AVOID some potential problems you may face while nursing, to help your feeding journey be a positive one.
Ok I know this sounds silly, almost laughable as a mama. Relax? What does that look like? How can I feel that when I have a screaming toddler at my hip, or I'm an anxious new mama who just wants to do what's right for her baby?! Mom life is definitely not a recipe for relaxation! Ha. But I want to let you know that stress impacts your milk supply. And your feeding journey. Not only do stress hormones pass through your milk to your baby (if you feel like you are so anxious, in "fight-or-flight" mode a lot, and having a hard time with your anxiety/stress levels it's important to tell someone, and seek ways to de-stress). Adrenaline can pass through to baby and they can feel it too. Not to freak you out or add to your stress, because that's the last thing I want to do! Studies show that your stress hormones can pass on to baby, and in turn this alters the way your baby feels. For example, there is a reason it's important to give milk that you pumped at night to your baby in the evening/nighttime - those hormones that help make baby sleepy are in your milk at night, so in turn they will be passed on to baby to help them sleep. If you're giving your baby morning milk at night, they will miss out on some of those sleepy hormones. But stress can also impact your milk supply, specifically your let-down. To achieve a let-down when your baby starts nursing, you have to release oxytocin. Therefore, when you're nursing your baby, it's important to take a breath, look at your baby, think about your baby, think about something relaxing, touch your baby, etc. Oxytocin is the hormone we experience during positive physical touch (the "love" hormone). I honestly struggled with this as a first time mom because I would start nursing my baby and then pick up my phone and check emails, google search everything about babies, scroll through social media, etc... and I'm here to say don't do that! Ha. I realized quickly that this was robbing me of my let down! And therefore baby wasn't getting as much milk. And in turn I wasn't producing as much milk... it's a cycle! So try to relax, breathe, really focus on your baby while you're feeding them or pumping, and seek the help and support you need to keep your stress in check.
Use the Haaka
I'm so thankful I discovered the Haaka with my second baby! I didn't use it with my first, and the only breast milk I had stocked in my freezer was from me pumping extra, and then pumping at work. I was always struggling to keep up! The Haaka has helped me so much this time around. Not only have I established a huge freezer supply by not doing anything extra (you literally just put it on the other breast while you are breastfeeding, a few times a day or when you feel full), it has helped me maintain a good milk supply, and helped get me through that engorgement period during the early weeks of nursing. It has been a game changer for us.
Use Coconut Oil
I say this because coconut oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties, helping to prevent thrush and bacterial infections (especially if you have blisters, cracked nipples, or clogged ducts). It’s totally safe for baby so you don’t have to wipe it off prior to nursing. I recommend alternating coconut oil with an actual nipple cream to heal and protect against blisters or cracking.
Replace/Wash Nursing Pads and Bras Frequently
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to keep your nipples dry throughout the day, which is really hard when you’re leaking constantly, sweating, and feeding your baby frequently. I love the washable bamboo nursing pads (I think they’re softer than the disposable), but it’s important to have several handy so you can replace them throughout the day!
Don’t Wash Your Nipples With Soap
Ok this is going to sound weird, but you’re actually just supposed to rinse your nipples with water in the shower. This helps to maintain a good healthy bacterial flora on your nipples, which helps baby’s gut microbiome develop. This is something I didn’t listen to, until I got thrush. Also, harsh soaps can irritate and aggravate blisters and cracks in your nipples. You especially shouldn’t use an antibacterial soap on your nipples. Coconut oil helps to keep them clean!
Take a Good Probiotic - Both You and Baby!
It is SO important to take a probiotic while nursing. Having a healthy and balanced gut microbiome yourself will help both the quality and quantity of your breast milk. I also have started both of my babies on a probiotic right away after birth for several reasons. Our world is so much more “sterile“ than our ancestors’ worlds. The antibacterial everything that we use in our day to day life, the chemicals and pesticides in our water system, our air, and our food, our sugar intake, and preservatives we ingest... all of that has completely altered the way our gut microbiome is, as well as our babies’ microbiomes. Studies are showing that babies today are born with significantly less healthy gut bacteria. Having less of the good bacteria in their guts makes them more susceptible to bad bacteria, makes it more difficult to digest food, and decreases their overall immune function. So helping them to create a good gut microbiome helps with so many things! (Especially colic, GI issues, fungal/yeast imbalances like thrush, and overall immunity). No matter how healthy and clean we eat, we just aren’t getting enough good bacteria in our guts... so I believe it’s super important for everyone to take a good probiotic! Related to nursing, if babies feel better, you will have a more positive breastfeeding journey.
Don't Put Pressure On Yourself Mama
I think this one is super important, and a struggle for me. Often we pressure ourselves, set our expectations really high, and then are guilty of being way too hard on ourselves. Let your feeding journey be fluid. If you don't breastfeed for as long as you like, if you need to supplement, if it's not as enjoyable as you hoped it would be, if you experience rough patches, if you end up exclusively pumping, whatever it is... try to trust that your baby is fed, nurtured, loved, and you're doing an amazing job. Your breastfeeding journey may not look exactly like you hoped it would. You may face challenges you didn't expect. Or you may end up nursing for even LONGER than you thought because it's going great for you! Whatever you're facing, know there are other mamas out there going through that same scenario too. Don't pressure yourself or let the pressure of anyone else out there get you down. Your feeding journey is unique to you and your sweet baby. Be proud of yourself in whatever the outcome... you fed your baby mama! That's amazing!
Chat With Other Breastfeeding Mamas
Lastly, I think it's so important to have at least a few mamas you know that have or are breastfeeding their babes. My midwife group offers a breastfeeding support group, and a lot of hospitals do as well. I think this is so important, because you get to see a lactation consultant, talk to other mamas, and hear that you aren't alone in some of your struggles. Maybe you don't go to a support group, but you have a friend you can text when you have a random question or need to freak out to another mama. Also, I'm here for you! Reach out to me with any weird or random question you may have... most likely I've heard it before!
Thanks for following along in my feeding journey with my sweet baby! Hang in there breastfeeding mamas, remember you're not alone and each phase goes by SO fast... whatever the feeding struggle you're facing right now, know that it won't last forever.