Whenever I try something new, I’m not always a natural at it straight away and it can sometimes take a while for me to get to grips with whatever I’m learning. It was the same when it came to breastfeeding my newborn baby.
I’d been to antenatal classes and learnt about latching on, how to express my breast milk, and using a breast pump, and it all seemed pretty straightforward. But when it came to getting my new baby to latch for the first time, it wasn’t so easy. I soon realized that not only was I having to learn a new skill, but it was all totally new for my baby, too.
Thankfully I received lots of help and support from my midwife while I was in the hospital. And once I was discharged, although it felt like I was all alone initially, I found there was lots of support and advice available from lactation consultants and pediatricians, for instance.
Leaving my inhibitions behind
I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty awkward having a stranger massaging my breasts and maneuvering my baby into the best position for an optimal latch. But then I remembered my gynecologist had been down the other end, just a few hours earlier, helping me push my baby out!
Having always been self-conscious about my own body, I was a little apprehensive about baring all to the doctors and midwives. But when you’re in the middle of giving birth, all pride, dignity, and inhibitions go out the window just to get the job done.
What’s more, these people have seen it all before! I soon realized that my boobs and foof were probably the 358th they’d seen that day. So, there was no need for me to feel embarrassed or ashamed.
Reasons for lactation issues
From speaking to the professionals, I learnt that I wasn’t alone, as lactation issues are very common when you first start breastfeeding, and there are a number of reasons why new moms may experience problems.
Sometimes it can be because their breast milk hasn’t come in yet. This could be due to:
- Premature birth, especially if they were separated from their baby straight after delivery
- A caesarean
- A traumatic birth
- Excessive blood loss
- A thyroid condition
- A medical condition like diabetes or polycystic ovaries
For me, my breast milk came in, but my baby couldn’t quite get the hang of latching on. She wasn’t tongue-tied, but according to the midwife, she was just lazy!
To help encourage my baby to breastfeed, I manually expressed some breast milk and rubbed it over my nipples in the hope she’d smell it and latch on properly.
It took a while for her to master breastfeeding. And because she wasn’t latching on properly at first, it was quite painful, which it shouldn’t be if done properly.
My top tip for sore nipples? Put some large cabbage leaves in the freezer for half an hour or so. Then, pop them in your bra to instantly soothe your nipples.
There were times during the first few weeks when I wanted to give up on breastfeeding altogether. It was so painful, and I was getting stressed, which made my baby girl stressed, and that didn’t help either of us.
Looking back now, I’m so glad I got help and stuck with it. My lactation consultant showed me different breastfeeding positions to try, and my baby girl soon got the hang of latching on and breastfed until she was almost 18 months old.
It’s important to remember that many moms have a slow start to breastfeeding but manage to build up their milk supply over a few weeks.
Top tips to avoid lactation issues
I also worried that my baby was getting enough breast milk from me because I wasn’t producing enough. My midwife assured me this wasn’t the case. She gave me some top tips to help my breast milk come in and allow me to feed my baby the way I intended:
- Stimulation – it may sound counter-intuitive but if you’re worried that you’re not producing enough milk, keep stimulating your breasts by expressing them manually or with a breast pump. This will help protect your milk supply and increase the volume of milk you produce.
- Keep offering your baby the opportunity to breastfeed – this will also increase supply.
- Relax as much as possible – I know it sounds obvious and easier said than done, but being stressed can affect your milk, and the baby can also pick up on your anxiousness.
- Have lots of skin-to-skin contact with your baby.
- Use a warm compress on your breasts to stimulate flow.
- Drink lots of water and eat healthily – it’s important to keep yourself energized and hydrated because breastfeeding can burn a lot of calories.
At one point, I was so stressed about breastfeeding, I tried expressing my milk with a breast pump, but I was worried that I wasn’t able to express enough breast milk to satisfy my daughter.
I also tried combi-feeding, which involved both breastfeeding and formula feeding to give myself a break now and again. Despite what you might think, using formula doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to breastfeed in the future. And it most definitely doesn’t mean you’re a failure or a bad mom.
Some people don’t feel comfortable using the formula, and that’s ok. So, if you’re struggling with breastfeeding, speak to your doctor or lactation consultant about using donor’s milk, which comes from moms who’ve produced more breast milk than their babies need, and is stored in a milk bank.
Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. But whatever path you choose to feed your newborn baby, the most important thing is to build an amazing relationship between the two of you.
And remember…you’ve got this!