You’re Not Alone
I’ve mentioned previously, that my breastfeeding journey with my son was atypical to say the least. For some mother and baby pairs, it truly is the easiest thing in the world. Whereas for others, it’s one monster short of a nightmare. You are not alone. Over 90% of mothers report having breastfeeding struggles in those early months.
So here are the breastfeeding basics, as well as some things I learned on my more difficult road. Again, I will emphasize, the struggle was totally worth the ultimate goal of exclusively breastfeeding, so I hope this will encourage new Mamas to stick with it!
Forming a Good Latch
When your baby is born, his mouth is tiny. Depending on your breast size and shape, you may have to do some creative manipulating in order for your baby to have a proper and deep latch. When latched properly, your baby will not cause you pain. Also, the deeper the latch, the more effectively your baby will be able to transfer milk.
Creating a C
When breastfeeding books and LC’s say to create a C with your hand, it may help you to know you’re going to be smushing your boob. So take your hand and gently smush the front of your breast to form a shape your baby’s mouth can get a handle on. If you are like me, you may end up needing to hold cross-cradle with one arm and use the other hand to hold the breast for your baby while he eats.
More than You Think
When I talk to other mothers who recount their breastfeeding experience from the beginning, many (including me) are surprised that the baby’s mouth doesn’t just need to surround the nipple, but much of the areola as well. The nipple is the conduit for the milk to flow, but it’s actually the areola that, when stimulated, activates the letdown reflex. More noticeably, a shallow latch containing just the nipple is guaranteed to be a painful one.
You want your baby’s lips to flange outward. (Think fish lips.) The mucous membrane on the inside of the mouth should be around the breast, rather than the dry, outer part of the lip. This will help your baby get a deeper latch. If the lip is flipped inward, it WILL HURT, so go ahead and take a finger and gently slide it under that top lip to encourage baby not to curl his lip under. Some women use coconut oil or even a little of their own spit to aid in getting the lips to flange. You may also want to ask a healthcare professional to check for a lip tie, as these can hinder breastfeeding efforts.
Placement of the Tongue
When properly latched, your baby’s tongue should come up over the bottom gum line to create a seal around your breast. The up and down motion of the tongue is what aids in proper milk extraction. This is good news when your baby gets older and gets his bottom teeth first as there shouldn’t be any unintentional biting or teeth grazing going on.
Is My Baby Getting Milk?
Now that your baby is latched, how will you know if he is getting milk? Here are a few things to watch for:
Sucks and Swallows
Take a look at your baby’s jaw as he suckles. Are you able to count the times he sucks and then see him swallow? The ratio should be low – 1:1 or 1:2. If he seems to be suckling a lot before actually swallowing, this may indicate there is a problem with milk transfer, and you may want to consider seeing a lactation consultant and asking them about breastfeeding friendly speech pathologists. In the case of my son, he had a lip tie which hindered proper milk transfer, and he needed the speech pathologist’s exercises to strengthen his mouth and jaw. You will also want to monitor the number of wet and soiled diapers as well as proper weight gain to help ascertain your baby is getting enough milk.
Posture is a great way to tell that your baby is getting milk and is feeding enough. As you begin to nurse your baby, take a look at your baby’s posture. Chances are at the beginning of the nursing session, his body may be tense, elbows bent, with his hands up by the face, and his hands making a fist. This is a hungry baby. (Read about more early hunger signs here.) As your baby continues to nurse, he will slowly relax. His arm will come down or be easily pulled to his side and his hands will relax as he unclenches his fists. This is a sated baby.
Trust Your Gut and Ask Questions.
I remember in those weeks before the birth of my baby, I researched everything from the type of high chair I would use to what to expect during labor. I failed miserably to do enough research about caring for my baby after he was born. I was the oldest child of six, after all. What could I possibly need to know? *eye roll*
After my son was born, and we took him home, I was actually embarrassed by everything I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to ask a lot of questions because I didn’t want anyone to question my ability as a parent. In hindsight, every first time parent is in the same boat, and I had nothing to be embarrassed about. So, feel free to ask questions from those around you or call your care provider when in doubt. If you think something is off or you don’t understand, trust yourself and your spouse.
Those first hours after your baby is born, you both are tired and excited, and oh yes, your hormones are crazy too. It’s hard to remember all the instructions that are given to you. So call back that LC and ask the questions again. Repetition is a good thing for learning, and this is after all a new learning experience.
Oh and if you are not a first time parent, that doesn’t mean you should remember everything just because you did this once or a few times before. Ask those questions. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it 100 times, “Every baby is different.” Don’t forget, online research is your friend too.
Enjoy this journey with your baby. It is so fulfilling and special.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”
Affiliate Disclosure: This website is reader-supported. We may earn a commission if you click on some of the links on our website.