Just because it’s a natural biological process does not mean breastfeeding is easy! Breastfeeding is not only a learned skill but a relationship that requires two people working together for success. To minimize frustration, first of all, remember that you are doing a great job! Any breast milk you provide your baby, even just for a few weeks, is doing wonderful things for their brain development, immune system, and overall health! Here are a few evidence-based tips and reminders that might make your breastfeeding journey smoother.
1. Breastfeeding is not always instinctive! Yes, women have breasts and babies are born with a sucking reflex, but the actual process of breastfeeding requires practice to perfect. Milk can only be extracted when babies put pressure on the areola, which requires them to latch in just the right way. It’s usually easy to recognize an incorrect latch because it hurts!
Just because breastfeeding can be tricky in the beginning does not mean you have to hire an expert consultant. You can rely on the advice of experienced mothers and lactation experts, but you can also feel it out yourself via trial and error. The important thing is to be gentle with yourself, knowing that the process is not automatic and effortless. Follow best practices and stay hydrated, seek guidance you trust, and likely you will be a breastfeeding expert in no time.
2. Feed on demand. You’ve likely heard the debate between scheduled feedings and feeding on demand, but the evidence clearly indicates that feeding on demand is the best way to establish a healthy milk supply. Mammary glands make milk depending on how often baby suckles. The more a baby nurses, the more milk a breast produces. If a baby suckles less frequently, milk production slows. That’s why breastfeeding on demand is recommended by major medical and advocacy groups, including the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and La Leche League.
Breastfeeding on demand is a lot of work but is also tremendously rewarding. Don’t worry about timing feeds, or remembering which side you last nursed on. Instead, let baby nurse as long as they want and let them decide when to switch breasts. Limiting baby’s nursing time might make him miss out on the higher-fat hindmilk that comes at the end of the feeding.
3. Try different positions! Especially at night, finding a comfortable nursing position is the best way to help you get more rest. The cradle hold is probably the most seen nursing position, but there are so many others! Side-lying, for example, is a great way to rest while breastfeeding, as it allows you to relax your whole body. Often, nursing upright can make you tense or tight, or you can strain your neck by looking down at baby. Lying on your side with baby well-latched supports your head, neck, and arms, helping make the whole experience more comfortable.
4. Make sure baby has a good latch.
Nipple soreness in the first weeks of breastfeeding is perfectly normal; however, if acute pain persists, it can indicate that baby is latching incorrectly. If your baby is gulping down air or has dimpled, sucked-in cheeks when nursing, these are also signs of an incorrect latch.
To latch correctly, baby should have the nipples AND surrounding breast tissue in the mouth. The nipple should be at the back of baby’s mouth so baby can press on the areola while nursing. (This is the pressure that helps produce milk!)
To help your baby get a good latch, try tickling the sides of his mouth so he opens wider, then insert your breast deep into his mouth so the nipple ends up towards the back.
5. Soften expectations around baby "sleeping through the night."
It’s likely one of the first questions people will ask about your baby. “Is she sleeping through the night?” You can find an endless number of books, websites, and programs that promise they will have your baby sleeping 8-hour stretches by x number of months. It’s tempting to buy into this, especially when you are desperate for sleep, but the reality is that babies are not meant to sleep for long stretches at young ages. Their stomachs are tiny and they need to eat often because they’re growing so much. They have not yet developed circadian rhythms that dictate when they sleep and wake. Short bouts of sleep in babies is absolutely biologically normal!
Knowing it’s normal won’t necessarily get you more sleep, but it can help to know there is nothing wrong with your baby or your habits. Create consistent bedtime routines, feed on demand, be patient, and eventually, your baby will sleep for longer stretches.