Breastfeeding may be natural, but it often doesn’t feel like that. You may have always pictured yourself easily breastfeeding your baby, but it frequently takes a lot of patience and practice to develop a good breastfeeding relationship with your infant.
After all, they’ve never done this before — and if you’re a first-time parent, you probably haven’t either.
We know breastfeeding can be an emotional journey (breast milk is one spilled milk everyone is allowed to cry over after all!), so please sit back, take a deep breath, and allow us to offer you some support in the form of some of our favorite tips and tricks.
Worried about low milk supply?
Worries about milk supply are incredibly common, and can lead to a premature end to breastfeeding. Remember that breast milk is produced on a supply-and-demand basis. The more your baby and your pump demand of you, the more milk your body should provide.
You want to encourage frequent and full feedings. If you’re planning on pumping or want to build a stash you can also give power pumping a try.
You may also want to consider eating foods believed to impact milk supply or drinking some lactation tea. Make sure you talk to your doctor or a lactation specialist before taking any supplements.
Oversupply and engorgement got you down?
Consider block feeding to diminish your milk supply a little. If too much milk production becomes a painful problem, you may want to also speak with your doctor or lactation consultant about natural ways to dry up your milk supply a little with cabbage leaves, sage, or even Sudafed in extreme cases!
Feeling the pain of breast engorgement?
Using a warm compress on your breasts before starting a feed can help to draw the most milk out of your breast and relieve engorgement. Doing breast massage during a nursing or pumping session can also help to get the most possible milk out.
Following up a feeding or pumping session by applying cold packs to the breasts can help to offer some healing comfort.
Trying to figure out how long to make a feed?
Watch your baby and not the clock for cues. When your baby is full, their hands will relax, sucking will slow, and they may even appear a little milk drunk!
Sometimes babies will want a break during a feed, and you may notice them releasing the latch and pushing away. Take breaks when you need them but feel free to offer more if your baby is showing hunger cues.
Worried your baby isn’t getting enough?
One place to look is their diaper! By day 5 you should be seeing 6 or more wet diapers every 24-hour period. You should also see about 3 to 4 stools a day by day 4 of your little one’s life.
The color of these stools should be transitioning from the dark, thick meconium poops right after birth to what is usually a yellow, seedy poop. Keep in mind that poop frequency and color both have a range for what’s normal.
Another way to know if your baby is getting enough food is to make sure that they are back to their birth weight by no later than 14 days birth. After that, you’ll want to see them steadily putting on weight.
Concerned your baby is wanting to eat more frequently?
Despite what it seems, this is not necessarily a sign that something is wrong with your milk supply. Cluster feeding is part of normal development, and can be a sign that your baby is going through a growth spurt or needs to comfort nurse.
Again, follow your baby’s lead and nurse on demand.
Struggling to get a good latch?
Make sure that your baby’s ear, arm, and hip are in alignment. Your little one won’t be able to get a good latch if they’re not in a straight line. Make sure that they’re facing the breast directly and not having to turn their head in order to latch.
Can’t seem to get your baby to attach well when you lead the way?
Try some laid-back breastfeeding to allow your baby to take the lead on latching. Not only do many people find it comfortable, but it may just improve your little one’s latch.
Need to relatch but not sure how?
Make sure to break the suction first and don’t just pull your little one off the breast. Simply slip a finger gently in the corner of their mouth to slide them gently off your nipple. (Pulling off is a recipe for bruises, cuts, and other unpleasant breast/nipple injuries.)
Trying to find the perfect latch, but struggling because of your bigger breasts?
Consider side-lying or other positions that are easier to manage when breastfeeding with larger breasts. Look for holds that offer comfort and make it easier for you to see the latching process and watch your baby while they eat. Use a mirror if you need another angle to see how things are going.
Also remember that side-lying and other reclined positions are great, but if you’re experiencing that new-parent fatigue (and who isn’t?) and think you may doze off, it’s important to place babies on their backs in the crib when it’s time for sleeping, for their safety and your peace of mind.
Trying to get the most out of each pumping session?
Learn how to do hands-on pumping to make sure that you’re getting as much milk as possible when you pump!
Not sure pumping is for you?
Whether you’re planning on pumping or not, it’s worth it to give hand expression a try.
Especially in those first days, it can be really useful to prevent wasting a single drop of colostrum, the small amount of early, yellowish milk.
Colostrum is extremely beneficial to your baby (even in the smallest amount), and expressing by hand helps to preserve every drop (which can get stuck on pump parts and left unused).
Plus you’ll always have a solution on hand (see what we did there?) if you need to relieve engorgement or express milk when you’re away from your baby.
Feel like pumping is taking up all your time?
Create your own hands-free pumping bra if you don’t own one. It’ll free up your hands so that you can send some emails, play with your baby, or simply flip through a magazine.
Hate pumping, but want a little extra milk stored in your fridge or freezer?
Consider using a collection device like the Haakaa on the breast opposite the one your baby is feeding off. Milk that lets down from this breast would normally be lost, but with something there to catch it, not a drop goes to waste.
Many moms find this option more pleasant than traditional pumps due to the lower amount of suction involved, too.
Want an amazing free nipple cream?
If you’re experiencing some discomfort or soreness on your nipples as many new to breastfeeding do, the solution is easier than you’d expect. Use your breast milk! Just express a little extra after a feed, gently rub your nipple area, and allow to air dry.
Feel like your pump isn’t working as well as it once did?
As your breasts grow and change shape, make sure that your bra and pump flange are still fitting correctly, and be careful that underwires aren’t digging in. This will help prevent clogged ducts and ensure that you’re getting the most out of your pumping sessions.
Create breastfeeding stations around your house
You’ll want to include things like a filled water bottle, snacks (nuts or dried fruit can work well), diapers, nipple cream, wipes, and burp cloths in a simple basket or bucket. Having all this handy will mean you don’t have to get up and search for it during feeding sessions.
Partner feeling left out?
Encourage them to help position the baby as well as diaper, bathe, dress, comfort, sing to, hold, and burp them. It can also be useful to have them help limit the amount of visitors during the early days and make sure you’re getting plenty of snacks and rest.
Support from a partner can be key to breastfeeding success, so open the lines of communication to find ways to keep you both involved.
Looking for a spot to feed in public?
There’s an app for that! You can find breastfeeding-friendly places in your local community — or when you’re traveling — with the Mamava app on your phone.
Feeling isolated and lonely?
There are plenty of local and internet-based lactation support groups. While it may seem like you’re the only person struggling with breastfeeding, you’re definitely not alone.
Need a place to start? Check out if your community hosts a La Leche League group or if a local baby store, the library, or your hospital offer support groups!
Not a fan of in-person groups? There are also online meetups and chats that can be more anonymous.
What if you find out you’re pregnant while still breastfeeding?
There’s no need to stop breastfeeding if you find out you’re pregnant again. Your little one may decide to wean on their own though due to the decreasing milk supply and change in breast milk taste pregnancy hormones can cause.
You may also choose not to continue with breastfeeding yourself due to fatigue, sore nipples, or the feeling of contractions when you feed.
Breastfeeding can be a journey. You may be inspired to keep breastfeeding through the low times if you focus on the special bond breastfeeding offers and remembering that the benefits of breast milk for your baby are countless.
If you want to breastfeed your baby, but are struggling with it, make sure to reach out to a lactation consultant or lactation support group. Even small adjustments can make a world of difference to your comfort, milk supply, and overall health.
Catherine Crider, CD/PCD(DONA), CLEC, CBE, JD, MEd, has worked with children for the past decade as a trained elementary and special education teacher, and finds special joy in supporting blossoming families and their infants. She enjoys educating new parents and parents-to-be about their different options as well as the current best practices in baby care. Catherine writes for various websites and teaches full-spectrum childbirth and postpartum education in several locations in California’s North Bay Area and Peninsula.