Saturday, January 19, 2013

Your Online BFF's Guide to Breastfeeding for Those Who Hope to Nurse or Having Trouble, Part 1

If you are considering breastfeeding, many people may tell you how natural and beautiful it is.

If you are in your first couple of weeks of breastfeeding, you may find yourself wanting to rip those people's eyebrows off.

The first couple of weeks of nursing your baby are can be very disappointing if you are like most women who struggle with breastfeeding in the beginning.

In no time, breastfeeding will become second nature.  Natural, easy, sanitary and always available.  But you have got to hang in there those first couple of weeks when it is painful, messy and knocks away at all your confidence as a new mom.

If you are having a hard time breastfeeding,
just know that you are on the right path.  Many great bf'ers get off to a bumpy start.  Don't feel bad to bug your doctor, to make multiple requests for a lactation consultant, or to ask that sweet little older woman down the street.

I have breastfed all four of my little babies and am looking forward to nursing my new arrival when he or she gets here.  I won't go into detail about every mechanic of the process.  Most of that is available online elsewhere and are probably best addressed by a professional lactation consultant.  But I will try to think of those things that helped me the most.

Part One---Nursing The First Couple of Days after Baby's Birth

Perfecting The Latch:  Do not be afraid to make your baby latch and relatch and relatch again until they get proper form those first few days.  If the baby latches and it is pinching, or feels like a rug burn, they don't have enough of the areola in their sweet little cheeks.  The baby is getting tiny amounts of nutrient rich and immune boosting colostrum those first few feedings, but until your milk comes in, use this time to show your baby what you need.  And that is to someday walk away from this with your nipples left intact (kidding-you'll be fine).  If Sweet Cheeks just opens his mouth a small amount, gently nudge their tiny chin down as you hold their head in your other hand and guide them to the breast.   And I am oddly not kidding when I suggest that you get your hubby, a nurse, or your sister to sort of flatten the end of your breast as your baby latches on (I do this myself with my free hand after I have taught the baby to open big and don't need to gently guide their chin open).  It is kinda like grabbing your breast with one hand and closing your hand gently an inch or so toward the end in kind of a pinching motion to make it flatter and more easy to latch onto.  

I know it may sound crazy to try to "teach" your newborn anything at only a couple of hours old, but without your encouragement, how else will they learn?  They are struggling to get it right, their life depends on it, and this is a great time to establish that you will be there for them with patience and lots of encouragement.  I literally told my babies, "No, no, cutie.  Big Mouse.  Bigger.  There you go!  Yay!  That was better!  Big Mouse!"  Why I said "mouse" instead of mouth?  I have no idea,  except maybe "Big Mouth" sounded too derogatory.  I did not care what the nurses coming in and out thought.  Me and my babies was on a mission.  Whether or not they got the latch right, they were gonna know that Mama saw how hard they were trying and that success brought celebration.  You are setting the tone for your lifelong love affair with this baby.  Your baby really can learn a lot in a couple of days with you on their side.  All four of my guys have totally different personalities, and they all got it eventually.

I say eventually because I was so nervous with my first, that I let him get by with a small latch.  It was so painful that although I toughed out the postpartum without pain meds, I actually took the motrin before he fed a few times.  My toes would curl and I would push them hard into the floor to keep from screaming by the second week.  I eventually ended up gently lowering his chin and stuffing the rest of the parts of my breast that he needed in while he was suckling away.  It took much longer because I waited, but even then, it was fixable.  So don't get too discouraged if it isn't clicking.

Engorgement:  Once your milk comes in, your breast and areola may swell like a balloon that is about to pop and your nipple will be just a tiny nub at the end.  It is really hard for the baby to get most of the areola in if you haven't shown them how to do this in the beginning and even if you have it can be challenging.  If this happens, you may need to pump a little milk out or express it by hand.  You will know if this is the problem because your baby's lips will slide off of your full breast and only be able to grab onto the very tip of your nipple.  Painful for you and frustrating for them because they won't get the full gulp of milk they have been waiting days for.

Well meaning advice:  Initially, you may be put off to even think about some big ol' nurse coming in and grabbing your baby and your boob and trying to make things happen.  But even the most wackadoodle  sounding ideas and techniques that you hear may eventually be something you can tweak to work for you.  When my first son was born, he had to be in the hospital for the first nine days on a course of antibiotics.  I had every nurse from every shift change offer me all kinds of advice, and opinions.  I learned to soak up every word and then do exactly what worked for us. 

One thing that doesn't seem helpful, but really is, is "tummy to tummy, arm around mummy".  Wrap your little one's lower arm around your back and make sure their tummy is facing your tummy when you do the traditional nursing hold.  This helps so much in getting junior positioned for maximum milkage.  The tummy to tummy helps stabilizing them facing the breast, and putting the lower arm (their left arm if they are nursing on the right breast) around your side keeps it from being caught between the two of you where frantic hungry little fists can create a tiny gap.  Just be careful not to tweak their delicate little arm when you lay back.  The payoff for being diligent about this is as time goes on and baby becomes more coordinated, you may get some hugs or back pats from the little arm wrapped around you!

Stay tuned for Part Two:  Nursing When You Get Home From the Hospital

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