How to: Breastfeed
I was the first among my friends to reproduce. What I missed the most was being able to get the realness inherent in a good friend sharing how something happened for them. Yes, we're all different, but there was a LOT of "I didn't know that was a thing" for me with my first child. I like hearing what other people did, so I can get ideas. I don't mind discarding things that don't work for me.
When asked by healthcare providers how I intended to feed my impending bundle of joy, I was like, yeah I guess I'll breastfeed. We'll see how it goes.
I should admit to you right now, I am either overprepared or I roll in on a cloud of "what will be, will be." There is no in between. I started my first pregnancy reading everything I could get my hands on. I really loved Vicki Iovine's The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy. What I found, however, is that the more in the weeds I got, the more my excitement was replaced by FEAR.
Too many details about everything that could go wrong did not make me feel educated and empowered. It made me realize just how delicate the reproductive process can be. It made me fear statistically unlikely things.
So I stopped. One of the Key Things Adults Know is that sometimes, quitting actually is the answer!
Did I take any classes? Nope! I blissfully avoided them all. The very thought made me feel more stressed. I had good friends who later took classes and could identify the stages of labor.
I pushed my first baby out without knowing how one pushes, exactly. (I knew where the baby was coming out. I did not know the recommended breathing pattern, or how long to push, or how to time it. Pro tip: Blow your breathe out like you're blowing out a candle. You'll time pushes with contractions. Your nurse will count to ten so you know how long to push each time. Your nurse will also help with positioning and all that jazz - I pushed for almost an hour on my side with my son. Basically nurses are the best. If your birth plan involves any kind of medical professional and not you alone in a bathtub, someone will know more than you. Thank you to the doctors, nurses, midwives, and doulas).
So when it came to breastfeeding, I just kind of...did it? Maybe I could have used a bit of advice, but both kids survived for a while only on breast milk, so I think I did ok.
Let's get down to business. The Girls. The Boobs. Producers of delicious Milk-Milk. As Son says, two years old and chock full of wisdom, "That's the baby's milk. It comes from your nipples. I drink cow's milk," as he stares at my nipples locked in the Medela Cone of Suction. Awkward.
Without further ado, my How to Breastfeed Your Baby if That's Something you Want to Try Guide
Give Forth the Boob
Offer the boob early. Like fresh out of the oven. The baby just left the hot tub of a lifetime and is chilly. Do some skin to skin (don't believe me? Here are other people who agree, skin to skin helps with breastfeeding). Skin to skin is basically you mostly naked cuddling with your mostly naked baby.
How much is mostly? What you feel comfortable with. Maybe you'd prefer a diaper on to prevent fluid leaking everything (that goes for both you and that baby). Maybe you don't mind leaving it all out there. Once enough people have stared straight down your junk like they were going for a strike at a bowling alley, your concept of modesty may change. There was a spotlight on my vagina when I gave birth. Center of attention, that's me.
Cuddle that little baby up, if you can. Baby may start trying to inch its little noggin towards your nipple, like an intrepid explorer trying to summit Everest. Help the little potato along. I was fortunate in that both kiddos were keen to latch on and give it a go.
They say show, don't tell, convince the baby that you offer a superior buffet - if your little nugget comes out of your warm and comfy uterus into the cold air, hanging out on your naked chest is a great way to show said nugget that earth ain't all bad. Not only can you get snuggles, but there's a snack bar!
Keep Giving Forth the Boob
Whip it out all the time. I know you are only making colostrum right now. I would describe mine as more clear-ish than yellowy fluid, but whatever. If you can see it, you'll know, this ain't milk. It's got a bunch of "lets keep the baby alive until the milk comes in" stuff in it.
Boobs are like unlimited buffets, once you get them up and running. You know how in Harry Potter, the feast just appears on the Great Hall tables? Ok it doesn't just appear, there are basically enslaved House Elves making it in the kitchens below, the only magic is in the transportation of said food from kitchen to table.
You are the House Elf. Sorry about the enslavement.
Basically, the more you remove fluid from a boob, the more the boob is like THIS BABY IS HUNGRY. It's counterintuitive, but the more you take out, the more gets generated. By you, the house elf. Start signaling to the factory that we're gonna need a lot of milk in this here town.
The Milk Comes In, What?
This is like that Aunt Flow coming to town situation. Here's a handy chart showing how you go from colostrum to transitional milk to mature milk (the kind you can trust your car keys with).
In layman's terms, OUCH. Expect engorgement. I found especially with the first kid, my boobs did not know what the heck they were doing. They were those overachieving, put me in coach! pick me pick me pick me, kinda boobs.
Fun tip, you may need to milk yourself like a dairy cow if the boob is too big for the baby to latch on. Babies have these adorable pug noses. You will understand why once your milk comes in. The baby goes to latch. The enormous boob encloses their tiny little face. The nose flattens a bit, creating a pocket of air so the baby does not suffocate under your boobitude. All baby noses look the same to me, and I am convinced that this is science. Baby noses are the snorkels of infancy.
Back to the milking - I believe it is called "hand expression" which is fancy talk for use your hands to push down your boobs towards your nipple, kind of squeezing it, in a rhythmic motion, until the milk comes out. It might dribble, or sometimes you get a fun squirt and could get your revenge on anyone who may have extendable urinary equipment and has shown off in the past how they can aim their pee! You do you.
You can also get these fun "hard spots" where the milk feels like it's stuck in a hard ball of awful in your boob. Blocked ducts are not good. I used to sit topless with a towel in my lap and have my husband massage my breasts to try to break them up. Motherhood is glamorous.
On my second go round, a friend gave me a manual breast pump. I was more in tune with engorgement and walking the fine line between encouraging my breasts (good effort! I like how you're trying to make the only thing this baby might eat for like six months!) and keeping them from getting too crazy (no one wants permanent engorgement. You want those puppies to settle down Goldilocks style, making just the right amount of milk. Maybe a bit more if you're looking to make a freezer cache).
Anyhoo I could never get newborns to feed from both breasts at the same feeding, so one breast would get sweet relief in the form of the baby eating lunch, and the other...still hurt. Pop a manual pump on the boob the baby is not currently using. Squeeze the silicone body, stick on your nipple, release. Sometimes I was so full that pressure was all I needed to get the party started. If nothing happens, keep pump on boob, and try squeezing and releasing a few times so the suction kinda feels like a baby nursing. You're trying to trick your boob that there's a phantom baby.
You're not trying to totally empty the boob here (see above note, you don't want permanent engorgement and overproduction!) You're just trying to relieve a little pressure when you're bursting. Save the milk you catch and put it in your freezer.
Air Out Those Nips
Please, please PLEASE give your hardworking nipples some air. Let's be honest here ladies, it hurts. Your sensitive nipples, the ones that have likely only been lovingly handled in the past, are going to boot camp, and it will be a shock. (Or not, maybe you're into things a little rougher, I don't know, nipples clamps might be helpful if you're looking to experience some of the pain pre-baby? Whatever floats your boat).
Most likely, they will need to go through a dark period of OUCH before they come out rougher, tougher nips. They may crack. They may bleed. You may want to scream if material touches them. I'm not trying to scare you, just make the case that you can buy all the nipple creams in the world (and please, do!) but nothing beats fresh air, the cure for all the evils of the world. Ok, the cure for nipples new to breastfeeding and for diaper rash bums.
Hang out with the girls out. Watch a good TV show. Let em be free until they make it out the other side. I promise you, they will. My nipples were trench-hardened badasses with the second kiddo. She latched on and I was like, eh. This is nothing. I can barely feel this. Welcome to the buffet!
To Bra, Or Not To Bra
Go to one of those maternity stores, ask the clerk which bras are the most popular, and buy them. Fair warning, they will recommend the ugliest ones. Do not be swayed by the nice looking bras. Follow the clerk's advice. Mine gently said, "These are the most popular" when I was pulling out other, nicer options. I never wore the nicer ones. I had to buy more of the ugly bras.
That's my advice, take it or leave it. I know there are people out there in beautiful nursing bras. Good for her, not for me (thank you Amy Poehler). Boobs change size. They change size all day, as the milk goes in and out and sometimes leaks. Underwire has been known to press against things and cause problems (blocked ducts blow, y'all). Go for comfy, I promise you, one day you'll stop nursing and you can put the laciest confection on that you own. Probably in a different size though, because like any veteran, boobs don't come back from the breastfeeding battlefield quite the same.
Actually, I didn't even wear a nursing bra during the first month or so. I bought some nursing tank tops, where all you have is an elastic shelf for your boobs, but the shelf could be opened and a boob proffered forth using the little plastic hooks on the strap as on a nursing bra. I found my boobs were too wild to be contained in a bra. I wore these tank tops 24/7. Comfy schlepping around the house, comfy sleeping in bed. (Sleep, ha!)
I will say I found the perfect solution to the leaking problem - these are reusable pads (yes, pads for your boobs, just what you always needed) that you can just chuck in your washing machine in your daily load. They soak milk up well, and they prevent uncomfortable leaks. If you've ever woken up covered in a crime scene's worth of breastmilk, you will understand. So sticky. So unnecessary. If you want to hang out around other humans, or return to your job, you do not want to worry about weird leaks or letdowns. Be proactive! Buy a set (I bought three).
I Swear By a Breastfeeding Schedule
I like a schedule. There's a lot of people arguing over whether a not a schedule is a life saving method of keeping your baby alive along with your sanity, or the devil's work depriving your crying baby of what they need when they need it. Google it. Pick your side of the battle. Leave me out of the battle.
What worked for me was working towards a schedule around six weeks or so. I used Babywise to get some ideas on how to roughly do that.
What do schedules have to do with breastfeeding? Your boobs are like old dogs that CAN learn new tricks. They will (I swear) learn to make the most milk at the times you empty them. So if your baby eats at roughly the same time each day, your boobs will provide their bounty at the same time.
Keep at it, or Not
Keep going! Or not. See how you feel. If it's something you think you want to do, then I recommend toughing it out for a while. Typically the boobs will settle into little soldiers. You want to make sure to keep it up regularly, if you want to maintain your supply. Boobs need to be told, regularly, that milk is still required. You, my friend, are making a commitment. Ask your boobs to provide on a regular basis, and they typically will.
Eventually (I pray) your baby will sleep through the night. Your personal supply situation will dictate whether you wake up in the middle of the night to pump to keep supply up, or whether your boobs can learn to fill up overnight and you get it out in the morning. If you have a pump (and you can usually get a free one from insurance, often at your hospital room if that's where you choose to give birth) I recommend feeding your baby when it wakes up, and after baby's breakfast, pump out any extra. You are at your milkiest in the morning, in general.
Sometimes, however, it doesn't work out. I know multiple women who did not get a drop of milk in at all, or who had very low supplies. Sometimes you want to breastfeed, and you just can't. I'm not trying to scare you. It's just that I know women who didn't know it was possible your body could produce zero milk, or an amount unable to support your baby's good health and wellbeing. You might need to supplement with formula. It might make the most sense to switch to formula entirely.
And sometimes you're just not into it. Like the bad dates we've all been on, there's no chemistry. You find it annoying. You're not sleeping because the baby is cluster feeding like a mofo (on the boob off the boob on the boob off the boob omg baby is crying for boob again). You don't like it. You feel like a moo-moo cow. You're going back to work and pumping is not an option. You're going back to work and you just don't feel like pumping.
The Bottom Line
You have never met a human being and on contact, been able to accurately identify whether they were breastfed or formula fed. You definitely have not taken someone's hand, given it a firm shake with eye contact, and KNOWN that their mother exclusively pumped and supplemented with formula during the night so she could have her partner feed the baby and she could sleep.
If you want to breastfeed, DO. If you don't, DON'T. If you didn't get a choice, I'm sorry, that's hard. It sucks the choice was taken from you.
Your pediatrician can help if you're not sure how it's going. They will weight your baby all the time in the beginning. They will let you know if you need to reconsider your feeding method.
Just as it's ok to not breastfeed, it's ok to be irrationally attached to breastfeeding. Son was 100% on breastmilk (pumped when I went back to work) until month 11. The well started running dry. I blew through the freezer stash. Boo brought home formula to use as a supplement. I saw it on the counter, and I cried.
Son was eating actual human food at 11 months, and I cried that he was going to get some formula. Even though in 30 days, I fully intended to stop providing breast milk and switch to cow's milk. I know. ZERO SENSE HERE. Let me tell you, the next time he woke up in the night and wanted food and I could send Boo to just feed a bottle of formula - those tears dried right up as I luxuriated in being the one who got to stay in bed.
Emotions are crazy. Give yourself a little grace. Keep your eyes on the prize: Little chunky potato nuggets growing towards their impending toddlerhood. And learning the word no.