Getting through the first eight weeks of breastfeeding is without a doubt the hardest phase!
If you’re looking for tips – whether you’re pregnant or just had a baby – on how to get through this tricky period of motherhood, you’ve come to the right place.
There are so many things that I wish I had known about breastfeeding before I had my first baby. Our breastfeeding journey came to an end sooner than I would have liked.
My daughter and I just could not get the latch right, and I think she found my letdown way too much (she was drowning in milk, poor thing). We struggled to get in sync with each other and eventually I exclusively pumped for the first five months. This was a good solution for a mother who wanted to breastfeed their baby, but it was time-consuming and I would avoid doing this again for my own sanity.
There are several issues that I think contributed to my not being able to breastfeed my youngest baby:
Diamorphine during labour. I had two shots of diamorphine during my labour. This painkiller does pass to your baby, and makes them very drowsy. As a result she was extremely sleepy at birth and struggled to latch on effectively immediately after birth. In the end I fed her with a syringe of expressed breast milk for the first two days and then used a bottle. She didn’t recover from the drowsiness for several days, and by this point she was more used to the bottle than the boob.
My own struggle with the latch. I just couldn’t figure out where her mouth was supposed to go, how I was supposed to hold her and what a good latch was meant to feel like. It really is a brand new skill, and it’s a tricky one to get exactly right.
Introduction of the bottle early. We had to feed my baby, so I feel no guilt about using the bottle early on (in fact my youngest had a bottle from day two and it did her no harm). However I think she got used to eating from a bottle, and opted for that instead of the boob because the flow was so much easier to deal with.
Strong letdown. I used the pump from day two after giving birth and I went way over the top with it. I was pumping every hour! This led to oversupply, and sent my letdown (the reflex where you breast tenses to squeeze out the milk from the milk ducts) into overdrive. My little one got very upset whenever she was feeding and experienced the letdown. This meant there were a lot of tears during feeding and breastfeeding was never a pleasant experience.
With this knowledge, when I went on to feed my second daughter, I found it so much easier.
I knew what a good latch looked like, having watched a million YouTube videos, I was better at holding the baby in a comfortable position and I had mentally accepted breastfeeding would hurt, and be very difficult in the early weeks.
If you want to breastfeed, I believe it’s getting through the first eight weeks that is the absolute toughest bit. If you can get through those early weeks, the chances are you will succeed at feeding for much longer than that.
I’ve done so much reading on this subject, and wish I had known all of this when I first started out! I can’t turn back the clock, but I can share it with you lovely fellow mamas!
Just a quick note, this post contains affiliate links. These are links to products I love, have used and genuinely recommend. If you make a purchase, I receive a small slice of the fee but it does NOT cost you any more to buy.
1. Get the latch right
It all begins and ends with the latch. The best way to learn the latch is to practice and watch other people doing it. Reading about it is no replacement for physically seeing how it should look.
A good latch happens when you:
Are in a comfy position.
Bring your baby to you, not the other way around as this can cause back pain.
Have the baby’s nose opposite your nipple.
Aim the nipple to the baby’s upper lip, not the middle of the mouth.
Tilt the baby’s back slightly, avoiding having his chin to his chest.
See the baby’s mouth is open wide, this is crucial.
Try to get as much of the lower portion of the areola (the area around the nipple) into your baby’s mouth as possible.
Can see the baby’s bottom and top lip are flanged out like fish lips.
2. Grit your teeth through the pain
Lactation experts will tell you that it shouldn’t hurt. I’m sorry to say, but a little pain seems to be the norm for most new mamas. I haven’t spoken to a mum yet who didn’t find it painful in the early days.
The pain comes from several issues: sore nipples, a bad latch and the letdown reflex.
The letdown reflex can feel tingly, or like electric shocks in your boobs. In the early weeks after giving birth, it can also give you cramps (great, as if we needed any more discomfort!). This feeling is your uterus contracting back to its original size, which breastfeeding hormones help to speed up.
At times when I was latching my baby on, I almost couldn’t bear to do it because I knew it would hurt so bad. I recommend using Lansinoh nipple cream to help heal sore nipples. You can also hand express a little breast milk (there are tips on hand expressing further down in this post) and rub this over the nipple, then stay topless for a while (don’t open the door to the postman!) To speed ups the healing.
Cool flannels, and lettuce leaves in the bra (honestly, this is true!) can help to ease the pain a little. I promise it does get easier.
3. Be prepared for when your milk comes in
I was shocked when I woke up a few days after giving birth to find I was covered in milk!
In the first few days you’re signalling to your boobs to make milk by latching your baby on as of, ten as they want. In this time your boobs are producing colostrum, which is the thick and creamy first milk for your baby. However there comes a point when your milk “comes in”. At this point, your breasts will feel fuller and heavier, and you may leak a bit.
I suggest buying some nursing pads for your bra in advance so that you’re prepared.
The discomfort will settle down as your breasts get used to your baby’s own food demands. They respond to your baby based on how often they feed and how much they take. It’s pretty clever really!
4. You don’t have to breastfeed sitting up
There are so many positions that you can use to breastfeed. Move around and get comfy to find what works for you and your baby.
It’s important that whatever position you use is comfortable for your back, as you may be stuck there for quite some time!
5. Definitely get a nursing bra
This is a total must-have! A good nursing bra will feel comfortable and give you quick access to your boobs when it’s time to feed.
They don’t have to look ugly either, there are some really beautiful nursing bras on the market, so shop around to find what suits you.
I recommend buying two to three bras.
6. Know how your boobs feel after a feed
Your boobs are never empty, it’s not a lake, it’s more of a river (do you like that analogy? Paints quite a picture doesn’t it, haha). However, when your baby is taking milk efficiently from your boob, it will feel noticeably less full afterwards.
Test this out by feeling your boobs just before a feed, and then again after. You should notice the difference.
This can really help you figure out if your baby has finished one boob, so that you can switch them to the next one.
It is a good sign of whether your baby is getting enough milk, but do also keep an eye on the nappies and their weight gain (more on this later).
7. Keep a record of breastfeeds
Write down when your baby feeds, and for how long. This can help to reassure you that they are feeding enough, or alert you that they are not feeding frequently enough.
As a rough guide, a newborn baby will feed at least eight times every 24 hours, but this is not an exact science!
Let your baby feed as often as they want in the early weeks. This helps to not only build up supply, but also to help your baby gain weight. As a general rule, in the first few weeks there is no such thing as feeding too frequently.
8. Boosting your breastmilk supply
There are several methods of boosting your breastmilk supply. If you’re worried that your supply has depleted, or that your body is making less milk, do not panic! There are lots of things you can do to get it going again very quickly.
Try these tips:
Drink LOADS of water. Staying hydrated is so important. Have a pint of water every time you feed your baby.
Feed more frequently. Putting your baby to the breast frequently is the best natural way to boost your supply. It’s like ringing the dinner bell!
Do breastfeed at night. I know this may be the time when you’re tempted to offer a bottle of expressed milk, but your boobs do their best milk making at night as the hormone prolactin is at a higher level at this time. It doesn’t last forever!
Try foods that boost lactation. These include oats, garlic, vegetables such as carrots and leafy greens, apricots and fenugreek.
9. Remember which boob your baby fed from last
Use a bracelet or band to keep track of which side your baby last fed from. It can be easy to forget when you’re sleep deprived!
This is important because if you have a favoured breast where you feed from more frequently you may end up lopsided, with one boob producing more milk than the other.
10. Keep an eye out for blocked ducts
A blocked duct is not a pleasant feeling. When they get really bad, it’s like a permanent throbbing achy feeling in your boob that makes it uncomfortable to move. At their worst, they can develop to mastitis, an infection of the breast. This can make you feel like you have the flu, it’s a rotten condition. Do see your GP if you think you might have it.
Read up on mastitis information and advice at the NHS website.
A blocked milk duct will feel like a hard lump in the breast. It will be very tender to the touch.
To clear a blocked duct, you need to feed frequently. Do not skip breastfeeds, in fact encourage your baby to feed more. Rub the area gently while your baby is feeding to help get it moving, and a warm flannel placed on the area can also really help. When you’re in the shower, you can also try massaging the area, as hand expressing is often easier under a hot shower. What you’re aiming to do is to get the blocked duct moving again, but as gently as possible.
A blocked duct should clear within 24 hours.
11. Learn how to hand express your breast milk
This is a good skill to have, because there may come a time when you need to relieve a little pressure from your breasts whether it be because you are stopping breastfeeding or your baby is dropping feeds after weaning.
To hand express, try the following:
Cup your breast with one hand and then with your other form a C shape with your thumb and forefinger.
Use this hand to squeeze the breast gently, keeping your finger and thumb near the darker area around the nipple but not on the nipple.
Release the pressure, then repeat, and build up a rhythm.
12. Consider investing in a breast pump
I loved my breast pump. It helped me to exclusively pump for my first baby, and to pump a little milk for my second so that my husband could occasionally feed her to give me a break.
If you’re going to invest in a pump, I do recommend an electric one over a manual one, as it’s just easier on you.
The Medela Swing is great because it can operate on batteries and it’s quite small, so easy to take out with you if you need to pump on the go.
13. Get your baby weighed regularly
This is the key way to reassure yourself that your baby is feeding enough. In the UK, you will have a local clinic which you should be told about before being discharged from hospital. Find out when the clinic hours are and attend to get your baby weighed. Your baby’s weight gain will be plotted on a chart. The goal is to keep them on the same, or roughly the same, centile line as when they were born.
If your baby is dropping a lot of weight, then you can talk to your health visitor about addressing the issue. The key cause of weight loss in a breastfeed baby is usually a problem with the latch and/or milk supply.
Work on the latch, and your baby will be able to extract more milk from your breast, which will in turn make your breasts make more milk.
14. Keep an eye on the nappies
Nappies are also a great day-to-day indicator that your baby is healthy and getting enough to eat.
A new baby should be filling multiple nappies with wee and poo every day.
15. It does NOT matter what size your boobs are
Big boobs and little boobs can make enough breastmilk for babies. Do not worry about breast size.
The size of your boobs is about mostly fatty tissue, not about how many milk ducts you have! Most women have enough glandular tissue to make and store breast milk.
16. Cluster feeding is hard
Cluster feeding tends to happen in the late afternoon/early evening. You will find that your baby wants to feed a LOT. They may also be fussier.
This is totally normal in the early weeks. Let them feed as much as they want. If you do need a little break, hand the baby over to your partner for 10 minutes. It’s not uncommon for a baby to want to be on the boob for an hour or even more.
This suckling behaviour is a normal way of stimulating your breast milk supply.
17. Have a breastfeeding kit
When you settle in for a feed, there’s nothing worse than realising the remote and your drink are on the other side of the room!
Have a tray or small box where you have a drink, snack, your phone and the TV remote. This way you can get comfy!
18. Hand over all chores
Breastfeeding is a 24/7 job in the early weeks. Surrender to it and ask for help. Get your partner to do all of the cooking and cleaning.
If you don’t already, start getting your groceries delivered as this will save you so much time and effort.
19. Find your local support network
There are many breastfeeding support groups out there. These are great for meeting other mums going through the same as you and getting advice on the nitty gritty of breastfeeding.
20. Stick with it
I know that many mamas feel the overwhelming pressure to breastfeed and to stick with it. It’s so so tough.
But if you want to breastfeed, the best advice I can give is to persevere. I know you may be crying and exhausted and feeling as if it’s hopeless. Keep at it. Check your latch. Let your baby feed whenever they want. And most importantly, ask for help as often as you need it.
If you do decide to switch to formula. Please, please don’t beat yourself up about it. You’ve done your best, and you need to be a happy mama in order to raise a happy baby!
If you have any questions at all, please get in touch.
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