There’s no doubt that breastfeeding is the best option for both mother and baby. Click Here to learn more about that. I also want to emphasize that every mother deserves to make the best decisions for herself and her baby accordingly, so bottles and high-quality formula are just fine too.
If, however, you choose to embark on the breastfeeding route, it’s best to be prepared. As a newborn photographer, I spend hundreds of hours with mothers and their infants during the first weeks postpartum. I’ve seen everything from the dreamy, blissful mother-and-child breastfeeding scenes to mothers in tears because the breastfeeding thing isn’t going so well.
Over time, I’ve taken note of what works (lots of support!) - and what doesn’t (everyone’s contradictory two-cents!) - and would like to share the 5 tips I feel are the most helpful as you and baby find your breastfeeding groove.
1. Consider hiring a doula
If you’re on the fence about a doula but you know you want to breastfeed - hire a doula.
Doulas are there for you before, during and after your birth. In addition to helping you with all of the new things your first few weeks home with baby will bring, doulas are incredible breastfeeding supports. You may intentionally seek one who is also a certified doula breastfeeding specialist (DBS). You’ll have oncall breastfeeding support when you need it - and that can make all of the difference.
2. Attend La Leche meetings before the baby is born
The La Leche League (LLL) is an international organization designed to provide full-spectrum information, education, “technical” training and emotional support for breastfeeding mothers.
The Bay Area is fortunate to have active LLL groups all over the place. Click Here to find an LLL group in your area. Pregnant women are welcome to attend meetings so try to get to one or more if you can. In fact, the LLL encourages women to come to meetings before your baby is born to begin surrounding yourself with a supportive network.
This familiarity makes it easier and more comfortable for you to contact them if you need help or have questions when you start breastfeeding at home.
The La Leche League also publishes one of the best books ever written about breastfeeding, called, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. It’s the only book you’ll ever need when it comes to information, advice, troubleshooting, etc.
3. Know what a good latch looks like
I had a friend whose baby was a champion nurser right from the start - latched on and happily guzzled milk every 1.5 hours. My friend, however, was in agony; her nipples were shredded and not healing well, and she wound up with mastitis. The problem: unbeknownst to her, the baby was latching on with the upper-lip flanged as it should be, but with the lower lip tucked under. The baby was happy as a clam, but the latch was not good for mama!
Know what a good latch looks like and your nipples will thank you. While a modicum of soreness or irritability is normal as nipples get into shape, breastfeeding isn’t supposed to be consistently painful or excruciating, nor should nipples bleed or blister. All of these are signs that adjustments are needed.
I like mamaelyfant.com’s, The Secret to a Good Latch, because the illustrations are detailed and very helpful.
Always break a “bad latch” and reposition baby for a good one. This way, baby doesn’t develop any bad habits. In my friend’s case, the simple act of gently popping her baby’s bottom lip over and outwards was the trick - and within one week of retraining a “good latch,” they rode off together into the breastfeeding sunset.
4. Try a range of different holds/positions
All around you are women - and images of women - breastfeeding their babies in the traditional “cradle position.” Once you get the hang of it, this will probably be your go-to hold, but you’ll also be surprised at all the creative positions your baby manages to find and attempt - especially as s/he gets older, stronger and more mobile.
Studying the various breastfeeding positions gives you options if the cradle position isn’t the best one for you and baby right from the get-go. Other positions include:
Laid-back breastfeeding (biological nurturing) - this is the one many babies find on their own directly after being born if they’re allowed to wriggle up mom’s body (a natural instinct called “the birth crawl”) for a baby-led attachment to the breast.
Clutch or football position
You can Click Here to read about positioning in detail, and to see pictures of each one.
5. Don’t wait to hire a lactation consultant if you need one
With the support of a good labor/delivery team, a doula (if you have one) and a partner/family/friends who honor our choice and do what they can to help - most women find their breastfeeding groove within three to five weeks. If, however, you’re stymied and frustrated beyond your ability to cope - contact a local, certified lactation consultant pronto (or have your partner or a good friend do it for you). Do this sooner, rather than later, to save you the trauma of hours or days (weeks!) of unnecessary angst.
To start, she’ll stay with you on the phone to help out (thank goodness for speaker phone), and then she’ll happily schedule her next available moment to come straight to your door. Together, your certified lactation consultant will help you identify the roadblocks in your breastfeeding journey - and then smooth them out so you can breastfeed with ease.
My name is Marcela Limon and I’m a Bay Area maternity and newborn photographer. I wish you and your newborn the very best of luck as you get to know one another and establish your breastfeeding rhythms.