If you decide it’s right for you, breastfeeding is a wonderful way to feed your baby. But it’s not always easy. I thought I was totally prepared for breastfeeding—after taking a short class and reading a few BabyCenter articles—but it was more challenging than I expected. The first few weeks after my son was born were the hardest, but there were plenty of times throughout the course of our nursing relationship when I felt confused and questioned if I was doing it “right.”
After nursing my son for 17 months, I’m still far from an expert, but I did pick up some tips and tricks along the way. Tips that I wish I had known before my son was born. Hopefully some of them can help you, no matter where you are in your breastfeeding journey.
- Nipple pads. I preferred the bamboo pads you can wash over the disposable ones. (The cotton ones soaked through my bra too easily.)
- Nursing pillow. I started with the My Brest Friend pillow and liked how I could snug it up against my body, but then I switched to the One Z pillow because I needed more back support. (The One Z is monstrous but super comfy.) When my son was a little older and we were more comfortable with nursing, I tried the Boppy and liked that a lot too.
- Nursing bras. I bought a ton of these inexpensive bras from Amazon since it seemed like I was constantly washing them. They really held up well considering I wore them almost daily for 17 months. A special pumping bra or pumping tank may also come in handy.
- Nursing tanks. I wore these constantly. I especially loved this Kindred Bravely tank because it was thin enough that I could wear it under tops and make any outfit breastfeeding-friendly.
- Electric pump. My insurance only gave me one choice of pump, but the Medela Pump in Style and Spectra S2 are two of the most popular options.
- Manual pump. I used my Lansinoh hand pump wayyyy more than I ever thought I would. For my next baby I’m going to try the Haakaa silicone manual pump. When I would nurse I would leak a lot out of my other breast, and the Haakaa pump makes it easy to catch and collect that precious milk.
- Milk storage bags and labels. I kept the bags in a drawer with some sticky labels and a pen to mark down the date and volume. (If I wrote right on the bag the ink would often smudge.)
- Sterilizer. I used these steam bags to quickly sanitize pump parts and bottles. If you sterilize daily, this gadget is a good option too.
- Nursing caddy/station. It’s helpful to put together some supplies to have within arm’s reach if you need something while you’re breastfeeding. You may want to include items like nipple pads, nipple cream, hand sanitizer, burp cloths, a water bottle, books or other entertainment, electronics and chargers, and snacks.
Pumping and bottle feeding
- Consider renting a hospital grade pump. My son had trouble learning how to breastfeed, so I had to pump a lot sooner than I anticipated. I rented a hospital grade pump (the Medela Symphony) for those first few weeks when he wasn’t nursing well, and it was a huge help. I was able to get my supply going and keep it up, and stockpile a ton of milk.
- Get to know your manual pump. I used my hand pump way more than I thought I would. It was so much easier to set up and use, and sometimes I even got more milk with it than with my electric pump. If I was going out for the evening and had to miss one feeding, I would bring my hand pump and pump a little in the bathroom so I wouldn’t get uncomfortable.
- Use hand expression to get more milk. When I pumped and the milk started to slow down or stop flowing, I would use hand expression to get more milk. One study of moms with premature babies showed that those who used hand expression as well as their pump were able to pump an average of 48 percent more milk than those who used only the pump.
- Stock up on spare parts. Some of those pump parts are tiny and easy to lose to the garbage disposal, so make sure you have some spares to prevent any pumping-related meltdowns.
- Find out which bottles your baby likes. I bought a huge set of bottles before my son was to born, only to have him reject them suddenly after a couple months. So my advice is to not invest too heavily in one brand until you figure out what your baby prefers.
- Use paced bottle feeding. I think a lot of moms stress over when to introduce a bottle: If I do it too early, will baby go back to nursing? If I do it too late, what if baby refuses and never takes a bottle? When I had to introduce a bottle much sooner than I planned, my lactation consultant recommended doing paced bottle feeding to make sure my son didn’t get used to the fast flow of bottles and then not want to go back to nursing.
The “M” word…mastitis
I was lucky enough to never get mastitis, which is an inflammation of the breast tissue that can cause an infection. But I heard horror stories about it from my mom and friends, so I was extra vigilant whenever I got a clogged milk duct, which can lead to mastitis. Here are some ways you can prevent mastitis:
- Avoid long periods between nursing or pumping. I had a friend who went to a brewery with her family when her baby was a few months old, and she was having so much fun she went without pumping for many hours, and ended up with mastitis.
- If you get a clogged duct, start working to relieve it right away to avoid it escalating into mastitis. Nurse or pump frequently (ideally every 2 hours), especially on the affected breast. Massage the duct and use hand expression to unblock it. I would do hand expression in the shower since warm water also helps.
- Place a warm compress on the clogged duct. An electric toothbrush or hand massager can also be effective
- Wear loose clothing and avoid tight bras.
Weaning can be an emotional process. For some (dumb) reason I felt pressure to wean when my son was around a year old, but I wasn’t ready. And then when I was ready a few months later, I felt a lot of guilt. I worried that I would harm my son in some way by weaning him on my timeline, and I felt selfish that I was ready to be done when he may have been happy to continue. Looking back now, everything turned out okay. I’m happy with how I handled the weaning process and proud that we nursed as long we did. Here are my tips for weaning:
- Do it slowly. This is especially important so as to avoid plugged ducts and mastitis. Start by dropping one feeding and wait 3 to 7 days to drop another. (I went even longer, like 2 weeks, since we weren’t in a rush.)
- Drop the least important feeding first, like a midday feeding. Offer a snack in its place or try to distract your baby with playing or an outing.
- If you’re trying to drop a feeding, avoid sitting with your baby in your regular nursing spots at that time. Or even try to be out of the house during that time.
- Don’t feel guilty if not everything goes according to plan. There were times when my son was upset or just really needed to nurse, and I never refused him, even if we were trying to drop that feeding.
- If it’s an option for you, involving your non-breastfeeding partner is very helpful during weaning. When we were finally ready to drop our pre-bedtime feeding, I would say goodnight to my son downstairs and my husband would do the entire bedtime routine. It was sad for me, but my son didn’t seem too bothered.
- We held onto our morning feeding for a long time since my son seemed to nurse the most at that feeding, and I really liked having that snuggly time. Eventually my husband started taking my son straight downstairs after he woke up to have a yogurt instead of nursing. (My son hated cow’s milk, but that’s another story.)
- During and after the weaning process, I did feel some sadness and depression. This is normal, and while there’s not much research on it, it’s probably due to hormonal changes. Talking about it with my husband and my friends helped, and before long I felt like myself again.
Things to remember
- There’s a huge learning curve when it comes to breastfeeding. I wasn’t prepared for how challenging it would be, but remembering that you and your baby both have a lot to learn helps to put things in perspective.
- Every baby is different. Some babies catch on quickly, and others take a while to get the hang of nursing. And all babies have different styles of nursing and different quirks. As long as your baby is eating and growing, and no one is in pain, that’s all that matters. There’s no perfect way to breastfeed
- Get help if you’re struggling or in pain. Meet with a lactation consultant or call the hospital and talk to one there. Check out a La Leche League meeting. If you think your baby might have a tongue tie or lip tie that’s making breastfeeding more difficult, visit a pediatric dentist who can tell you for sure. KellyMom is a great online resource for breastfeeding questions. I don’t recommend Googling or visiting message boards because it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the opinions and information, some of which may come from dubious sources. Find a resource you trust and stick with that.
- Not all nursing sessions are peaceful. It took me a long time to realize that this is normal. Sometimes your baby will be fussy or cry or pull away from you. Maybe they are in a growth spurt, going through a developmental leap, or teething. You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out the reason, but if you can just be patient you’ll come out the other side.
- Nursing strikes happen. But they don’t necessarily mean your baby is done nursing. Again, sometimes they are just going through a phase. If they are too distracted to breastfeed, maybe they need to nurse in a more quiet area. Also, just because your baby gets teeth doesn’t mean you have to stop nursing (if you don’t want to). My son only bit a couple times and then he stopped, and after that I never felt his teeth when he nursed.