Ok, real talk: Breastfeeding doesn’t just naturally happen after your baby is born, even though that’s what most of us think. It’s actually something you and your baby have to learn how to do. (Weird, I know.)
You have to figure out how to hold your baby and what breastfeeding positions work best for you. Your baby has to learn how to latch onto your nipple properly (yes, there’s a right and a wrong way) and create a sucking motion that gets the milk to flow. And all of that can be more challenging to get the hang of than it sounds.
But, there’s one easy thing you can do to get breastfeeding off to a great start. It’s a secret-not-secret breastfeeding tip many moms don’t do. What is it?
Asking for help.
Don’t Be Embarrassed
When I was pregnant with my first child, one of my friends gave me really good advice. She told me she wished she had asked the nurses for help positioning and getting her baby to latch onto her breast. But she was too embarrassed. She urged me to not let modesty get in the way of learning to breastfeed.
I took her advice to heart and asked every nurse I saw for help. I was in the hospital for three days (because of a c-section) and my boobs were handled more in that time than in my entire dating life! While it was weird to have the nurses touch my boobs, it was worth it.
Each nurse shared different breastfeeding tips and showed me one or more of the many breastfeeding positions I could try.
It wasn’t until the end of the second day that a nurse showed me a position that really worked for me – the crossover hold (also called the reverse cradle or cross-cradle hold). In this position, my baby was finally able to latch onto my breast and suck the right way.
See a Lactation Consultant
If you’ve talked to all the nurses and you and your baby are still struggling to breastfeed, ask to see a lactation consultant. Lactation consultants are medical professionals that specialize in breastfeeding. They help you troubleshoot problems that can arise with nursing like a baby that won’t latch or a low milk supply.
One checked in on me at the hospital the day I was being released. But if you ask for one earlier, I’m sure you can get help before you’re on your way out. I demonstrated what the baby and I were doing to the hospital’s lactation consultant and she confirmed that our latch looked good.
Lactation consultants work in hospitals, medical clinics and also do home visits. So even if something comes up once you leave the hospital (think: breast or nipple pain or your baby is refusing to nurse), you can see a lactation consultant for help.
Ask your obstetrician or pediatrician who they recommend or visit the International Lactation Consultant Association directory.
Relax, Your Baby Won’t Starve
Most moms worry that their babies will become too hungry if they can’t immediately breastfeed after giving birth. Don’t worry, that’s not really a problem. Newborns don’t need much nourishment the first few days. They are typically sleepy and sluggish, recovering from the event of being born.
My hospital lactation consultant said babies aren’t ready to eat until after they’re a couple of days old. That’s why doctors expect babies to lose a little bit of weight initially.
Also, your milk doesn’t come in until a few days after your baby is born anyway. In the meantime, your wee one gets tiny amounts of colostrum, or pre-milk, from your nursing sessions.
Stick with It
Many moms experience initial breastfeeding problems. Not being able to breastfeed your baby is frustrating and stressful. You’re worried that your little one is going hungry and that it’ll never work for you. But if you seek help and don’t give up, your chance of successfully breastfeeding increases exponentially.
One of my friends found that her baby was always too sleepy to nurse. Her baby would drift off as soon as she put her to the breast. Her lactation consultant recommended various things until they came up with a solution that worked. My friend pumped breast milk into bottles and fed her baby while she sat in a carrier or baby seat. That way, her baby wouldn’t get all snuggly and fall asleep.
For my mom friends whose babies had trouble latching on, lactation consultants recommended nipple shields. Nipple shields are artificial nipples made from ultra-thin pieces of soft silicone with a hole for milk to flow through. You place them over your own nipples to create a pointier tip that’s easier for your baby to grip. It’s a temporary fix that helps your child get the hang of breastfeeding. Nipple shields are also sometimes recommended to protect sore or cracked nipples while they heal.
Are these solutions what you envisioned breastfeeding to be like? Probably not. But they help you take advantage of all the amazing benefits of breastfeeding for you and your child.
Getting through the learning curve of breastfeeding has another bonus, too: If you have more children, nursing will be so much easier. When I had my second child, she was able to immediately latch and nurse in the delivery room. I had my nursing pillow with me – one of my breastfeeding essentials – and put my baby straight into my favorite position (the cross hold). As my husband pointed out, I was a seasoned pro.
Breastfeeding is one of the very special things a mom gets to do, but it takes work to master it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And, try not to stress as you work through different strategies to make nursing a success. Being able to breastfeed is worth the effort. And, if you end up needing to formula feed, at least you know that you gave it your all. As parents, that’s the best any of us can do.