Breastfeeding is one of my favorite parts of having a baby in the home. Looking down at those sweet little eyes staring at you while your baby makes the cutest little sucking noises is nothing short of pure bliss. Once established, breastfeeding is easy to do (no remembering bottles, formula, or warm water), and certainly offers better sleep at night, as baby can just be nursed throughout the night.
I would recommend breastfeeding to any new mom who is able, as not only is it good for mom’s emotions and body, but also for baby as breast milk contains the perfect nutrition and life saving antibodies. Successful breastfeeding is linked to many factors, and moms often find themselves stressing about whether or not they will have good milk production. Also, many new moms are not prepared or educated about how to properly breastfeed, what factors are involved, breastfeeding positions, and how to get through the hardest parts.
Here are some tips I’ve learned during my two breastfeeding journeys, which have been very successful! This is just my experience, if you are seriously concerned because your baby is losing or not gaining weight or not having wet diapers, please contact a lactation professional.
First and foremost, let’s start with this one, because I know how we mamas are! Don’t stress.
According to the LLL, it is not scientifically proven that stress impacts milk supply (1). However, in one study, 58% of mothers experiencing problems with breastfeeding and a perception of insufficient milk supply in the first two weeks had a lack of confidence (6).
The worst thing you can do is stress about milk supply. Rather, follow the proper steps to take action toward successful breastfeeding, and remember stress is your enemy.
Have a Natural Childbirth
Of course, this isn’t always possible, but aim to making natural choices whenever possible. This would include no epidural, no pitocin, delayed cord clamping, immediate skin to skin, keeping the baby with you at all times, and nursing often and on demand. The newborn should be allowed to nurse as soon as possible after birth.
Why natural? Naturally occurring oxytocin is an intricate part of the breastfeeding experience, as it is released in response to infant suckling in order to enhance milk production (5). It also induces the uterus to shrink back to a normal size after labor as well as helps the mother deal with post-partum stress (2). Pitocin use, however, should be further studied, as some research has linked epidural and pitocin use to significantly lower oxytocin levels during lactation and negative breastfeeding success (2). High doses of synthetic oxytocin may desensitize the breast oxytocin receptors just as it does the uterine receptors and could perhaps weaken the milk let down reflex as well as the hormonal response to infant suckling (4).
A large determining factor in milk production is your body’s initial response to the experience of the new infant, including suckling, bonding hormones, and milk removal. This is one reason why I am such a fan of natural childbirth–it sets up the stage for a healthy milk supply.
Skin to Skin and Nurse on Demand
The best way to make more milk is first to establish that supply early on! If you are pregnant and reading this now, remember it is essential to get as much skin to skin contact as you can, bonding time, high quality latching, and a lot of suckling in those first beautiful hours after childbirth.
Why does it matter? To understand this, we have to understand how milk is made. In the early days of breastfeeding, as a newborn baby is suckling, the breasts are busy producing prolactin milk receptors. These milk receptors set the stage for the entire breastfeeding journey, which is why it is so important to establish a solid milk supply early on (that is why a good latch is essential).
Current research suggests that in the early days of nursing the number of final prolactin receptor sites are determined; more prolactin receptors sites stimulate more milk production and a higher capacity to make milk (3). Skin to skin contact, milk removal, and infant suckling stimulate milk production and prolactin receptors in those first golden days post-partum (6).
During those early nursing sessions postpartum, as oxytoxin is released, you will most likely experience mild cramping as the uterus shrinks back down. Combat the pain with this Afterpains Salve Recipe from The Pistachio Project.
Both my daughter and son nursed within minutes of birth, we had completely unmedicated births, and they slept next to me skin to skin for the first couple nights, suckling for many hours. I’ve had an abundant milk supply since then, but one thing I’ve noticed is that one side produces more than the other. Both babies favored one side early on, and I believe this is why one side produces more. This proves my case of the essential importance of getting lots of cuddles and suckling in early on.
Remember, those first hours and weeks set the stage for much of the breastfeeding journey, so make the best of them!
However, I will say that if birth doesn’t go as planned, and the above tips were unable to happen, that doesn’t mean it’s all a failure! There is still plenty of time to establish a good supply and get going with successful breastfeeding.
Establish a Good Latch
Once the supply is established, the biggest determining factors that affect milk production are hormones and milk removal/nipple stimulation. Milk production at 4-6 days after birth is a good predictor of milk production at 6 weeks post-partum (6). It’s even possible that permanent milk production capacity is reached by two weeks post-partum (6).
A good latch is essential for proper milk supply, as well as avoiding painful breastfeeding conditions such as engorgement, mastitis, and painful, cracked, or infected nipples. It’s important, especially for your first baby, to have a lactation professional inspect your baby’s latch and check for proper opening of the mouth, inverted or flat nipples, lip tie, and tongue tie. Believe it or not, good latching doesn’t often come naturally to mom or baby. I personally was not going to leave the hospital until we had absolutely mastered our latch.
Learn Different Positions
The classic cradle hold is certainly not the only position to breastfeed in; in fact, many people even do the cradle hold improperly. For any position, baby should be facing mom with his or her entire body directed toward mom. Alongside the cradle hold, there are many different holds including the cross cradle hold, the football hold, and side lying, which are all popular holds.
Read more about the different ways to breastfeed your baby at La Leche League.
Forego the Bottle and Pacifier if Possible
Again, there are situations in which a bottle and pacifier are necessary and life saving. However, if that isn’t the case, I would recommend not introducing them until later on, (about a month is what I did) in order to avoid nipple confusion.
If baby needs to suck and your nipples are sore, a good ol’ pinky from daddy works wonders.
Stay Hydrated and Eat Nutritious Food
Breastmilk is made of protein, fat, and carbs as well as essential vitamins for the infant and iron. (7). According to the La Leche League, even in times of inadequate nutrition intake, the female body is designed to compensate for nutritional inadequacy (1). Your body will take what is necessary for the survival of your child. However, it does take substantial calories and liquids to make milk, so it important to refill your stores to keep your own body healthy.
Be On the Lookout for Food Reactions
This isn’t something to be worried about, but it is something to be aware of. Some babies react poorly to foods (especially dairy and gluten) and may have intolerance or sensitivities. If your baby is extra fussy, sleeping poorly, gassy, or developing a rash or puffy eyes, keep a food journal and see if there are any triggers.
I have done this twice now, and it has made a world of difference with my son. In that case I did a full blown elimination diet, but be sure to consult with your trusted healthcare professional before embarking on such a journey!
Prepare for Engorgement and Some Nipple Pain
Breastfeeding can be painful. In the early days, when the milk comes in, many women experience engorgement as the breasts become too full for the baby to empty. Cold compresses, cabbage leaves, and pumping small amounts can help with this.
Nipple pain is to be expected as well, as the body gets used to suckling. To help with this, first and foremost assure the baby is getting a good latch with a wide mouth and the chin flush with the breast.
Rub colostrum on each nipple after nursing, to soothe the nipple and prevent infection, and use lanolin or nipple cream the first few days. I didn’t use anything else, even coconut oil. When I tried using coconut oil, my baby seemed to be upset because the smell affected the smell of his mama. If the latch is good and baby is nursing well, the nipple pain will subside within the first couple weeks.
Read THIS POST from New and Natural Mom about dealing with cracked, painful nipples.
Know the Signs of Mastitis
Mastitis is. the. worst. The best way to not suffer greatly during mastitis is to catch it early on, when it’s only a plugged duct. If it progresses to a full blown infection, I can tell you it is truly miserable and almost impossible to care for a baby.
I have been able to deal with it without medication, but in the worst of cases antibiotics may be necessary. Raw garlic, Vitamin C, plenty of rest, warm massage, nursing baby all day, and homeopathic Phytolacca have done wonders for me. Read THIS POST from The Lovely Acres and THIS ONE from This Crazy Maze on natural remedies for mastitis.
What are the signs of a plugged duct?
- Breast pain
- A tender lump
- Feeling under the weather
- Low grade fever
This can happen when you are engorged, haven’t emptied the breast, laid on the breast funny so it couldn’t empty, wore tight clothing or a tight bra, or anything else that contributes to plugging a duct. It may progress to a full blown mastitis infection when you experience:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Body aches and Chills
- Severe breast pain
- Red streaks on the breast
- A hard painful lump
- A fever above 101
My advice? As soon as you feel a little off or a slight pain in the breast, go on a mastitis protocol to prevent the infection! For me this means massaging the breast with warm compresses, vitamin C, raw garlic, rest, hot showers, and nursing baby alllll day long in numerous positions.
Realize It Isn’t Easy, But It’s Worth It
Seriously. It is absolutely worth it. It is hard, especially in those early days. We always see pictures of moms happily feeding their babies without a care in the world, but this isn’t always the case. With my daughter, I had to hold her mouth during feeding for at least a month to get her to latch properly, and with my son we are dealing with numerous food sensitivities as well as lip tie and tongue tie.
Has it been hard? Yes. I’ve had mastitis with both of them, experienced pain and engorgement, stretch marks, and I’m currently eating the most boring diet I’ve ever had in my life. But, I would do it all again a million times over. The bonding is worth all the hard moments, the simplicity of it saves me so much time and effort, and I am so thankful they are getting nutritious food packed with life saving antibodies.
Education and empowerment are the most important tools when preparing for successful breastfeeding! If things aren’t going well, always reach out for professional help. You won’t regret that you did. Happy nursing!
- Common Breastfeeding Myths
- BEYOND LABOR: THE ROLE OF NATURAL AND SYNTHETIC OXYTOCIN IN THE TRANSITION TO MOTHERHOOD
- How Does Milk Production Work?
- Synthetic oxytocin and breastfeeding: Reasons for testing an hypothesis
- What Does Oxytocin Do?
- Breastmilk Production in the First 4 Weeks after Birth of Term Infants
- What’s in Breast Milk?