I asked some breastfeeding mamas what tips or advice they would give to new or expectant moms who plan on breastfeeding. These are statements from real moms who have experience with breastfeeding, coming straight from their hearts and experience. Please share with friends you think might benefit from their wisdom, and comment below to share your own tips!
Don't watch the clock to see how often or how long your baby is nursing. Instead, go with your instincts. If your baby is rooting around or crying, then feed him or her…even if you just did 30 minutes before. –Erica, London, ON
I wish I would've known how hard it can be for MOST women. I felt like I was failing and I was the only one. Once I said something--- so many women told me their struggles. Advice? Watch the latch videos-- as many as you can... and listen for the swallowing sound. It may seem silly but I thought he was latched for 45 min so he ate for 45 min. No one ever told me about the swallow/drinking sound to make sure they are drinking! –Trina, Pleasanton, CA
Breastfeeding is thirsty work! And it’s hard to remember to drink enough water sometimes. I filled a water jug, and made sure that I finished it every day. Drink lots of water and your milk supply will thank-you. – Melissa, Ottawa, ON
Trust your body and trust your baby. Let this be your new mantra, repeat it often. –Christine of Joyful You, Windsor, ON
I think with my first child I was so unprepared for everything that it was overwhelming. The thing I tell my friends who are pregnant and planning on nursing is to 1) educate yourself ahead of time, 2) find a support group/person and 3) don't be afraid to ask for help! Your baby WILL eat a lot those first weeks and it's totally normal. It doesn't mean you're not producing enough and it doesn't mean you have to give formula. Oh and breastfeeding isn't a magical bonding experience for everyone, and if it isn't that okay. You're not a failure if you feel any differently. –Monica, College Station, TX
Trust that you have enough milk!!! –Nicole, Toronto, ON
I had a very hard time breastfeeding after my c-section. Looking back, I wish I would have had community support. It may not have changed the outcome, but I would have started with advocating for skin to skin after my c-section. And I would have requested a lactation consultant. I would have done so many things differently! If I can emphasize one thing from my experience it would be to know where to find support BEFORE you need it, just in case. There is nothing like a 3am feed with no one there to help you. I am now nursing my second child, she is 30 months and 25 days old. We have had a wonderful time and nursing her has never been a chore. It is a blessing. – Andrea
I'm hoping things are an easier adjustment with my second baby, now knowing what's coming with breastfeeding. I think the shock of how much time I spent nursing my first was enough to throw me for a loop. This time I'm hoping to be more prepared for the time and energy just feeding a small person takes. –Kelly, Paris, ON
I wish there were more knowledgeable people who could have said to me "This is a learning process for you and your baby. It will come". –Heather of The Family Wellness Centre, Windsor, ON
I struggled to nurse my first child. I thought it was just supposed to work because it's natural. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. My son wouldn't latch properly, I had a fast letdown, I overproduced, he wasn't getting enough hind milk. To top it off, I got an awful case of mastitis at 6 weeks. It was so bad I had to have ultrasounds on my breasts to see if there were any ducts that needed to be drained surgically and to see if there was any permanent damage. Luckily it cleared up but my right breast never produced the same amount of milk again. It took about 3 months but my son and I got the hang of it. I went on to nurse him for 29 months. I tell expecting mums my story not to scare them but to let them know that breastfeeding can be a challenge and it can take time you and baby to get it right. If it's not working, don't be hard on yourself. Get help from a lactation consultant, the LLL or even other mums. There's always support. –Victoria, Saint Catharines, ON
It took six weeks to really get the hang of breastfeeding and for it to be pain free. With my first it was hell for the first six weeks because of thrush so I thought that from the start with my second everything would be a breeze. But I was still in pain for the first 6 weeks (no thrush). After that, everything just kinda flowed and the pain went away. So just try and get through the first weeks because it really does get easier! And seek help from breastfeeding professionals as often as you need it. They are fabulous. –Shannon, Langham, SK
Create a nursing nook. Set up a rocking chair and table in a quiet corner just for nursing. Keep all your essentials there so you're never stuck without something important during a marathon nursing session or after baby falls asleep. I recommend a gorgeous bottle of water, healthy snacks, tissue, lip balm, nipple balm, burp cloths, a super comfy house coat and something to read (preferably an e-reader because they're easier to balance!) –Christine of Joyful You, Windsor, ON
I think one of the hardest things for me as a first-time-mom was the constant demand of my time and my body. It took a couple of months to see breastfeeding as a gift rather than a chore, but I am so happy that I stuck with it! –Claire, Saskatoon, SK
Expect breastfeeding to be successful! While these comments are super helpful in terms of tangible tips and support, I imagine that some readers who haven't yet breastfed might read them and expect all kinds of difficulties if they choose to nurse. I just want to say that breastfeeding can be easy and wonderful, and it came quite naturally for me. I'm not trying to brag, but just reassuring readers that they won't necessarily have problems breastfeeding. –Justine of Love the Bump, Windsor, ON
Pregnancy, birth and parenthood are times when it is best to tap into your instincts and inner wisdom, but that can be hard to do in a world full of experts, advice and education about what you “should” be doing. So I sometimes find it insightful to turn to the animal world and discover how their instincts and inner wisdom drive them. In this tutorial, I will teach you how to birth like an elephant.
Step 1: Surround yourself with loving support. Female elephants in the wild huddle around a birthing mother and protect her within this circle. They have their bums pointed toward the birth and their faces looking out on the landscape. Facing outwards protects the mama elephant against predators, and also affords the mama some privacy. Just like elephants, birthing women tend to prefer privacy and don’t like to be watched. That is why it is important that you find a doula, a partner or family that will protect you, but also respect your birthing space.
your birthing space quiet and dark in order to keep your melatonin flowing. It has been shown that melatonin acts synergistically with oxytocin to increase the efficiency of contractions.
Step 3: Don’t disturb the amniotic sac. In most cases, the baby elephant drops to the ground inside the amniotic sac, which breaks when it hits the ground, releasing both the calf and a lot of fluid. I often hear from new moms “...my waters didn’t break on their own so the doctor had to break them”. But artificially rupturing the membranes is unnecessary. Just like in elephants, a baby can be born in it’s sac if it doesn’t break on its own before the moment of birth. And there are plenty of benefits to keeping the sac intact (if possible) during labour.
Step 4: Celebrate and rest.The herd that surrounded the mama elephant during birth proudly trumpets the arrival of its newest baby member, and also creates an impenetrable wall around the newborn until it is able to get to its feet. The herd pauses for a couple of days to give the newborn and new mom a chance to rally their strength. Much like elephants, mom and baby need a chance to pause and bond after birth. So try to take some time to recover and celebrate the birth. And surround yourself with a support network that will protect and take care of you while soak in those precious moments.
Step 5: Eat your placenta? The placenta may not be expelled for a few more hours after birth. But when it is, the elephant mother observes standard procedure for many wild animals -- she eats it in order to conceal the birth from predators. To leave it lying on the ground would be an announcement to all predators within miles that a newborn elephant was now within their territory. Maybe eating their placentas also has the added benefit for elephants of balancing their postpartum hormones, like it does in humans? After 22 months of pregnancy, I am sure that their hormones are going crazy! But for the record, a 22-month pregnancy is not an elephant trait that I suggest you mimic.
We all have instincts, but as humans we tend to value conscious thought over gut feelings and we are quick to ignore our intuition. So, when you are feeling overwhelmed, and your instincts are being pushed down by a barrage of information, try to ask yourself what an elephant mama would do! She would surround herself with loving females who create a sheltering circle around her and give her privacy. She would find a safe, comfortable, dark space in order to help keep her melatonin levels high. And above all else, she would enter labour full of strength, joy and respect for the power of birth.
The moment you’ve waited and planned for has arrived! The first weeks with your newborn are a busy time, but it’s important that you find the time to take care of yourself. Here are some tips that will help with an easier, happier and faster postpartum recovery.
Rest! You’re recovering, and your post-pregnancy body is working hard to adjust. Don’t start off trying to be supermom because there is no such thing. Ask for help, and accept it when it’s offered. Stay in your pyjamas when you have visitors because it reminds people that you are recovering from birth and that you need help. On the other hand, when you don’t have visitors, sometimes taking a shower and getting dressed really does wonders psychologically.
Tend to your bottom. The condition of your vagina, perineum and rectum depends a lot on your particular childbirth experience, but regardless expect lots of bleeding and general soreness. Your peri bottle and sitz bath will be lifesavers in the coming weeks. Fill your peri bottle with warm water and squirt it on your perineum while/after you use the bathroom to keep yourself clean and help with the stinging you may experience when pee hits your stitches. Herbs such as comfrey root, witch hazel, calendula leaf and plantain leaf ease soreness and help with postpartum recovery. Steep the herbs in boiling water, let cool, then transfer the herbal infusion to your peri bottle.
Tend to your boobs. During your first week postpartum your milk will come in and your breasts will engorge. They may become bigger, tender and hard. Engorgement should diminish within a few days, but if you’re seeking relief in the meantime there are a few remedies you could try. Try a warm compress before nursing and a cold compress afterwards. You can also use your hand to express a little milk to relief pressure, but don’t express too much because the more you express the more milk is made. To ensure that all milk ducts are being emptied, alter the position of your baby at the breast and compress your breasts gently while nursing to help get your milk flowing. Lastly, have some nipple cream on hand in case your nipples get a bit sore. A little bit of soreness is normal, but if the pain becomes intense, seek help from your doctor, midwife or a lactation consultant.
Tend to your uterus. Your uterus was recently the size of a watermelon and now it must return to the size of a pear. You may notice some contractions and gushes of blood as your uterus slims down. You can speed the return of your uterus to its normal size by drinking red raspberry leaf tea, which acts by strengthening the uterus. Drink this tea daily, and your uterus will thank you. If you're breastfeeding, it will also help your uterus to contract down to size quicker, which makes postpartum bleeding end sooner too!
Drink lots of water. Drinking lots of water in the weeks to come is very important for you and your baby. Your body is recovering from possibly a long and tiring labour, and needs to be rehydrated. Also, diluting your urine by drinking lots of water may help reduce the burning sensation you feel when pee hits your stitches. Most importantly, you will need lots of fluids if you are nursing in order to stay hydrated while producing milk for your baby. Breastfeeding an infant is a round-the-clock job, so it’s important you take care of yourself. Always have a glass of water beside you when you’re nursing, as well as snacks. You could also keep a large water jug in the fridge and be sure to empty it every day.
Invest in some lube. Your low estrogen levels after delivery, and while breastfeeding, causes the thinning of your vaginal mucosa which can lead to dryness. So when you’re ready for sex, be sure to have some lube on hand, because you’ll need it!
Give yourself time. Your postpartum body is coursing with hormones, your uterus is returning to its normal size, your milk is coming in, and you’re likely not getting very much sleep. Try not to expect to feel back to normal right away, because you won’t. But give it some time, you will eventually.
Talk about your experiences. Pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum are all very overwhelming and life changing experiences. It helps to talk about your experiences. Join a support group, call your family or friends, or reach out and connect with other women in your community. You’re not the first mom to be overwhelmed, so get the support that you need.
Shame and guilt appear to be accepted aspects of motherhood. There is very little a mother can do that doesn’t make her susceptible to being shamed into feeling like a ‘bad mother’. If you formula-feed, you are denying your child a healthy start. If you breastfeed past one-year, you are a hippie attachment parent who can’t let their baby grow up. If you go back to work early, you are abandoning your child. If you stay home, you have no ambition (I have done ALL these things by the way). The list goes on…
Shaming also extends into the birthing world, and birth shame is personally something that I have carried with me for some time now. After attending an awesome lecture by Jodi Hall at this weekend’s Birth & Beyond conference, I was inspired to explore my birth shame a little deeper.
When I was pregnant with my first son I had planned the birth that many doulas dream of. I had the midwifery team, the doula, my home birth supply list, and even a spot in my backyard picked out for planting my placenta. It was going to be a peaceful, primitive and undisturbed birth experience, complete with rainbows and unicorns. Well, it turns out (in case you didn’t know) that things don’t always go as planned, and I ended up in the hospital at 36.5 weeks facing an induction.
Induction is a bad word in the birthing community. It should be avoided like the plague! And I was a doula, so shouldn’t I know better? Shouldn’t I be ‘informed’ enough to know the risks? Against what I was taught I went ahead with the induction. After 12 hours of labour my son was born, and was immediately whisked away to the NICU. Instead of making memories of our first gazes, or taking pictures of his tiny feet, I was left in the birthing room without a baby. Were my choices the reason that my baby was in a cold incubator all alone? Was I the reason that we missed out on those first precious moments together? My shame convinced me that our mother-child bond was compromised by my failures. All I could see was that I hadn’t been good enough, that I hadn’t tried enough, and that I hadn’t been smart enough. Maybe if I had refused Pitocin, the birthing process wouldn’t have been so hard for my son. All the things that I could have done differently swirled in my head.
As a doula, I felt somewhat like an imposter for not having the intervention-free birth that I had envisioned. I would share my birth story with other moms and doulas, but I felt the need to justify all of my actions and to explain all the medical reasons that led to an induction so that I wouldn’t be judged. Luckily, with time, the shame simply morphed into disappointment. I was soon pregnant with my second and I had convinced myself that I would do things entirely different this time around. But unfortunately many of the same problems that plagued my first pregnancy started creeping up again, and it looked like my rainbow-coloured home birth was just a fantasy.
After 37 weeks of a very emotional second pregnancy, I made the decision to be induced before my medically necessary 'deadline date' (cue audible gasps). I was exhausted and worn down by a difficult pregnancy. And I was sick of being treated like a ticking time bomb. I was done with the blood tests, the ultrasounds and the non-stress tests. I was just done. I knew it was the ‘wrong’ choice to make, and I carried a lot of shame over it. I didn't telI anyone about my choice (until now!) because I was afraid that I would be judged by other moms, and by other birth professionals. But after some self-reflection I have realized that it wasn’t the wrong choice to make, because it was the right choice for my family in that moment and it involved so much more than simply weighing the medical benefits and risks of an induction. My fears, my hopes, my past experiences, my knowledge, my insecurities, and the information I was given were all factors in my choice to be induced. And people can judge my birth choices all they want, but I am no longer going to let their judments cause me shame. I am proud of myself, and I am proud of my births.
Being a mom is the source so much guilt and feelings of failure. Let’s not make birth one more thing that we fail at as moms. Let’s support each other and the decisions that we make, even if they were ‘uninformed’, or based on fear or pain. Let’s watch our words and our thoughts, because they can have a big effect on how a woman remembers her birth experience. Let’s not project what we feel is an ideal birth onto someone else…it may not be what they consider ideal at all. And let’s focus all of our judgey energy on making maternity care system better, and not on shaming the woman within the system.
Kiss-ass doula, pretty okay-ish mom, spreadsheet enthusiast, punctuality freak, ice cream addict.