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I realized the other day that I have been breastfeeding and/or pumping for 6 of the last 10 years. That is a lot of my life!
Since I have spent so much time breastfeeding, there have been several things I have learned along the way! I would like to share these tips with you here in case you are thinking about breastfeeding. You can read all about the benefits of breastfeeding HERE. But first, I will give you a quick history of each of my kids and their breastfeeding stories (with apologies to my sons, as I have a feeling they will one day be horrified that I used the phrase “breastfeeding story” in connection with their lives on the World Wide Web. Also, apologies to their future wives as I imagine they will not ever want to know about this part of their husband’s life). If you want to skip to the tips, just scroll right on through!
Noah was born in 2009 via cesarean. My body temperature needed support after the surgery, so I had to lay under a heated bubble blanket for about an hour before I could hold my sweet boy and start nursing. I made it very clear that I wanted to breastfeed and asked the nurses to not give him a bottle. When I was able to begin nursing, Noah did well, but I was overwhelmed with questions. I made sure to utilize the Lactation Consultant services in the hospital and that helped me feel a little better. We were doing pretty well until my milk came in. Then nursing became extremely difficult. Noah would scream and cry whenever it was time to eat. I literally sat down at the computer one day, defeated and exhausted, and googled “why does it feel like I am going to war whenever I breastfeed” and I found an article about oversupply. It turns out that I was producing a LOT of milk and my letdown was so forceful that it was causing Noah to choke. I switched to only feeding Noah on one breast each nursing session and my supply calmed way down. We ended up exclusively nursing until he was 2 years old. His last nursing session was the night of his 2nd birthday!
This turned out to be the best decision because one month after I stopped nursing, we got pregnant with Jethro! Jethro was born in 2012 and had quite the birth and beginning to his little life. He immediately was swept away to the NICU with respiratory issues that led to a 3-month stay in the hospital and surgery for a feeding tube. I remember being in the recovery room after he was born, genuinely thinking that our baby just had a minor mishap and I would be able to begin breastfeeding him in no time, but then a nurse appeared at the door and rolled in a huge machine. I was like “What is that?” and she said, “Your new best friend.” It was a breast pump. Little did I know that I would pump exclusively for the next 2 years, every 3 hours, around the clock, in order to try to give Jethro the best I could in spite of all the health complications he was experiencing. I look back and smile at how the Lord orchestrated these two very different stories between my first and second children. I will tell you honestly that I was so fearful of giving my baby a bottle and pumping that I believe God had to literally force me to face my fears. And while it was not my favorite thing in the world, it was what kept me going in that season. I did try to breastfeed Jethro at the beginning, but he had a muscle weakness called hypotonia that affected his oral strength. I remember putting him to my breast in the NICU and his little lips felt like a whisper. I could have probably fought for it, especially as he got stronger with time, but my mother’s heart couldn’t handle fighting for that, while also pumping, while also trying to just survive that season of so many other unknowns. I chose to just go all in with the pump. When I finally stopped pumping, we had a literal funeral for the pump because it had become so much a part of all of our lives. You can read that story and see the hilarious photos HERE. And you can find all of my best pumping tips HERE.
Finally, Zion was our sweet surprise baby that God brought into our lives in 2018. During his whole pregnancy I wrestled with many fears that Zion would struggle like Jethro and that I wouldn’t get to nurse him. Every time those fears popped up, I tried to surrender them to Jesus. I didn’t want to pump again. I wanted to nurse and I wanted to savor every second. At the same time, I tried to keep my hands and heart open to whatever God’s best was for our family. Zion’s delivery ended up going beautifully. He was perfect and whole. My husband got to hold him while I finished surgery. As soon as I was in my room, they brought him to my chest. He latched on with such strength that I wept. I will never forget that moment. I couldn’t get enough nursing this little angel baby. I am so blessed to get to work at the place where Zion goes to daycare, so I was able to nurse him every 3 hours, since pumping was taking me longer than he could do it himself. We started to wean in February from daytime feedings, but then the quarantine happened and being home all the time kind of pushed the weaning agenda out the door and now the lines are so blurred I don’t know how to stop.
The first time I nursed, I was so anxious and worried about every little thing. Between it being completely new to me as a first time mama, my oversupply issue, and some intense fears about raising a human being in general, I feel like I never really calmed down and savored our time together. The second time had its own anxieties, but it forced me to learn new things. One of my concerns about bottle-feeding was that I wouldn’t feel bonded to my baby if I didn’t nurse him, but that just wasn’t true. Bonding with your baby is so much more than breast or bottle. I was fiercely connected to Jethro because I was his mama and I kept showing up with all the love I had to give. At the same time, I truly wanted to have another opportunity to nurse and enjoy it without fear. I am so grateful God gave me that with Zion this third time around. I treasure it every day.
NOW it’s time for my top 6 breastfeeding secrets!
1. How You Start is REALLY Important!
The first 3 months are critical to breastfeeding success. Keep these 2 things in mind as you start – Nurse as often as possible and empty the breast every time. The sooner you get your breasts stimulated for milk production after delivery, the better. Then feed your baby as much as he/she wants, or every 2-3 hours, making sure that your baby empties each breast. Your milk production is based on supply and demand, so the more you can put your baby to your breast during those first 3 months – the more milk your body will produce. It is SUPER important that you do NOT consistently go longer than 3 hours between feedings during the first 6-12 weeks. This is especially important during the night as your body produces the most milk between 12:00-3:00 am, so make sure you hit that window each evening. Society (and your tired self!) will want you to figure out how to sleep train your baby as fast as possible, but this is not the time for that yet. If your baby wants to nurse, let her nurse. Once your supply is established (usually at 12 weeks), you can settle down a bit and stretch longer between feedings. This also means that if you are pumping and giving your baby a bottle, make sure you don’t miss a pump. Every 2-3 hours. Supplementing too early can mess with your production and the beginning period is just so critical to your long term success. All of parenting requires sacrifice, but breastfeeding is a physical sacrifice that can be incredibly exhausting! The best way I can think to tell you how it feels is to “gird your loins, mamas.” This is the Bible’s way of saying get ready for some hard work. But work that is absolutely WORTH IT.
2. Letdown Tips
A letdown is when your baby has been sucking for the first 2 minutes of nursing and the nerves in your breast send signals that will release the milk in your ducts. Some women feel a rushing tingling sensation when the milk drops. If you don’t have a physical sensation, you can tell when the letdown happens when your baby switches from fast sucking to slow and rhythmic sucking/swallowing as the milk begins flowing. If you are having trouble getting a letdown, I have found it helpful to try a few of these ideas! The first is to relax. Take a few deep breaths and focus on your baby. Breathe in your baby’s sweet smell and feel his soft skin. Those good feelings play a role in how your hormones produce milk. Next, I have found it helpful to move your breast around. There have been many times when Zion was working for the letdown and I reached over to pick something up. That simple move pulled my breast in just the right way that it triggered a letdown. Other times Zion has popped off while waiting for a letdown and just the fact that he released the breast for a second was enough stimulation to trigger the milk. I have also helped get a letdown by massaging my breast or tapping it lightly. HERE is a helpful guide to massaging your breast to encourage milk production.
Your letdown may cause some milk to drip out of the breast that you are not nursing on, so I found THIS INCREDIBLE TOOL to be my saving grace to catch all of that liquid gold! The Haakaa helped me store up a great stash of milk in our freezer WITHOUT HAVING TO PUMP. I am also obsessed with the Kiinde system and use their pouches and bottles with Zion. I wear THESE disposable lactation pads when I am out and about.
3. Watch What You Wear
As much as I miss my Victoria Secret bras, it is SO important to find a good nursing bra during your breastfeeding time. There are a couple of factors that you want to consider when looking into nursing bras. The first is to make sure that the bra isn’t too tight. Tight bras can affect your milk production because your breasts don’t have enough room to make milk. Without enough room for milk, then milk won’t be made. The second consideration is to avoid underwire. Underwire bras can block the natural flow of milk as well as be not very comfortable for your growing breasts! If you are looking for a recommendation, my favorite nursing bras are THESE ONES from Target. However, for the first 3 months, I often chose to just wear a nursing tank instead of a bra. I loved THESE nursing tanks, also from Target.
4. Sleep On Your Back or Side
If you are a tummy sleeper like me, you are probably so eager to get back to tummy sleeping once you have had your baby! Unfortunately, you will need to wait a little longer if you are breastfeeding. Sleeping on your stomach doesn’t leave room for your breasts to make milk. The goal is to always give your breasts as much space as possible to fill with milk. If you don’t, you can open yourself up to clogged ducts and mastitis. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TO HAPPEN. Trust me.
5. Take Care of YOU
This is the part where I remind you that even though you are pouring yourself out day and night for your family, you need to keep a few self-care habits a priority in order to successfully breastfeed. The first is to remember to stay hydrated. Breast milk is 88% water, so if you aren’t drinking enough, it could result in a low supply. Get yourself one of THESE water bottles to inspire you to drink what your body and baby need each day. Second, as much as you are going to want to jump back into your pre-pregnancy clothes, this is not the time to cut calories. It takes 20 calories to produce 1 ounce of milk, so make sure that you are eating enough healthy foods throughout the day to produce what your baby needs. Third, sleep when the baby sleeps. I think the only time I obeyed this common advice was with Zion. He was my third kid and I finally let go of trying to have it all together. The house was a disaster and we ate more frozen chicken nuggets during the first 3 months of Zion’s life than ever before, but I wasn’t losing my mind from lack of sleep because I tried to catch it here and there when the big boys were at school and Zion was resting. I 100% believe that stress can affect your health which will affect milk production. I had a particularly stressful season at work when Zion was about 5 months old and I stressed myself into several cases of mastitis. Memorize Proverbs 3:5-6 or Philippians 4:4-8 or Isaiah 26:3 and speak them out loud if you start getting anxious. Call a friend for prayer. But please try to relax and enjoy this time with your baby. Like everyone says, it goes so fast.
6. Get Support
While God designed breastfeeding to be a natural part of life, the act of breastfeeding may not come naturally to some of us. It is something that both mom and baby need to learn how to do. And, with practice, it will get better and better! But because it is not the easiest process, you need your village.
First, make sure that your husband is on board with your desire to nurse. Have an open and honest conversation about it. Nursing will change your body, take your time, be exhausting, etc. There are lots of ways that breastfeeding (and having a baby in general!) affects a marriage and it is so important that you take time to make sure you both are on the same page about it. Your husband needs to hear your vision for it and you need to hear his. Good marriages are able to communicate both sides and meet in the middle somewhere. When Noah was about to turn 2, my husband actually came to me respectfully and asked if I would stop nursing Noah and I knew it was right to listen to him. He also saw how overwhelmed I was pumping for Jethro and he asked me to stop pumping several months earlier than I actually did. I will honestly tell you that my not doing so played a part in a very difficult season in our marriage. He knew my heart and I believe God used him to tell me when the time was right. It is good to learn to honor one another with respect and that includes breastfeeding! It is also important to have some friends or family members who will cheer you on your breastfeeding journey! I remember texting a few of my best girlfriends in the middle of the night when I would get up to nurse Noah and they would always text back because they had newborns, too. I never felt like I was alone! I also mentioned that I used a Lactation Consultant. Your hospital should have one and they are so helpful – especially in the beginning when you want to make sure your baby is latching properly. A doula can also be a good resource for breastfeeding support, as well. Just make sure you have a good community of people to link arms with you and who maybe don’t mind if you just whip it out on their couch because you don’t want the hassle of a nursing cover. Although I really like THIS ONE.
There are plenty of other tips I could share, but these are the most important I have found to having a successful breastfeeding experience. The only thing I would add is to take a moment at the beginning of all of your nursing sessions to say grace with your baby. Isn’t that a funny thought? We typically say grace before eating a meal, why not do it before your baby eats? Ask God to bless the food for the strengthening and nourishment of your baby’s body. It is also a great way to put yourself always in humble submission to whatever the Lord’s plan is for you. If you can breastfeed – great! If not, there is nothing wrong with you or your baby. So much of parenting is not about what we can control, but about trusting our great God to work all things for our good. It would be prideful (and terrifying) to think that I was the only one responsible for the growth and development of my children. I am so thankful that I can do my best with what I have, seek Him daily, and place my hope in the One who truly knows what is best for me and my kids.
What are your best breastfeeding tips?