9 tips for breastfeeding success
There you are in your third trimester. Your mind is filled with dreamy images of your sweet little newborn sleeping in your arms and wrapped up in those adorable onesies you’ve picked out. Or, you may be a bit preoccupied thinking about the act of actually getting that babe earthside via lots of pain 😳 and a couple nights in the hospital.
Whatever postpartum ideas are whirring about, if nursing is on your list of to-dos you’ll want to start preparing for the ups and downs of learning to breastfeed for the first time. For many women, it is totally possible to nurse successfully and we’re spilling our best expert-backed tips for makin’ it work. Let’s dive in.
1. Do your research
The number one tip we have for new moms? Don’t wing it. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s easy. Breastfeeding is, in fact, a learned behavior. Without the umbilical cord there to nourish him 24/7, your little one is feeling hunger for the first time ever. Day by day, he’s also teaching your body how much milk to make. Challenges like latch issues, sore nips, engorgement, and plugged ducts may pop up in the beginning, so familiarizing yourself with what to expect during those first few days can set you up for major success. When you’re nearing the end of your pregnancy (we say ~32 weeks is best), it’s time to start doing your research.
Take a breastfeeding class. If you're planning to deliver at a hospital, chances are it has a course you and your partner can take. Chat with your OB about your options. They also may recommend you check out one of the online breastfeeding classes out there (we like Milkology or Milky Mama if you’re in the market!). Lazing while you learn = winning.
Do some reading. Wait, there’s more than just What to Expect When You’re Expecting? Ooh, yeah. There’s a plethora of information out there just waiting to be discovered. And, you don’t have to stick to physical books. There are so many articles (like this, this, and this!) written by moms, experts, and medical professionals tailored to helping new moms through their breastfeeding journey. Just make sure you’re looking at a reliable source (you can’t go wrong with La Leche League, Kelly Mom and Lactation Link...) and you’re ready to rumble.
YouTube is your friend. So, you’re reading through all these expert-written books explaining how to hold your nip just perfectly between your two fingers, how to position your babe’s body to be close to you, and exactly what a perfect latch looks like. However, with just the help of diagrams and illustrated pictures, it can be hard to get a taste for the real thing. This is where watching videos helps, like, a lot. Seeing IS believing, so getting a firsthand view of a newborn baby latching for the first time or seeing a lactation specialist advising a new mom on breastfeeding her preemie can help you envision what your journey will look like. There are tons of hospitals and birthing centers who make YouTube videos for mamas just like you, so you know you’re getting A+ info. Not to mention, if you’re a third trimester mama, these videos of little ones suckling away will probably give you alll the sweet, how-do-I-get-my-baby-out-faster feels.
Talk to local experts. Chatting with your doctor is an easy way to get some information from a source you trust. The advice you get from him or her will also be more tailored to you because they are familiar with your health history. For most pregnant women, you’ll be seeing your doctor every two weeks once you’re in your third trimester, so you should have plenty of time to ask them for their expert advice.
questions for your ob
How often should I plan to breastfeed my baby?
Is there anything I should be doing to prepare my body for breastfeeding?
Is there anything in my health history that you think could make breastfeeding hard for me?
Does the hospital/birth center/doula have breastfeeding support or lactation specialists for my questions?
The other local experts we’re talking about? Other moms! Believe it or not, you’re not the first woman to embark on this exciting yet nerve wracking journey. Ask other mom friends, including your own mama, how they fed their newborn. There’s no bad angle to this, so whether the mom says breastfeeding was a breeze, super hard, or they just went straight to formula, listen up.
Even if you think the journey they’re describing couldn’t possibly match up with what you’re about to go through, ya never know. Hearing from a veteran mama that, for example, breastfeeding just didn’t quite work out for her but all her babies are strong, smart, and totally bonded to her could help you to feel encouraged and — most importantly — that you’re not alone if you do end up struggling. There’s power in numbers, people!
2. Create designated nursing spots
Set the scene with well-thought-out and comfy nursing stations for your early days of feedings. According to the CDC, newborn babies feed as often as every one to three hours. AKA, you’ll spend a looot of time feeding that little one and not a lot of time sleeping (you probably already knew that… and if not, spoiler alert!).
Go ahead and set up your nursing station so that when you bring babe home, you’re all ready to go with a comfortable, fully stocked space. Most new moms breastfeed from three main spots: the bed, the couch, and/or the nursery rocker.
Breastfeeding from bed makes it easy to transition from sleeping to nursing when babe lets you know she’s hungry, for all those late-night feedings. You may need some extra support to be able to comfortably feed in bed (the back pain doesn’t just automatically go away once you’re no longer pregnant!). This probably means you need extra pillows to build up a good back rest plus a nursing pillow to keep babe nice ‘n close to the food source with little-to-no effort.
If you’re breastfeeding mostly from a comfortable, supportive rocker, you still may want a breastfeeding pillow to give your arms a break. Regardless of where you’ll be feeding, it’s important to keep a couple of other essentials by your nursing station, like burp cloths, diapers, wipes, nipple balm, nursing pads (for when the off-duty nip is a little leaky!) and some yummy snacks, so both of you can drift back to sleep with full, happy bellies.
You may also want to treat yourself to some nursing-friendly bras. Even though you’ll most likely be nestled away at home those first couple weeks, your bursting bosom will be much happier to have support while you’re lounging around. This curated collection of nursing bras are all made with comfort and ease in mind, so figuring out how to pop one boob out of your bra without strangling yourself is one less thing to worry about.
It can also be nice to prepare a bit of entertainment for yourself, to pass the time and also to ensure you don’t fall asleep while feeding, which can put your little one in danger. Make sure you have a good book, some way to binge your fav shows, or something to do that only involves one hand and minimal light.
3. birth plan check
You may think that breastfeeding is pretty straightforward. The baby comes out, and once he’s hungry you hold him up to your milk-makers and badda-bing, you’re a baby-feeding machine, right? Well, yes and no. That is essentially what we all hope happens. However, there are lots of ways to make sure your breastfeeding is off to a running start from the moment the little one enters the world. One way is by making sure your health care providers are on the same page as you.
Many moms-to-be arrive at the hospital or birthing location of their choice with a birth plan in hand. This printed out plan specifically lays out all of your laboring and post-delivery preferences, from the kind of environment you prefer (dim the lights, people!) to your vaccination preferences.
Now, we don’t want to sound like a broken record, but that oh-so-precious golden hour can be a super helpful way to kickstart breastfeeding. In addition to prioritizing skin-to-skin post-delivery (as long as your provider gives it the okay), you may want to explicitly state in your birth plan that you want your baby to be exclusively breastfed, just to eliminate any miscommunications or possibilities of a nurse accidentally giving your babe a bottle. It’s totally unlikely for someone to formula-feed without your consent, but never hurts to have in writing.
4. positions, baby
Okay, let’s get down to it. What are the tried-and-true, research-backed specifics that will make sure your little lad or lady is latched and loaded from day one? It’s all in the details. Pay attention to the particulars of breastfeeding and with a little bit of luck, you’ll be nursing like a pro in no time.
How would you feel if the person feeding you was shoving your head into your bowl of food or pushing you away from your fork every time you try to take a bite? Obviously, you would never purposely try to do any of the breastfeeding equivalents of these things to your precious little bundle, but you can inadvertently be making eating more difficult by not giving him the support he needs.
Making sure you’re familiar with the myriad of breastfeeding positions you have to choose from will help you to find that sweet spot for your little one. In the world of rugby ball hold, cross-cradle, dangle feeding and more, it’s easy to get lost. Here’s a helpful infographic from Healthline that can keep things straight. If you wanna see these positions in the wild, we also love this handy dandy YouTube video.
Another common positioning issue to keep in mind: you want to make sure you’re not pushing his head into your chest. Although his noodle neck may seem reallllly floppy, he actually doesn’t need that much support holding up his noggin’ while feeding.
According to Caoimhe Whelan, a Dublin-based lactation consultant, babies “are born with instincts and reflexes to help them find their mother’s breast and latch. But we need to give them an opportunity to do this by putting them in the right place, in the right position, and being patient with them. Pushing them to the breast with a hand to the back of the head may mean asking them to do something they are not ready to do.” This expert gives ample reasons not to hold the back of the head, but we’ll sum it up by saying, they DO have the strength they need to just come to you when they’re ready!
For mom, we’ve found that ensuring you’re in a relaxed and no-stress position will give you the most success to power through those feedings and give your body the healing time it needs from that whole nine months of pregnancy plus labor thing you just did, to keep up with your new task of breastfeeding.
Be prepared for other breastfeeding positions other than the typical upright one people most often imagine. It can help immensely to lay on your side with baby on a flat surface next to you, relieving pressure in your back, neck and arms, according to Donna Murray, RN.
5. keep those eyes open, baby
It may seem counterintuitive to try to keep your tiny one awake, especially because you want as much shut eye for him (and you!) as possible in those early months. However, letting your little bundle drift to sleep while feeding can actually set up your lil’ guy for some less-than-stellar sleep habits.
Pro tip we’ve learned along the way: do the diaper change before the second side. Let her nurse until she releases the nipple. Then burp her, change her diaper, and switch to the other breast. She probably won’t feed as long on the second side, but you’ll know she got enough since she was awake for it. Rule of thumb: you should only nurse for up to 15 mins on each side. If you let it go longer, chances are she’ll fall asleep at the breast.
6. teamwork makes the dream work
Don’t think of this as a one-woman mission. There is a ton of support around you that can help you to have a successful breastfeeding experience once your newborn arrives. Breastfeeding can feel incredibly intimate and having someone all up in your business again can be the last thing you want after you were just on display to a room full of nurses and doctors pushing a child out of your nether region.
Not to mention, admitting that you may need help breastfeeding can come with some mom-shame. Many women feel that they’re already failing as a mother if the infant doesn’t immediately latch onto them perfectly or they can’t get their milk supply flowing on their own. Don’t let those thoughts intrude. You have a support team — use them. It takes a strong mom to speak up when she needs help and that’s just what you are *rant over.*
Almost every hospital, nursing center, and doctor’s office has a lactation specialist on hand and it’s never too early to start using them. Especially if you’re a first-time mom, it can help to ask for a lactation consultant as soon as your baby breastfeeds for the first time. Even if it feels like little guy is latched on and off to the races, it never hurts to have an expert’s eyes to make sure everything is looking good and there aren’t any slight tweaks you can make to make the experience easier for both you and your little one.
And if you do have any concerns about the breastfeeding process or things just aren’t feeling quite right, let a specialist know ASAP—it’ll save you weeks, maybe even months, of struggling to get help right away.
If you do have a birthing and parenting partner, whether it’s a husband, wife, or any other significant other, it can be incredibly helpful to enlist their help in your nursing journey as well. As the lactation specialist is rattling off all those helpful tips, it’s helpful to have another set of ears listening along, y’know, someone whose body isn’t racing with hormones, adrenaline, and new motherhood delirium.
That partner can also be super helpful once you arrive home as an extra set of hands when you need it. Whether that’s through diaper changes, bottle feeding, preparing meals, or just bringing over a glass of water or the remote, you’ll appreciate the help more than you know when your body is still recovering. So if you have a person willing to help you out, use them!
7. solutions exist
As we said earlier, you are not the first woman to ever go through the nursing process, which means most things you’re feeling have been felt by other women, too. There are so many helpful breastfeeding solutions out there that could be the answer to your can’t-sleep, so-painful, how-on-earth-do-I-track-this questions. If you’re having an issue, Google it! Ask a friend! Or browse through this lil’ list we put together of tools that could help.
And if you’re looking for more nursing solutions, check our round-up of fav brands and products to help keep you in tip-top condition while making that milk.
Ever heard of a nursing stool? Neither had we. It totally helps you to maintain good posture and gives your lower back, shoulders, and neck some much-needed relief from the pain of sitting in a less-than-supportive position for hours on end.
There’s an app for that.
For tracking your sessions, finding expert lactation specialists’ advice, and even a baby day planner that helps you keep track of everything from each nursing session’s duration to babe’s ever-changing height and weight (that one’s called Baby Daybook!). We can almost guarantee that if you have a nursing need, there’s an app tailored to solving that problem.
An all-organic, ultra-nourishing balm made to soothe those achin’ nipples. We may be a little biased, but it’s the best in the biz.
8. help yo' nips
Breastfeeding success should also mean nursing is comfortable and working well for you, not just babe. It’s astonishing how many women believe that chapped, hurting nipples is just an inevitable part of their journey, when the truth is it doesn’t have to be. The best way to help hurting nipples is to prevent them from getting injured in the first place.
Regularly apply baby-safe nipple cream or balm, whether you feel like you need it or not. By getting ahead of the curve you’re making sure your skin is given an extra dose of nourishing moisturization to prepare for the drying, stretching, and friction from a little one chewing on you all day (Okay, there should not be chewing, but y’know). Or if you prefer to go cream-free, try the Silverette nursing cups. Silver is naturally antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory — so slip ‘em on between feedings for feel-good relief.
Another pro tip is to let your nipples air dry after you nurse. Not everyone can afford this luxury (hello, we need to get on with our day!) but when you can find the time or during night feedings, it’s recommended to let any excess milk dry on your nipple with no clothing or bra rather than wiping them dry. Breast milk actually contains natural softeners and antibodies to fight infection, meaning it can help your nips stay extra supple. Not to mention, sometimes your nips are going to leak a lil’ and get stuck to your clothes, for a painful ripping off later. Letting them air dry avoids that, too!
If you're hurting while feeding, it could be a latching issue. Don’t be afraid to detach the latch and try, try again. A simple way to release is to stick a clean finger into the corner of baby’s mouth and slide it in until you feel the suction has broken. Once you move your breast away from your little one’s hungry mouth, you can reposition and let your baby latch once again, hopefully with more success!
If your latch is constantly hurting, you should go ahead and consult a lactation specialist as the baby may have tongue tie. This is one of those situations where if you suspect there could be a problem, go ahead and call the experts in! They’ll help you get the problem corrected so you’re back on track in no time.
9. wean when you're ready
So, yes, your breastfeeding journey will come to an end at some point. The World Health Organization recommends babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life — however, you may stop breastfeeding well before or after that. It’s a choice that you and your little one get to make. Maybe you’ve suffered from mastitis a few too many times and can’t go on… or it could be that babe started to prefer the bottle and weaned on his own. No shame in the mommin’ game.
However, if it’s working for both of you and you want to continue on, don’t let outside factors halt your breastfeeding journey before you’re ready. Here are some things that may cause your supply to dry up sooner than you may want:
Returning to work. This huge readjustment can definitely cause some extra stress; whether it’s overwhelming to be thrown back into the adult workforce after weeks of only thinking about an infant or you may just be missing your little one. These stressors can affect your milk supply—not to mention it can definitely be awkward to need to excuse yourself from the office every couple hours to pump, especially if you’re in a male-dominated field.
Limiting your breastfeeding sessions. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the more you feed your babe on demand, the more milk you will make.
Less sleep = less milk. And, we know — how unfair is that. The baby needs to eat constantly, has the weirdest sleep schedule ever keeping us up at all hours of the night, and we’re also supposed to somehow be sleeping or else the supply runs dry? Just do your best mama. Get that shut eye when the newborn is sleeping and, according to Donna Murray, RN, breastfeeding with your feet elevated can help with postpartum fatigue.
Although a host of factors can impact your supply, there are some tried-and-true ways to get your milk flowing again. Just make sure you don’t overdo it — oversupply isn’t good for anyone. Just like everything else in life, it’s all about balance. Happy feeding, mamas 🙂