Breastfeeding truly is an art. It is not some simple equation. It has it’s own flow and that flow is different for every breastfeeding pair.
A mom can have one type of breastfeeding relationship with one child, and then have a completely different relationship with her next child.
Sara and I have had a great breastfeeding relationship so far, but that does not mean I did not have lessons to learn.
I learned how to breastfeed from a book Breastfeeding Made Simple. I found it at the library, read it (I learn well from books), and was ready to go. We got a little help from the lactation consultant at the hospital, but other than that, the book was all I needed.
Let’s discuss the art of breastfeeding.
For the first few days, breastfeeding is a three-person job.
At least it was for us. It took Mommy, Baby, and Daddy. Sara and I were struggling to learn.
It seemed like her mouth was a little too small to get a really good latch, and she constantly fell asleep while feeding.
I knew it was important to get her to feed as much as possible during the first 24 hours to stimulate a high production rate for later and to reduce her chances of getting baby jaundice.
So we employed the help of Daddy.
He was truly great. I had to teach him a few things for him to help, but he was willing.
He would help us get a good latch by sandwhiching my boob (for those who don’t know what that is, it is squeezing the area around the nipple to make it more a line than round so it fits in the baby’s mouth easier).
If the latch wasn’t good, he would break it for me, take her off, and we would try again. My hands were busy holding her body and her head up to the boob.
Then we also had to deal with the problem of her falling asleep while feeding. The doc said it was normal because babies are often shell-shocked after birth. Can’t really blame them for that. It would probably be accurate to say that a lot of moms are too.
When she fell asleep, Daddy would take her and dance around trying to stimulate her to wake her up. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.
The most helpful thing was learning that babies can eat in their sleep.
The lactation consultant told us it helps to rub the chin. She discouraged rubbing of the cheek because of the baby instinct to turn in the direction of whatever rubs their cheek (they think it’s the boob) which causes them to move away from the boob. So we tried a little bit of that.
My book said to rub the feet.
The most helpful thing was learning that babies can eat in their sleep.
So long as they are latched on, we can manually express our breasts, and when milk or colostrum squirts into their mouths, they’ll naturally swallow. That was a big frustration saver.
When we got home from the hospital, Dad was able to help in other ways. At the hospital, I was stuck to the bed. Not because they made me, but because I could barely move around on my own.
By the second night, I could get up and go to the bathroom on my own. But it was still a slow process. And there wasn’t really room on the bed for my husband to sit with me.
That was different at home. We were able to sit side-by-side on the couch. This allowed him to hold her while we put her to the breast.
It was another position to try for feeding. We were trying out all sorts of things to see what worked the best.
After about four days, we didn’t need Dad’s help anymore. Colostrum had turned into milk, and there was plenty of it. That made feeding a lot easier.
From that point on, he helped me to drink water while feeding :). I drink a lot of water and watching Sara drink made me thirsty. My cup has a straw, so he’d just make sure it was full and hold it up for me to drink. Having his extra set of hands was truly great.
If you don’t have a partner to help you for those first few days, find a family member or friend. If you have the money, you can hire a doula.
They don’t need any special skills. They just need to provide an extra hand, and you can guide them on what they need to do to help you out.
My husband’s help was truly invaluable in the beginning. Nipple trauma for the first few days would have been a lot worse without him.
Milk supply flows, it does not remain constant
I was under the impression that the first thirty days was all I had to worry about to make a good milk supply.
I had a bit of a panic when I realized that was not true. I’ll go into that a little more when I discuss pumping in the next section.
It turns out milk supply can be affected by changes in your body.
When I caught a cold (thankfully we avoided Sara catching it), my supply dropped. We needed to use pumped milk to keep her fully fed.
When my period started, my supply dropped (only the for the first period). On the nights where Sara will sleep for six hours straight, my supply is lower for the next few days.
If I don’t force her to get up and feed, my boobs go six hours without being drained and get the message to make less.
I find they drop in supply faster than they increase,
Don’t underestimate the importance of the Pump
I did. I knew I was going to be a full-time stay at home mom. Why pump? Whenever Sara needed to eat, I could just pop the boob in her mouth.
Pumping seemed unimportant. I had learned about these cool manual silicone breast pumps.
They just stick on the boob, and the natural suction pulls out the milk. It can be left there, and Mom can go about her day.
I liked that idea, so we had one of those.
Other than that, I had no pump when Sara was born.
I got two lessons at once on pumping. The first actually didn’t happen to me, but to a Mom who was in my pregnancy group.
She had her baby a day or two after me, and the baby had a cleft lip. Trying to breastfeed was excruciating for her. Her baby could not get a good latch due to her cleft lip. Her nipples were horribly traumatized.
Trying to feed her baby was a dreaded chore instead of a bonding experience.
But she wanted her baby to have breast milk and not formula. While we had been at the hospital, we had learned the hospital had pumps to rent.
The machine is rented, but the individual parts get bought. We didn’t want parts hanging around we weren’t going to use again. So we opted out of using the pump. I suggested it to my friend.
She could pump and give the colostrum to her baby in a bottle.
Turns out she had brought a manual pump with her. She used that, and it worked. Her nipples were able to heal up, and her baby got the necessary colostrum.
The second lesson I learned at about the same time was engorgement. My breasts started filling in four days after Sara was born
I knew engorgement was normal at this stage, and that it lasts for about a day.
However, I didn’t know how engorged I was going to feel. I should have just stuck to the advice from my book and not worried about it.
Instead, I looked things up online and got worried. So we ordered a pump that day. When it got delivered a couple days later, I didn’t need it anymore. Had my engorgement lasted longer than a day, I would have needed the pump.
Now to combine how milk flow changes and the importance of the pump.
From the previous section, you read how I learned my milk supply waxes and wanes. My first taste of that was a little scary. I had not taken pumping seriously and only had a few ounces in the freezer. Thankfully we had at least that much.
Sara drained my boobs but was still hungry. So we used some of what was in the freezer. That was able to satisfy her, and she went to sleep that night.
That was my first lesson as to how important pumping is. When my milk supply picked back up, I started pumping like mad.
I had all kinds of milk Sara wasn’t drinking, and I was taking advantage of it. I also started using the manual silicone breast pump. Sara would eat on one boob, and the suction cup would go on the other.
I could easily get four ounces or more a day by doing that.
My body is not the only one that affects whether or not there is enough milk. Sara has a fast-growing body. When she goes through a growth spurt, she feeds almost hourly off of both boobs. It doesn’t replenish fast enough for her.
Now that I’ve learned my lesson, we have milk in the fridge to give her on those days.
Between her first month and second month appointments, she went from about 50th percentile in height, weight, and head circumference to 97th percentile in height, 90th in head circumference, and 18th in weight.
When she grows, she grows.
My milk supply just can’t keep up with crazy growth spurts like that. So it is important for me to have extra milk on hand during those times.
Obviously, we want our baby to be well fed. But she also doesn’t sleep well when hungry which is a problem for everyone.
Organizing the milk in the freezer
The first time I pumped I knew it would be best to organize it. So I labeled a large freezer bag for the month I was in and put my pumped milk in it (in its own separate bag).
Organizing it by month allowed me to make sure I used old stuff first and didn’t have to fuss over a bunch of bags haphazardly thrown in the freezer.
The lesson that I learned (just last night actually) is that it is good to have a variation of milk amounts available.
At one point I realized I could just put all the milk pumped from the same day in the same bag and not have a bunch of little bags wasted.
That is great to do sometimes. But it is also great to have bags of just one or two ounces in the freezer.
Thawed milk only lasts 24 hours in the fridge and an hour outside of it. If you thaw a whole four or
Last night, she only needed an ounce and a half. Thankfully, we did have two 1 ounce bags. But the rest are all four ounces or more. Time to pump again.
These are the big lessons I’ve learned so far. Breastfeeding is a journey and its own form of art. What scares and lessons have you learned about breastfeeding?