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By FAR the hardest part about breast-feeding is those first two weeks. Imagine taking your nipples and rubbing sandpaper against them 8 to 10 times a day and that's about the trauma that your nipples are going through. Not to mention trying to regulate your milk supply causing engorgement on top of just adapting to life with the baby. Almost everyone I know that quit breast-feeding quit during that first two weeks or first month.
Here is what is normal during your first few weeks of breast-feeding: scabed nipples, milk plugs – essentially a little white bubble that develops on your nipple plugging one of your ducts, engorgement – we will talk about that more in a minute, clogged ducts, and many babies will have difficulty latching.
I've heard lactation consultants say that breast-feeding should never be painful, but I feel that is misleading to first time moms who have just started breast-feeding. Those first two weeks are definitely painful no matter how good your baby's latches. Clark has a great latch, but I still had pain while breast-feeding those first two weeks due to nipples tenderness and issues with my ducts.
Please know that every mom goes through this during the first few weeks no matter how many pregnancies they've had. Please don't give up! If you are still having serious problems after your first few weeks consider talking to a doctor about a lip or tongue tie or having your latch evaluated by a lactation consultant.
Engorgement is the worst! You're dying for your milk to come in, and then when it comes in, you wish it never had! For those that don't know, engorgement is when your body is producing more milk than you need because it has not yet figured out how much your baby will take in. It takes a solid week after your milk fully comes in for your body to regulate what times your baby eats and how much. If you don't deal with your engorgement properly you can end up with clogged ducts, milk plugs and even mastitis - an infection in your breasts.
Here are a few tips:
1. Do not pump! I'll talk about why in the next section.
2. Stand in a hot shower hunched over and massage your breast to allow a bit of milk to flow out. This will relieve some of the pressure and keep your milk flowing through your ducts instead of just sitting there waiting to clog up. You can also do this by laying stomach down in a warm bath.
3. Make sure you are nursing on both sides for each feeding. This is what caused two clogged ducts with Clark. I was only breast-feeding on one side on accident at night and those clogged ducts were painful!
4. Drink lots of water! The more water in your system the more liquid your breastmilk will be and less likely to get clogged up in the pipes.
5. Keep on a sports bra. Some people who argue with this but I was miserable every time I didn't have on a bra because I was leaking and nipples were rubbing on m shirt. A loose sports bra day and night will do wonders.
6. Try a shield. If you nipples really are too sore to nurse, a shield can help. Here is an article I wrote about using a shield with Ollie and I linked to one in the products section below.
This is super important when you first start breast-feeding. I know so many moms that caused themselves more problems by pumping at the wrong times. You DO NOT want to pump during those first two weeks if at all possible. I know that's frustrating because you may want some alone time and to get away on your own, but you will prolong your engorgement period. If you pump before your breastmilk is regulated your body will think you need more milk than you do and will continue to overproduce. It is better to regulate your supply and then begin pumping to increase your milk if you are going to be pumping regularly for work or just want a stash.
You will also want to pump AFTER baby nurses. Allow them to pull as much milk as they need and then pump whatever is left from your hind milk.
Lastly, if you feel like your supply dropping, and you are not getting as much milk as you would like while pumping, continue dry pumping. Even though no milk is coming out you are still telling your body important information. It notices that no milk is coming out while you are pumping and thinks that it is not producing enough milk for the baby. Your supply should begin to increase. I do realize there are some women who have medical reasons why their body is not producing enough milk, but for the most part your body is capable of producing as much milk as you need.
Pumping can be very damaging psychologically. When you pump and only see one ounce come out you may think that your babies is only drinking 1 ounce and not getting enough milk. Keep in mind, even the best pump cannot pull milk as effectively as the baby. The amount of milk that you are pulling while pumping is not indicative of the amount of milk that your baby is drinking. Don't let the pump stress you out! If you really want to know how much your baby is getting at each feeding weigh them before and after eating.
If you don't have a pump, here is an article I wrote about getting a pump through your insurance.
OK, this was the #1 most requested topic when I asked y'all what I should write about. Nursing a baby to sleep is such an easy habit to fall into. I know because I did it with Oliver. It took me 11 months to break him of the habit! He would fall asleep in my arms while nursing and I would sit there holding him for an entire two hour nap because if I laid him down he was incapable of falling back to sleep on his own. I've been determined not to allow Clark to have that same habit. There's a really easy ways to establish better behavior when baby is an infant.
If baby falls asleep while breast-feeding – and they will – do not lay them down or allow them to stay asleep for a long period of time. As soon as they have stopped eating go ahead and change their diaper – which should wake them up – and then lay them down for a nap or for bed. I know this seems counterproductive, but you are teaching them to fall asleep without the comfort of breast-feeding. I do put a pacifier in Clarks mouth after I lay him down so he is still sucking to sleep. I will have to break that habit later, but it is much easier on the mom then nursing to sleep. Clark has some nights when he really wanted to nurse to sleep and cries when I lay him down. If he really can't go to sleep I will nurse him again, but I still wake him up just slightly when I lay him down to force him to sooth to sleep.
Check out an old article on breastfeeding I wrote titled "Ways for Dad to Help a Breastfeeding Mama"
The most important thing to remember with breast-feeding is that your body was meant to do this. There are so many things that make breast-feeding difficult and I completely understand women who stop. But I've met so many women who really wanted to breast-feed and stopped because they felt like their body wasn't producing enough milk or they weren't capable of breast-feeding.
I just looked it up, and the statistics says that only 1-5% of all women are medically unable to breast-feed. Only five percent of women who tried to breast-feed will legitimately have lactation failure.
If using formula is better for you, I am not judging you at all. But if you really want to breast-feed you have to constantly remind yourself that your body was made for this. You matter how many times you need to have baby's latch adjusted, increase or decrease your milk supply, or fret over the numbers on the pump, keep telling yourself "I was made for this!"
Also, check out the article I wrote title "Our Breastfeeding Story" when Ollie was little.
Here are a few products can help make breast-feeding easier.
1. A Nipple Shield – a nipple shield is essentially a piece of plastic that puts a barrier between your nipple and baby's mouth. They are used when baby has trouble latching or to help moms who are having extreme nipple irritation. I used one with Oliver for the first three months.
2. Nipple Cream – my favorite cream to help sooth sore nipples is either Coconut Oil or the Sister & Co Dream Cream. I also liked the Honest Company's Organic Nipple Balm. Look for products with coconut, shea, or Vitamin E.
3. Milk Saver – This is genius. You put this on when you nurse or anytime you are leaking to catch the dripping excess milk!
For some other nursing and postpartum care products, here is an article I wrote when Ollie was little with things I used.