Friday, January 1, 2010

Breastfeeding 101.

I recently had a friend ask me for some advice regarding breastfeeding. She is pregnant with her first and, until she got pregnant, had never really given breastfeeding much thought. Her mom used formula and she figured she would, too, but now that she was actually pregnant, she wanted to weigh her options and at least give it a shot.

So. Before I proceed ...

An itty-bitty disclaimer:

1) This post will include the words "breast" and "nipples".
2) I understand breastfeeding is not for everyone (milk production can be an issue).
3) This post will include the words "breast" and "nipples".
4) I understand breastfeeding is not for everyone (there are always other issues).
5) I understand breastfeeding is not for everyone (just to cover my bases).

Here are my two cents regarding breastfeeding in general: It's just the best out there for babies. Even formula cans agree. Its nutrition is unmatched, it's free, it lessens the mom's risk for breast cancer in the future, it helps the uterus contract more quickly back to normal size after birth, it burns a ton of calories (which is handy, when running 5 miles isn't exactly suggested for new mothers just stepping out of the hospital), and, after you get the hang of it, it's pretty convenient.

My Mom breastfed, my sister-in-law breastfed, most of my friends breastfed, and I was pretty resolute that I was going to give it a whirl, too. It does help when your peers do it. But, if you are a pregnant Mom out there and you want to maybe give it a try, here is some free (and honest) advice from me. Simply my opinion.

Based solely on experience. And clogged milk ducts and raw nipples.

Here you go:

1) Be resolute.
Notice the above-mentioned little sentence including the words "clogged milk ducts" and "raw nipples". Let me also insert "dry nipples" and "cracked nipples" and "inverted nipples" and "bleeding nipples" and "mastitis" (clogged milk ducts that get infected, usually accompanied by a fever and an all-around feeling of yuckiness) and last, but not least, "yeast-infected nipples". Yep. I just went there. A good friend of mine experienced this and still pushed through (the infection was cleared up very quickly) and was able to breast feed for a good long while.

Like I mentioned, you have to be resolute. This stuff ain't necessarily easy! BUT, these nipple woes typically do not last very long (if you get them at all--most moms don't have it that badly!). The first few weeks are always the roughest.

2) Do not give up on breastfeeding while still in the hospital.
This is where #1 comes in handy. There is so much going on in the hospital. SO MUCH. Besides the fact that you have just experienced and survived a superhuman event that would make most men cry like little girls, you also have floods of people running in and out of your room, IVs hooked up in each arm (I developed a fever while in labor and was on antibiotics through an IV--ugh), you might have pain in certain areas that you never imagined you would have pain, you're looking a little rough, you're probably feeling a little rough, you're exhausted, maybe overwhelmed ... and, above all else, the little booger won't latch on! What the heck? No matter how hard you try to cram your entire breast into his/her mouth (yes, I just went there, too), latching on just doesn't seem to be happening. Or, at least, you're having a hard time telling if any latch-age is going on. And, um, isn't a bottle easier? Please? Bottle? Yes?

This is where you need to employ your handy-dandy Lactation Consultant. To answer all of your breastfeeding questions. No matter the condition of your nipples, your consultant should be able to give you the advice you need. I have heard of a few scary Lactation Consultants who are a bit intimidating, but don't let that scare you out of giving breastfeeding a fair shot. You're the one making the decision, remember?

If you give birth in a small-ish city like I did, your hospital might not have a Lactation Consultant. Since that was the case with me, I asked the RN on the maternity floor to come and give me some advice. She was awesome. Even though I couldn't feel on my breast whether or not Cub was latched on, I could feel my uterus contract (yep, I went there). It was like period cramps, sometimes pretty intense, but never painful--just kind of sore, like doing a bunch of crunches. And that's how I knew he was latched on correctly in those first few days. It wasn't easy and we ended up having to supplement with formula during his first week of life, but eventually we both got the hang of it. Which brings me to my last point ...

3) Give it at least three weeks before making the final decision.
Yes, yes, I may have a barrage of disagreements with this one, but I'm sticking to my guns with it. Breastfeeding during the first month of life (as a new mom with a firstborn, anyway) is NOT necessarily the way breastfeeding will always be. After the first month, the baby (and the mom) become more proficient and are able to get the job done in half the time, if not less. Cub went from nursing 20 minutes per side (40 minutes total) to about 10 minutes per side, if that. But in that first month, you just have to push through and be patient. Some babies are quick nursers from the beginning, and that's great! But, if yours takes a while, just know that they won't be nursing that long forever! And believe me, those three weeks will fly by.

If after three weeks, you just can't take it anymore, then by all means, pack up the breast pump and stash away the nursing pads. Babies have survived on formula for years and at this point you have to make the decision that's best for you, too. This is where the La Leche League might come and break down my door, but I just don't think it's worth it to lose your mind all for the sake of breastfeeding. Give it a try--a good, long, fair try--and then make your decision.

Regardless of the decision, it will be the right one.

Now. I do know several women who make the decision to not breastfeed before they ever give birth. And that's fine--this post isn't for them! This is just for my friend and other future moms out there who are considering breastfeeding. Take it from a mom who went through it and was glad that I did. Despite a rocky start, breastfeeding became very convenient in our little family. My husband thought he would be freaked out by it at first, but he wasn't. He was actually very impressed by the whole thing and is supportive of me trying to breastfeed Baby Bean, too (which will be crazy ... breastfeeding a newborn with a toddler running around--yikes!). I became quite sneaky and breastfed in the car and backstage at church. I was never quite comfortable enough to do it in public, out in the open, but I always found private places in the midst of public places where I felt comfortable to get the job done. Hooter Hiders definitely came in handy, too!

And, as you've read in previous posts, Cub had weekly overnight stays with his grandparents. That meant lots of pumping for me. I had quite a supply of breast milk in our freezer (don't worry, I never added it to the brownies) so it was readily available. Or, sometimes they would just give him formula. And that was fine, too. So, it is possible to have flexibility while breastfeeding! Again, you just have to be resolute. I never imagined I would pump in the car, but shoot, I did. And everything turned out just fine.

Lastly, is it worth it? That's something you will have to decide for yourself. Was it worth it for me? Despite raw nipples and my right breast that ALWAYS had a clogged milk duct regardless of how much I pumped or nursed or hollered?


It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. It created bonding that I never could have expected. I was overwhelmed by God's attention to detail in creating a woman's body. It just worked. It was hard work at times, but it worked. And that honestly blew me away!

So. Good luck in your decision, friends!

Oh, and if you get a clogged milk duct? APPLY MOIST HEAT.

Have a lovely day. :)


  1. Just wanted to add that if you have a preemie (mine was 5 weeks early) you may not be able to nurse. I was allowed to try and nurse once a day, but my child would only sleep (we could hardly get him to drink from a bottle). We also had to keep track of how much he was eating (less that 8 oz./day). So I was forced to bottle feed and pump. I did this for three weeks and at the end of three weeks I was emotionally and physically exhausted (and I was making no milk).My doctor pulled me off the pump, and we went straight to the bottle. However, I'm glad I did it because my little guy got an amazing amount of colostrum which is so good for their immune systems. I encourage everyone to give it a shot, and if it doesn't work out then don't worry about it.

  2. Great advice. I second the lactation consultant and not giving up. Sophia fed on each side for 45 minutes or more FOREVER. I cried so much in the beginning. It DOES get better though. After a month or so, it was 10 minutes tops on each side. I'm hoping to breastfeed #2 as well.

  3. Great point, Courtney! My brother was ten weeks early and my Mom had to pump (with the old school manual hand pump!) every day while he stayed in the hospital (four weeks). Solely pumping absolutely decreases your milk supply. Thanks for mentioning that it's different with preemies!

  4. Lilypads (bought them at Walgreens) were my life-saver with my last three babies. Instant relief in those first couple of painful weeks. Movies during the night time feedings kept me awake enough to give the babies full feedings and make it back to my own bed afterwards - not falling asleep in the rocking chair. And it is possible to breastfeed the baby while the toddler sits on your knees or beside you on the couch and watches Sesame Street. : ) great post Katie.

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Love getting all the information I can!

  6. Well said! All good advice. I think the most important is the one you put first: be resolute! If you don't start off determined to try your best, you probably won't and you'll give up more easily. And it CAN still be done even with preemies - my sister-in-law has had 2 (7 weeks early and 12 weeks early) and it was hard to pump for that many weeks, but she did it and is glad she did. She's one of the reasons I refused to quit with my full-term baby. If she can do that, then, well, mine should be a piece of cake. Not that it always has been, but you know what I mean :)

    And hooter hiders are helpful, especially when they're little, but my little sweetheart refuses to be covered up now, so it's all about finding those private places in public places :)

    The thing that helped me the most was having my husband take a breastfeeding class with me. Yes, it was awkwardly hilarious during most of it (I could NOT make eye contact with him or we would have both lost it), but it was awesome for him to know all about it and what to expect, too. He was so encouraging at the beginning (and even now) and that made a HUGE difference for me.

    Good luck to all you new moms!

  7. great post, katie! i like your advice to be resolute as well. although pumping can make it a little harder to keep up a strong supply, it is definitely still possible.

    after i went back to work when parker was 4 months old, i went to solely pumping (no nursing) and continued for 5 more months. my supply finally dried up when i only pumped in the morning and at night. i think if i would've kept pumping every 3 hrs-ish i could've gone longer.

    you are a great source of information and encouragement to so many moms!!! keep it up!

  8. Good post! While the nipple issues are still daunting to an almost-mommy like me, it is good to hear about the 'real' things that happen to some. I am glad you shared the good and the not-so-good-but-still-worth-it parts. Thank you for writing this all out--it is helpful to those of us still out here wondering what in the heck breast feeding will be like!! ;)