*Disclaimer for the men: Anatomical talk is contained within the following blog post. If you have no interest in talking boobies, you might ought to stick to espn.com for today.
When your baby is born, you are automatically supposed to know how, when, and how much to feed him. You will know which techniques will work best for you and your little one straight away with no learning required. He will be able to latch on with no problems, stay awake for the entire feeding, and not need help burping. Your body will make plenty of milk for him and you will never question whether or not he is getting enough food.
Wait. That’s not how it works? You mean brand spanking new mamas actually have questions about breastfeeding? No way.
Becoming a mom is hard. Your whole life changes in an instant and you just expect you will know exactly what to do. This could not be farther from the truth. Sure, there is a definite mother’s instinct that kicks in, but believe me you will have enough questions to fill a book. There have been several books written about these questions in fact. Can you believe everything they say? No. Will your experience mirror what is written in those books? Probably not.
I wish I had all the answers when Jacob was born. I wish I knew exactly what to do and how to do it and what each whimper and cry he made signaled. That, my friends, is just not the way it works. I questioned every single move I made for the first few weeks. I’m sure I will keep questioning myself for the rest of his life. I figured out kids are based heavily on trial and error. I wanted to share some of my trials and errors with you when it comes to breastfeeding as well as some of my thoughts on the topic.
Breastfeeding is a very personal and private decision. I believe every woman has the right to choose whether or not she will nurse her baby. I also believe that whatever decision she makes is the right one for her and her little one. For me, it was a somewhat difficult decision but, after the choice was made, it’s a decision I never questioned.
For some reason, the idea of nursing was just weird at first. To be blunt, the thought of a little person hanging off my boobs was not very appealing. Then, after talking to Carolyn, I started to see the bigger picture. Breast milk is the absolute most perfect food for my little boy. It changes as his nutritional needs change. In fact, I recently read that as a breastfed baby gets older, he may not necessarily need more ounces as a formula fed baby does since the breast milk’s nutritional makeup develops and becomes more filling. That is crazy and awesome at the same time!
In addition to breast milk being the most perfect food, nursing has tons of other benefits. Breast fed babies typically have a better immune system therefore they don’t seem to get sick as often as formula fed babies. You don’t need to burp breast fed babies as much since they don’t take as much air into their bodies as with bottles. Breast milk is free, convenient (in the natural form), and always at the right temperature. (I hate warming bottles in the middle of the night!) Nursing can also help you lose that baby weight as your body typically burns around 500 calories a day producing the milk.
One of the most important things to me however is the bond Jacob and I share when he’s nursing. When my little boy is crying and chewing on his hands, I know what he needs. Being able to quickly and efficiently provide food for him is one of the best feelings in the world. Looking down at that little face, stroking his hair, and feeling his warmth next to my skin is one of the most precious things in all the world. It’s our time together and I look forward to it every night. Sure, sleep would be wonderful, but seeing that little face at 3a makes up for the lack of sleep.
Let me backtrack a little though. I want to say when you are first learning to breastfeed (yes, it is a learned process for both you AND your little one), it is tough. I struggled with it and my little one had no problems latching on! I actually feel I got lucky in the breastfeeding game. I still think learning to breastfeed is tough. I can see how so many women give up on it.
When I first came home from the hospital, I had tons of questions. I asked everyone from my mom to my fellow new mothers to an old high school friend that, lucky for me, is now a neonatologist and studied to be a lactation consultant. Thanks for all the help, Manika! As I have said several times in the past, ask as many questions of as many people as you can! Knowledge is power!
The first thing I had problems with is (pardon me for being frank) sore, cracked nipples. You know how you get chapped lips in the winter? Well, when you moisten your lips with your tongue, it feels better at first and then dries out even more, right? The best way to soothe and heal your lips is to add some lip balm. That is essentially what lanolin does for your nipples. Your little one will be nursing 8-12 times (sometimes more) a day. He will get saliva and breast milk on your nipple and cause them to dry out a little bit. Pay attention when I tell you to apply lanolin after every. single. feeding. no matter how tired you are at least for the first few weeks. You will thank me for this. I skipped a 12 hour period while in the hospital and I regretted it. My nipples became raw, cracked, and bleeding. It took several days for them to heal and even now they are sometimes more sensitive than others.
My favorite lanolin is the Medela brand. It is thicker than the Lansinoh brand, goes on smoother, and seems to stay on longer. However, if you are like me and you accidentally kill your nipples, there are some things you can use to fix the problem.
First thing’s first: help your lanolin work best for you. Invest in some gel pads. I would put the lanolin on my nipples, then put these gel pads over them. Everything got held in place by a nighttime nursing bra. It’s similar to a sports bra, but with pockets that can be moved out of the way to nurse. I found mine at Target, but I’m sure they are everywhere. I kept the gel pads on 24/7 for about 3 or 4 days. The only times I would remove them would be to nurse or to shower. Speaking of shower, they say to avoid washing your breasts with soap as it can be drying. They also say putting breastmilk on your nipples and letting them air dry will help prevent soreness and cracking, but if you use the lanolin I’m sure that would work just fine too.
The other thing that can help you both with curing your nipple situation and relieving some of the pain that comes with the soreness and cracking is a nipple shield. They also aid in helping your little one obtain the correct latch. They provide a barrier between your little one’s mouth and the soreness you may experience. If you do develop dry, cracked nipples, the last thing on Earth you want to do is let some little 8 pound monster suckle on you. It is pain you can’t even imagine (unless you gave birth with no pain meds…which I know nothing about). I remember being in tears at the thought of letting Jake even close to my breasts before I used the nipple shield. These nipple shields are amazing though. They let you continue nursing while providing a bit of relief at the same time. They also, like I said, help train your little one’s mouth. The nipple shield pulls the nipple up into the plastic and provides a study base for your little one to latch on it. It really helped Jake understand what he was supposed to be doing. Now, weeks later, he has no problem latching right on.
This is just the first in a series of posts about nursing. Stay tuned for part 2!