Tenderness. Leaking. Let Down. Emotions. CHAFING! While breastfeeding your baby can be a time of bonding, it is also okay to accept that sometimes it is just plain difficult. So, what actually happens when you breastfeed?
When your baby is first born your breasts expel a small amount of fluid called colostrum. This is basically highly-concentrated breast milk to deliver the most nutrients the fastest way possible. It looks like too little, but for your baby, it’s enough. As the weeks progress, your milk supply will adjust to the needs of your baby. Many women will have what’s called a painful letdown (letdown, referring to when the milk reaches the ducts), while others find it a pleasant sensation. In the first few weeks of breastfeeding, it is also normal to feel menstrual-type cramping. Oxytocin, the same hormone that causes milk letdown, also causes your uterus to shrink to its normal size. This reduces your risk of bleeding and could last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months postpartum.
Whether you have taken to breastfeeding naturally, or are finding it more difficult than you thought, here are some easy tips to make your experience even better.
Stay Hydrated – This seems like a no-brainer, but you should seriously be drinking more water than you ever thought possible. One easy way to ensure you’re getting your fill is to buy pretty, insulated bottles and fill them in the morning or at night. Make it your goal to finish all the bottles before your next refill. If you’re getting bored with just water, throw in some fresh fruits and herbs into the different bottles for some variation throughout the day.
The Snack Basket – Keep a basket of fresh fruit and healthy, one-handed snacks around the main places where you breastfeed or pump. Your body is working in overdrive to deliver the most nutrients to your breastmilk. The result is feeling hungry almost as soon as your supply begins to replenish. By keeping healthier options readily available, this will help to keep you from snacking on the bad stuff during the non-feeding times. It’s also a good idea to keep a couple of water bottles there, just in case you leave your pretty bottles in the other room.
Nipple Shields and Lanolin – For women with smaller, or sensitive nipples, the nipple shield can be a game changer when breastfeeding. The shield is a thin cover for the nipple and areola that allows the baby to latch naturally while keeping a barrier between the mouth and the skin. Many OB and pediatrician offices will have them available, but you may also be able to find them in your local store where other breastfeeding supplies are sold. If you do experience painful chafing, a lanolin-based cream will sooth and is also safe for baby.
Keep the Room Dark at Night – The nighttime feedings; some people love them, some people despise them. Either way, they are inevitable during at least the first few months. So when you get up in the night, try to make it as stimulus-free as possible. Keep the lights as low as possible and reduce the noise level. It’s a great idea to leave the screens off during this time to make it easier to fall asleep faster. Always remember to put the baby in a comfortable and safe position in case you accidentally fall asleep while feeding. (Yes, it will happen!)
It’s Okay to be Bored – During the day, you could be feeding your baby upwards of 3-4 hours. While the bonding time is nice, sometimes it can feel like too much of a good thing. Use this time to catch up on emails, watch a show you’ve been meaning to get to, or listen to the audiobook that has been in your queue forever. Turn it into a treat so you have something else to look forward to during this time.
Never Wake a Sleeping Baby – Seriously. If the baby is sleeping, the baby is content. Waking the baby to eat will interrupt their natural sleep cycle, which will keep them from learning how to sleep through the night. If you become engorged, find a quiet and dark place to pump. The bonus of having pumped milk on hand is that your partner can take a couple of those night-time feeds, giving you a little extra rest. While pumping, try not to use your screens so it’s easier for you to fall back asleep.