There is an 11- year span between my oldest and my youngest child. To say things have changed since I had my first baby is an understatement. When I had my first, there weren’t many resources for me to use. Or at least, I didn’t know where to find them. I was 25 years old and the only thing I had to go off of was What to Expect When You’re Expecting. No one in my family breastfed or even cared to. This is not so uncommon in the black community. So getting any breastfeeding tips was going to be a struggle.
As a matter of fact, breastfeeding rates are the lowest among African Americans in the United States compared to other ethnic groups (Merewood, et al., 2019). So now we have a lack of support from family and friends, limited resources, and statistics against me, but I was determined. When I look back on my breastfeeding journey with all of my kids, I think about all the things I wish I knew about breastfeeding before I had them.
Each child I gained more and more knowledge, and once I became a nurse and started working on the Labor and delivery floor, I felt like a pro as I helped mamas initiate that first latch. Now here I am with my 4th and LAST baby and there’s STILL so much that I’m learning. At least now I have a good base to start with, a great support system, and TONS of resources.
Here are the top 5 things I wish I knew about breastfeeding
Breastfeeding Tip #1: Your milk does not come in automatically
Say what? That’s right. It can take your milk a good 3-5 days to come in after the baby is born. In the meantime, your breasts produce colostrum. That’s the yellow substance that comes beforehand. Think of it as a concentrated version of your milk. It’s thicker, which is why the baby only needs a little. It’s also full of lots of nutrients and antibodies. So how can you help your milk come in? Lots of skin to skin and make sure to try and latch baby within that first hour after birth. Once you’ve established a good latch, keep feeding baby on demand or every 2 hours. If baby wakes up from a cat nap and wants to nurse even though it has only been an hour since their last session, go ahead and put baby to breast.
The more you stimulate your breasts, the more your body knows that it needs to produce milk for your baby.
Breastfeeding Tip #2:Cluster feeding is a thing
No, they’re not fussy because your milk supply isn’t enough. They’re just cluster feeding! Babies cluster feed typically when they’re going through a growth spurt. Cluster feeding also happens during times of teething or when extra snuggles are needed. But what is cluster feeding? This is when your baby tends to want to be on the breast for short feeds throughout the day. They’re on one minute, off the next, and fussing not long after and you’re repeating this cycle all over again. This is when most mamas quit, because it’s so frustrating. They start to think that their baby isn’t getting enough milk and they start to supplement.
Mamas let me tell you. This is completely NORMAL! The act of cluster feeding helps you to make more milk when baby is stimulating the breasts often. So latch baby on and enjoy those sweet snuggles. This too shall pass.
Breastfeeding Tip #3: It’s all about supply and demand
With my first, I knew nothing about breastfeeding. I only knew that that was how I wanted to feed my baby and I thought I could just feed the baby whenever he seemed hungry. I didn’t know anything about cluster feeding. so when that time came, I thought my supply was low and started to supplement with formula. When I was supplementing I wasn’t pumping to cover those missed feeds. I just thought that the milk would always be there.
In missing those feeds and not pumping while my son received formula, I was telling my body that I didn’t need to produce as much milk as I was. It was an endless cycle until my milky finally dried up at 4 months. Had I known what I know now, I would have continued to put baby to breast during those times where he seemed to want to nurse more often. If I felt I had to supplement, I would have pumped during the times that he would have nursed to make sure my body knew I still needed to make milk. You can’t make more milk unless you empty more milk.
Breastfeeding Tip #4: Breastfeeding is hard, be kind to yourself
I once heard someone say “breastfeeding comes so naturally. Don’t worry ’bout a thing”. Naturally huh? They lied through their teeth. This is hard, and both you AND your baby are learning how to do it. Even if this isn’t your first, understand that just like every pregnancy is different, every baby is different. So while you may have had a super easy breastfeeding journey with your first child, things may not feel the same the next time around and you may experience disappointment and frustration because of it. Perhaps you’re dealing with an improper latch or a tongue/lip tie, Or maybe everything is painful and you’re battling clogged ducts and mastitis. These issues, topped with sleep deprivation and stress are enough to make anyone want to quit.
Whatever it may be, understand that you are not alone and there are tons of resources out there to help you. Know that you’re doing the best you can, and regardless of what happens, any amount of breastmilk is beneficial for your baby. Never quit on a bad day.
Breastfeeding Tip #5: Flanges are not one size fits all
In order to have a successful pumping journey, it’s super important to be fitted for the correct flange size. That’s right. All nipples are were created equally. Not even your left and right one. So, those two sets of flanges that come with every breast pump may not be the right fit for you. It’s important to meet with a Lactation Consultant to get sized for the proper flange fit. Using the wrong sized pumping flange could result in pain, lower milk output, and even nipple/breast damage. Pumping should not be painful and many times it’s due to incorrect flange size, whether too big or too small. Contact your local Lactation Consultant today to make sure you have the proper size. My personal fav is Milky Mama LLC. They offer virtual flange consultations for $5. I’ll delve into this amazing company in another post.
Well there you have it! These are the 5 things I wish I knew about breastfeeding. There’s so much more I wish I knew, but we’ll get a little deeper into those topics very soon. Until then, check out these resources to help you along your journey. If there’s anything you want me to touch on for the next post, let me know in the comments! Also, what are some things you wish you’d known about breastfeeding before you started?
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Anne Merewood, Kimarie Bugg, Laura Burnham, Kirsten Krane, Nathan Nickel, Sarah Broom, Roger Edwards and Lori Feldman-WinterPediatrics February 2019, 143 (2) e20181897; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-1897