Enjoy these mom to mom breastfeeding tips that are relatable, helpful, and will hopefully make your early parenting days happier! Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links
I originally published this post when M was a baby, in 2014, and it was one of the first posts on my fledgling blog that was read by many. As a woman with a voice, with a following, I measure my words carefully, as I am required to do.
That’s why, with my third child now six months old, with much more experience gained, I feel the need to re-approach this article.
There’s also something the kids’ pediatrician said the other day, during Princess A’s six month well visit. He asked about my blog, how it’s going, if it’s still going strong. And he said “you can really help people”. And I realize that’s true – and that carries with it a responsibility.
So while I try to keep things here more lighthearted, I’m going to approach a subject that is the cause of so much angst for so many moms: breastfeeding.
I don’t know why it’s like that. I think that most mothers want to do whatever they can to give their kids only the best, at whatever cost. And we sometimes ask ourselves: what cost is worth it? Breastfeeding is such a sensitive subject, and yet, I feel the need to discuss this.
Before I share actual breastfeeding tips, I need to share my experience and my history with breastfeeding.
My breastfeeding story
All three of my children started out receiving formula and transitioned to breastfeeding.
I will repeat.
All three of my children transitioned from BOTTLE to BREAST.
I say this because it’s critical for moms to understand that bottle feeding in the first few days is not a breastfeeding death sentence.
I will also say that with my third child, I had the maturity to understand that there was a point where the correct decision might have been to stop breastfeeding, as the extreme pain had a serious impact on my mental health. I remind mothers out there: mental health is real health.
However, I didn’t know what to do with all that milk so I continued trying…
M’s delivery was extremely traumatic. He was too weak and lethargic to latch. We had to wake him for feedings – he wouldn’t cry at all. We bottle fed him, and, starting with a nipple shield, eventually transitioned him. He was also jaundiced, and so we followed medical advice and gave him formula.
I still attempted to breastfeed him, and so, while all feeding (bottle and breast) was touch-and-go, he was breastfed for fifteen months.
Y had low blood sugar when he was born. The hospital encouraged bottles, however he didn’t really take them.
Every time they checked, his numbers were still low, and he had tremors. They really pushed me to give bottles (I wasn’t resistant to it – he just wasn’t taking them nicely). Eventually they offered me an ultimatum: next time they check, if his numbers are still low, he’s going straight to the NICU. So make sure he takes that bottle.
And make sure I did. He drank two ounces, and tested well the next time. We continued to bottle feed until I really had enough milk. We then transitioned smoothly, again, using a nipple shield as a tool, and eventually weaning him from that. Had I not bottle fed him initially, he could have suffered seizures and worse.
At one point, I had thrush, and again, in hindsight maybe I should have quit due to how it impacted my mental health, but I didn’t. He breastfed until nine months old, when my supply dwindled. He was sick a lot, and each time he didn’t eat nicely, causing my supply to decrease further.
Princess A just needed more. For her first 24 hours, she was fine with whatever I had, but then she cluster fed through the entire night, still crying, until I was crying to the hospital staff to give me a bottle for her…
My milk didn’t come in until close to a week after she was born. Had I not insisted on giving her formula, she could have dehydrated or worse!
I did try breastfeeding throughout, giving her a bottle only after breast, but giving her that bottle after every feed. I won’t go through every nightmare with her, as that’s a subject for another time, but eventually she did transition to breast, and, at six months, she is my best breastfeeder.
I share these stories only to encourage those of you who are actively seeking out breastfeeding tips not to take extreme measures and to understand that formula is a lifesaving invention.
However, since you want to give breastfeeding a good go, I am happy to share some tried and true mom-to-mom breastfeeding tips.
These tips go in order of my struggles, with some of them targeted toward any problems you might have. They are also designed to help you make it easier on yourself, so that you’re more likely to stick to it.
I started off with newborn issues, such as latching and a weak suck, and went on to tummy problems, and restlessness. I dealt with thrush, vasospasm, nipple confusion, and more.
One thing I must note: the main thing is that your baby is fed! If you feel like your baby is not gaining weight, always discuss your concerns with the pediatrician. The end goal is a fed baby, not a breastfed baby – remember that! Fed is Best is a fantastic resource for baby feeding education. They are pro breastfeeding and pro formula feeding and that is not a contradiction.
Is breastfeeding for you?
Again, I cannot responsibly share breastfeeding tips before addressing that it’s simply not the only way to be a fantastic mother. I also can’t answer that question for you. You need to be honest with yourself, at every point of your journey. You need to discuss concerns with your pediatrician, with your partner, and if you can with a mentor who truly cares for you.
You are not, in any way, an inferior mother if you don’t breastfeed – even if it’s not because you can’t.
You are not “taking the easy way out”. It’s a pain in the butt to prepare bottles.
Parenting is never easy.
Choose what’s best for your baby and family, and discuss all your feeding decisions with your pediatrician.
These breastfeeding tips are for moms who have decided to breastfeed, have a good supply of milk, and are struggling to make that connection.
Another point: it helps to have a connection with a mental health professional who is a good match for you.
Breastfeeding Tips For the Early Days
1. Seek advice but adapt it to your needs
I’ve gotten advice in all forms. Some was from loved ones, some from experts. Even some of the expert advice was simply not tailored to me.
You know yourself best, and sometimes what an expert might tell you simply might not apply to you, especially when you hear contradictory advice. You’ll need to choose which to follow according to your needs.
When I first tried to nurse, I held my baby in the most natural position for me. The nurses and lactation consultants who were helping me at the time told me that I should hold my baby a different way – it’ll help us get started.
I was endlessly frustrated, as the different position felt awkward and still wasn’t working. I kept trying this failing technique until another nurse came by and told me that that second position is great for larger women, but for a small women like myself, I should try the original position.
So sometimes following your gut actually works.
2. Try a Nipple Shield
This advice is a perfect example of the point above. Many will say it’s a great tool for breastfeeding. Many people have told me that it takes away from the natural feel and dynamic of breastfeeding. When we live in a world where moms are not only required to breastfeed, but to do it in the “perfect way” – without the use of fantastic tools – we are failing these new moms.
I was handed a Medela nipple shield while trying to get M to latch. While it did not solve the issue of a weak suck, it took us over the hurdle of latching. I can say with confidence that if not for that, I would not have been able to nurse him. This took us through multiple breastfeeding issues with Y as well.
When Princess A was a baby the hospital lactation consultant was extremely disparaging toward nipple shields. I believe that’s why I suffered so much pain later in the game, as I found it to help provide a “buffer” with nipple confusion.
I highly recommend it for babies with latching issues. It did make breastfeeding less convenient, and weaning is a process. We did successfully wean both boys from the shield by three months.
3. Don’t Let them Discourage You!
Sometimes, people will sincerely tell you things like “it should be easy”or, “breastfeeding should come naturally.” I’ve also gotten, “infants will make their way to the breast on their own.”
Any number other things that may have been true for them might only be true for you in your dreams. Try to filter out these comments. You know your own struggle. Anyone who’s been through it knows it.
It’s not as easy as they make it out to be. Validating your struggles is critical to your own mental health, and can empower you to do it.
4. Let them Encourage You!
While you’re filtering out the unhelpful comments, make sure you absorb the helpful ones. Don’t just absorb them – let them lift you up!
I had the never ending support of my mother and my husband, plus some other friends and family members, who stood by me, helping me out. My mother celebrated every milestone – whether it was a breastfeed a day, or completely weaning him from the nipple shield.
I was on a hot bus with M, who was screaming, and we were stuck in traffic. A group of women sitting next to me insisted on holding up blankets for me so that I can breastfeed more comfortably. These little things kept me going.
Breastfeeding Tips for the Transitioning Stage
5. Appreciate that it’s a process that doesn’t happen overnight
The first few days postpartum tend to pass in a blur. Personally, I felt out of control then. I had a difficult birth, and was so focused on my pain, anything that happened was very passive. So, despite my best intentions, for the first few days, baby hardly got a drop of breast milk.
But I knew I wanted to nurse. And so, I gradually started switching out a feeding at a time. Breastfeeding can be exhausting, and when you’ve started on bottles, making the switch can be challenging.
With M, at first I did one breastfeeding a day. Then we went to every third feeding, then every other, and then a few weeks in, he was getting a formula bottle a night. Eventually I started pumping for his nighttime feedings, as I still wanted the extra sleep that having a “Daddy feed” gave me. (I highly recommend a good breast pump if you are transitioning! I have this one and love it.)
6. Give Yourself Privacy
In the days when I was first struggling to get the right position, and later when the crying stage kicked in, I found that having absolute privacy was a must. We see all those breastfeeding advocates who seem to just whip out the nips with no concerns, but, especially in those first days, some of us are simply more private. There’s no shame in that!
Trying to struggle under a blanket, or even just trying to be somewhat discreet can only complicate manners. Giving myself space really helped; whether it was simply requesting that those in the room leave, or not look, or going into the privacy of my own bedroom. It also took off the pressure in a MAJOR way.
Breastfeeding Tips for the Screaming Baby
7. Try to Make Tummy Feel Good
In the days when M would go hysterical at every feeding, we eventually decided that it was tummy issues. That was affirmed when it stopped happening regularly soon after the three month mark (which is when many will say the typical newborn stomach aches go away).
I helped sooth it while feeding which did calm him a little (it’s all the small things combined that made a difference.)
I held him slightly upright – so his legs were lower than his head. I also pushed his legs up to his tummy, which helped release gas and soothe the tummy.
8. Rock Baby if Things Get Desperate
I know, its hard enough to nurse without having to rock your baby. But when nothing else worked, sometimes actually standing and swaying while feeding helped. Yes, it was exhausting. Sometimes we even gave a bottle when he needed this – that way Daddy can help. (You can pump, of course, if you’re exclusively breastfeeding).
I did not have a rocking chair. I wish I had one at the time. I HIGHLY recommend this, as it can solve this one issue. Sitting and rocking the baby can provide the movement that is key to soothing. With A I had one and it was really a game changer.
9. Keep Pumped Milk Handy
While many associate pumping milk with having others feed the baby, it’s a great tool in general to maintain breastfeeding. When baby seemed impossible to feed, yet was hysterically hungry, we sometimes managed to “force” in an ounce or two from a bottle that helped calm him down, so that he can actually breastfeed.
Another advantage to pumping: it’ll help keep up your milk supply, even if you’re missing a feeding here and there. I did not have an easy time with pumping, so I did it at the time of the missed feeding. This helped with letdown (I was missing nursing the baby), plus, my supply was at its best then.
Tip: Use an electric pump for missed feedings. A manual breast pump can become very tiring. Also, it gave me a repetitive stress injury (tendinitis), which affected my general ability to care for my baby (I couldn’t lift him!)
You don’t need a double pump, especially if you’re only pumping once or twice a day. Relax with a movie or book, don’t rush the process, and try to enjoy it. However, if you find it stressful, a double pump does the work twice as fast when used with a pumping bra.
Another lifesaver I only had with A – the inexpensive Haakaa pump! When I say not to use a manual pump, I am not talking about this. This lifesaver is not only much more ergonomic to use as an actual pump, it also serves as a milk catcher while breastfeeding the other side. If I use it for the first two feeds of the day, I get a whole “free” bottle of breast milk! One of the best breastfeeding tips that is truly a game changer is to use the Haakaa pump to build up your stash.
10. DON’T STRESS!!!
Do you find that whenever someone yells at you not to be so stressed out, the stress starts mounting? Yup, I’ve got the same issue. And it doesn’t take much to stress me out. But I definitely saw a connection between my stress levels and baby’s willingness to nurse. Babies can sense a mother’s stress levels and it can cause problems.
Right before our big move from Jerusalem to New York, my baby had one of his hysteria phases. As you can imagine, that was just what I didn’t need. Of course my stress levels were skyrocketing then. Very soon after the move – possibly the first feeding – that phase ended.
While I can probably write a whole new post on ways to minimize stress, I’ll simply try to offer a few small tips:
First, don’t sit and worry about whether baby will or won’t agree to eat. Try to put yourself in a frame of mind that’s focused only on providing for him, and leave baby’s end up to him.
Also, distraction can help when things are rough. Read a little. Listen to calming music. Don’t put all your focus and worries on feeding. You can start the relaxation process before you start feeding as well.
Breastfeeding Tips for Specific issues
11. Distraction – remove distractions and give something to keep baby focused
My baby was active from the start. By the start, I mean about sixteen weeks into my pregnancy when I started feeling movement. Since then he’s been constantly in motion. To this day, he sometimes finds it hard to relax for a meal.
My almost foolproof solution is to bring his favorite lovie or toy to the feeding. I touch the soft blanket to his cheek and he right away relaxes. Throughout the feeding, I snuggle him with blanket or doll and he almost always stays put.
This helps even more if you remove distractions.
That seems to be the obvious answer when that’s the issue, but sometimes it’s hard to find exactly what it is. I’ve found that a dark room helps. Having Daddy in the room doesn’t.
So we close the door, make the room dark, and sometimes even give him something he likes to hold – such as a book, or my glasses. This helps him focus on that one thing, and makes him more ready to nurse. (Update: at seven, M is still easily distracted!)
12. Diagnose Pain
Breastfeeding can be painful and I think that’s what gets many moms to give up on it. And no mom should have to breastfeed through excruciating pain.
However, diagnosing the pain can make a world of a difference, especially if, like me, you are struggling to stop. With Y my pain was caused by thrush, and fixing that helped. With A, nipple vasospasm was the cause. Treating it was as simple as keeping it warm and taking supplements.
A doctor can often prescribe an APNO ointment which targets a few problems at once.
A few tools that helped me breastfeed
I’m summarizing the top tools, although I did mention some of these above. Some of these made all the difference.
- Nipple shield – saved my breastfeeding by M and Y
- Haakaa pump – saves milk without much effort
- Lanolin – I used a few tubes in A’s first months
- Thick cloth nursing pads – these helped keep me warm when I had vasospasm (I used them with disposable pads as I had this issue when I was too leaky for the cloth alone)
- APNO – you’ll need a doctor to prescribe this
M nursed until he weaned himself at the age of 15 months. It’s simply mind-boggling, considering the issues we dealt with.
Gosh, breastfeeding is tough. Kudos to all the moms who have done it, and to all the moms who knew when the right time was to stop…
You’re doing great mama!
Did these tips help you? Share your own breastfeeding tips in the comments below!
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