The girlfriends' guide to breastfeeding
World Breastfeeding Week is Aug. 1 to 7. We think that's worth celebrating, so we asked a panel of mothers and one of our lactation specialists to share their breastfeeding experiences and advice.
Breastfeeding is different for everyone
Breastfeeding is a unique experience for every mother and baby. It takes time to figure out how to get your baby to latch properly, which way to hold them and how long they take to eat. These factors can also change from day to day. Your baby may decide they don't like being cradled while feeding after all, or that they only want to lie on their right side.
Katy Erickson, BSN, RNC, IBCLC, an assistant nurse manager at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital, encourages mothers to ask for help with breastfeeding.
“Breastfeeding was so hard for me in the beginning with my first baby, and that’s what pushed me to become a lactation consultant,” says Erickson. “Breastfeeding is really hard for so many moms and that early support makes all the difference. Also, having resources to help you when you have questions can make the experience so much easier and more enjoyable.”
Lactation consultants at MultiCare’s Family Birth Centers offer help for new breastfeeding moms. MultiCare Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Nutrition Services also provides support, including education, resources for breastfeeding questions, early infant support and assistance to breastfeeding mothers returning to work. Lactation consultants are also available to offer help to new breastfeeding moms via a video visit from your home, or in person visits.
Breastfeeding isn't always easy
Here's what your girlfriends aren't telling you. Breastfeeding can be a challenge, and guess what — it hurts.
"I assumed because it was a natural process that it would be easy. It wasn’t always," says Marce, a Tacoma mom.
It can be painful when your milk comes in and your breasts become engorged. And it can hurt when your baby latches. In addition to learning how to hold your baby while they feed or how often to feed them, moms can get frustrated about breastfeeding, especially when running on only a couple hours of sleep.
As Jen, a mom from Puyallup, puts it, "I was surprised at how much it hurt to nurse in the beginning. I had a few moments during those first weeks when I wanted to give up."
Be patient. It will get better.
"Both the mother and baby are learning how to breastfeed. Your baby is learning to latch and eat and you are learning how to read baby's behavior," says Erickson. "It can be a hard learning curve, but it gets easier."
Here are some tips from our panel of mothers to help make breastfeeding easier.
Be sure to have nipple cream and ice packs to help soothe tender skin.
Get a breastfeeding pillow that wraps around your waist. It's a lifesaver, making it more comfortable for you and your baby to feed.
Create a breastfeeding station at your house. Stock it with water and snacks for mom, and burp cloths and a breastfeeding pillow close at hand for baby. If you have other children, especially toddlers, include a small box of new toys.
"Whenever my baby needed to nurse, my toddler would get right in there and ask questions and wonder what was going on,” says Rebecca, a Tacoma mom. “She luckily was just more curious about the process, and never jealous. But I was prepared with the box of fun things in case she needed to be distracted."
Malinda Carlile, ARNP, RNC, IBCLC, offers tips for mothers having trouble getting baby to latch:
- First have mom get comfortable, then bring baby to mother.
- Have baby skin-to-skin with mom as well as tummy to tummy
- Bring baby to breast and let baby root.
- When baby turns her mouth toward your breast, tickle her lips with your nipple until her mouth is open wide like a big yawn, then quickly put your nipple in her mouth. Your nipple should be far enough into her mouth to reach her soft palate to obtain a deep latch. If the baby only latches onto the nipple (this is called a shallow latch), break the latch and start over. A shallow latch can cause very sore, cracked and even bleeding nipples.
- Breastfeeding is natural just like speaking, but it is a learned skill, so don’t give up if you find it difficult. It becomes easier with practice.
Every baby is unique and may give you an entirely different breastfeeding experience. Keep this in mind if you’re having a more frustrating experience with a second or third child.
Calm mama = calm baby. It’s hard to do when your baby is fussing and not latching, but if you can manage it, it will help.
When you get frustrated, remember that any amount of breast milk you provide your child is better than nothing.
Breastfeeding helps your baby thrive
Breast milk provides the best source of nutrition for infants. Research shows that babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months are less likely to develop a wide range of chronic and acute diseases, including:
- Childhood obesity
- Ear infections
- Lower respiratory infections
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Type 2 diabetes
Mothers also benefit from breastfeeding, with a decreased risk for breast and ovarian cancers.
Breastfeeding also burns extra calories, helping you lose pregnancy weight faster.
Breastfeeding is more than a food source for your infant. The physical closeness and skin-to-skin touching when breastfeeding develops your bond with your baby and makes them feel secure.
“Despite the herculean challenges I faced, a dose of oxytocin euphoria after a nursing session and a glance at my baby’s milk-drunk face always made the efforts worthwhile,” says Amy, a mom from Olalla.
"The bond I had with my children while breastfeeding was so special and reminded me to take a breath, relax and remember to slow down," says Maple Valley mom Jessica.
"Keep a camera close by," says Sherrilee, a Tacoma mom. "Some of the most precious photos I have of my children are of them snoozing or gazing at me after breastfeeding."
From breastfed to bottle-fed
Carlile has tips for mothers ready to introduce the bottle to a breastfed baby, especially for moms who may have to return to work and have a caregiver feed baby while she is away.
"Ideally the baby should be at least 3-4 weeks old and breastfeeding well before introducing a bottle," she says. "By waiting to introduce a bottle and having the baby directly breastfeed, it helps your milk supply adjust to your baby’s needs and lets the baby practice breastfeeding."
Tips for getting baby to take a bottle:
- Choose a time when the baby is not too hungry and is happy and relaxed.
- Hold the baby in the cradle position, similar to how you would hold a baby if you are breastfeeding. You should be close enough so baby can reach out and touch your face.
- Have the caregiver wrap the bottle in something that smells like mom.
- Try different temperatures of the milk. Some babies prefer lukewarm while others prefer room temperature or even cold.
- Try different types of bottles and teats.
MultiCare offers breastfeeding support services, classes and supplies to help new moms tackle the challenges that come with breastfeeding. Learn more about our Breastfeeding Support Services.
The MultiCare WIC Breastfeeding Helpline is available for breastfeeding questions, 253-848-0826. Trained staff members, including Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC), are also available at individual clinics for new mothers and infants to receive advice and assistance.
This story was originally published in August 2014 and updated in August 2019.
MultiCare Senior Content Editor Roxanne Cooke contributed to this story.
About The Author
More stories by this author