Sunday, March 22, 2009

Guest Post: Learning to Breastfeed

I asked my good friend, Nutrition Momma, to write a post about Learning to Breastfeed. Her baby is a few weeks old, and she has already faced and overcome some breastfeeding challenges. I've taken the liberty of reposting her thoughts here.

As I said earlier breastfeeding did not come super easy for me or Princess. In fact after the first two days home both of my nipples were covered in blisters. I cried every time I tried to nurse, and the baby was also frustrated. The midwife had shown me a good latch at the birthing center on Friday. Monday I had a lactation specialist over for about 30 minutes that also showed me a good latch, but both of these women basically just latched the baby on for me and said "See that's how it works,"and then they were on their way. (I do not blame them for being busy or for not being able to stay longer.) It seemed so easy when they did it. I thought for sure I would be able to figure it out. But once they were gone it seemed that I could not figure out the right position and my nipples at this point hurt no matter what so I couldn't tell if it was a good latch or not.

On Tuesday after she was born my milk had come in, I still was not feeding her well, and I was at my wits end. I decided to call a fellow La Leche League member (as I mentioned in an earlier post) On her blog she is Top Hat. She discusses all about attachment parenting, breastfeeding, and unassisted birth if you are interested. She is really an amazing person. Anyway, when I called I was almost in tears yet again and she offered to come over immediately. She came with her daughter and stayed from 11 am-3pm. She even brought me some lunch. The most important thing she did was stay and observe me while I tried to latch the baby on. She was here for multiple feedings and reminded me of certain keys things each time I began to feed my baby. She did not do it for me. These are a few of the things I learned while she was here.

1. Be patient and relax. I was so anxious and frustrated that I was not being patient and watching for Princess to open her mouth wide enough for a good latch. She told me that sometimes when she was trying to latch her daughter on at first it would take 45 minutes. This realization that I did not need to be in a hurry, nor was my daughter going to starve if we waited for the best latch.

2. Position of the body is everything!! I thought I was belly to belly, but actually part of Princess's body was turned wrong sometimes, or as I tried to latch her on she would squirm and then be out of alignment. In both the cross cradle hold and side football hold your babies whole front of her body (think belly to chin) is supposed to be flush with your body (mom's stomach for cross cradle, mom's side for football hold - the baby's knees/legs curl around your back). I needed to learn to look at the alignment of both me and the baby each time I prepared to latch her on. This made it easier to bring her body to my breast, instead of me trying to put my breast into her mouth. It was interesting that if Princess was aligned correctly if the latch was incorrect she would automatically fall off the breast. This made it so I didn't have to unlatch her over and over, she did it herself because it didn't feel right.

3. The position of the babies mouth on the breast is different depending on the hold. The baby will take in a different part of the areola depending on what hold you are using. As she sucks on each of these different parts, different milk ducts are being emptied. I had not realized this. For some reason from the books I had read and things I had learned I thought the baby's mouth had to have the bottom of the areola in it all the time. The bottom of the areola only goes in the mouth if you are doing a front football hold or a lap sitting hold. I was trying to do it with a cross cradle hold. Once I realized that you go up and over the nipple helping the baby take in part of the areola closest to her bottom lip, while you make sure the lip is down. Made the whole thing make more sense. It is important to nurse in different positions so that you drain all the ducts and don't get plugged ducts or mastitis (or you can do massage while nursing if one hold is easiest for you and make sure you empty the milk from the different parts of your breast)

4. The less complicated you make it the better. At first I was using a bunch of pillows plus the boppy to try and get the position perfect. I actually kind of figured this out after Top Hat left. You can't take all of these things with you, and after the first two weeks you will probably usually be nursing in a lot of places where having 5 pillows and a boppy is inconvenient. I started really practicing having control of Princess's whole body and head as I held her. I started putting her on the breast with only my arms and hands as support. At first this was difficult, but after a day it actually seemed a lot easier than it was with all the pillows (this is for the cross cradle hold, I still need pillows for the football side lying hold to keep her mouth at breast level, I only do this one once or twice a day, usually at night.) I am happy to say that now at 3 1/2 weeks we can nurse quite well without any pillows, though at night it is nice to have something to rest my elbows on as she nurses and I fall back to sleep.

I hope that this has been helpful for someone. I don't pretend that I am great at explaining things, but I hope that you could follow and visualize what I was trying to say. I am so grateful to La Leche League and especially Top Hat. If you are trying to breastfeed and are frustrated get help before you give up!

Now that we have a good latch breastfeeding is much easier, but it is not perfect, Princess and I are currently dealing with possible thrush for both of us... I will ask my doctor to prescribe Doctor Newman's All Purpose Nipple Ointment on Monday and hopefully we will get it taken care of quickly. As my mother always says "Something to keep you humble." Even though breastfeeding is not simple, I really enjoy it. I feel very connected to my daughter and needed by her. I am also grateful that I don't have to pay for formula which at this time would have been a major strain on finances. I think that the way our bodies and all female mammals have been created to provide for our young is amazing. What a miracle and a blessing.


  1. Thanks for the great reminders. Our baby was born Friday, and my milk came in today. Trying to take it easy, and nurse....even with six successful nurslings in front of him (My oldest, not so much) every nursling is different!

  2. Thanks for the great post! What helped me the most when I was breastfeeding my first baby was "The New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding" from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The really explained the different nursing positions and had great pictures of proper latches etc. It was given to me by my pediatrician before I gave birth. I also took a breastfeeding class at my hospital given by a lactation consultant, and it was very helpful as well, we got to see videos of nursing mothers and get answers to a lot of questions. I also wanted to point out that breastfeeding and attachment parenting do not have to go hand in hand, I'm big on breastfeeding, but I'm so not into attachment parenting. You can breastfeed successfully regardless of your parenting style:)

  3. I really like this post, because Nutrition Momma related so many important points that are easily overlooked including not being hurried and the importance of body position. I want to relate my experience with regard to the idea that you need to employ different holds to prevent mastitis, and I hope I can explain without pictures. It is important to use the hold that is most comfortable for you. I used to believe you needed to switch holds until I was able to visualize the ideal latch. I do not find that you need to use different holds to adequately compress all the milk ducts to prevent mastitis. When the baby's tongue has maximum contact with the areola in whatever hold you are using, all the milk ducts are drained. Often, people use too many pillows in the cross cradle hold; and the tongue then gets less than adequate contact, because the baby is too high with respect to Mom's breast. The need for multiple holds occurs when the baby's tongue does not have maximum contact with Mom's areola in a given position, and the nipple is not pointing to the roof of the baby's mouth. I have found that making even small adjustments in Mom's and baby's positioning and ensuring that Mom is aiming the baby's lower lip as far back on the areola as possible enables the baby to more consistently achieve the ideal latch. I find these adjustments have more of an impact on preventing and treating mastitis than changing which hold you are using. Of course, do what works; but I have found that the subtle adjustments in positioning to achieve the ideal latch are often overlooked and more important for mastitis prevention and treatment than switching holds. The ideal latch also makes for more efficient nursing which may not be as important in a full term healthy baby, but becomes crucial in a compromised baby or premature baby, or for the mother of twins!

  4. Laura,
    Thanks for your input. I am going to suggest that my friend buy or ILL your book.

  5. My first babies were twins, and I really struggled in the beginning with nursing. It hurt soooo bad! Lactation consultants were helpful, but the best thing was a neighbor who had nursed came over and helped me nurse. The first thing she told me was to relax. I was so tense! That was great advice.


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