All of the tips and advice you read below comes from my personal experience along with my own research and advice that I have received from my doctors, family, and other moms. I am by no means a lactation consultant, and strongly urge you to contact one if you have troubles while breastfeeding!
Also, all of the photos featured in this post were taken during Skyler’s newborn shoot at 3 weeks old with Michelle Rose Photo. (Check her out if you’re in NYC!)
I knew that I wanted to breastfeed my baby many, many years ago.
When I pictured myself becoming a mother, that picture always included nursing, rocking, and singing my baby to sleep. I didn’t even realize that breastfeeding wasn’t a guaranteed option until some of my friends had issues nursing their babies. The younger and more naive me thought it was as simple as a choice, but I quickly learned that not every woman can exclusively breastfeed and not every baby can latch properly.
After talking to a few friends that had troubles breastfeeding and ended up formula feeding, I continued to hope that my body would allow me to breastfeed and that Skyler and I would get into our groove early on. We did, but that doesn’t mean that it was easy.
Breastfeeding is different for everyone, and some women experience a lot of pain and challenges that come along with it while others will never know what a clogged duct, cracked nipple, or mastitis feels like. I happen to be one who has experienced a lot of challenges along the way, which is really what prompted me to share this will all of you. Because, apparently, this is normal.
Before I go any further, I’d like to say a few things:
- While I chose to exclusively breastfeed my baby for the first four months of his life, I respect the decision that any parent makes to breastfeed or formula feed their own baby. I wholeheartedly believe that fed is best.
- I had no idea that I would ever talk about breastfeeding in this space. But, after experiencing it and turning to any breastfeeding mama I knew for advice, I wanted to share my tips, challenges, and experience to hopefully help others looking for support.
- Breastfeeding is hard. Like really, really hard. And between nursing and pumping, it’s like another full-time job. I wish that more people told me what I was in for when I attempted it. Knowing more details wouldn’t have changed my mind to breastfeed, but at least I would have known more of what to expect.
That said, here are some things I wish I knew about breastfeeding before I started along with a few tips that I’ve learned along the way!
Combatting Clogged (Plugged) Ducts
Clogged ducts have been my nemesis while breastfeeding. They happen pretty frequently to the majority of women who breastfeed, so If you’ve never experienced one and have breastfed for an extended period of time, you are some kind of magical unicorn who should probably buy a ticket to the lottery. (Lucky duck!)
Unfortunately, I’ve had at least a dozen spells of them in my four and a half months of breastfeeding.
For those of you who haven’t experienced them, a clogged duct feels like a good sized marble stuck in your boob. Sometimes it’s a few of them, and if it doesn’t get worked out it, the clog can expand and harden an entire section of your boob. The worst I’ve had is a whole clump of them in a row that made one of my boobs as hard as a rock for days. (Hungry) Skyler wasn’t able to get anything out of it, so it just kept filling up and filling up as the hours and sometimes days went by. It’s not a good situation, friends.
Not only did it feel like a brick, but it was extremely sensitive and hurt something fierce.
I’ve been on the verge of mastitis with clogged ducts twice. This happened after at least a full day and a half of trying to work the lumps out without success. The area of the clogs turned hot and was very sensitive to touch. I felt achy and had a fever on and off, but as soon as I was going to call my doctor, both times, it started getting better. So I never officially got treated for it.
But, the pain and sickness were real, and I was so thankful that it finally cleared itself up. (If you think you may have mastitis, I strongly encourage you to call your doctor to get the proper treatment and antibiotics as soon as possible!)
Now I can tell when I’m getting a clog early on, so I do my best to work it out immediately. It starts with an extreme firmness of my nipple paired with a small discomfort on one side. As soon as I notice those symptoms, I try to nurse Skyler as soon as I can on the affected side, and then asses the problem further when he empties it a little.
- Wearing too tight of a nursing or sports bra
- Skipping a feeding, going too long between feeding sessions, or not emptying all of the milk out every feeding
- Stress and lack of sleep (hello, new motherhood)
Here are a few things that work for me:
- Taking a hot shower or bath and trying to soak the area in warmth for at least a few minutes
- Emptying the area as much and as soon as possible. I’ve learned that Skyler works better than a pump!
- Hand express, hand express, hand express. Hard. Sometimes I do this in the shower with soap to help get things moving.
- When the area hardens up, putting a warm compress on it (a hot washcloth works too) and massaging the area with fingertips. More hand expressing.
- Repeat as best and as often as possible!
I have done this routine for two or three straight days before. *facepalm* So yeah, that’s where my theory that breastfeeding is a full-time job comes from. (Am I right?)
Your baby will get as frustrated as you do when you have clogged ducts, which may be the hardest part about it all. You just feel helpless. Just remember that it will eventually get better, and you will both get back on track soon enough.
I always feel so bad for Skyler when clogs happen, because I know that he isn’t getting as much milk as he normally does. He also gets ridiculously fussy. But, when it finally goes down, milk flows for days.
So there’s that to look forward to!
I’m just going to say it … I hate pumping. But it’s something that comes along with breastfeeding, especially if you are a mom who works outside of the home.
I didn’t start pumping until about a month before I went back to work. In hindsight, I probably should have started earlier because my freezer supply dwindled quickly (more on that below), but I was worried that I was going to up my supply too much and get more clogged ducts if I couldn’t keep pumping on a regular routine.
Now that Skyler sleeps through the night (mostly, the four-month sleep regression is trying to get the best of us), I pump every night before I go to bed. When I’m working I pump as soon as I get up because it’s before Skyler does, and I pump any time that I would normally feed him while I’m at work.
I didn’t know much about anything when buying a breast pump, but I knew I wanted an electric one. I registered for the Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breastpump with On-the-Go Tote and I love it. I get a lot of use out of the cooler while transferring milk home that I pump at work, and I like that the tote bag look doesn’t scream “breast pump” as I casually walk around with it.
Other products that make my pumping experience a lot better include The Honest Company Organic Nipple Balm (<- a true lifesaver in those early breastfeeding weeks. Also, use a small amount to lube nipples while pumping if it’s hurting!) and the Medela Easy Expression Bustier for hands-free pumping.
If I’m not in a rush, I prefer to pump one side at a time to free my hands to be able to massage and hand express to get the most out of my pumping sessions.
Bottles & Supply
I am far from an expert on keeping your milk supply up, but I have learned a few tips over the past few months. (And, to be completely honest, I am currently having to supplement a few ounces of formula here and there to make sure that Skyler is getting as much as he wants and needs while I am at work!)
Everyone says that as long as your baby is gaining weight and producing wet and dirty diapers on the regular, they are getting enough milk. But it’s just so hard to know when you breastfeed without measuring it out in a bottle.
Skyler seems to be gaining enough weight, but I can always tell when he wants to nurse longer than my body allows. Now that I’m back at work, he’s very used to bottles, and I think that he’s also used to a fast flow.
Over the past few weeks, he’s been nursing aggressively and gets fussy while pulling away over and over again throughout a nursing session. He will occasionally cry, and I get confused if the milk is still flowing when this happens sometimes. My best guess is that he’s frustrated it isn’t coming out fast enough as he would like it to.
I thought I was starting to dry up about a month ago. This made me really sad, and I researched everything I could do to help up my supply since I’m not quite ready to stop breastfeeding. As I mentioned above, I just started supplementing (just a few ounces here and there) with a formula to ensure that he’s getting enough, but I found that a handful of things significantly improves my supply:
Tips to increase your milk supply:
- Drink a ton of water and stay hydrated! Breastfeeding mamas need at least their body weight in ounces of water per day. (If you weigh 140 pounds, you should be drinking 140 ounces.)
- Make sure to eat hearty meals that include healthy fats.
- Exercise but don’t overdo it.
- Get enough sleep. (I know, this one is almost laughable.)
- Try not to stress. (Again, we’re trying our best here.)
- Try lactation support supplements – I use Lactivist, an organic lactation blend from Legendary Milk.
- Add in an extra pumping session per day.
- Power pump! (20 minutes on, 10 minutes rest, 10 minutes on, ten minutes rest, 10 minutes on.)
And since I had no idea what to register for before I had a baby, I heard time and time again that Dr. Brown’s bottles are the best to minimize gas and I absolutely agree.
I was also pretty clueless on how much to put milk to put in bottles as he grew, and the feeding and daily routine guides from the Moms On Call book are so helpful!
I feel like I could go on and on about breastfeeding, but I’ll leave things there for now. If you have any specific questions, I’d love to try my best and answer them!
Feel free to comment below, and I’d love to hear more about your experiences and advice with breastfeeding in the comments section.
What is one thing that you wish you knew about breastfeeding before you experienced it?