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Breastfeeding

12 Ways to Make Breastfeeding Easier

It may not be a breeze, but you can cut down on problems with these tips.

Photo: Veer

Hate to break it to you, but while breastfeeding has some pretty amazing benefits for baby, it can be a tough skill to master for some moms. But if you do have problems, don’t give up right away! Most times, it does get easier, especially if you use this advice for preventing and dealing with some common breastfeeding issues. You’ve got this.

Do your research

Don’t wait until baby is born to learn about breastfeeding. “After birth, you’re exhausted; you’re in pain. Those are not exactly the greatest circumstances in which to learn something new,” says Denise Archambault, IBCLC, RN, a lactation consultant who works at Women & Infants Hospital in Rhode Island.

Read up on nursing. Take a breastfeeding class. Talk to moms who have breastfed successfully before you actually have to do it. Also, find out what nursing resources -- including lactation consultants, La Leche League chapters and breastfeeding moms’ clubs -- are available near you.

Start early

Holding baby right after birth can help you get off to a good start, so cuddle baby as soon as you can after delivery and give breastfeeding a shot right then. “Babies’ senses -- their seeing, hearing and senses of touch and smell -- are heightened in that first hour after birth. They’re neurologically wired to find the breast. And when they’re allowed to use those senses to latch on by themselves, the way they’re instinctually wired to, they tend to latch on correctly,” says Cathy Carothers, BLA, IBCLC, president of the International Lactation Consultant Association.

Go skin-to-skin

This will require some stripping on both your and baby’s parts. Place your unclothed baby on your bare chest when she’s fussy or struggling with feeding. (If you’re modest, cover up with a blanket.) The close contact will calm her (and you!) and trigger her feeding instincts.

Learn the signs

Respond early to baby’s rooting behaviors and you’ll cut down on frustration for both of you. “When you see your baby chewing on his hands, making mouthing motions or turning his head from side to side and bringing his hands to his face, he’s telling you, ‘I’m starting to get hungry,’” Carothers says. “When you respond to those cues, your baby learns to continue giving them, and you can feed the baby before he starts crying. Once a baby cries, he’s no longer just hungry; he’s mad and hungry, and that can make breastfeeding much more difficult for both of you.”

Get through engorgement

Offer your baby a feeding every two to three hours in the very beginning. If your breasts start to feel engorged -- really tight, firm, large and warm -- a few days after birth, don’t panic: It’s just your mature milk coming in. (Before that, your baby gets super-nutritious, concentrated colostrum.) Engorgement goes away in a few days, but those rock-hard boobs can make feeding baby challenging. If baby has a hard time latching, hand express or pump a bit of milk before feeding her, to make things softer.

Call in the pros

Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, so if you’re having pain, or if your baby isn’t wetting at least 8 to 12 diapers a day, call the hospital, your doctor’s office or a local lactation consultant. It’s important to nip issues in the bud as quickly as possible.

Get some sleep

Just because you’re the one with the boobs doesn’t mean you have to do all the feeding. After you and baby have developed a consistent nursing relationship (usually after the first month), it’s okay to let your partner give baby a feeding -- especially if you’re longing for a good night’s sleep. Just be sure to pump a bottle of breast milk before you go to bed. To maintain your body’s milk supply, it’s important to have a pumping session every single time your baby has a bottle.

Plan ahead

Before you give birth, talk to your employer about your plans to continue breastfeeding when you return to work. (Your right to do that is protected by law!) Together, figure out a private place where you can pump, and brainstorm ways you can fit pumping breaks into your workday. It might seem daunting, but plenty of other moms keep breastfeeding after they go back -- and you totally can too.

Practice pumping

At least a couple of weeks before you’re scheduled to go back to work, start pumping breast milk. Archambault recommends pumping for a few minutes after baby’s morning feeding, because that’s when your milk supply tends to be the greatest. You can also pump on one side while your baby nurses on the other (the ultimate multitasking!). Both techniques will help you get used to pumping -- and let you establish a stockpile of breast milk. Just knowing you have plenty of milk at home in your freezer will make you feel less stressed.

Use shortcuts

Want to make the pumping process quick and easy? Try specially designed pump-and-save breast-milk bags. They attach directly to your breast pump, but then unhook and seal, so you can store the milk right in the bag. Microwave steamer bags are another time-saving device some moms swear by. Just pop your breast pump accessories into the bag, fill with water as directed, seal and put it in the microwave
to sterilize everything in just a few minutes.

You’ll also want to do some trial and error to see what other ideas work for you. Some moms like to freeze their milk in small increments so it’s easy to grab and defrost exactly how many ounces they need at a time. And some like to invest in two breast pumps so they don’t have to transport theirs to and from work every day.

Educate baby’s caregiver

Make sure baby’s nanny or caregiver at day care knows exactly how to prepare a bottle of breast milk (no microwaving allowed -- just defrost in a warm bowl of water), to use the oldest milk first and exactly how much and how often baby needs to eat throughout the day.

Know your number

Before you return to work, count how many times your baby nurses in a 24-hour period. That’s your “magic number,” Carothers says. When you go back to work, the number of times your baby nurses in a day plus the number of times you pump should equal your magic number. That way, you can keep your milk supply up -- and baby will get enough to eat.

Don’t be surprised, by the way, if your baby decides to eat very little while you’re at work and to nurse constantly when you’re at home. That’s called reverse cycle feeding, and it’s completely normal (sorry!). It may be exhausting but it’s because baby prefers you to the bottle.

-- Jennifer L.W. Fink

See More: Breastfeeding , Mommy Life , 3rd Trimester , Newborn Basics , Baby Basics , Parenting Styles