With a nearly 5-month-old baby, I’m right in the thick of it when it comes to breastfeeding. It has come as a surprise to me that I’ve had many more challenges this time around than I did with my daughter. From damaged nipples to blocked ducts, I have had plenty of opportunities to learn how to care for myself as a breastfeeding mother, and what all new moms can do to help nursing go smoothly. Here are some tips!
Ask for help
The absolute most important tip I can give to new mothers is to ask for help right away. We have amazing lactation consultants in our area who are eager to help with any breastfeeding needs. Many of their services are either covered by insurance or can be accessed through programs like WIC.
If you give birth in a hospital, let the nurses help from day one. With my daughter, the nurses physically put the baby to my breast to make sure the latch was correct. With my second baby, the first nurse who tended us took more of a hands-off approach, assuming I was experienced with breastfeeding, and that resulted in painful, cracked nipples due to a shallow latch. I quickly realized I needed help and continued to work with a lactation consultant until the latch was correct. At that point, the pain subsided and my tissue healed.
Take it easy
For many reasons, new mothers will benefit from keeping their to-do list short and resting as much as possible. While it can feel like I’m “doing nothing,” I have to remember that my body is working hard to produce an average of 20-30 ounces of milk each day from 1-6 months postpartum. Rest is crucial for one’s body to heal after labor and delivery, and to keep breast tissue healthy and prevent problems like blocked ducts or infection.
With between a pint and a quart of fluid leaving your body each day, staying hydrated is essential. I have personally found that I need to drink a gallon of water every day while nursing in order to stay healthy and prevent blockages. This is likely more than most people need, as the recommendation is to drink to satisfy thirst. But on a hot, busy day, I’d rather err on the safe side and ensure that I am not getting dehydrated. Considering that our bodies are made of water, tissues stay more mobile and fluid as well when we are drinking an appropriate amount of water.
Eat nutritious foods
It is, of course, always best to eat a range of nutrient-dense foods, but when you are breastfeeding this is even more important. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and any other real foods you desire. Limit sugar, caffeine and processed foods to prevent infections like thrush (a Candida yeast infection that can affect your baby’s mouth and your breasts) and mastitis.
Share your stories
As a mother, it has been essential for me to talk with other moms and hear their experiences and advice. Not only have I learned tips that were invaluable, but it also allows me to stay present at the moment, remember that “this too shall pass,” and to know that I am not alone.
With that in mind, I’ll mention my own story, which began with cracked nipples, evolved into my baby developing thrush (which I luckily fended off), and now, despite some weeks where everything is going smoothly, I have been dealing with chronically blocked milk ducts. I have been following all of the advice from my lactation consultants and friends as best as I can, including: staying hydrated, taking sunflower lecithin and Vitamin C supplements, using castor oil packs, avoiding tight bras and pressure on my breast, changing positions and using gravity while nursing, massage, and placing cabbage leaves on my breast between feedings. When a milk duct becomes blocked, it is a full-time job to make sure it becomes unclogged before an infection like mastitis sets in, which, thankfully, I have avoided. Today, I was treated by a wonderful physical therapist in Middlebury, Julia Child, who works with lactation clients using ultrasound, massage and myofascial techniques. I learned a lot, and am hopeful that my blocked ducts will now be a thing of the past.
All of this is not to say there is anything wrong with choosing not to breastfeed. It can be quite difficult and is incredibly complex. But if you are wanting to breastfeed, finding a support network and following this simple advice may help.