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3 Things I Wish I’d Known About Breastfeeding Before I Started

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Breastfeeding seems as if it should be a simple thing, doesn’t it? Your body makes milk. Your baby drinks it. Your baby grows and thrives, and you both live happily ever after. The end.

For some moms, it is that simple. For others, it doesn’t even come close to being that easy. It wasn’t that easy for me, but I persevered – and I’m glad I did. I’m posting my experiences in hopes of helping other mamas get past the possible tricky spots that can arise with breastfeeding.

Yes, there can be tricky spots with breastfeeding, but please don’t let that stop you if breastfeeding is the way you want to feed your baby. You can do this!

Here are 3 things I wish I had known before I started breastfeeding:

1. Breastfeeding Is Not Supposed to Hurt

Breastfeeding should feel pleasant. Most of the time, I’d describe it as feeling like a series of gentle tugs. It occasionally tickles slightly. Sometimes it feels neutral – like you wouldn’t even know the baby is nursing unless you happen to look down and see her sucking away. But that was only my experience after we figured out how to nurse correctly.

My first experience with breastfeeding was actually a painful one. In the beginning, I got as far as doing the obvious: guiding my newborn daughter’s lips to my breast so she could drink. I looked into her sweet eyes and gently told her, “Drink, darling” – and she did. But, we were both new at this breastfeeding thing – and neither of us had yet perfected our nursing techniques. My way of holding her was inefficient, and her latch was imperfect. It left my nipples sore.

Even worse, it also left my little sweetheart sucking a combination of air and milk – which is obviously not ideal. As a result, in those early days of nursing, my daughter often had hiccups – and I was in agony.

In my overtired state, it took me awhile to figure out exactly what the problem was and how to fix it. It took several late-night internet searching sessions before I was able to figure out that my sore nipples and her hiccups had a common solution. She needed help with latching on to nurse correctly.

According to PumpStation.com, sore nipples are almost always an indication that your baby isn’t latched on deeply enough. They’ve posted a “deep latch technique” that I found helpful for correcting our latching issues. And Dr. Sears has a checklist for how to tell whether baby is latched on correctly, which I also found extremely helpful.

One more tip: My doctor told me to apply lanolin if my nipples got sore. She was right -- it works! So if you’re experiencing sore nipples as a result of breastfeeding, definitely try lanolin in the short term; but an even better solution is to help your baby latch on better to avoid the soreness in the first place.

2. Breast Milk = Proteins + Carbs + Fats + Vitamins

Diet can be a big source of unnecessary stress for breastfeeding moms. It definitely was for me.

Let me relieve some of the stress for you. According to Kellymom.com, you do not have to maintain a perfect diet when you are breastfeeding. Of course, it isn’t ideal to eat a diet made up of junk food when you’re nursing a baby – but it’s better to eat junk food and breastfeed than it is to quit breastfeeding because you are stressed that you aren’t eating the best possible diet for your baby.

Interestingly enough, your body is going to follow pretty much the same recipe for making breast milk, no matter what you eat. According to the American Pregnancy Association, your breast milk is made up of a combination of protein, fats, carbohydrates and vitamins. Ideally, you’d want to eat a healthy combination of those nutrients while breastfeeding. But if you mess up every now and then, definitely don’t sweat it.

3. You CAN Make Enough Milk for Your Baby. Really!

Apparently, it’s a pretty common thing for new mamas to panic, thinking they are not making enough milk for their newborns. I sure did. It’s not like you can tell exactly how much milk the little darling is ingesting as she sucks away at your breast. There’s always this little annoying worry there in your mind: What if my baby isn’t getting enough milk?

There’s a surefire way to make sure your milk supply is sufficient: Nurse your baby. With rare exceptions, your body will make as much milk as the baby will drink. The more milk your baby drinks, the more milk your body will produce in response. Later, when your baby is able to eat solid food, she’ll need less milk. At that point, her milk consumption will begin to taper off. As a result, your body will produce less milk.

What you want to avoid is fooling your body into thinking you’ve reached the tapering point before your baby is ready for that. If you really, truly want to exclusively breastfeed your baby, it would be a mistake to ever resort to bottle feeding -- because any amount you feed your baby from the bottle will decrease the amount of milk your baby takes from your breast. That, in turn, will reduce your milk supply. If you bottle feed your baby, make it be a conscious decision you arrive at because it’s truly what you want to do -- not a move you make in a panic because you worry that you can’t produce enough milk.

Nurse your baby as often as she wants to nurse; this is the surest way to ensure that your milk supply will be sufficient. However, if milk supply is a concern, there are dietary aids that you might also want to try. One of my best friends is into Ayurvedic medicine, and she swears by shatavari for promoting milk supply. Shatavari is a plant from the asparagus family. Ayurvedic practitioners recommend it as safe for long-term use by pregnant and lactating women. Fenugreek has also been effective for some moms in increasing milk supply, although apparently not for others. To be on the safe side, it’s wise to check with your doctor if you plan to take any herbs or drugs because you’re concerned about your milk supply.

There are two easy ways to tell if your baby is getting enough milk. If you’re changing more than 6 wet diapers in a 24-hour period, your baby is getting enough milk. And, if your baby is gaining weight, that’s another indicator that she’s getting enough milk. If your baby is growing and you’re changing lots of wet diapers, your milk supply is fine. If you aren’t changing enough wet diapers, or your baby is not growing, get professional help from a lactation consultant as soon as possible. A lactation consultant can help you troubleshoot whichever aspect of breastfeeding might be going wrong so you can get back on track.

These are the 3 big things I wish I had known about breastfeeding before I started. I hope this information is helpful to you if you plan to breastfeed, too.

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