How I Learned to Breastfeed

“It’s natural.” I will punch in the face anyone who assumes that breastfeeding is easy, natural, or innate.

I had a block on it, I admit, mostly because my sisters and mother all said they had tough times and that it was painful. So, to future first-time mothers let me tell you what I learned, and what I wish I’d read, before heading into this (cough) adventure.

My story: I had a Cesarean, and the pain associated with breastfeeding made me cry multiple times a day and work very hard at not resenting the decision to breastfeed, the baby, or the partner. I started doing some techniques to feel better about the whole thing, and then one magical day, sure, it didn’t hurt anymore. Here are some tips. Not sure if they’re avoidable, but I wish I’d read or known about them:

Don’t worry, you don’t know how to do it. You need to learn, and the baby needs to learn. Anyone who says it’s natural, (punch them, and/or) ask them if they breastfeed and can give you some tips. Approach this more like a science project due — shit! — tomorrow morning, than a rosy-hued fantasy of motherhood. It’s about as glamorous, too.

Hang out with mothers who already have it down. I recommend those one their second child, at the same age or a little bit older than yours. Some things are just easier learned by watching.

Pay attention to the baby and any 3-dimensional, logistical issues she or he may be having. This I cannot understate. They’re gagging, they’re gassy, they’re full, they’re noisy, etc. it all means something. For example, I found out recently that when I’m out and about I tend to put baby below the boob, which makes the downpour unmanageable and he gets gassy. Solution: put a rolled up blanket under his head, he’s more in control of the flow. PHEW. ← amazing resource. It was recommended by lactation consultants, and now I follow it on Facebook, as well as have it on permanent tab on my iPhone. Speaking of, having a friend who was a lactations consultant that I could text in the middle of the night, was a godsend.

I don’t know what moms did before data phones. Always have it handy. Nursing takes about 40 minutes for me (15 minutes nursing one side, 10 minutes changing diaper, 15 minutes nursing the other side), and despite my partner’s recommendation that “it’s a great time to meditate!” when you are doing it 8 times a day, that’s a lot of time. Download Google Drive, Hangout, Facebook, check email, chat with your Mom, whatever you need to do to make the time pass. You, and baby (who gets to nurse uninterrupted by your fidgety hands) will be happier.

Learn to lie down and nurse as soon as possible. It’s a great way to wake up slowly, go to bed slowly, or just chill out.

Favoring one breast is OK. I had $2 buck chuck, and Proprietor’s Reserve. OK, well, initially it was the good breast and the bad breast, but I realized that would stigmatize one breast all the time, so I renamed them. It added much needed levity. Then, surprise, my Proprietor’s Reserve is enjoying a bigger supply currently! I took a poll and while most people alternate and try to keep it even, there’s nothing wrong with just feeding off of one, if you want. Whatever makes you comfortable.

Around week 10, you will have no pain associated with breastfeeding. Remember that when you’re in the early days. I had so many things wrong with my nursing, breasts, technique, illness, etc., and as we solved each individual one, another one would pop up. So, just take it in stride. It’ll get resolved. Remember to ask for help and listen to advice.

As my sister said, your breasts are “not a vending machine.” If you’re familiar with manufacturing technology- it’s more JIT- Just In Time. The milk can come in again, oddly, when you have just fed your baby. I was under the illusion that I had to wait until my breasts filled up, so I’d sit around for an hour or two, when I could have been expressing milk for the nanny or the partner pretty much right away. Watch out though, too much demand will cause you to overproduce which has other problems. For small-breasted women, supposedly you just nurse more frequently. The “storage” issue does tap out, but your body keeps on producing.

I took some advice that is awesome: get a good combination sleeping and nursing bra. I bought about 4 at Target, tested them out, and then bought a few of the good ones. I now have a nice cache of comfortable bras. You will need to wash and cycle through them quickly, so get more than you think you’ll need. Sleeping, casual walk around, and more activewear.

Nursing pads are great. Paper towels work in a pinch, but splurge on the real thing. Especially if you leak when your’e feeding on one side or your milk comes in randomly in the day (happened for me later on, month 2 or so).

I express milk for my partner to do a nighttime feeding, and I label it with these little post-its by date and time, so he knows how old the milk is. Then we tuck them in the middle of the fridge. He takes it out before he goes to bed around midnight, to make it room temperature by the time he feeds at around 3am. I try to get to bed by 10pm and wake at 6am, that’s right, almost 8 hours of sleep which is GOLDEN. On a bad night it’s 4–6, which is totally do-able. Find yourself a partner that is willing to do this and you’ll pretty much put up with any of their weird (and lovable, of course) idiosyncrasies.

2 ounces is OK right out of the gate. I had very inflated ideas of how much I would produce right away and felt bad, when I had no reason to be. This may seem obvious, but, if the baby is growing and happy, your level of production is OK.

Before I go to bed, I setup the nursing station with a water bottle, some juice, and cereal bars. For some reason I crave cereal when I nurse. I also have a book- paperback, fluffy- nearby. Then, the early morning feedings are easier to get into and you’re not trapped in cute jail looking longingly at your book an unreachable 10 inches away.

Try new holds. You can get RSI, and your comfort is important. Your baby will adapt, and is also learning how to hold on better, communicate when he or she is done eating, etc. Nursing out and about is *always* uncomfortable, but I did it very soon so I’d get over the feeling of never going out, and I’m glad I did. In the early days it was good for the soul to take a walk down to the ocean and leave the constant cycle of feeding/diapers. A tip on feeding out and about, is to find a chair with high armrests. You can put a sweater or blanket under one and prop the baby on that. Saves your arm muscles. Another funny tip from my sister: don’t cover baby with a blanket or your shoulder, because this is a red flag that you’re nursing and attract unwanted attention. Instead, I put the stroller in front of me, and lower my sweater subtly over my breast. I do use a dark blanket to protect him from sun or wind, but otherwise I think she’s right, it’s nice to be in a private moment and not have strangers talk to you, which happens so much, it’s unbelievable.

I certainly don’t have everything figured out- just wanted to share with new moms what I have figured out. Things we’re working on: constant spit-ups, the nipples leaking, schedules still, naps, managing work and breastfeeding. A good jog bra!

Engineer , co-founder of @pickaxemobile, bloggeuse at @banane

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