How-To: Practical Tips for Breastfeeding Success

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In spite of
my apparent bitterness about the breastfeeding establishment, I loved
breastfeeding my son.  I can’t sing its praises high enough and I know I
will breastfeed all of my children.  Not only is breastfeeding close and
tender and healthy and sweet, it is cheap, convenient and fab for your
metabolism—not to mention a fun boost for the décolletage, too.  They
don’t call it a milkshake for nuthin’, girl. 

But I
have a laundry list of things I wish I’d known when I’d started and found out
too late.  If you’re expecting your first and your girlfriends haven’t
dished, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about—just pop that kiddo
on and gas ‘em up, right?  But as it turns out, breastfeeding might not be
as easy as you would think and feeding in general is the lynchpin of your
child’s universe.  As such, it affects every critical aspect of your early
existence together, from sleep (oh, sleep!), to your enjoyment of activities
other than your babe and your ability to get out the door in a somewhat timely
fashion. 

I don’t
pretend to be a breastfeeding expert, but I’ve done it for roughly 14 months so
far and this is the advice I give to friends and that I’m going to try with
this new babe from the get-go.


1.) Introduce
a bottle at 4 or 5 weeks – And Keep it Up!
  Look down the line, a few
months ahead, say three months from now. .  .  I know it’s hard to
imagine, but after several weeks of thrice nightly wakings, the 20th
call from your neglected best friend, or a bizarre stirring that compels you to
spend time alone with your partner, you may in fact want to leave your child’s
side for more than two or three hours.  You need to have your kid on a
bottle for such occasions—for your sanity, the sanity of your chosen caregiver
and for your child’s comfort and safety.  A lot of information out there
recommends waiting until your baby is 6 weeks old to introduce a bottle, citing
possible nipple confusion as the reason.  Well, for many kids (like my
dear boy), 6 weeks is too late.  By that time, some babies have already
developed strong preferences, dug in their tiny, perfect heels, and they agree
the breast is best!  Once that is done, you’ll experience baby rage on
levels you never thought possible from your sweet angel when you try to get him
on a bottle in preparation for a good friend’s wedding or a romantic
getaway.  With that said, only introduce a bottle once you’re comfortable
with your breastfeeding routine, by 4 or 5 weeks (if it’s just not jiving, get
yourself to a lactation consultant and keep going back until it gels if you
want to stick with it).  And here’s the really, direly important part:
keep giving your child a bottle at least two or three times a week, every week,
without fail.
  Even babies can backslide, sister.

2.) Stretch
Out Your Babe’s Feeding Schedule After a Few Months.
  I know, I
know, feeding on demand is the mantra and even suggesting this could be
considered heretical in some circles.  And it is true, many babies do
consolidate their feeding schedules on their own, but many, like mine, do
not.  For me, this meant I was a 24-hour 7-11 for several months,
resulting in boob burnout, sleep deprivation and a lot of resentment towards my
non-lactating husband.  In desperation, I once Googled “male lactation,”
and upon discovering it's actually possible (check out this blog post "Fact: Men Can Breastfeed"l!),
I unsuccessfully tried to convince my husband that it would be a good bonding
experience for him and the boy.  If it doesn’t seem like your man’s
interested in lactating and your kid isn't moving in the direction of
consolidating his feedings, you might want to think about helping your babe
stretch those feedings out after a few months.  I found a lot of great
information (though a bit too late) in Your Child’s Health,
which has a whole chapter about the prevention of sleep problems (often
food-related) and general feeding guidelines broken down by age, including how
much and when babes need to eat.  Caveat: if your child is having weight
gain issues, don’t take anyone’s advice but your doctor’s.  However, once
I started edging my guy towards a schedule (much, much later than I will with
the babe I am now expecting), whole new possibilities opened up for us.  I
found new ways to soothe him and our relationship blossomed through different
connections that we still have even though he’s been weaned from the breast,
like cuddling, reading, singing and listening to music.  And best of all,
he started sleeping longer stretches, then all through the night, resulting in
a more rested, sane and happy mommy, which never can be a bad thing. 


3.) Try Not to Nurse Your Baby to Sleep Every
Time He Goes to Bed.

 This is a hard one.  Truly, I know, there is nothing sweeter than
your dearest offspring gliding to dreamland in your arms with a tummy full of
warm mommy milk.  The sigh of sweet baby breath, the dense warmth that
relaxes into your arms as he nods off, the surge of motherly love as you look
down and realize how very quickly time passes.  It’s a sensation I would
never want anyone to deny themselves, but it’s one that I will certainly take
advantage of much less with my second babe.  What I have found with my own
breastfeeding-enthusiast son is that, when I nursed him to sleep every night,
the habit soon turned into his one-and-only sleep aid.  After all, I have
to agree, nursing does seem far superior to going back to sleep on one’s own,
rocking, cuddling, singing, etc., but that takes its toll, obviously.  I
had read that I should not nurse my child to sleep, but reading a story book to
a newborn can feel like an exercise in futility, and I had no idea what else to
do with a bean bag of a zonked baby after nursing until it was much too
late.  Here’s what I’m going to try this time around, courtesy of Gina
Ford's The New Contented Little Baby Book: after nursing, keep
the lights on low and put your babe in his bouncy chair while you pick up the
room.  After about 10-15 minutes, you can put him to bed with kisses and
cuddles.  Ford also has some great sample schedules which, while too
regimented for me, were a good jumping-off point to understand when, what, how
much and at what ages those schedules are likely to change or need
adjustment.  Another tactic that worked for me with my older baby was to
nurse, then sit him up on my lap, groggy or not, and read him a book or two
between breast and bed.  After four or five days of fuss, he started
eagerly anticipating story time, it helped break the boob/bed association
almost immediately and within a few weeks he was sleeping much longer
stretches, then through the night.  Ahhhh. . . relief.


4.) Pump Early, Pump Often!  If you are or
think you may be returning to work, going on vacation without your little one,
want to use a babysitter or have your partner give your babe bottles and you
want it to be breast milk, start pumping early and pump often.  Not only
is it good to get into a routine of pumping as soon as possible to get in the
habit, it makes pumping easier in the long run, because your milk supply is at
its highest during the first two weeks after delivery.  If you pump every
day, your milk supply will remain at a level that can support both nursing and
pumping and you won't constantly be playing a game of catch-up or feel like you
have to horde your milk (aka liquid gold).  Don’t worry about having too
much milk—it is infinitely easier to drop a feeding/pump session than it is to
add one later.  For example, when our son was seven months old, good
friends of ours planned a no-babies wedding in Chicago.  We desperately
wanted to go, so I started pumping two months in advance and, having only
pumped sporadically, it was like squeezing water from rocks.  I started
taking some foul-tasting “more milk” supplements to increase my milk supply,
and it worked, but it was agonizing and stressful.  My dear son, by the
way, barely drank a drop whilst I was gone (that whole pesky not-taking-a-bottle-thing),
and my mom ended up dumping it all. . . bummer.  Also, don't cheap out on
your pump.  Buy the best one you can afford.  I didn't realize how
important having a good pump was and lived to regret it, spending like, $500 total
on two pumps.  Ouch.  So many things I’d rather spend $500 on than a
milking machine. . . My first pump was an Ameda Purely Yours, which
sucked (ha) and was impossible to find parts for.  My second, and probably
the best pump on the market, was a Medela Pump in Style
The difference in speed and suction was night and day and Medela parts can be
found in virtually any store carrying baby stuff, including Target and
BabieRus.  If you can't afford the $280 price tag, consider renting, or
take care to find a pump that has readily available parts (you would not
believe how those little bits go missing–it is truly maddening), or visit the
Medela website to find other lower-priced options.  If you feel like you
can't afford the admittedly hefty price tag but you're considering buying a
Bugaboo, Micralite, Quinny or other high-end stroller, I'd say that like me, it
is possible that you might be getting caught up in the "fun" stuff a
little too much and maybe the baby shopping list should be re-prioritized a
tinsy bit : )      

5.) Your Body is Amazing—You Can Breastfeed
As Much or as Little as You Want. 
Maybe I’m the only person who didn’t know
this but I think I’ll share some more anyway: it’s possible to breastfeed as
much or as little as you care to (on a daily basis).  I thought
breastfeeding was all or nothing, either you do it full time or not at all, and
this factor did play some part in my decision not to return to work.  But
as it turns out, you can replace all but one or two daily feedings with bottle
feedings if you like.  If you want to return to work and continue breastfeeding
your child and say, don’t have the privacy, patience or motivation to pump
several times a day, you can keep just your morning or nighttime (or any you so
choose) feeding.  You’ll need to be vigilant about those feedings,
however, as your milk can dry up in as little as two days if you’re not nursing
regularly.  I'm not sure if this information would have changed my
decision about working or not, but I think breastfeeding is little understood
(or at least it was, by me) and this is a good tidbit to have. 

Well,
that’s my top-five list of things to do different from the start with the babe
I’m expecting now.  I can’t say I’m 100% certain it will all work—every
baby is different after all.  But once I found out about these ideas
through trial, error and desperation and implemented them during my son’s later
babyhood, these tips worked wonders for our household, so I’m pretty hopeful.
 

 

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