Shae O'Brien is an English teacher, writer, wife, and mother to three beautiful girls. She takes life with a grain of salt and two spoonfuls of sugar! Please be sure to follow her on www.facebook.com/catholicmamablog.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The First 24 Hours of Breastfeeding

A friend of mine sent me a message asking about breastfeeding this morning. She is less than 24 hours into her breastfeeding journey, and I am so proud of her already! (By the way, congratulations on your beautiful baby girl!) I started my breastfeeding journey on August 4th, 2011, and my friend's message suddenly got me thinking back to my first experiences as a new mother and milk maker. I was so excited, nervous, and downright naive about what breastfeeding entailed and how to be successful at it. Truth be told, those first 24 hours were a huge wake up call to me! So, to assist my friend in this new and beautiful part of motherhood, and to help any moms-to-be or brand new mommies out there, I decided to make a list of things to know for those first glorious (sleepless) hours of breastfeeding...

Learning to breastfeed is NOT the most natural thing in the world. 

Oh yes, breastfeeding is natural. You hear all the pro-BFing advocates out there talking about "breast is best" and "it's the most natural thing in the world since the beginning of time!" I get that. But LEARNING to breastfeed is a process. If it comes naturally to you, it is a miracle of God. If it doesn't, please don't freak out! You are in the majority here. It is important to remember that while your body was made for this, you've still never done it before. Also, it is the first thing (EVER!) that your baby will learn how to do. That's kind of a big deal. So, take a deep breath. It is ok if it takes time, help, and practice. Don't feel like a failure if your first thought is more "Oh God, this hurts like heck!" than "Thank you God for this miracle of life." It's a learning process.

Get the Latch right! 

This is a great follow up to number one because, frankly, nobody mentions the technical term "latch" until the baby is already rooting for food. Once you do learn what it is, you realize that in order to correct said infant, you'd have to somehow UNlatch him or her and RElatch. And if you are anything like I was, then you truly believe it would be better for baby to stay on there sucking incorrectly than to go through the pain of latching ever again. Trust me when I say, you want to get the latch right. I did not get the latch right. I pretended it didn't hurt. I was afraid of each feeding because of the pain. And because I didn't fix the latch, my nipples bruised and bled, and my breastfeeding experience was something I feared and resented for the first two days. You want to get that latch right, and if you don't know how then request a Lactation Consultant immediately. (Yes, I do mean the moment you realize you need one.) But once you do have the latch right, please know...

Yes, it is supposed to hurt. 

I know people have told you that if you do it right it will feel right...Well, they're wrong. It is normal for it to hurt at first, and by "at first" I mean the first month or so (maybe longer). Your nipples were created for this, but just like any part of your body, it takes time for them to get used to this kind of work. So, the most important thing you can do is care for your nipples. My hospital gave me lanolin cream, which worked great for me. I simply covered my nipples in it after each feeding and let them air dry. Ask your nurse or lactation consultant for some nipple care products. Keep your hospital robe unbuttoned, and don't be afraid to fan your nipples or ask your helper to blow on them a little if it helps the pain. If you plan to have a lot of visitors in the hospital, you may either let your freak flag fly or ask them to come back after you've had a chance to air them out. It does indeed make a huge difference between tender nipples and dry, cracked, bleeding ones.

Also, breastfeeding in the first few days or weeks will cause contractions or cramping in your uterus. This is normal, so don't worry, but do prepared to deal with that extra little experience as well. 

It takes days for your milk to come in. 

Many women immediately succumb to the idea of supplementing (giving baby formula) during the first 24 hours because of a fear of "lack of production". I am here to assure you, most women's milk takes days to come in. When your baby is born, your breasts immediately begin to produce colostrum, which is a super drink packed with newborn nutrients. It doesn't seem like you make a lot, and the reason for this is that your baby has an itty, bitty, newborn stomach that doesn't require quantity but quality. Don't be frustrated if it takes a few days for your milk to arrive. If baby sucks it, milk will come.

Even if baby can't latch, you can still feed. 

There are a variety of reasons baby may be unable to feed directly from you. You may have gone into labor prematurely, and your little one may need to stay in NICU. Your baby may be like mine was and have jaundice, requiring him or her to stay under UV rays all day. Your milk may take longer to come in than expected. Your baby may also be tongue tied (yes, that's an actual term) and have difficulty latching. This does not mean you cannot breastfeed. It does mean that you may need to become best friends with your breast pump. Don't have one, you say? No worries! Hospitals have them and can bring one to your room for you to pump milk and feed it to baby via tube or curved syringe if needed. (Ask your nurse or pediatrician how it would be best to go about feeding little one.) Breast pumps are not the real thing, so you may feel like you produce less when pumping, which is ok. Just pump as much as baby would eat (about every couple hours), and ask your hospital for assistance in refrigerating or freezing your supply. 

Sleep will from now on be replaced by many many naps. 

This is true for all mothers, but even more so for breastfeeding mothers. This is because if a baby is formula feeding, then a helper could feed him or her while you get a somewhat normal stretch of sleep. But as a breastfeeding mama, your milk can only be offered by you. So, you will feel exhausted and barely sane. It is important that if you have a helper (spouse, family member, friend), you let them take on as much of the other stuff as you can. If baby needs a diaper change, let them do it. If visitors need hosting, let them do it. Your job is to recover from delivering an entire human being and to learn how to feed said human being. Period. (And snuggle and adore said human being, too, of course.)

There is more than one position to feed in.

This one really blew my mind the first day. I assumed Hollywood had really taught me everything I need to know about breastfeeding. Cradle baby in arms, slip out breast gracefully and without nip showing, and baby will magically begin to eat. Hollywood was wrong. 

As it turns out, there are many positions, and your baby may latch better and eat longer in one over the other. Take the time to try different positions out and see what works best for your comfort and theirs. In most cases it will make breastfeeding easier and more successful for you and baby.

Pillows! Pillows! Pillows!

When you first hold that precious little bundle of joy, you stare in awe at how tiny your baby is! But after a good 30 minute feeding, you begin to feel just how heavy six pounds and 11 ounces can really be. If you do not already have a Boppy or Breast Friend pillow, you can have your helper pick one up for you to have when you get home. Until then, do not be afraid to ask for a plethora of pillows to stack up around you to make breastfeeding more comfortable. Note that in the picture above, every mother has a pillow. I used two! This takes the pressure (both literally and figuratively) off of you holding the baby, and refocuses it where it belongs--on learning to feed your little one.

So, after learning all of this, you may wonder why you weren't told about the hardship and horror of breastfeeding before you started. The truth is, most mothers don't remember this part. Yes, it hurt at first. Yes, it caused tears and stress and doubt. But the part that matters, the part that mothers do remember, is that it was worth it. I am currently breastfeeding my third daughter, and because I work this requires the added stress of pumping, but I never thought about not doing it. (Ok, maybe once at 3am when I'd been up for 24 hours straight I thought about it once.) There is something so incredible about the miracle of breastfeeding. Not all mothers get the opportunity to do it. If you can, be grateful. And if this is what you want, stick with it. There is nothing in the world quite like it.

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