I think we’ve established that even if it goes well, or starts off easy, breastfeeding is hard. freaking. work.
I read something in the depths of a 3am feed that resonated with me hard. Breastfeeding is a new skill you’re learning and simultaneously teaching to someone who has never done it before. So why the heck are we expecting perfection out of this? And why don’t we spend more time talking about all things feeding?! I was lucky to have a supportive and informative support system to lean on and I still found myself with a thousand questions. As a result, I have done a TON of
googling research over the past few months and have found some really helpful information along the way. I’m hoping this will save you from having to do your own 2am googling or last minute panic search!
So here’s the first post in our new Sh*t I wish I knew series – the lowdown on breastfeeding. Be warned – there is a lot of information in this post! My hope is that you’ll bookmark this and come back to it whenever you have a question or run into something new!
Have a plan
Lots of families I know, myself included, think about having a birth plan where you can lay out your desires, hopes for the day and think through what you’re going to do if/when something goes wrong. I recently read a post about doing the same thing for breastfeeding and it blew. my. mind. Of course we should do this! I wish I’d heard of a breastfeeding plan when I was pregnant because I was really blindsided by some of the things that went wrong and the emotional toll that it took on me. I did so much work to prepare for birth but almost nothing to prepare for breastfeeding – aside from understanding that it would probably be hard in the beginning but thought I’d be able to muddle my way through. Having a plan can help you to really think through scenarios that might arise on your breastfeeding journey and have some idea of how you may want to manage them. Of course, just like giving birth you won’t know what it will actually be like until you’re in the moment but at least you have a baseline of information to pull from – and hopefully this post can help with that!
Things to help your boobs feel like they won’t fall off
Okay so I’d vaguely heard utterances that nipple cream is an important thing to stock up but grossly underestimated it’s importance until day two of Eli’s life, when I remembered I left the nipple cream at home🤦🏼♀️It doesn’t matter how great the latch is, this is something your body is getting used to so save yourself and pack some in your hospital bag (and yes be prepared to actually have to stay in a hospital when you’re packing your bag… another lesson learned). I went with the standard Lansinoh lanolin, but there are so many great options out there – the important thing is to look for something that is breastfeeding safe (so you’re not constantly applying and wiping it off before a feed). Trust me, it will be SO helpful. Also ask your doctor for a prescription for All Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO). It’s a compound and it is amazing. It’s stronger than Lanolin if you’re really hurting and was a saviour during the first few weeks. It does have a steroid in it so you should use it sparingly but it is safe for breastfeeding.
Pick up some comfortable nursing bras in two sizes (your current one and a size larger) because you just never know where those boobs are going to end up. And avoid underwire if possible – they can cause clogged ducts and are just not comfortable, especially in the early days when your boobs are constantly sore!
This isn’t something I personally tried but apparently if your boobs are really hurtin’ you should stick some cold cabbage leaves in your bra! Yes seriously. I have friends who had this recommended to them at breastfeeding clinics and by their physicians – it was something both my midwife and doula told me about too. It’s supposed to help reduce inflammation and discomfort around engorgement – worth a shot, right?!
Gear to help make your life a little bit easier
Nursing pads, especially when your milk is coming in and you’re wondering if there will ever be a time when you don’t soak through your shirts (motherhood is SO glamourous you guys). If you can it’s totally worth spending a few extra dollars on some nice, washable pads. Disposable ones are great to have on hand but I found they were often plastic and didn’t breathe well – and in some cases can get stuck (ouch!). My personal favourites are the bamboo cotton ones by Bamboobies. Heavenly. Pro tip – buy more than you think you need (especially of the overnight ones).
Speaking of underoo items, if you think you’re going to pump pick up a pumping bra. The first time I rocked a hands-free pumping sessh it blew my mind (and made me wonder why I didn’t pick up a few of these bad boys sooner). There are a few different options you can try – you can rock a full on bustier situation, like this guy from Medela (so you don’t need a bra) or something like this Bravado one that attaches to your nursing bra. I’ve used both and love them equally – and they are super soft!
On the list of things you don’t need but are a nice to have – a bottle warmer. Hindsight being what it is, this is the one I wish I bought – you can warm up freezer bags in it instead of having to thaw them/transfer to a bottle (brilliant) and later use the bags as pouches for baby food on the go.
But the best breastfeeding (and maybe gear in general) purchase I’ve made? The Haaka (also on Amazon). I’ve linked to the one I bought – it’s the perfect amount (not to small but not so big it gets in the way while feeding) and it has a suction base so when you inevitably knock it with your arm while trying to wrangle a squirmy baby it stays put (because it’s totally worth crying over spilt milk). You pop this guy on while you’re feeding (whichever side you’re not feeding from) and instead of leaking through your shirts, it will collect excess milk that you can store and use for later! Even if you don’t pump this can help you collect enough for a bottle/freezer stash🙌🏻 Another amazing thing about the Haaka? If you ever end up with a clogged duct it can help – put a tablespoon of Epsom salt in it, fill it with warm water, suction it onto the breast with the clog (making sure your nipple is in the water) and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. If you get nothing else for yourself, buy this.
The random things you’ll end wondering/googling
Should I take supplements or drink all the teas? Totally up to you! I started out drinking a lot of Mother’s Milk Tea – Traditional Medicinals and Earth Mama were my go-to’s. They taste better than they smell, I promise. These really helped in my early days and I really enjoyed the ritual of sitting down with a cup of hot tea. When my supply started to decrease I tried MotherLove supplements as well. I eventually found that the teas I was drinking and supplements I was taking were hurting my stomach, which is when I discovered Fenugreek, a common milk booster (aka a galactagogue), is a legume, which I have issues digesting. So I decided to try Legendairy Milk, which are Fenugreek free – it wasn’t the cheapest solution and took a while to get here (they are based in the US) but I heard so many stories of women with low supply issues who used these and they saved their breastfeeding journey – so I was hella hopeful (people seriously LOVE their stuff). I went with their bestseller bundle – while supplements and teas didn’t end up helping me, these ones definitely saved my poor tum while I was trying everything I could to save our breastfeeding journey. Supplements and teas work so differently for so many people so it is definitely worth trying a few and seeing what works for you. I also highly recommend the Legendairy Milk Instagram page – it is an incredible resource.
Wondering about how to store breastmilk? I spent so much time googling this so save yourself some time and bookmark this info from the Mayo Clinic on storage and this on freezing/unfreezing milk. Sidebar, but if you unfreeze your breastmilk and it smells off – it’s totally normal.
Also, here’s some helpful info on all things breastfeeding. This is the clinic I went to – they really know what they’re doing. They even gave us minor positioning adjustments to make Eli’s latch even better and taught us all about compressions during feeds. They are SUPER breast is best so just remember that when you’re reading this.
Pumping/bottle feeding? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered too!
Firstly – if you don’t want to buy a pump, I GET IT. I had one passed down to me and it hadn’t even occurred to me to think of getting one. And they are expensive! But here’s a pro tip – you can rent one from the hospital. Seriously. Plus the hospital-grade pumps are the best – they are the top of the line, with the best suction which means you spend less time pumping with a greater output. So before you shell out your hard earned money on something you’re not sure you’ll use, see if you can rent one instead. I actually ended up pumping way more often and for longer than I expected to, so it can be nice to have thate option.
At first pumping can help you with your milk supply so don’t be afraid to do it, but talk to your health care provider for some tips – it can help boost your supply but you don’t want to deal with oversupply either so it’s a balance that will be catered to your specific situation! I didn’t pump much at first because I was afraid of oversupply (ha!) but most people recommend a 10 minute pump sessh to get things going. If you deliver in a hospital ask a nurse to show you how to use your pump (my nurse set up both the let down and suction setting, which was so helpful). If you’re at home or in a birth centre and you have a midwife ask them – if they don’t know reach out to a mom friend 🙂 Don’t be afraid to play with the best time to pump for you. Initially I started out pumping after the second morning feed, but our lactation consultant recommended I move my pumping sessh to the dream feed (which we were using a bottle for). She felt that Eli was intentionally leaving some milk behind, which I was then pumping out and making it harder for myself to refill. This is such a personal thing so you’ve got to figure out what works best for you.
Pro tip – if you’re pumping but not bottle feeding right away, you have excess milk or are just pumping to create a freezer stash, store your milk in 2-3 ounce amounts. This way, when you dip into your freezer stash you can piece together the exact amount of milk you need for a bottle vs unfreezing a large amount, having your baby not use it all and having to throw it out (sad!).
Definitely pick up replacement parts for your pump – you can usually find everything you need on Amazon. I recommend picking up some extra bottles and freezer bags – these are the Medela, which you can pump RIGHT into! I was given a bunch of Lansinoh freezer bags, so I used those but I need to transfer milk from the bottle I pumped into, into the bag, which was annoying and had a high spillage risk. I also highly recommend picking up some steam bags. You’ll need to boil your parts when you first get them and then you can wash them with soap and water afterwards but it’s a good idea to steam them once a week.
Important lesson – you do NOT have to sterilize or steam clean the tubing (I spent a TON of time trying to figure this out until I found it in the updated version of my pump guide on the Medela website). As long as there is no condensation or milk spots in the tubing you are good to go. If you spot some just buy replacement tubing. I tried to clean it and I ruined the tubing.
Introducing a bottle was a game changer for us – it gave Paul and Eli a new way to bond and gave me a much needed break. We started with a time that Paul could routinely make work, which was an evening feed. Key learning – when we first started I wasn’t pumping during this feed, which is definitely something I should have done to help keep my supply up. There are many schools of thoughts on when you should introduce a bottle if you’re breastfeeding, so do your research, talk to your health care provider and make the decision that works best for you. We waited for 7.5 weeks because I wanted to make sure breastfeeding was very well established and didn’t want Eli to get a preference for the bottle. Paul had also just gone back to work so it was great timing to build in some extra bonding/snuggle time for him.
If you’re planning to breastfeed with an occasional bottle use a “low flow” nipple (yes there are different nipple sizes – this blew my mind). When we first started we were using bottles with a two-hole nipple (labelled for babies 0-3 months) and Eli would get SUPER fussy when we’d take him off the bottle and usually during the next breastfeed. This is because the milk was flowing SO much easier for him from the bottle. So general advice is stick to a one hole nipple (which can be labeled as a 0-3 month, newborn or even premie nipple – I know, so confusing). We wanted him to be used to the idea that he has to work for milk no matter where it comes from. Once Eli started getting the majority of his feeds from a bottle we started using the two-hole nipple that came with the larger bottles we got.
Another bottle recommendation that blew my mind? Look for a bottle with a natural shaped nipple (or something that’s similar-ish to yours).
Just a reminder…
…if for whatever reason you end up needing to use or supplement with formula, just know that’s okay!!! You just need to feed your baby – trust me, it’s not worth sacrificing your mental health. As someone told me if mamma goes down, everyone goes down. But you are going to be AMAZING no matter what!!!
Also keep and eye on your supply when your partner goes back to work/your support system leaves and also around the three month mark – most women I’ve talked to and read about saw their supply dip around these times. Staying hydrated is surprisingly key (if I didn’t drink enough water it would impact how much I got when I pumped!).
Also this is meant to be informative so don’t let this scare you – it may be complicated but it could also be really straightforward. And no matter what you’re going to find what works best for you and your baby.
Any pro tips you learned from breastfeeding, pumping or bottle feeding? Did this help you at all? Let me know in the comments below!