Updated: Jun 25
There are a few important things I’d like to state right-off-the-bat:
Breastfeeding is one of the best health gifts you can give to yourself and your baby.
Your body WANTS to feed your baby - it was designed to do so.
BREASTFEEDING IS NOT ALWAYS EASY.
I had lofty breastfeeding goals with my first baby but I didn’t have any support. And you know what? IT. DIDN’T. WORK. By our first pediatrician check up he’d lost enough weight to be concerning and rather than assessing the cause of his weight lost, the doctor immediately recommended supplementing with formula. Not knowing any better and having no resources available, I complied. And the more formula I gave him, the less milk I produced. Inside of a week our breastfeeding relationship came to an end - a loss I still lamment.
So, when I was pregnant with my second child, I searched for all the breastfeeding resources I could find. I was determined to make it work. My husband and I took a couples breastfeeding class which helped him learn how he can help support breastfeeding and I started attending monthly breastfeeding support meetings while I was still pregnant. I sought out midwifery care providers rather than standard hospital/pediatric care for in-home postpartum check-ups for myself and my daughter so that we wouldn’t have to interrupt breastfeeding to attend well-child-check ups. I talked with an herbalist for teas and tinctures to support healthy lactation. I hired a postpartum doula who could help support us in the early weeks. And, I requested donor milk through my birth doula to have on hand in case it took longer than expected for my milk to come in.
And you know what? WE DID IT.
Look at it again. I said “we”. We - me and my baby. The two of us AND our support team. It takes a village. So, the first thing you need to do if you want to breastfeed successfully is...
Build a Support Team
Start with your care providers. Make sure that whoever will be helping you birth your baby will be ready to support your breastfeeding relationship in the first hours and days of your baby’s life. Make sure that the pediatrician you’ll be seeing to care for your baby is ready to support you in the first months and years of your baby’s life. The support of these providers is crucial to the success of your breastfeeding relationship. If your providers aren’t committed to making breastfeeding work, then you’ll feel pressure from them if there are bumps in the road and you don’t need that.
Join a Breastfeeding Support GrouP
Do it while you’re pregnant. Surround yourself with women who are also committed to building this relationship with your little one. You’ll need them to answer questions for you when they pop up.
Check out La Leche League USA to find in-person support groups near you or the La Leche League International Support Group on Facebook
Find a postpartum doula
Tons of mamas don’t even know that these angels exist. Postpartum doulas come into your home to support you in the first weeks of your life as a new family. They will help you troubleshoot any feeding issues you have, take care of your kids, house, pets, meals so that you can relax and nurse your baby. They’ll help you try out different holds or positions to make feeding easier and more comfortable for you. Some even have personal experience that will allow them to advise you as a peer. And, they’re networked in the birth community to help you find a Lactation Consultant or other support person if things aren’t getting off to a clean start. Check out doulamatch.net
Take a Breastfeeding Class
Bonus points if it’s:
couples friendly to get your partner engaged in the relationship
taught by a Certified Lactation Consultant, Breastfeeding Counselor, or Breastfeeding Educator that you can contact later for tips, troubleshooting, and support
and hosted in a location that provides follow up support in the form of a support group
It takes time for your milk to come in. It takes time to establish your milk supply. It takes time for you and your baby to learn the ropes
Prepare yourself in as many ways as you can before you're in the thick of it. When you’re an exhausted, sleep-deprived, healing new mama is not the time to start learning. If you can’t find an in-person class in your area, Lactation Link offers online courses and support.
I’m hopeful that proper time, education, and support will be enough to get you and your baby off to a good start. And, if you’re lucky enough to be one of those abundant producers - bless you. But that isn’t me. If you’re like me, you’re doing everything you can to support your supply and all you can manage to do is get through the day. I’m definitely not sitting on stores of frozen breastmilk. Most of the time, I pump exactly what my baby needs for the time she’s apart from me. But here’s what I want you to know about that - ITS OK.
If all you’re doing is feeding your baby, that’s ENOUGH. You don’t need to be pumping 12 ounces a session (or even 5 ounces) and freezing bags upon bags of extra milk a day. If you can, GREAT. If you can’t, you’re feeding your baby. And that’s perfect.
If you feel like you need to boost your supply, here are some of the most effective ways I’ve found to do it:
I won’t prescribe an amount here. Some camps say you should drink literally gallons of water a day, others will say that you should drink to thirst. I will say that once I returned to work and started pumping more frequently, I noticed a significant and immediate impact of water consumption on my milk output. I drink a quart of water each time I pump.
I don’t care how you do it but the most important thing to remember about milk supply is that it works on the principle of supply and demand, so the more you ask your body to make, the more supply it will give you. You should be expressing every 2-3 hours (roughly 8-12 times a day). So if your baby is asleep and you don’t want to wake them, pump. If you don't have an electric pump, try a manual pump (Haakaa) or learn about hand expression. But no amount of water or supplements can help you if you’re not expressing your milk.
If, after a few weeks, you still feel like you need a boost, try natural lactation teas or supplements. Remember, most women don’t need these, but many women report benefits from them. Stick with natural herbs when you can. Talking with a local herbalist is your best bet so they can give you recommendations based on your unique situation. If that’s not possible, Legendairy Milk and Euphoric Herbals make good quality capsules, teas, and tinctures.
When I was breastfeeding my first child, I felt overwhelmed by how frequently he wanted to eat and assumed that I wasn’t making enough milk. One of the things I wish someone had told me is that it is normal for newborns to want to nurse almost constantly. So, make whatever plans you need to support you and your baby while you’re establishing a nursing relationship.
And as I began this journey with my second babe, one of the most helpful things to me what knowing that most babies only eat 2.5-4 ounces of milk at a sitting for the first six months. AND, their tiny tummies aren’t even that big until the end of the first month!! So who cares if I’m only pumping 4 ounces of milk?! That’s ENOUGH. And so are you, mama.
If you liked this article or you're looking for birth or lactation support near Farmville, Virginia, check out this author, Carlie's website: www.wellroundedwomancare.com
If you need some urgent troubleshooting, here's a really helpful video called Attaching Your Baby at the Breast.
Also check out the Postpartum Wellness Toolkit to help you plan for optimal healing and support during the first weeks with your little one.
If you are planning to breastfeed, currently having trouble, or an experienced pro, please share below or join our Facebook community, Intuitive Birth & Motherhood.