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There are a million ways breastfeeding is easy, your milk is always the perfect temperature, you don’t have to measure powders, wash bottles, it’s always with you, and it’s an instant soother for a babe that is feeling unwell or upset. But there are also a whole heap of ways that breastfeeding can be difficult and challenging. Which is why it is important to do whatever you can do to make breastfeeding easier.
One of the biggest mistakes I made was thinking breastfeeding my second baby was going to be easy, after all I’d had 15 months experience feeding my first baby, surely it’s all the same, right?
Every baby is different. Every experience is different. My two babies were both so different with their feeds. Which, when you think about it, means every mother’s experience is going to be different too. What I found difficult, you might find easy. But if we can make breastfeeding easier for ourselves then we are going to all be better for it.
So here are some of the things I have used or done to make breastfeeding easier for me, and hopefully they can work for you too.
1 – Educate Yourself
Do you know how breastmilk is made? Or how it is ejected? Do you know what a let down reflex is? What hormones are involved? Or what breastmilk is even made of?
I have to be honest, when I had my son I had absolutely no idea about breastfeeding at all. Like, none. I didn’t have any friends with babies, and I was so caught up in the health of my baby (we knew from 20 weeks he would likely need surgery when he was born and a long NICU stay) that learning about breastfeeding just didn’t even cross my mind.
Our bodies are incredible. I mean, I know you’ve probably heard that before, and we can grow humans which is phenomenal, but even the way your body responds to your baby and your milk is ejected just blows my mind.
Educating yourself about breastfeeding can help you to understand what’s happening, what’s normal and what’s not and what you should expect.
2 – See a Lactation Consultant
If you only do one thing on this list to help make breastfeeding easier, then make it this one.
Breastfeeding is a skill both you and your baby need to learn. Sure, there are some things that nature helps us out with, your babe knows the idea of latching and feeding and your breast responds to that.
How to hold your baby in order to get the best latch, how to help your baby drain each breast properly, how to tell if baby is feeding properly – these are all things we need to learn and an Lactation Consultant (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant – IBCLC) is the best person help you with this.
Having support early can be a determining factor in how successful a woman is with her breastfeeding goals.
An IBCLC can also help diagnose any potential issues you or your baby may have with feeding (such as lip tie or tongue tie) and this can be invaluable to making breastfeeding easier for you (and your baby).
3 – Relax
Many hormones play a part in the breastfeeding process, and these hormones cannot do their job properly if you are stressed or feeling anxious. Once you relax into breastfeeding, release the tension from your shoulders, take a deep breath and hold your babe close, your experience can totally change.
Don’t sit feeding you babe worrying about all the tasks that need to be done, or that the floors are dirty, or the laundry needs hanging out, or dinner needs to be made. Use it as your time to stop and breathe too. Use it as your relaxing time, something to look forward to and to take some time out from all the other things.
In the grand scheme of things, your time spent breastfeeding is just a moment, so take some deep breaths and relax.
4 – Create a ‘Breastfeeding Basket’
Particularly in the early days, it can be difficult to mobilise while breastfeeding, and once you get into the flow, you don’t want to disrupt your baby by moving to get what you need, so create a breastfeeding basket for yourself.
A breastfeeding basket is a simple basket you can carry around to wherever you need in the house that has things like a bottle of water, snacks, a phone charger, a book or magazine, a burp cloth and anything else in it you might need while you’re breastfeeding.
Then, whenever you go to feed your baby, you just grab your basket and take it with you and you have everything you need in it (or, if you forget, like I often do, then you can just ask hubby to bring you your basket instead of asking for 5 different things).
5 – Communicate To Your Husband
Everyone has different understandings and expectations when it comes to breastfeeding, which is totally normal. What your husband knows about and expects from breastfeeding may be totally different to what you know and expect, which is why it is so important to talk to him.
Talk about what you need, discuss how he can help you, talk about what you’re wanting to achieve and ask him what he wants to achieve too. When you understand each other’s goals and expectations you’re able to support and encourage each other, because it really is a team effort.
Have your husband come with you to your sessions with a Lactation Consultant and have him learn about breastfeeding and breastmilk too. Husbands can often feel a little helpless when a Mama is breastfeeding. My husband felt like he wasn’t doing enough or able to help enough because it was all on me, but when I explained what I needed and wanted and how he could help, he was all over it.
Getting your expectations, wants and needs out on the table early will help prevent any arguments later on and will help hubby feel involved too.
6 – Don’t Compare Yourself To Others
As mentioned earlier, breastfeeding is so different from Mama to Mama and from baby to baby. Just because Jane from playgroup can breastfeed her baby one-handed while chasing her toddler around doesn’t mean you have to do that.
Find out what works for you and own it. Don’t compare to others, if it’s working for you and your baby then it’s totally fine. If you’re comfortable breastfeeding in public then go for it. If you’re not, then you don’t have to do it.
Comparison is the thief of joy, and breastfeeding can be such a joyous time. Comparing to others will not make breastfeeding easier, if you’re worried something isn’t right, see a Lactation Consultant who can assess you and your baby individually.
7 – Get Comfortable
Breastfeeding can be all kinds of uncomfortable if you get yourself set in an awkward position. Sitting in a chair with no support, no armrests or no padding can lead to aches and pains, especially in your lower back and neck (which lead to headaches – not so much fun).
Invest in a comfy chair if you need to, have something to prop your arm up (I love breastfeeding pillows for support like this one, some women like the ones that wrap around completely but I found them to be uncomfortable) and sit yourself up straight, engaging your core.
Another point about comfort making breastfeeding easier is to invest in some good quality breastfeeding bra’s early. I put off buying good, supportive bras for so long this time around because I didn’t want to spend the money. I invested in two good ones last week, and when they arrived and I tried them on my boobies have never been so happy. I literally ordered 3 more that night. I purchased from a New Zealand brand called Cadenshae and I cannot recommend them highly enough. (Not even sponsored or an affiliate, they are just SO GOOD).
8 – Skin To Skin
Remember how we said breastfeeding is triggered by a series of hormones? One of these hormones is oxytocin which is triggered by your baby nursing and causes the muscles around your mammary glands to contract and helps eject milk from your breast, also known as the letdown reflex.
Oxytocin is one of those incredible hormones that does so much more. It is also known as the love hormone and can help increase bonding between a Mama and her babe, helps you feel relaxed (you might even find that breastfeeding makes you sleepy) and fires up the love and nurturing centres of our brain. It’s pretty darn potent and powerful.
But what has breastfeeding got to do with skin to skin?
Skin to skin contact with your baby can help increase the production of oxytocin, which helps your production of milk and allows your baby to feed on demand (as they need). It’s not only something that is important for the early days when you’re establishing your breastfeeding relationship, but is also good for anytime you are concerned your milk supply may have dipped, when babe is going through a growth phase and is cluster feeding, when your baby is unwell and nurses more frequently or if you go back to work and spend time away from your baby.
It’s not complicated, just remove your shirt and bra, remove your baby’s clothes and hold them close. If it’s cooler weather you can wrap a blanket around the two of you and snuggle your babe.
9 – Forget Schedules
So many people told me in the early days that I needed to get my son on a feeding schedule and that until I did, he wouldn’t sleep through the night. So naturally, being a first time Mama desperate for my baby to sleep through (don’t even get me started on that now) I tried it, and just about everything else, and guess what? It didn’t work. It caused more stress for both me and my son and it caused a dip in my milk supply.
Babies aren’t supposed to be on schedules. A breastfed baby will refuse the breast when they are full, and they will eat when they are hungry. They all feed for different times. My son would feed for at least half an hour, every single feed, my daughter is done and dusted in 10 minutes max (she is a guzzler). Some days my daughter feeds every hour, others she goes 3 – 4 hours between a feed.
Forgetting schedules doesn’t mean you wait until your baby is screaming and obviously hungry before you feed them. If we are going out and leaving the house, or if I’m going to work, I’ll feed my daughter before we leave as a bit of a top up, regardless of when she last fed. But if we are home for the day I’ll keep an eye on her feed cues and feed her as she needs it.
Responding to your baby is far less stressful for many women than worrying about how long it’s been since the last feed and how long the feed went for.
Understanding how to tell if your baby is getting enough milk (again, a Lactation Consultant can help you with this) will mean you don’t have to stress about times or volume and will make breastfeeding easier for you and for your baby.
10 – Know That It Gets Easier
I’m going to be completely honest, there are times when breastfeeding is really hard. There have been a number of times when I have just sat and cried and thought perhaps I should just give up, that I must be doing something wrong. But each and every one of those moments passes, and the next day my daughter holds my hand while feeding and pops her foot up against my chest (or in my face) and I know that everything is okay again.
It gets easier.
The first few weeks of breastfeeding is hard. You’re learning about your baby, getting to know them and what works for the two of you. And by around week 3 you get into a bit of a groove. And it’s good. And by month 3 you have it down pat and feeling like a pro. And by 11 months your not so little baby can feed standing up, bent over with their butt in the air while dancing to The Wiggles.
When you’re having a bad day, when breastfeeding is difficult and rough, remind yourself ‘it gets easier’.
11 – Nourish Yourself
There’s no kind of hungry like a tired, breastfeeding Mama hungry. But when you’re tired and hungry and your defences are down and you’re hormones are all over the place the things we crave (like donuts, all the donuts) aren’t exactly the healthiest options.
Sure, give yourself some grace and don’t’ stress too much about the donut you have after lunch, but do make sure the food you are eating other than the occasional treat is super nourishing.
Eating healthy makes you feel good, and when you feel good everything is easier, breastfeeding including. Keep yourself hydrated, eat good food including food with good fats and eat enough food.
On average breastfeeding Mama’s need an extra 300 – 500 calories a day to cover the extra calories used when breastfeeding. Some Mama’s make the mistake of trying to restrict their diet in the hopes that breastfeeding will help them quickly return to their pre-pregnancy weight.
But the thing is, if you’re not eating enough, you run the risk of decreasing your milk supply, so make sure you’re getting enough nourishing food in your diet and keep some healthy, quick to eat snacks on hand for when the munchies really kick in.
While breastfeeding can be a challenge, preparing yourself and making a few little tweaks can be the few things that make breastfeeding easier for you. See which of these work for you and remember, this is your breastfeeding experience, make sure it works for you and your baby.