Getting through the first eight weeks of breastfeeding is without a doubt the hardest phase!
If you’re looking for tips – whether you’re pregnant or just had a baby – on how to get through this tricky period of motherhood, you’ve come to the right place.
There are so many things that I wish I had known about breastfeeding before I had my first baby. Our breastfeeding journey came to an end sooner than I would have liked.
My daughter and I just could not get the latch right, and I think she found my letdown way too much (she was drowning in milk, poor thing). We struggled to get in sync with each other and eventually I exclusively pumped for the first five months. This was a good solution for a mother who wanted to breastfeed their baby, but it was time-consuming and I would avoid doing this again for my own sanity.
There are several issues that I think contributed to my not being able to breastfeed my youngest baby:
Diamorphine during labour. I had two shots of diamorphine during my labour. This painkiller does pass to your baby, and makes them very drowsy. As a result she was extremely sleepy at birth and struggled to latch on effectively immediately after birth. In the end I fed her with a syringe of expressed breast milk for the first two days and then used a bottle. She didn’t recover from the drowsiness for several days, and by this point she was more used to the bottle than the boob.
My own struggle with the latch. I just couldn’t figure out where her mouth was supposed to go, how I was supposed to hold her and what a good latch was meant to feel like. It really is a brand new skill, and it’s a tricky one to get exactly right.
Introduction of the bottle early. We had to feed my baby, so I feel no guilt about using the bottle early on (in fact my youngest had a bottle from day two and it did her no harm). However I think she got used to eating from a bottle, and opted for that instead of the boob because the flow was so much easier to deal with.
Strong letdown. I used the pump from day two after giving birth and I went way over the top with it. I was pumping every hour! This led to oversupply, and sent my letdown (the reflex where you breast tenses to squeeze out the milk from the milk ducts) into overdrive. My little one got very upset whenever she was feeding and experienced the letdown. This meant there were a lot of tears during feeding and breastfeeding was never a pleasant experience.
With this knowledge, when I went on to feed my second daughter, I found it so much easier.
I knew what a good latch looked like, having watched a million YouTube videos, I was better at holding the baby in a comfortable position and I had mentally accepted breastfeeding would hurt, and be very difficult in the early weeks.
If you want to breastfeed, I believe it’s getting through the first eight weeks that is the absolute toughest bit. If you can get through those early weeks, the chances are you will succeed at feeding for much longer than that.
I’ve done so much reading on this subject, and wish I had known all of this when I first started out! I can’t turn back the clock, but I can share it with you lovely fellow mamas!
Before we get to the tips, I just want to say that above all else, the absolute best thing you can do in the early weeks is feed, feed and feed some more.
Do not have a routine for breastfeeding in the first eight weeks, just feed on demand. If you think your baby is comfort nursing, let them. This will be the best thing you can do for your milk supply.
Before I get to the tips, there are 11 ways you can prepare for breastfeeding while you are still pregnant over on this post!
Just a quick note, this post contains affiliate links. These are links to products I love, have used and genuinely recommend. If you make a purchase, I receive a small slice of the fee but it does NOT cost you any more to buy.
1. Get the latch right
It all begins and ends with the latch. The best way to learn the latch is to practice and watch other people doing it. Reading about it is no replacement for physically seeing how it should look.
There are lots more tips for getting a good latch here.
A good latch happens when you:
- Are in a comfy position.
- Bring your baby to you, not the other way around as this can cause back pain.
- Have the baby’s nose opposite your nipple.
- Aim the nipple to the baby’s upper lip, not the middle of the mouth.
- Tilt the baby’s back slightly, avoiding having his chin to his chest.
- See the baby’s mouth is open wide, this is crucial.
- Try to get as much of the lower portion of the areola (the area around the nipple) into your baby’s mouth as possible.
- Can see the baby’s bottom and top lip are flanged out like fish lips.
In the first few days of breastfeeding, you may find there’s a bit of trial and error when it comes to latching your baby on.
Skin-to-skin contact will help a lot, especially immediately after giving birth when you are trying the first breastfeed. It can also help with lots of other breastfeeding issues, including milk supply and getting the latch right.
2. Grit your teeth through the pain
Lactation experts will tell you that it shouldn’t hurt. I’m sorry to say, but a little pain seems to be the norm for most new mamas. I haven’t spoken to a mum yet who didn’t find it painful in the early days.
The pain comes from several issues: sore nipples, a bad latch and the letdown reflex.
A study into the pain new mamas experience found that more than half of the issues were solved within 18 days.
So while it may take a few days, if you can identify the issues and work to resolve them, breastfeeding won’t hurt for long.
The letdown reflex can feel tingly, or like electric shocks in your boobs. In the early weeks after giving birth, it can also give you cramps (great, as if we needed any more discomfort!). This feeling is your uterus contracting back to its original size, which breastfeeding hormones help to speed up.
At times when I was latching my baby on, I almost couldn’t bear to do it because I knew it would hurt so bad. I recommend using Lansinoh nipple cream to help heal sore nipples. You can also hand express a little breast milk (there are tips on hand expressing further down in this post) and rub this over the nipple, then stay topless for a while (don’t open the door to the postman!) To speed ups the healing.
Cool flannels, and lettuce leaves in the bra (honestly, this is true!) can help to ease the pain a little. I promise it does get easier.
You can also try nipple shields to help with the pain.
3. Be prepared for when your milk comes in
I was shocked when I woke up a few days after giving birth to find I was covered in milk!
In the first few days you’re signalling to your boobs to make milk by latching your baby on as of, ten as they want. In this time your boobs are producing colostrum, which is the thick and creamy first milk for your baby. However there comes a point when your milk “comes in”. At this point, your breasts will feel fuller and heavier, and you may leak a bit.
I suggest buying some nursing pads for your bra in advance so that you’re prepared.
The discomfort will settle down as your breasts get used to your baby’s own food demands. They respond to your baby based on how often they feed and how much they take. It’s pretty clever really!
4. Try different positions to find your fave
There are so many positions that you can use to breastfeed. Move around and get comfy to find what works for you and your baby.
It’s important that whatever position you use is comfortable for your back, as you may be stuck there for quite some time!
These are some different options for holding your baby when breastfeeding:
- Cradle hold. This is my personal preference, but everyone is different and it really depends on you. Put your baby’s head resting into the bend of your elbow on the side where you will be feeding your baby. Use the rest of that arm to support the baby’s body. Cup your breast with your other hand and lightly compress your breast so the nipple points toward your baby’s nose. When baby opens wide you are ready to latch.
- Crossover. Hold your baby’s head with the hand opposite to the breast which you will be nursing from. So if you are nursing from the left breast, support the head with your right hand. Cup the breast as above to get ready for baby’s latch.
- Football hold. This takes pressure away from your belly so is good if you have had a C-section. Hold your baby at your side, facing you, with their legs tucked under your arm like a football.
- Laid back hold. This is great if you’re tired and want to rest. Lay down in a semi-reclined position with your baby tummy-to-tummy with you. You can then guide them to your breast.
5. Definitely get a nursing bra
This is a total must-have! A good nursing bra will feel comfortable and give you quick access to your boobs when it’s time to feed.
They don’t have to look ugly either, there are some really beautiful nursing bras on the market, so shop around to find what suits you.
I recommend buying two to three bras. You can check out my list of other breastfeeding essentials.
6. Know how your boobs feel after a feed
Your boobs are never empty, it’s not a lake, it’s more of a river (do you like that analogy? Paints quite a picture doesn’t it, haha). However, when your baby is taking milk efficiently from your boob, it will feel noticeably less full afterwards.
Test this out by feeling your boobs just before a feed, and then again after. You should notice the difference.
This can really help you figure out if your baby has finished one boob, so that you can switch them to the next one.
It is a good sign of whether your baby is getting enough milk, but do also keep an eye on the nappies and their weight gain (more on this later).
7. Keep a record of breastfeeds
Write down when your baby feeds, and for how long. This can help to reassure you that they are feeding enough, or alert you that they are not feeding frequently enough.
As a rough guide, a newborn baby will feed at least eight times every 24 hours, but this is not an exact science!
Let your baby feed as often as they want in the early weeks. This helps to not only build up supply, but also to help your baby gain weight. As a general rule, in the first few weeks there is no such thing as feeding too frequently.
8. Boosting your breastmilk supply
There are several methods of boosting your breastmilk supply. If you’re worried that your supply has depleted, or that your body is making less milk, do not panic! There are lots of things you can do to get it going again very quickly.
Try these tips:
Drink LOADS of water. Staying hydrated is so important. Have a pint of water every time you feed your baby.
Feed more frequently. Putting your baby to the breast frequently is the best natural way to boost your supply. It’s like ringing the dinner bell!