I had read all of the baby books about breastfeeding and been to all of the classes for new parents. I had been led to believe that nursing would be “the most natural thing in the world.” Little did I know, as a first-time mom, that that was total bs.
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Sure, some people find it a walk in the park, some babies are born feeders. I have friends with very different experiences to my own.
Let’s face it, in those hazy early days, there are going to be ups and downs, the grass is always greener on the other side, and other boring, repetitive and nonconstructive tropes. I’ve heard them all.
They don’t help when it’s three in the morning, you haven’t had more than two straight hours of sleep for goodness knows how long, the baby is not gaining weight and blood and other unpleasant fluids are oozing from, well, everywhere.
I wish someone had told me that it will not last forever. It will get better with time and practice. The cuts will heal, and it will become second nature, even enjoyable in some cases (not something I experienced, but I’m told that it is true for some lucky people).
If you’re having difficulty nursing, then please hear this: both mom and baby need to learn to nurse together. The baby doesn’t understand how to fix it, but they can help you to work it out.
It can be a long road. Of course, you do not have to breastfeed if you do not want to, or if circumstances dictate that you can’t, or there are other factors involved which are stopping you, it’s no one’s business.
If, however, you really want to do it, for yourself and the baby (not for the Karens), then please do persevere. It is so much more convenient and cheaper than sterilizing bottles from day one.
It’s also a great way to form a bond together, and there are all of the health benefits, but this isn’t meant to be preachy. Your body, your choice.
I want to share some things I learned when I was a first-time parent. I promise you that it does get easier, remember that if nothing else, it does get easier, and if you happen to have more babies, the experience will most likely be different each time.
The first one might latch like a trooper straight away, while the next chomps and tears at you until you can stand it no longer. Here’s what I’ve learned about breastfeeding over the years.
Mastering the nursing technique
There are lots of nursing positions. I am just going to share what works for me, and other mom friends, because that’s what I know. The only way to feed efficiently and with as little discomfort as possible is to get a good latch. Latch is key! If this technique doesn’t work for you, there are plenty of others, but this is a simple one to try out as a beginner.
I swear by this technique: lay your baby on your supporting arm (for arguments sake, I am going to describe this like I am feeding from my left breast and therefore supporting them along my left arm). Their belly should be against yours.
Make sure you are lining up their nose to your nipple. Move the baby to get yourself comfortable, I reiterate, get yourself comfortable, when this works, you are going to be sat there for some time, your comfort is of the utmost importance (this reminds me, make sure you have a massive bottle of water, huge pile of cookies and the remote for the television).
If you’re holding your boob up in an uncomfortable position, it’ll droop whilst you’re feeding, and the latch will suffer. If you’ve got large breasts and/or south pointing nipples, then you can roll up a muslin and pop it underneath to get some support. Get a cushion under your supporting arm or invest in a feeding pillow – mine became like a security blanket in the early days of baby number one.
Now, splay your right hand across to top of their shoulders. You don’t want to restrict the baby’s head and neck movement – they need to be able pull their head back if they want to.
Now wait until their mouth is as wide as possible, no, wait, wider than that, just a little more, NOW, lightning fast, when their mouth is as wide is it can go, push against their upper back and hug them into you.
As your pulling them toward you they’ll scoop your nipple with their tongue, their bottom lip will roll down and they will latch onto a big portion of breast. Latch done! Nice one mamma!
If the baby wont stay latched, it starts to feel uncomfortable or you just don’t feel right, pop your little finger into the corner of their mouth to break the suction, line up and try again. If it hurts, you could be damaging to your nipples, so don’t be afraid to try again.
My baby won’t stay latched
It’s really easy to get worked up, frustrated and generally feel like a failure if your baby won’t stay latched. Take a breath. If you’ve got a partner or friend with you there, give them the baby for a couple of minutes while you calm down.
If you’re on your own, stand up, and give the baby a rhythmical pat on the butt while you sing a song. Anything from Rockabye Baby to WAP – if you warble like me, the baby wont care, they like to hear your voice, regardless of how in, or out, of tune, or how (in)appropriate the lyrics are.
If you’ve got flat or inverted nipples it can be difficult for the baby to scoop it up so they might only get a shallow latch. You can get your nipples pert with a little pinching or use a breast pump to draw them out.
Once you’re ready, try again. If it still doesn’t work you can massage the breast to get out a little milk, then dab your nipple on the baby’s nose so they get the smell – be warned, once they smell it coming, they might lunge at you, so be ready!
To massage your breast, use the outside of your thumb to push from the top of your breast tissue down towards the nipple. This is also a way to relieve engorgement – although you really should see a professional if you are engorged because that can cause hallucinations, trust me, it can be very painful and requires medical attention as soon as possible.
I have seriously nailed my breastfeeding technique, but my baby still won’t stay latched
If your nursing technique is impeccable, the baby is rooting around, you’ve got the moves, but they’re not staying latched on, maybe they can’t open their mouth wide enough, get their tongue out far enough, or their latch is shallow and totally agonising, I’ve been there. There can be a few simple reasons for this to watch out for:
- Baby has a heavy wet/soiled diaper
- Baby needs to burp
- Baby has reflux
- Baby needs to fart
- Baby needs to poop
If you needed to burp or poop, would you want to tuck into your meal? Pat them firmly on the back whilst they lay over your shoulder or across your knees.
A soothing belly rub and or a gentle knee bend can help to ease discomfort. If in doubt, a quick Google search will offer up a few good options, but these are my tried and tested faves.
Of course, there might be a more endemic reason why the baby will not stay latched. A tongue tie for example. This is where the baby cannot push their tongue out far enough to scoop up the nipple and get a good latch in the first place.
Get a good look in their mouth to see how far they can stretch out their tongue, if you are concerned, then get an appointment to see a professional for a diagnosis and treatment.
If they do have a tongue tie, a very quick snip will sort it out (to reiterate, this is diagnosed and performed by a professional, don’t be getting the craft supplies out) and the latch can improve exponentially in no time whatsoever.
Breastfeeding is not always as simple as you might be led to believe, it’s a learning curve. Most latching issues can be solved with patience and perseverance and, in some cases, a little medical intervention. If you are struggling, please know that you are not alone. Being a new mom can be the loneliest time of your life.
If you’re struggling to get your baby to stay latched, search social media for support groups, there are plenty around offering free guidance and support and don’t be afraid to seek medical attention if you feel it would benefit you and your baby. You are not alone. Stay strong momma.