Breastfriends, Assemble!

In my previous post, I outlined the benefits for babies who receive breast milk as much as possible. Today I want to talk about breastfeeding in how it relates to us mamas.

Thinking about breastfeeding but feel unsure? Need some help preparing? Breastfeeding preparation classes are a thing. Many hospitals and IBCLCs offer options to help you prepare, whether it’s your first or fifth time around.

Lactation support is often covered by insurance. Check with yours to evaluate your options. If cost is a factor, there are many low- to no-cost options available in most areas (WIC, La Leche League, hospitals, baby-centered stores, community clinics, etc.).

Find your people! Attend new parent or breastfeeding support groups, and you’ll likely find other people experiencing similar situations and feelings. And, you’ll likely find more practical advice and suggestions there than you would on the internet. (You can start to attend before baby arrives!) These are the people who will understand the 3:00 A.M. anxiety and support you in a way that may surprise you.

If you are struggling with breastfeeding and want to or are unsure if you want to continue, reach out to a local lactation consultant or your healthcare provider who can help you work through your challenges. Most services are covered by your insurance, and most providers can help you navigate the claims process.

The first few hours aren’t always easy.

Basking in the glow of all night labor, breakfast tacos, and snuggles. It’s about to get real…

Here you are, basking in the glow of birth and feeling like you can take on the world. The sun is shining, birds are singing, and your baby has latched on like he/she completed Advanced Latch 101 in utero. No problem! But really, you’re exhausted and euphoric and sweaty and sore and naked and now this new human is on you and you’re being directed to latch them on. But did you know that your baby is going through some things too? These are the Nine Stages: The birth cry, relaxation, awakening, activity, rest, crawling, familiarization, suckling, and sleep. This entire process can take up to an hour.

A nurse, midwife, or doula who is present can help with latching on during these first few hours. And while it’s initially uncomfortable (because this hasn’t been something your body has been doing every day), it shouldn’t be painful. Pain is a signal that something’s not quite working and a great time to ask for assistance from your support team.

And while I’m mentioning asking for help, your mental and emotional health is important, too. It’s harder to breastfeed if you’re stressed or highly anxious. It’s OK to seek other options.

“When will my milk come in?”

Colostrum is produced toward the end of pregnancy. It is rich in nutrients and protein designed to help babies acclimate to their new environment, and this includes maintaining babies’ blood sugar. Colostrum includes an antibody, secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA), which helps protect the mucous membranes in the throat, lungs, and intestines from coming under attack from germs. Leukocytes, protective white cells which attack disease-causing bacteria and viruses, are also passed to baby via colostrum. Additionally, colostrum works to coat a newborn’s gastrointestinal tract (it’s very permeable at birth), protecting the gut from foreign substances.

And because colostrum is so dense, and baby’s stomach is so small, the volume shouldn’t stress you out. If latching is troublesome at the beginning, you can hand express, even using a spoon or a cup, to give baby those drops of colostrum.

As colostrum gradually changes to mature milk over the first week after birth, the concentration of antibodies decreases. As long as milk is still ingested by baby, the benefits continue.

As for the timing of the change in volume, or “milk coming in,” this can take anywhere from three to seven days after birth. This can be a gradual change, or less frequently, a rapid one. Research indicates that this shift is likely hormonally controlled, though babies who nurse frequently and early (or are provided with expressed milk) may assist in increasing milk production after the first few days of birth. Skin-to-skin contact is also associated with an increase in milk production.

Some risk factors can impact the delayed onset of lactation, which you can read about here. You can also talk to your provider or lactation support person about them.

Maybe it’s not the latch…

The first step in troubleshooting nursing issues is checking the latch. Is the seal closed? Is baby’s chin low enough? Maybe the right side works with a cradle hold and the left side works with a football hold. Maybe you’ve tried all the holds and positions and it’s just not working. Maybe your nipples are in so much pain, the thought or attaching tiny suction makes you cringe, no matter how cute the suction is. Maybe you’re an overproducer. Reach out to a lactation support person who can help identify what challenge you’re dealing with and offer tips and information to help with things like lip and/or tongue ties, nipple shape, and overproduction, to name a few.

What do you mean by “hand expression”?

Hand expression can be a great way to deal with engorgement, help increase output, and maximize milk production. There will be times you’re out and about somewhere without a pump; hand expressing will both provide relief and continue your stash building. It’s OK to express into a clean cup or container you have on hand. Check out my friend Francie’s videos on the basics.

It’s going to be OK.

Need to give sweet baby a bottle of formula? It’s going to be OK.

Sweet baby is cluster feeding and you have them on you all the time? It’s going to be OK.

Things aren’t going as easily as you envisioned and you have to change your feeding plans? It’s going to be OK.

We all have expectations and goals for pregnancy and birth and are prepared (hopefully) when reality is far from those plans. Apply the same process to breastfeeding. Or chestfeeding. Or bottle feeding.

You are amazing. You grew and birthed a human. Now you need to recover from that AND be the center of the universe for this tiny human. Cry, ask for help, have a friend come hold a cranky baby so you can shower. It’s going to be OK. And, mama, so are you.


Amanda R.
Amanda is a native Texan who spent a few years in the Boston area. Newish to the stay-at-home mom gig, she’s mother to an eight-year-old wilding and a five-year-old diva. When not trying to herd those cats, she runs a doula agency, Journey to Motherhood (@motherhoodsatx), and works as a San Antonio birth doula and childbirth educator. She has been married to her husband for almost nine years, which also means learning the ways of being a military spouse. Upon his return from his first deployment in their relationship, she surprised him by proposing to him when she finished her first half marathon (more like she held up a ring and he said yes). Their honeymoon was a babymoon (ehh) to Italy, followed by another deployment, building a new home, and having another child. Much time at home is spent cultivating a medicinal and vegetable garden (she’s a modern hippie), reading all kinds of books (everyone is a book nerd), crafting cocktails (because yum), documenting shenanigans and social activism on Instagram (@optimisticheathen), and holding spontaneous dance parties in the living room.