7 Lessons I Learned from my Lactation Consultant
I’m a few months in to my second breastfeeding journey, and I’d like to take a minute to reiterate that breastfeeding is hard. You have to worry about latching, positioning, engorgement, managing your milk supply, making sure your baby is getting enough, and so on and so on. Honestly, I could go on and on about everything you have to juggle when it comes to breastfeeding. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it comes naturally.
I’m typically one of those people that doesn’t like to ask for help (unless I’m asking my good friend Google). I don’t know if it’s my stubborn side, or what, but I tend to like to figure things out on my own. Luckily, something told me talk to a lactation consultant while breastfeeding both of my babies. Here are the biggest lessons I learned from my IBCLC.
The Importance of the Golden Hour
The golden hour is the time directly after birth that your baby is alert and ready to be put to the breast. Trying to breastfeed your newborn and doing lots of skin to skin during this time can make a huge impact on the ease at which your baby learns to nurse. You can read more about the golden hour here (it really is amazing).
Breastfeeding Shouldn’t Hurt
Everyone talks about how much breastfeeding hurts, but the truth is, it really shouldn’t. Sure, you might have pain from engorgement, and your nipples might be a little sore, but overall, nursing your newborn should not be painful.
With Weston, I never experienced any pain. He was a pro at latching and I was lucky that we never had any issues. That’s why I was very concerned when I started experiencing tons of pain when nursing Elliott while we were still in hospital. I could see little scabs forming on my nipples and I knew something wasn’t right. I called the lactation consultant to our room and she explained that his latch wasn’t deep enough, which was causing my nipple pain. She explained that my breasts had changed since having Weston (you know… a little droopier), and that I would have to position Elliott differently to get a good latch. Within a few days, the pain was gone and my nipples were back to normal (or as close as they were going to get so long as a baby was using them). Another tip my LC gave me was to rub a little colostrum on my nipples at the end of each feeding to help heal the cracks and blisters. Worked like a charm!
Engorgement Doesn’t Last Forever
With Elliott, my milk came in before we even left the hospital. I was about 24 hours postpartum when my breasts swelled up like milk filled balloons. I was cluster feeding Elliott around the clock, but I couldn’t seem to keep my engorgement under control. And, the more engorged I became, the more Elliott would struggle to keep up with my overactive letdown (which made for lots of upset tummies, lots of gas, and lots of fussing). I knew if I pumped, I would just be telling my body to make more milk, but if I didn’t pump, I’d be stuck with a fussy baby and super uncomfortable boobs. I pulled out the phone number to the lactation consultant hotline at my hospital and asked for advice. She reassured me that engorgement doesn’t last forever and that my milk supply would regulate somewhere between 6 and 8 weeks. But, in the meantime, she told me to use the Haakaa to relieve some the engorgement and suggested that I unlatch for the first letdown and either let it flow into a towel or catch it with the Haakaa or milk savers.
While it felt like it took forever, right around 8 weeks, the engorgement disappeared, my milk supply regulated, and little Elliott started to keep up with my letdowns.
There’s Only One Sure Way to Maintain your Milk Supply
Man oh man… there’s so much information out there about magical ways to increase your milk supply or how to keep your milk supply up. But, the truth is, there’s only one way to maintain your milk supply. Put your baby to your breast often and pump for any missed feedings. That’s right. No pink drink, lactation cookie, or bottle of Gatorade can do what your baby can do. Breast milk production is all about supply and demand. The more often you remove milk, the more frequently your body will make more.
How to Make Sure Baby Is Getting Enough
When I had Weston, I was pretty much the only person I knew who was breastfeeding. No one in my family breastfed and none of my friends were breastfeeding. I was so used to measuring out ounces of formula and bottle feeding, that serving up milk from the breast was extremely intimidating. How was I supposed to know how much he was getting? How was I supposed to know how many ounces he just drank? Luckily, my lactation consultant assured me that as long as Weston was making plenty of wet and dirty diapers and gaining weight, he was getting enough breast milk. We tracked all of his feedings and diaper changes in the Glow Baby app for weeks as a way to reassure myself that he was getting what he needed, but with time, I gained confidence in myself and my ability to feed my baby exactly what he needed.
The Golden Rule on Pumping, Storing, and Saving
When it came to pumping and storing breastmilk, I didn’t exactly know what I was doing. There seemed to be so many rules and so many questions. How long can pumped milk stay out? How long can pumped milk stay in the refrigerator? Can you mix cold milk with fresh milk? How long can it stay in the freezer? How long is good after it’s been thawed? My list of questions went on and on. While it doesn’t cover all of my breastmilk storage questions, one of my favorite things my lactation consultant taught me was the rule of 5’s. 5 hours at room temperature. 5 days in the fridge. 5 months in the freezer. Of course, storage guidelines vary and there is some wiggle room there, but when it doubt, I follow the rule of 5’s.
For a full rundown on breast milk storage, click here!
It’s Okay to Ask for Help
As someone who doesn’t normally like to ask for help, I’m so glad I did when it came to breastfeeding. I nursed Weston for 13 months, and I’m hoping to make it at least a year with Elliott (we’re currently four months in). I don’t know what either of my breastfeeding journeys would have looked like without the advice and guidance from my lactation consultant. And, truth be told, I haven’t made a call to my IBCLC in a while, but I still log on to my favorite breastfeeding course when I have a question. When it comes to breastfeeding, you can never get enough help or information.