I realized last night, during one of my *many* nightly feedings, that in a week we be celebrating my daughters first birthday, and that means I've been breastfeeding a year. A YEAR! This is a major accomplishment for me, having lasted 6 months breastfeeding my first baby, and three months with my second. The third time around I was determined to breastfeed longer. So I started thinking about what made it easier for me to complete a whole year of breastfeeding and have my top five tips below.
First, I want to make it clear that, in my mind, breastfeeding is a CHOICE. While society today does everything to encourage breastfeeding with fancy hashtags like #normalizebreastfeeding or #breastisbest, it's not the only way to feed and nourish your baby, and definitely not every mothers privilege or first choice.
Lots of mothers wish to breastfeed, but can't for a variety of reasons. And that's OK. Some mothers prefer to pump and bottle feed. And that's OK. Some mothers prefer to formula feed. And that's OK. The point is this: whether we breastfeed or not we support each others choices as mothers. For some mothers breastfeeding is not always a walk in the park, there are hard days, there is pain, and there are struggles, and the very fact that we have options in our day and age is wonderful, and we shouldn't judge another mother's way of feeding her baby. Remember this, as a mother you do what is best for you and your baby and at the end of the day, fed is best.
So, mama, if you've decided you want to breastfeed for the long haul, here are some tips that helped me keep on going.
Tip #1: "Believe that you can, and you're halfway there." - Theodore Roosevelt
Believing in yourself and your body is so important, and half of the struggle when it comes to breastfeeding. When I breastfed my first baby I was constantly anxious over not having enough milk. This came from my thinking these thoughts: 'I am a small cup size, I can't possibly make enough', 'I'm never engorged, so how can I have enough milk?', 'My daughter is colicky and crying all the time so she must be hungry'. And maybe after a while, my anxiety did cause my supply to drop. I didn't believe in my body. After six months I gave up and eagerly switched to formula. I'm OK with that. But here's what I didn't realize way back then... your cup size has nothing to do with how much milk you make. Your body is made for making milk and believing in it does wonders for your conscious. So, this third time around I changed my way of thinking, and instead of doubting my body, I believed in it and I think that made a big difference.
Tip #2: Give your body what it needs to make a healthy milk supply.
On top of just believing in myself, I also realized I had to give my body proper water and nutrition to support lactation. Here are a few things I ate routinely on top of a healthy (okay, healthy-ish) diet to establish and maintain my supply: Water water and more water (you got to hydrate to lactate!), Oatmeal anything (high in iron for milk production), flax seed, sunflower seeds, avocado, Lactation Cookie Mixes (click here for a local favorite), Lactation Bars (click here for my favorite).
Tip #3: Be the pacifier.
This is an important one for me. After every one of my babies were born, I lost track of how many times nurses told me "Don't be the pacifier!" I think their intentions were good, thinking they didn't want to make me sore from so many feedings in a short period of time, thinking that babies would get too dependent on the breast, or that newborn babies need a set schedule.
The reality is, every time your newborn baby nurses it's telling your body to make more milk. The more they suck, the more you make. It's scientifically proven. So I say, BE the pacifier. Listen to your baby, not the clock. If he's fussing, feed him. Even if it's only been 30 minutes, or an hour, since the last feed. The more they eat, the better your supply will be. Trust me. And the happier they are, the happier you will be too.
My third baby literally lived on my chest the first 8 weeks of her life.. nursing whenever she fussed, sleeping on me in between feeds... and in those 8 weeks we established a healthy bond and milk supply as a result. I didn't need to give my baby a schedule, she inherently fell into one herself. It's innate. By the time she was 4-5 months old she had developed her own schedule and I noticed when her awake times were and when her nap times needed to be and planned her days accordingly.
Tip #4: Use a Breast Comfort Pack
Know this: that before you start the long haul breastfeeding, that there will be hard, difficult, knock-the-oomph-right-out-of-you kind of days. You'll experience things that will make you want to give up breastfeeding... maybe an improper latch, then later maybe a few clogged ducts, or.... mmmm-mastitis. (ugh!) Going through mastitis was enough to make me want to give up breastfeeding altogether. Get a breast comfort pack to help you through those days, because they won't last forever. I swear by these breast comfort packs (yes, our very own lil'buds!), because using them anytime I felt discomfort breastfeeding, or tenderness, or a potential clog helped me breastfeed mastitis-free this whole year. For me, avoiding breast infections was the key to reaching my breastfeeding goals.
Tip #5: Have a support network
Last tip. If it's your first, second or third time breastfeeding, it really helps to have a support network. Whether it's your partner, a friend, lactation consultant, doula or even a breastfeeding community on social media... having people who understand what you're trying to achieve and and being able share your experiences together does wonders for your confidence as a breastfeeding mother.
Stay strong, mama. You're already doing an amazing job. I don't feel like I'm any expert in any way on breastfeeding, I'm just speaking from my own experience. I know what works for one mother doesn't necessarily work for all. So, I hope in the very least that some of these tips have resonated with you, and maybe they will help you make it through today.
Photo credit to AK Photography Oahu