Breastfeeding for the first time can be very tricky indeed – the learning curve is quite steep! Once you get the hang of it, though, it becomes almost as natural as breathing. Fortunately, the millions of women who have done this before us have learned a lot of tricks that can make the process easier and more enjoyable. There are a few tricks that I just love – things that saved my sanity more than once, and that I’ve seen work for countless other women. So now, I present to you, the top 5 skills that I believe every breastfeeding mother should learn.
Skill 1: The nipple flip
The nipple flip, also known as the flipple, is the best way I’ve yet found to help baby get a good, deep latch. I’ve seriously never seen a case where using this technique didn’t improve the baby’s latch.
It’s a bit difficult to describe on paper, but bear with me. Basically, you’re trying to get a big part of the breast tissue below the nipple into the baby’s mouth:
- Start with baby positioned nose-to-nipple
- Use your fingers to “flip” the nipple up toward baby’s nose. So now you have nothing but breast in front of baby’s mouth; the nipple is up at baby’s nose somewhere.
- Bring baby’s chin up against the breast. This will prompt him to open his mouth
- When baby’s mouth opens, gently let go of the nipple so that the breast (that part below the nipple) rolls into baby’s mouth. The nipple will be the last thing to slip in under baby’s top lip.
- If that doesn’t make sense, watch this video on YouTube
You will probably only need to do this while your baby is small and still learning to latch properly, but it will save you from the nightmare of cracked and bleeding nipples.
Skill 2: Hand expressing
I’m a huge fan of hand expressing! I first encountered it when I was working in the public healthcare sector, where most women simply can’t afford to buy breast pumps. Since then I’ve had two babies while working full time, so I’ve done my fair share of pumping with a variety of pumps – and I still love hand expressing. The only reason I used a pump most of the time was so that I could have a hand free to read a book – I found hand expressing to be faster, more comfortable and more effective.
Even if you pump most of the time (or never pump at all), it’s useful to learn to hand express for a variety of reasons:
- Perhaps the most obvious: your hands are always with you. They can’t break down and you can’t forget bits of them at home. You only have to go to work without some vital piece of your breast pump once to see why this is important!
- Hand expressing can’t be interrupted by power failures or flat batteries
- When your breasts are engorged or you have a blocked duct, hand expressing often gives a lot more relief than pumping
- If you know how to hand express, your hands can always get a bit more milk out after you’ve finished pumping.
There’s one important thing to know about hand expressing: technique matters! Put all images of milking a cow out of your mind – when you hand express, you want to use a squeezing movement, not a rubbing movement. If you rub along your breasts you won’t get much milk out, but you will hurt the skin! Please check out the post I wrote on hand expressing here; it explains the technique I’ve been using for many years and taught to many women with great success.
Skill 3: Burping a baby with the minimum of fuss
I felt I had to include burping here – as a new mom, it’s something that I found a lot harder than I expected. And a baby that’s crying with discomfort because of a trapped wind is very upsetting. Of course, I now know that I was doing it all wrong. I’ve since learned a few tricks that make it a lot easier. Here they are:
First tip: rubbing baby’s back doesn’t work. Like, at all. When you burp baby, you want to get that trapped air bubble to shift so that it comes to the top; rubbing won’t help get you there. What you need is movement, either tapping baby’s back with a cupped hand or gently bouncing baby – or ideally both. Think of a fizzy drink: the more you shake it about, the more bubbles escape to the top. (Now please, don’t go shaking your baby – use some common sense here. Easy does it).
Here’s a video by Dr Mike Marinus that shows some of the more effective winding techniques. I especially like the positions he calls the “sergeant major” and the “cliffhanger”.
I should add that babies differ in how much air they swallow, how much it bothers them and how easily they bring up winds. If your baby is content and comfortable, and there’s no wind coming out, you don’t have to keep trying to burp him. If there is an air bubble that doesn’t come up, it will eventually come out at the bottom.
Skill 4: Breastfeeding in side-lying position
I love breastfeeding while lying down; it is without a doubt my favourite position. It took me a few months to figure it out with my firstborn, but since then I’ve hardly ever done a feed sitting up. One of the major benefits is that it’s very restful – and believe me, with a baby you need all the rest you can get! If baby falls asleep at the end of the feed, it’s easy to just sneak away without waking him up, or – bliss! – just fall asleep right there next to him. I would not have survived night-time breastfeeding without this.
It’s also often easier for babies to access the nipple in this position than in a sitting-up position; I’ve seen a lot of babies who struggle to latch that suddenly latch like champs as soon as mom lies down.
Some tips to make it easier for you to breastfeed while lying down:
- Make sure that your head is well supported on a pillow. Don’t lean on your hand; your wrist will get really tired really quickly.
- Most women feed from the bottom breast. You may need to lean back a bit to get the nipple at the level of the baby’s mouth; if so, put a pillow behind your back to support yourself. If your breasts are quite floppy, you may be able to feed from the top breast.
- Make sure you don’t position baby too high up toward your shoulders – his nose should be at the level of your nipple.
- Turn baby so that his tummy is facing you. This usually means he will be lying on his side. You can put a rolled up blanket or towel behind baby to keep him from rolling back, or just use your hand to support him.
All this breastfeeding while lying down had another unexpected benefit: both my boys learned form a young age that breastfeeding happens on the bed. This was useful when they became toddlers – they never tried to help themselves to my breasts in public, they simply tugged me toward the nearest bedroom. It saved me a lot of embarrassment and unintentional exposure!
Skill 5: Dealing with criticism and unsolicited advice
This final skill is probably the one you will need the most, and that you will need more and more as your baby grows. It seems that everyone, from your mom to your hairdresser to a random stranger in the mall, has an opinion on how you should be feeding your baby. And, unfortunately, they rarely say “You’re doing such a great job! Breastfeeding is the best!”. Instead, they will blame breastfeeding for baby’s sleeping patterns, growth patterns, fussiness and any other behaviour they happen not to like. You will be accused of spoiling your baby or of breastfeeding a toddler “for your own sake” (excuse me?!). And everyone is suddenly an expert on how often you should feed, when you should give solids and when you should wean your baby. All this advice (that you never asked for!) can get really exhausting.
I’ve developed a few tactics that can help you to do things the way you believe is best, with the minimum of hurt feelings all around:
- Firstly, and most importantly, you need to be very sure of what you want to do and why. It’s important to have some facts to back up your choices. I’ve compiled a great resource page with links to websites where you can get awesome, breastfeeding friendly information on almost any topic. Go check it out.
- Remind yourself, in the thick of the fight, that you’re doing this for your baby. Let your inner mama lion surface – we will do anything for our babies!
- A simple rule of thumb: anyone who has never breastfed, is assumed to not know what they’re talking about. To these people I just say something like “Yes, breastfed babies are different in that way. But don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal.”
- Anyone who is not in your inner circle can safely be ignored. Who are they to tell you what to do anyway? Just nod and smile, and keep doing what you believe is best.
- With people in your inner circle, things can get a bit more tricky, since these people are an integral part of you and your baby’s life. I always believe in trying to settle a dispute amicably and in good spirit, so I tend not to fight or say rude things. I find that often if you just listen to the person’s concerns, they’ll be happy that they were heard. If not, you may have to explain that this is what the research is recommending at this time (especially useful for talking to older ladies!).
- Sometimes, things just get plain ugly, and you may have to take a stand. It may be necessary to sit the offending person down and explain to them that, while you value their friendship, this is your baby and you will raise him the way you believe Is best. You may even need to tell the person that their advice is not welcome and they need to stop offering it. Make sure your partner is standing by you with this, you may need backup!
- Find a community who shares your parenting philosophy. The company of a few like-minded friends, even online ones, can be the most reassuring thing in the world. La Leche League is a great place to start!
- Find a trusted medical professional, such as a lactation consultant, who you can talk to about anything that worries you; this will prevent you from unintentionally doing something harmful.
Remember, raising a child is not an easy task, but you can do this! No-one knows your baby better that you do, and no-one else can know what is best for you two. You are the best possible person to be your baby’s mother, so do it with confidence and tons of love.
So there you have it – my top five skills for breastfeeding moms. What would you add to this list? Tell me by leaving a comment!