Nursing and pumping pushed me in ways I never could have anticipated. Outside of the beautiful bonding with baby that occurred, it also consisted of pain, insecurity, and wildly unpredictable emotions. It required me to stand up for myself, seek help often, and work really, really, really hard. (There is nothing glamorous about pumping at three a.m. when the rest of the house is sleeping.)
An insurmountable amount of dedication, patience, education, strategy, and support led me to successfully nursing my firstborn for 14 months, and my second for 20 months.
I fully recognize that breastfeeding is not always going to be the best choice for everyone, and a variety of factors play into these decisions for mamas.
But, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I’ve compiled my top five tips for moms who have a desire to venture into this journey with their baby.
1. Educate yourself early
While pregnant with my first child, I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I was relatively clueless as to what all was involved. My sister-in-law bought me The Nursing Mother’s Companion, and this book became my bible for all things breastfeeding-related. (Before baby, during the journey, and through the weaning process.)
Sometimes education can be very overwhelming, especially while pregnant. But I found this resource incredibly helpful and easily digestible. I was able to manage my expectations a lot better as a result of “training” my mind in this area before the baby arrived.
If you plan to pump when you go back to work, make these intentions crystal clear to your employer in advance, so you don’t find yourself having to pump during your lunch break in a bathroom or a closet. I’ve been there, and it’s not fun or conducive to a successful pumping experience.
As a new mom who is pumping/nursing, you have rights when you return to work and I highly recommend that you speak with an HR representative and fully educate yourself on these policies. It may require you having to advocate for yourself prior to leaving for maternity leave, but it will be worth it. Consider doing a check-in/confirmation of your pumping plan with your employer prior to returning to work.
2. Set a goal, and share it with your partner
Having a partner (or mom, sister, friend, etc.) who fully supports and understands your nursing goals is a major key to success. My original goal was to make it six months, knowing this meant dedicating three-plus months to pumping at work while my baby was at daycare.
While breastfeeding can sometimes make the early bonding experience with partners a little more challenging, I made my goals clear and provided examples of how my husband could best support us. Think: hydration, nutrition, genuine words of encouragement (often), helping to clean pump parts and bottles, etc.
I credit my husband so much when it comes to the success of my breastfeeding journey with our boys. I never would have made it if it hadn’t been for his continued encouragement; he was a bottle and pump-part washing machine for us! It’s also so important to keep the lines of communication open, as challenging situations occur, goals may shift or change, and the last thing you want is to feel unneeded pressure.
Nutrition is key, as it relates to your milk production. Ensuring you are getting enough calories, drinking enough water, taking a high-quality postnatal vitamin, and focusing (the best you can) on consuming nutrient-dense foods is so important. (This is another area where your partner can help a ton.)
There are an overwhelming number of products on the market to help with milk production, but I always recommend moms make small and simple changes that yield major results. These include buying an extra-large water bottle to ensure consistent hydration, incorporating oatmeal into your breakfast, adding flaxseed to smoothies or yogurt bowls, and drinking Mother’s Milk tea that contains fennel and fenugreek.
One of my go-to snacks for newly nursing mamas are protein power balls packed with oats and flaxseed to help support milk production early. There is a lot of education out there relating to postpartum nutrition; my current favorite being the Postpartum Reset Program by Steph Greunke. (Whole30’s in-house Dietician and Education Manager.)
4. Find a mama friend who has been there
It wasn’t until speaking in-depth with my sister-in-law about her own breastfeeding journey that I ever considered nursing for 12 months. I just genuinely didn’t think I could do it! Especially as a full-time working mom. But having someone in my corner who was knowledgeable and had been there, who had already experienced many of the challenges and setbacks you encounter during this journey, made all the difference in the world for me.
Support from someone I trusted explicitly was always one text message away, no matter the day or time, and that became invaluable. My sister-in-laws best piece of advice to me, which I now share with other moms often, is:
“If you’re struggling (cracked nipples, low milk production, mastitis, poor latch, etc.) give it a few weeks before you decide to stop.”
Now, in the midst of these challenges, a few weeks can feel like a lifetime, but she was so right. The time will pass anyway, so keep working at it; consult a lactation specialist (highly recommend) and keep going. More times than not, a week or two is all you need to get you and baby back on track.
5. Be gentle with yourself
You are doing a great job, mama! This journey is hard and contains a rollercoaster of emotions, often on a daily basis. It is A LOT to dedicate your body to be the primary form of nourishment for your baby, whether it’s for a day, a week or a year. There is a lot of judgment that comes at you: whether you breastfeed or not, exclusively pump, nurse in public, or if you decide to breastfeed past a certain time period.
Remember to check in with yourself, and your baby. I was tough on myself for a while because, in the middle of a pandemic, my 15, 16, then 17-month-old wasn’t wanting to wean as a result of having access to me 24/7. It was emotional on a variety of levels, but I eventually realized our journey was our own, and there was no rush. We would figure it out together when it was time.
At the end of the day, your mental health matters so much more than breastfeeding vs. formula, exclusive pumping vs. exclusive nursing. Take care of yourself, first and foremost, mama, and the rest will fall into place.
Oh, and lastly, buy yourself a Hakaa silicone pump. Trust me, every ounce counts!
What tips would you add to this list?