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10 Tips for Successful Breastfeeding

From a mom who exclusively breastfed, here are 10 tips I used on my journey to successful breastfeeding. From getting the right supplies to learning to relax, these 10 tips cover it all.

mother breastfeeding her baby

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One of the first things a baby will do after they are born, if given the chance, is find their mother’s breast. It is an innate drive.

Even in those first moments, there are things you can do to increase your chances of a successful breastfeeding journey.

The benefits of breastfeeding are, quite literally, awesome. Exclusive breastfeeding provides immediate and life-long benefits to both baby and mom. So in the middle of the struggle, know that it is absolutely worth it to keep trying.

What Is “Successful Breastfeeding”?

Every mother and baby’s breastfeeding journey will look a little different. But successful breastfeeding, generally, would be exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months and continuing to breastfeed while introducing solids and as long as is desired. 

Exclusive breastfeeding is giving your child breast milk only, ideally at the breast more often than bottles.

Many organizations – including Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics, and World Health Organization (WHO) – recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives.

Exclusive breastfeeding usually ensures that a baby gains weight and develops properly.

In addition to exclusivity, the length of time, and the baby’s weight gain, successful breastfeeding also needs to include a focus on the mother’s mental and physical health.

10 Tips for Successful Breastfeeding

As of this writing, my daughter is almost a year old and still breastfeeds a few times per day. Though the beginning was a little rough, I have loved breastfeeding. These 10 tips are things I did personally and have been a tremendous help to me in finding our way to successful breastfeeding.

So let’s dive in.

1. Start learning during pregnancy.

Many of us take childbirth classes during pregnancy and learn all we can about labor and birth. But not so many of us take time learning about nor are we taught how to breastfeed. I am confident that far more women would breastfeed for longer and enjoy it more if breastfeeding was more of a focus during prenatal education.

As part of her own education, every woman can do two things during pregnancy to help her get a head start on successful breastfeeding. 

First, read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. It may not be a book you read from cover to cover, but reading the parts that stand out to you or that you are curious about will help. And if you buy it, you can have it on hand for later reference when you have questions.

Second, start attending La Leche League meetings. La Leche League (LLL) is an international organization with the sole purpose of supporting breastfeeding women. They provide lots of valuable information on their website and they are the organization behind the book I just recommended, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

LLL holds free monthly meetings all over the world for women who want live support, and they encourage women to start attending before their babies are born.

One or two LLL leaders lead the discussion (usually over video call) and answer any and all questions that women bring to the meeting. You can learn from other moms in attendance who have experience and benefit from listening to women who are at the same stages and having the same struggles that you are.

2. Get the right supplies.

While you could breastfeed without buying a single breastfeeding product, a few well-chosen breastfeeding supplies can make your journey easier. 

In 18 Must-Have Breastfeeding Supplies, I share the exact items I bought for my first time breastfeeding. I genuinely think they’re all worth spending money on. The list includes things like burp cloths, breast shells, a good chair, and some nice reusable nursing pads.

I tried to find the best deals, so don’t worry about having to fork out a fortune to get what you need. And if you want to save some money, put these items on your baby registry and let other people gift them to you!

breastfeeding must-haves

3. Don’t keep any formula in the house.

Formula isn’t evil. It’s not going to harm your baby. But using formula to supplement breastfeeding will diminish your milk supply and won’t provide the same ideal nutrition that breast milk does. 

The easiest way to avoid supplementing in the first place is to not have any formula in the house. Get rid of any samples you get in the mail and don’t bring any home from the hospital.

Your body grew your baby. Your body gave birth to your baby. Your body can feed your baby.

Breastfeeding works on supply and demand. So as long as you follow your baby’s lead (see tip #9) and don’t supplement, your body will learn to produce enough for your baby. It really is as simple as that.

4. Keep your baby with you after birth.

One of the things you can do right from the start to give yourself the best chance of successful breastfeeding is to keep your baby with you after birth. Unless there is a true emergency, your baby can be cared for in the same room as you and, most of the time, while he or she is in your arms.

Asking for your baby to be placed on your abdomen immediately after being born will give them a chance to find your breast right away and initiate breastfeeding. Keeping them with you, especially if you do skin-to-skin, will encourage bonding which can help make breastfeeding easier as well.

In the hours and days after birth, ask to room-in with your baby instead of your baby sleeping in the hospital nursery. 

Sometimes separation of mother and baby is caused by birth complications like preterm birth or c-section. The good news is that you have a lot of power over whether or not you and your baby experience these complications.

Nutrition plays a huge role in avoiding preterm birth, and minimizing intervention and medication can decrease your chances of having a c-section.

5. Surround yourself with supportive people.

I heard an analogy the other day. Someone said, “You didn’t learn to drive a car by yourself. So why would you choose to learn to breastfeed by yourself?” I thought it was a good point.

Driving is probably second nature to you now. But it didn’t start that way.

That’s how breastfeeding is for a lot of women. That’s why it’s super important to surround yourself with people who support your desire to breastfeed and can help you learn.

Hopefully, your husband or partner is supportive of your desire to breastfeed. Make sure to communicate how he can support you.

As mentioned earlier, join LLL meetings. Often, the LLL leaders will give you their personal cell number so you can reach out to them whenever you have questions or concerns. 

Get your extended family and friends on board too, if you can. If they are not supportive, kindly ask them not to bring it up.

Having a solid group of supportive people around you as you learn to breastfeed can make all the difference. 

6. Learn some good breastfeeding hacks.

Along with some tried and true advice (like these 10 tips), women over the years have figured out some breastfeeding hacks to make things a little easier for themselves.

I gathered all the breastfeeding hacks I could think of and put them in one place, just for you. You can find that gold mine in 20 Breastfeeding Hacks That Will Make Your Life Easier.

7. Try different positions.

This one is one of those 20 hacks, but it’s important enough to include in this list too. Most moms think of the cradle position when they think about breastfeeding. And that is the most common way to hold your baby while feeding.

mother breastfeeding using the cradle position

But there are several other positions you can try and you might find that some of the others work better for you and your child.

The most common positions are:

  • Cradle, 
  • Cross-cradle, 
  • Side-lying, 
  • Laid-back, and 
  • Clutch.

You can learn more about each and see pictures in this blog post.

I used the cross-cradle position most at the beginning and now use the cradle position almost exclusively. That’s what works best for me and my baby.

8. Eat well and stay hydrated.

I can never write enough about the importance of nutrition and hydration for moms. Whether pregnant, in labor, or postpartum and breastfeeding, you HAVE to get enough of the right nutrients and drink enough water for you and your baby to be healthy.

What’s wild is that nutritional needs for new moms are higher postpartum than they are during pregnancy.

Especially if you are breastfeeding, make sure to eat a nutrient-dense diet every day. I found that I was even hungrier while breastfeeding than I was while pregnant with my first.

Breastfeeding can also make you super thirsty. Many times, I’ve sat down to start breastfeeding and immediately felt parched. Keep a water bottle nearby while feeding and with you throughout the day to make sure you don’t get dehydrated.

9. Feed on demand and follow your baby’s lead.

Sometimes you’ll hear this idea said as “watch your baby, not the clock.” That really is a key to successful breastfeeding.

Like I said a moment ago, breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. The more your baby feeds, the more your body produces, and vice versa.

Especially in those first few weeks, feeding on demand – meaning feeding when your baby communicates that he or she is hungry, not after a specific amount of time – is vital for establishing a good milk supply. Some typical hunger cues (for babies under 4 months) are:

  • Putting fists in or near mouth,
  • Turning their head toward your chest or bobbing it against your shoulder (also called rooting),
  • Acting more alert and restless,
  • Sucking on their hands or smacking their lips, and
  • Opening and closing their mouth.

If your newborn is doing any of these things, it’s time to feed them. Crying is a baby’s last resort when you don’t pick on these signs. (And it’s much easier to feed a calm baby than a crying one.)

The other half of this breastfeeding tip is that you need to follow your baby’s lead when they act full and not worry as much about how much they are eating.

Knowing how much your baby is eating is nearly impossible while breastfeeding. And that’s okay because amount is not the best indicator of whether your baby is getting enough.

A baby who is getting enough will drink deeply at the breast and then, often, let go on their own. A full baby may turn away from your breast. Relaxed fists, rather than clenched, as well as acting disinterested in eating or wanting to play are also signs that your baby has had enough.

10. Relax.

I know it may feel hard to relax in the beginning stages when your nipples are still a little sore and your baby is still learning to latch. But relaxing while breastfeeding is important for a few reasons.

First, you’ll enjoy it more. Breastfeeding shouldn’t feel like a chore. It can be a time of rest for you when you get to listen to a book or just sit in silence for a little while. It can also be a special time to connect with your baby. 

In addition to you enjoying it more, your baby can sense how you feel. Babies are in tune with their mothers. So if you are stressed and tense, your baby will likely also feel stressed and unable to eat as calmly.

Finally, when you are relaxed, your let down happens easier. “Let down” is the term for when your breasts release milk into your milk ducts and your milk flows easily. For a lot of women, it is accompanied by a tingling sensation in their breasts.

It will take longer for your body to reach this let down if you are tense or uncomfortable.

Do what you can – and use the other 9 tips on the list – to stay calm and come relaxed to each breastfeeding session. If you do, it will create a positive cycle and you’ll find breastfeeding gets easier each time.

Two Bonus Tips for Successful Breastfeeding

All 10 of the above tips are helpful in establishing a successful breastfeeding routine. But there are two more things that can greatly increase your chances of successful initiation and continuation of breastfeeding.

First, if it’s feasible for you, hire a midwife instead of an OBGYN. Doctors can be fantastic birth attendants. And you can give birth with an OBGYN and still have a wonderful breastfeeding experience.

But as a whole, mothers cared for by midwives have better rates of breastfeeding than do women cared for by doctors.

Second, avoid medications during labor. While medications and other interventions can be helpful during labor, they aren’t without side effects and consequences.

Researchers have shown that any drugs taken by the mother reach her baby by crossing through the placenta. The amount of any drug that reaches the baby varies and may or may not be harmful, but it does enter the baby’s bloodstream. 

Opioids, epidurals, and IVs are all linked to complications with breastfeeding. Avoiding these and other interventions during labor will increase your and your baby’s alertness after birth making initiating breastfeeding easier.

Giving birth vaginally and unmedicated also minimizes postpartum pain and the degree of recovery needed, making continuing breastfeeding easier as well. 

TL;DR

To summarize, breastfeeding can be challenging but there are 10 tips you can implement to increase your chances of continuing successfully.

These tips are…

  1. Start learning during pregnancy,
  2. Get the right supplies,
  3. Don’t keep any formula in the house,
  4. Keep your baby with your after birth,
  5. Surround yourself with supportive people,
  6. Learn some good breastfeeding hacks,
  7. Try different positions, 
  8. Eat well and stay hydrated,
  9. Feed on demand and follow your baby’s lead, and
  10. Relax.

In addition to those 10 things, hiring a midwife rather than an OBGYN and avoiding medications during labor and birth can increase your chances of successful breastfeeding.

Whatever you do to make breastfeeding work for you and your baby, keep going. It will be worth it, now and in the future.

Until next time,

Allison

READ MORE:

How to Prepare for Postpartum: The Ultimate Guide

Breastfeeding vs. Formula: 25 Benefits of Breastfeeding

29 Diaper Changing Hacks You’ll Wish You’d Known Sooner

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