I wrote this “Breastfeeding 101 Syllabus” for a friend who is both a college professor and a new mom. This is just for fun (not a real class!) — an overview of all the tricks and tips I wish someone had told me when I was starting my nursing journey with newborns.
Listen to a podcast about this topic: Anna Hithersay, the podcaster behind “The Post Party: A Podcast for New Moms,” recorded a long conversation with me about this syllabus. Talking to Anna was a lot of fun and I hope you give our chat a listen!
A Breastfeeding Syllabus for All New Mamas
Course Title: Breastfeeding 101
Semester: Fall 2018 (but why stop there?!)
Class Location: Your sofa. Your favorite armchair. (Ikea Poang chair is nice! Especially the rocking chair version). For any chair, you might be more comfortable posture-wise if you use a little footstool under your feet. Those hard uncomfortable plastic chairs at the pediatrician’s office. Your car. Basically everywhere. The nicest spot can be your own bed! (Be sure to learn how to do side-lying nursing – so easy and relaxing for both you and baby! Advanced trick: side-lying nursing without getting up to change sides, AKA “lactation yoga.”)
Meeting Times: All. The. Time.
This is why having your baby sleep in the same room as you is really nice. The Arm’s Reach cosleeper has worked out really nicely for me for a safe sleeping surface for baby while keeping him right next to me. (I got mine used — Craigslist in larger urban areas is a great resource for pricier baby items like this.)
Grading Policy: You will not be graded on this experience. And it is not pass/fail. You can’t fail at nursing – every drop of milk that you can get into your baby’s mouth is gold, whether you nurse for a few weeks or a few years. (I do recommend a few years if you can!) There will be some spills but I hope they don’t make you cry too much. Persevere!
· Fatten up your baby and give him those nice plump nursing cheeks. I’ve read that nursing can be very good for their jaw development – save money on orthodontic work down the line???
· Relax with your baby and enjoy endless oxytocin flow and snuggles.
· Achieve happy baby-happy mama nirvana (guaranteed).
Just some ideas… the nice thing about breastfeeding is that you don’t really need anything! Just your boobs.
Nursing clothes: Some people say you don’t need to buy specific nursing clothes (use what you have, like buttondown shirts), but I do think it’s important to get some nice nursing clothing. I just read a book by runner Olympian Kara Goucher and she talks about the concept of “enclothed cognition.” The idea is that the clothes you wear can positively impact your sense of self and efficacy in approaching anything challenging. Also, nursing clothes just work better for nursing than regular clothes do!
· Nursing shirts from a company called “Smallshow” on Amazon. They are cheap and available through Amazon Prime… they are pretty… they come in nice colors and patterns… and they work well. This tank is a 4-season basic… this shirt is both striped and floral, if you don’t want to choose between fall trends!
· A nursing tank from Bravado Designs (Canadian company), if you want to spend the $$$. They are so well-made and you can layer them under cardigans or anything else. These nursing camisoles come in many different sizes and the fabric is nice and thick.
· Merciless Facebook ads talked me into buying a few pieces from a small company called Latched Mama. Their tagline is “Play clothes for nursing mothers,” but a lot of their items would be great in an office. A little pricier, but really thoughtfully designed and fun clothes.
Hydration and snacks:
· WATER. Mama needs a bottle too! Nursing makes you sooooo thirsty and it’s great to have a water bottle you love at hand. May I recommend a glass one with a built-in straw? (Don’t put juice in it because it will get moldy, yuck!) I got the “Contigo Autospout Straw Ashland Glass Water Bottle, 20 oz” on Amazon Prime and it’s perfect.
· LACTATION TEA. Many herbalists say that the Traditional Medicinals brand “Mother’s Milk” tea is generally the best one that is commonly available, but I also like Yogi Tea “Nursing Support” tea. I think that drinking lactation tea is a “can’t hurt” thing that puts you in the right mindset for nursing and is nice for cold fall and winter days! (By the way, I also drink way too much coffee, but I think of this as giving baby some yummy lattes!)
· FOOD. Eat it all! Trail mix, cheese and crackers, pizza, veggie sticks with dip, all of it! Don’t forget about ants on a log – celery sticks with cashew or almond butter + some kind of dried fruit. Ask someone to make you lactation cookies. A friend of mine says, “All cookies are lactation cookies.” Truer words were never spoken.
· Breast pump… your insurance company might not let you choose between options, but if shopping around, a really nice one is the Spectra S2. It is quiet, lightweight, very pretty(!), has a nightlight and works really well.
· Hands-free bra for your pumping session. The Simple Wishes SuperMom Bra is awesome because it is a combo nursing bra and pumping bra – you can wear it all day and pump in it (rather than having to put on a special bra just for pumping). I recently got one and pretty much it’s now the only nursing bra I wear, because it’s way more convenient than the one you put on just for pumping. This is the single best item I bought this year. It makes pumping less of a hassle. Genius invention!
Course Reading and Online Resources:
· The big special secret advantage of breastfeeding a newborn is READING TIME! You will have time to read ANYTHING YOU EVER WANTED!
If you want some inspiration, consider the following:
Anything by Liane Moriarty. She’s an Australian author and all her plots involve motherhood. Her books are page-turners that won’t rot your brain. Also, they are escapist without being unrealistic (assuming you aren’t a suburban Australian mother!). My favorites are The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Little Big Lies, and What Alice Forgot… but all her books are good!
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith — Set in Botswana, full of energy and good-hearted storytelling, always uplifting.
Anything by Wallace Stegner. He’s a classic 20th century American novelist whose books brim with sensitivity. They are easy to read! My favorite is Crossing to Safety — it includes a post-partum theme (written from the perspective of a 1930s dude, though!).
At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider — In which a mom takes three kids on a year-long round-the-world trip (nonfiction). I liked it better than Eat, Pray, Love! Flip-flops and special blankies are lost and/or eaten by monkies, spiritual homes are found. Good stuff!
Tip: Visit your library’s “Friends of the Library” booksale to get a bunch of books for super-cheap. You won’t have to worry about returning them to the library and you can just donate them somewhere else after you read them.
· In terms of nursing advice, anything by Dr. Jack Newman is great. I read The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers: The Most Comprehensive Problem-Solving Guide to Breastfeeding from the Foremost Expert in North America. (Very good!) He has a newer one called Dr. Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding.
· The website Kellymom is the bomb. My lactation consultant told me not to get information from any other websites. Kellymom is thought to be credible because it is vetted by International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs). By the way, I’m also told to seek out help from people with that IBCLC certification, not just anyone who says they are a “lactation consultant.”
· Pick a TV series to binge-watch during your early days of nursing. It can be something to look forward to and you’ll always remember watching it with your little one in your arms. But choose carefully! Maybe something wholesome… you might be feeling some post-partum hormones that make you more sensitive to content. I watched all the seasons of Call the Midwife! (I had to buy some on Amazon Prime. Worth it!) If you like it, you might want to read the book it’s based on, too.
THE FIRST FEW DAYS & WEEKS:
These days can be so hard. Of course, I’m wishing for an easy time for you, but if it is hard, don’t despair! You and your baby can work through any challenge and get to the other side, which is the land of easy and effortless nursing! Nursing was not easy for me at first, with both kids. I had thrush and mastitis (twice!). Lots of pain in the nipples for first few weeks with both kids, for different reasons. Lactation consultants can help with everything.
· Magic potion for all nipple pain problems: Dr. Jack Newman’s All Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO). Your IBCLC will know what APNO is, LOL. SMH, too many acronyms. Oh, and YMMV for any of this advice!
o Are you all, TL;DR with this syllabus? (If so, TL;DR: Be sure to work with an IBCLC for any problems. It might hurt and be really hard at first but IT GETS BETTER! Drink lots of water and eat lots of food all the time. Enjoy this special time with your baby and use the time to read all the books!)
o But really, the APNO will help with nipple pain, thrush, anything that hurts. It is prescription only and has to be made by a compounding pharmacy. Look into it if you are hurting!
o A nipple shield is controversial but if you’re really hurting in the early days, it can get you through a painful nursing session until you solve the root cause of the pain. (I used one on some of the worst days.) Use under supervision of a lactation consultant.
o A little more about thrush. This is a yeast infection that can live on your nipples, in your baby’s mouth and on your baby’s bottom. It causes soreness in all those places. If your nipples really hurt, could be thrush. A baby’s diaper rash can be “thrushy.” Read all about it on Kellymom and ask your pediatrician and IBCLC if you suspect a problem. It’s pretty easily fixed with various medications.
o You may also want to read a little about tongue tie. This was never a thing for my babies but is pretty common.
Note on nursing positions: I personally loathe the endless diagrams of positions like “football hold” and “reverse football hold.” They remind me of Ikea instruction manuals. Annoyingly prescriptive and somewhat uncomfortable if you’re hurting and tired. On the other hand, be sure to read about “Laid-Back Nursing” if you haven’t been introduced to it yet. So helpful (and intuitively natural)!
AFTER THE FIRST FEW WEEKS:
· Be sure to get out of the house! See below, Study Groups. Enjoy nursing nirvana!
FOREVERMORE AFTER AS LONG AS YOU WANT TO KEEP NURSING:
· Your baby’s IQ gets a couple of points higher for every additional month you nurse. (No source cited! Ha. But I read it somewhere). An IBCLC just recently told me that I have a lessened chance of getting breast cancer because I nursed my babies.
I wholeheartedly recommend finding a local breastfeeding group. Doesn’t have to be La Leche League but of course they are good. These groups are a great way to make friends and troubleshoot any issues you may be having. Also good practice for getting you and baby out of the house.
For Extra Credit:
· Anna Hithersay has a podcast called “The Post Party Podcast.” It’s about all manner of post-partum issues. It’s very gentle and informative and I love it!
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