Want to make breastfeeding successful? Whether you’re first time mom or a veteran, here are breastfeeding secrets that just might surprise you.
I never would’ve thought breastfeeding would be hard—not once.
But there I was, pulled between wanting to breastfeed and ready to call it quits. My nipples were cracked and blistered, I felt immobilized from the multiple feedings, and I could never seem to satisfy his hungry cries.
I learned only later that many of us face these challenges. They’re enough to make us question our ability to provide for your babies, or even whether we’re doing a good job as a mom. We’re disappointed when we hardly produce any milk, and resent the pain that can often accompany each nursing session.
How can we meet our breastfeeding goals with all these challenges?
Breastfeeding secrets every mom should know
Thankfully, my story has a happy ending.
Despite clogged ducts, engorged breasts, complications, and wanting to quit every day, I was able to breastfeed my kids up to my one-year goal.
You see, I learned a lot between those first few days and weeks and when I finally weaned them from breastfeeding. I had never heard of many of these tips, which is a shame to think of the many first-time moms left to figure this out all on our own.
That’s why I wanted to share everything I learned about nursing your baby — breastfeeding secrets every mom should know about.
Take a look at these tips to help you on your breastfeeding journey:
1. Increase milk supply by pumping the other breast
“I have bags and bags of frozen milk,” my friend confessed. Learning her lesson from her eldest, where she hardly produced any milk, she shared a secret that helped her produce more than enough.
“I nurse the baby on one breast, and at the same time, pump on the other,” she said. “Not only do I have milk to store, but I make sure she drained the breast.”
This is a fantastic way to brick your body into producing more milk. Pump on one side while the baby nurses on the other. Then at the next feeding, have baby nurse on the side you pumped earlier, and pump on the side she nursed on earlier.
You can then use the extra milk for bottles or to freeze for later.
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2. Unlatch the baby by inserting your finger
If latching the baby isn’t a problem enough, unlatching her could pose a problem as well.
You see, I figured you could slip the baby off the breast after he was done, but even if he’s fast asleep, he could still have a strong hold on your breast. Other times, you do need to end the nursing session for one reason or another, and pulling your baby off just won’t do.
You can imagine how pulling the baby off while he’s latched can hurt, especially if your baby is sucking hard.
Instead, break the suction by inserting your finger into his mouth. Then, gently create an air pocket by moving your finger, breaking the suction. Only then should you pull baby off.
3. Ease engorgement manually if needed
Sometimes your body will produce more milk than you need at the most inconvenient times. If you’re in the shower, relieve engorgement by pressing down and toward the nipple. Imagine a tube of toothpaste you’re trying to push out of the tube from the bottom.
Doing this in the shower is helpful because you won’t have to deal with any mess, plus the steam of the room will make the milk come out easier.
4. Offer your less-sore nipple first
Nothing is worse than the dread of pain from a sore nipple as your baby is about to latch. It doesn’t help that babies suck stronger in the beginning of the feeding, as they’re hungrier and less sleepy.
That said, if one breast isn’t as painful as the other, offer the less-sore nipple first. Your baby will likely suck more in the earlier part of nursing than the latter, which will give your sore nipple a little break.
Another option is to pump the sore nipple at the same time your baby is nursing on the other breast.
5. Breast milk comes in cycles
Did you know that breast milk comes in cycles? “Fore milk” comes out first during the first few minutes, and is more water-based and easier to suck. Then, a few minutes later, the “hind milk,” or the fattier part of the milk, comes down.
You can actually see the difference especially when you pump. The first few ounces are lighter-colored and watery, and only later will the milk turn whiter with the fatty milk.
To give your baby a balanced feed, empty the breast so he gets both cycles of milk.
6. Wear breast shells to protect nipples from contact
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One of the worst feelings is having your sore, blistered nipples chafing onto your clothes. Even nursing pads and bras weren’t enough to keep them comfortable.
Instead, I found comfort in breast shells. They allow your nipples to breathe without coming into contact with clothing. They also help after you apply cream, as they make sure the cream doesn’t rub off onto your clothes.
7. Feed often (and eat more) to increase supply
I’d throw dagger eyes at anyone who suggested I should feed the baby each time he cried. There’s no way he’s hungry again! I thought. But that was just me not understanding how often babies eat, or the benefits of feeding frequently.
You see, one of the best ways to increase our milk supplies is by feeding or pumping often. The emptier the breast, the more your body will replenish with milk. And vice versa: your body will produce less the less frequently you nurse.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re eating and resting enough. Your body is hard at work converting your calories into milk, even if on the outside, it doesn’t look like you’re doing much.
8. If you’re pumping at work, leave several parts there as well
I had a short commute—as in eight minutes—between home and work, which was a lifesaver for all the times I forgot a pump part or broke a piece.
In particular, I can’t tell you how many times I broke these darn white membranes. With only two at hand, I’d have to drive home or to the store to grab new ones. Or at worst, I’d end up skipping a pumping session until I reunited with my baby.
Not a good feeling either way.
Eventually I learned my lesson, and not only kept an extra set at work, but at home as well. Considering how fragile they are, I didn’t want to rely on only one pair to pump successfully.
9. If you’re pumping, introduce the bottle before going to work
If you plan to pump while you’re at work, introduce the bottle early enough before your planned return date. Yes, your baby should have had enough time to nurse and latch, but you also don’t want to introduce the bottle the day you return to work.
Instead, introduce it early enough that he has time to feel comfortable with the bottle. So that should he reject it at first, you still have time to get him used to it without the stress of wondering whether he’s going hungry at home.
And when you do, have someone else give him the bottle and leave the room when they do. For instance, have dad or your regular caregiver offer the bottle while you step into the next room. Your baby will feel less confused about why he’s drinking from an unfamiliar item with you right there.
10. Make sure baby’s mouth covers a wide area of the breast
When your baby is latched, his mouth should take in part, if not all, of the dark part of your breast, the areola. As he sucks, he’ll be squeezing the milk ducts beneath that area to draw the breast milk out.
He won’t be able to do the same if he’s only sucking on the protruding part of the nipple. Plus, it’ll pinch and hurt you, whereas a wider mouth over the areola should hurt much less. So encourage him to open wide before latching and sucking so he’s taking in the entire areola, and not just the nipple.
11. Use breast milk to soothe and prep your nipples
Breast milk comes with its own antibacterial protection, which can help soothe and heal cracks and broken skin. It’s also a fantastic way to prepare your nipples for breastfeeding, and to keep it naturally moist after each session.
Spread a few drops of breast milk over the nipple before your baby latches. Not only will it moisten the area, but she’ll also smell it and find it easier to latch. Then repeat once again after the nursing session to keep your nipples moist as well as heal any skin damage.
You can do this along with the lanolin cream, or if you happen to run out.
12. Keep your breasts clean and dry
Some complications happen not because of a latch or clogged ducts, but because of the physical surface of the breast. For instance, complications like thrush happen because of fungus, or cracked sores are worsened when they rub on your clothes.
One simple way to keep your breasts clean and dry is to air dry them as much as possible. This might feel awkward, as you’ll be walking around your home with your breasts exposed. But allowing them to air dry helps avoid further contact and constriction from your clothes.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re switching up your nursing bras, tops, and pads. Wash and launder your clothes to avoid bacteria and fungus from growing on them.
13. Change nursing positions often
Do you have a “go-to position” when you nurse your baby? Sometimes that could lead to plugged ducts, especially when her mouth is only taking from certain ducts and not others.
One of the best ways to avoid plugged ducts and empty your breast is to change your nursing positions often.
Many of us default to the cradle hold, but for the next feeding session, you might do a football hold to get more of your breast emptied. Or you can try the reverse cradle hold (for instance, feeding her on the right breast with the top of her head pointing to the left one).
Try to get her chin facing different directions each time she nurses. Changing positions drains your breasts, which helps to avoid plugged ducts and helps you increase milk supply.
In fact, SSBE reader Kathleen suggested an awkward but effective position to remove clogged ducts: nursing over your baby:
“I struggled with plugged ducts until I learned this trick. Lay the baby down, maybe prop their head up a little. Arrange yourself over them so your breast is hanging freely and allow them to nurse. Never had a plugged duct thru more than 2 nursing sessions when doing this. Have passed it on to other women with great success for them, too.”
It can be a strange position, but one I’ve done myself with much success.
I’ll be honest: I had a love-hate relationship with breastfeeding. The first few weeks were some of the toughest, but I also knew I’d miss the special moments only breastfeeding can offer. And sometimes what helped the most were the tips and tricks that made breastfeeding so much easier.
For instance, increase your milk supply by pumping on the other breast while the baby nurses on the other. Remember to unlatch a strong suction by inserting your finger into your baby’s mouth. Ease engorgement by manually emptying your breast in the shower.
Then, offer your less-sore nipple first (or pump it) to avoid a strong initial sucking. Encourage your baby to empty the breast so she gets both cycles of milk. Breast shells can help protect sore or tender nipples. Feed often to increase your milk supply and to satisfy the baby.
If you’re pumping, introduce the bottle early enough for your baby to take to it before your first day back at work. Once at work, leave a few pump parts there so you can continue with your schedule should your parts break. Make sure the baby’s mouth covers the areola for a good latch.
Then, use breast milk to soothe and heal broken skin and cuts. Keep your breasts clean and dry to avoid complications. And finally, change nursing positions often to ensure that all your milk ducts are emptied.
Hopefully this has inspired you to continue breastfeeding. After all, this isn’t one of those things you can pause and get back into down the line. You can enjoy breastfeeding, even if its challenges caught you by surprise.
Read more about breastfeeding secrets and tips:
- 5 Tips to Stop the Pain After Breastfeeding
- What Every Mom Needs to Know about Pumping at Work
- 9 Tips on Staying Motivated to Breastfeed
- Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty for Pumping at Work
- Scared to Breastfeed? Try These Tips!
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and get my handout—at no cost to you—and discover one mistake you may be making with your baby’s awake time! Download it below: