10 Things That Can Help You Succeed at Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding my babies was an absolute no-brainer for me. It’s extremely cheap compared to formula, you get to bond with your baby, and it’s natural and healthy. I thought breastfeeding would be pretty simple, but, turns out, I was dead wrong. I almost didn’t succeed my first time breastfeeding, but with the help of many breastfeeding essentials (that we’ll lay out below), I was able to feed my first baby for one year. Then I fed my second baby for one year as well. Now I’m on my third, and, well, you get the idea.

Breastfeeding is not always easy to do, but you can succeed with these 10 essentials!© lokisurina – stock.adobe.com

My experience breastfeeding 3 babies now (we’re only 6 weeks in with my third baby, but still going strong!) has not been without pain or frustration. I could have given up, but that just wasn’t an option for me. I attribute my success at breastfeeding all three of my babies to these 10 essentials.

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10 Essentials to Ensure Breastfeeding Success

Let me share with you what I believe to be the essentials of breastfeeding so you can come out victorious!

1. WATER

Okay, so, yes, this is obvious. But it’s not always so simple to drink water when you have a newborn around. I, for one, tend to forget to take care of myself when I’m caring for a tiny human being. Drinking water seems to be the last thing on my mind, but it should really be a priority. A TOP priority.

Just today I woke up at 9 AM (thanks to the tiny little human who wouldn’t even stay asleep until 1 AM last night and then proceeded to wake me up at 6 AM 😉 ), got breakfast for my girls, breastfed tiny little human, got my girls dressed, welcomed my mom into our home to play with the girls, put tiny little human to sleep, and then realized that I hadn’t filled up my water bottle and started drinking water for the day. That was nearly noon when the realization happened. And, guess what? It’s 3 in the afternoon and I have only drank a total of 2 cups. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do today.

You need to drink more than 8 cups a day to keep a good milk supply up. Fortunately, I always receive a large water bottle at the hospital when I have a baby, and I continue to drink water from it when I return home. I personally can’t drink from a cup or a glass because then I lose track of how much I need to drink. Check out these 7 other ways to help you drink more water while breastfeeding.

As you establish your supply of breast milk during the first few weeks, it will be infinitely easier if you are drinking the water your body needs to make that milk.

2. HEALTHY MEALS AND SNACKS

Yes, obvious again. Same with water, though, you can easily forget to eat when there’s a lot of chaos happening. I easily fall off the meal planning wagon with a new baby in the house, but we’ve been so lucky to have meals brought in to us with all three of our babies. Once those meals stopped coming with my first two babies, it wasn’t so easy to eat well anymore!

I suggest doing some meal planning before you have your baby, and maybe even make some of that food ahead of time so you don’t have to think about food preparation. For this third baby, I put together a 4-week meal plan and prepared some of the food ahead of time. Let me tell you, it was such a lifesaver!

As you plan and prepare your meals for those first several weeks with a newborn, try to stick to healthy meals so your body can make quality milk for your baby. You need healthy food, as well, so you have the energy to keep up with the demands of breastfeeding. It can be exhausting creating milk! 😉

Keep in mind that whatever you consume, your baby consumes, too. Avoid eating something like a delicious bean and cheese quesadilla when your baby is just a week old (I definitely did NOT do this…). Some foods can truly wreak havoc on your baby’s new digestive system. In fact, you can read all about the epic diaper blowout my first baby had because of something I ate.

If meal planning isn’t for you, check out SOS Cuisine. They offer a free 7-day menu plan specifically for the breastfeeding woman. If you like the plan, you can continue getting meal plans for just $9.95 a month. Just so you know, I’m not associated with SOS Cuisine at all, but I downloaded their 7-day menu plan (you have to subscribe) and thought it was a wonderful resource to pass on to you.

I also have a great post of 40 amazing pregnancy snacks loaded with protein (that can obviously be just as amazing for breastfeeding!) so you can add more quality snacks into your day.

Whatever you do, don’t starve yourself (because it really is easy to forget to eat when you are busy with a newborn), and eat those extra 500 calories recommended for breastfeeding!

3. A PUMP

Pumping is necessary if a) you plan to return to work, b) you think your supply needs to be maintained or boosted (i.e. your baby isn’t drinking well), or c) you want to leave your baby for several hours occasionally or regularly.

I was a NICU mom with my first baby, so pumping milk was a must. The first day my daughter was in the NICU, she had a tube going down her throat and she just couldn’t latch. After that when the tube was no longer there, she still couldn’t latch and suck for long because she had breathing issues. I pumped the whole time she was in the NICU, and I would take my colostrum and milk to the NICU so they could give it to her when she needed to drink. Unfortunately, because she had to gain more weight to leave, they also had to supplement with formula.

When we took her home from the hospital after 5 days, I continued to pump. Every single time she needed to eat, I would put her to my breast first, but if she wouldn’t take it, I would give her my pumped milk in a bottle. When she was a week and 3 days old, she finally switched completely over to breastfeeding exclusively. I continued to pump, just in case, but it was no longer a necessity.

Pumping my milk was a lifesaver. I truly wanted to breastfeed, and without that pump, there’s no way I could have done it.

You should definitely check with your insurance to find out if a pump is covered. Breast pumps can be awfully expensive, and if you plan to return to work you will need a really high-quality one.

Otherwise, if your insurance does not cover a breast pump, I highly recommend Medela. I used the hospital grade one while pumping for my first baby at the hospital, and I also had a manual pump* that I used occasionally when my husband and I wanted to leave for a date. I was going to get a pump with my third baby, and I could have had it covered by my insurance, but I decided not to get it. I just felt like I probably wouldn’t use it all that much. In my research this time around, I found that the Spectra brand was highly rated on Amazon, and that’s the one I was going to get. If you’ve had any experience with that pump, let me know in the comments below!

4. BREASTFEEDING SALVE

Breastfeeding can make your nipples quite raw. Even if they don’t bleed, they will probably hurt and sting for the first few days or weeks. I always get a tube of Lanolin at the hospital (which, if you look at your expenses itemized on your hospital bill, it’s pretty outrageously priced!). For me, Lanolin is too hard to apply to my already sore nipples, so I rarely used it with my first and second breastfeeding experiences. This time I have been using coconut oil (I use this brand*), and it seems to work much better! It is safe for the baby, and it dries rather quickly. It’s so much easier to apply as well.

If you want to try coconut oil, buy a small amount at first to see if you like it. You can use it for much more than just as a breastfeeding salve, and you may even decide to start cooking with it! Be sure you only buy coconut oil that is unrefined, cold pressed, and virgin.

Breastfeeding is not always easy to do, but you can succeed with these 10 essentials!© JenkoAtaman – stock.adobe.com

5. NURSING BRAS

Listen up, honey, you’re gonna wanna ditch your underwire bra and get a more comfortable nursing bra. A nursing bra should never be too tight or you could compromise your supply.

Not all nursing bras are created equal, obviously, so it’s important to invest in a few great ones rather than a dozen that are subpar. My favorite brand of nursing bras are Bravado! Designs*, which are sold at Target, BuyBuy Baby, and on Amazon.com. My sister generously gave me the ones she used since she won’t be having any more kids. I did not have these with my first two babies, and I wish I had! They have several different colors, sizes, and plenty of options for just about any kind of need.

6. PROTECTION FOR SORE NIPPLES

If I were to recommend just one product to you, especially if you are in major pain, it would be a nipple shield (I really like the Medela brand*). I had no idea about nipple shields until I breastfed my second child. That first week was torturous because my daughter would suck so hard (and surely her latch was terrible) that my nipples would bleed. If I had not started using a nipple shield, I doubt I would have continued breastfeeding, it was that painful. I actually cried every time I had to breastfeed, and feeding on demand (whenever she was hungry, which was often every hour) was almost too much to bear.

That first week with my second baby, I was talking with my sister and she mentioned that a friend of hers used a nipple shield to help. I looked up what exactly a nipple shield was, and I sent my husband to the store to get one right away. While the pain did not completely go away while using a nipple shield at first, it was such a relief. I could actually breastfeed without cringing, curling my toes, and crying.

My biggest mistake was that I continued to use the nipple shield the entire time I breastfed my daughter, which was a year. I was terrified of the pain that would come if I stopped using it. If you use one, I suggest weaning your baby from it within a few weeks.

When my third baby started breastfeeding, his latch was amazing and it didn’t hurt too much that first day. It seemed like shortly after we introduced a binky to him in the hospital, his latch was no longer perfect. So when we went home, one of my nipples started to get sore and then would bleed each time he would nurse. I already had nipple shields ready to go, just in case, so I started to use them again. Now, 6 weeks later, I have successfully weaned him from them and while it’s not completely pain-free, it’s very tolerable and much more pleasant than it was at the beginning. His latch is also back to how it should be!

Before I got a nipple shield with my second baby, I tried using Lansinoh Soothies Gel Pads*. They really did make a difference in between those painful feedings, but I wasn’t noticing a big difference with the bleeding. That’s why I got a nipple shield in the end.

If you do decide that a nipple shield is something you want to use, I highly recommend reading this article from KellyMom first.

7. NURSING PADS

The first few weeks of breastfeeding, you will need great nursing pads that don’t stick to your nipples and cause even more pain when you go to pull them off (been there, done that, dozens of times!).

Nursing pads can be disposable or cloth, and I suggest you have some of both. I can’t recommend a specific cloth brand because my sister gave me all of hers and I’m not sure the brand. However, I can tell you that the different disposable nursing pads available at the store are not created equal.

My favorite disposable nursing pads are Well Beginnings from Walgreens. I’ve had the least trouble with these ones and they have never stuck to me. Lansinoh nursing pads* come in as a close second for me. All the other brands I’ve tried don’t work as well in my experience.

Depending on your supply, you may need to double up on nursing pads every so often. When my babies start sleeping longer through the night, I often wake up really engorged with a soaked nursing bra and shirt.

The next three essentials are ones you can’t buy from the store…

8. MAD DETERMINATION

Oh, yes. You better believe it. I was going to breastfeed whether I liked it or not. There was no other option. It was the only option for me. Because of my mad determination I was willing to push past the really crappy parts of breastfeeding. I had a goal in mind and that was to feed my baby with my milk.

If I had thought that we could just use formula if something came up, you wouldn’t be reading this post today. I probably would have gone with formula every time.

9. A POSITIVE ATTITUDE

When in the trenches, those negative thoughts start a-swirling and they can really bring you down. There were so many times when I had a negative attitude about breastfeeding, but I tried my darndest to look for the bright side.

Don’t let yourself think “My milk just isn’t good enough for my baby” or “This pain is just too much to handle.” These destructive phrases only make the whole breastfeeding experience much harder. Try to think thoughts along these lines instead, “My body is so amazing to be able to provide nourishment for my baby” or “I can make it through today and the pain will be less tomorrow.” Keep a list of positive thoughts next to where you breastfeed. When I was having a particularly painful day, I would sometimes re-direct my thoughts just by watching an upbeat show.

10. SUPPORT

Finally, one of the most important breastfeeding essentials you could have is a support system. Consider yourself lucky if your spouse, family, and those around you all support your desire to breastfeed.

Strangely, I didn’t feel like some of the nurses in the NICU supported my desire to breastfeed my first child. I came so close to giving up because of that.

If you are in a situation where nobody really understands why you would want to breastfeed, find support. Your best bet for support in this case will probably come from joining a support group through La Leche League. If you want to breastfeed, nobody around you should try to tell you otherwise!

There you have it! If you think I missed anything, leave a comment below.

I’ve found that breastfeeding can be a very enjoyable experience when I am a-okay with all my essentials. It can take some time in the first few weeks of breastfeeding a newborn to finally feel good about breastfeeding, but it will happen. Take it one day at a time!

If this is your first time breastfeeding, good luck! I hope the experience is wonderful and relatively pain-free, especially once you get some of these breastfeeding essentials in your life!

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