Ashley Wood has been breastfeeding her daughter on demand for almost 2 years. She’s sharing the lessons learned, from taking good and bad advice, listening to your intuition, tips for pumping, and how it’s been one of the most beautiful experiences of her life.
“Breastfeeding is an instinctual and natural act, but it is also an art that is learned day by day.” – La Leche League
To begin, I want to explicitly state that the information in this article is based on my experience as a breastfeeding mother, the research I’ve done, and help I received from my midwives. It should not replace advice from your health care practitioner.
It is not intended to present breastfeeding as the best or only way to feed your child.
Breastfeeding is not for everyone, nor is it the only healthy option. Some women can’t breastfeed due to medical conditions, medications they’re taking or surgeries they’ve had. Others simply choose not to. The inability or decision not to breastfeed needs to be respected and supported and is not something we should shame other women for.
At the end of the day, a fed baby is best.
But, if you are able to and choose to breastfeed then you may find it helpful and encouraging, as I did as a new breastfeeding mother, to read another mother’s experience.
Human breast milk is amazing food for babies. It is designed to nourish them with all of the nutrients they need to grow while also providing warmth, comfort, security and forming a beautiful bond between mother and child.
Moments after my darling Ivy was born, she ate from me for a solid forty-five minutes. We were blessed with the foundations of a great latch from the beginning and breastfeeding has been one of the most natural, euphoric, absolutely beautiful experiences of my life.
I am thankful that I’ve been able to exclusively breastfeed my daughter, but I will be the first to admit that breastfeeding is so much harder than it looks.
Psychologically, it has been incredibly demanding for me at times. I’ve had anxiety over not being able to produce enough milk, my letdown being too fast or too slow, and over not feeding her enough. These thoughts are so common and most, if not all, new mothers face some kind of breastfeeding challenge at some point throughout their journey.
After learning from several midwives, nurses and doing plenty of my own research, this post is designed to inspire and guide new breastfeeding mothers. Since breastfeeding changes as the baby grows (let down sensations, milk production, etc.) these tips are meant for new nursing mothers.
HOW DOES BREASTFEEDING ACTUALLY WORK?
During the last few weeks of pregnancy, the body produces colostrum. This is the nutrient-dense, liquid gold that your baby will be receiving from suckling your breast for the first few days after birth.
Colostrum is rich in antibodies and helps protect your baby from diseases. It also acts as a laxative, which helps your baby remove the meconium from their body. This is a very good thing and often the cause for the baby to lose up to 7% of their weight after birth. This is completely normal and as long as you are healthy and your baby is healthy, your body will respond and produce enough colostrum and then milk for your baby to gain her weight back (and more.) Your body is designed to do this!
Sometimes, nurses and doctors will encourage mothers to give their babies formula right after labor so that the mother gets to rest and to help the baby gain her weight back faster. Rest is definitely needed at this time, but if long-term breastfeeding is your goal, you should begin breastfeeding as early as possible.
Breastfeeding is a supply and demand relationship
When your baby suckles on your breast, your body receives a message that your baby is hungry and that it needs to produce colostrum and then, after a few days, milk. Your baby’s stomach is very tiny at the beginning. A healthy baby’s intake of colostrum may increase 2-10 mL per feeding in the first twenty-four hours to 30-60 mL (1-2 oz) per meal by the end of day three. This is a lot of growing and A LOT of breastfeeding.
If your baby receives a bottle of expressed milk or formula, your body isn’t being told to make colostrum or milk. In order to build up a sufficient supply of breastmilk to meet your baby’s nutritional needs, it’s important to put them on your breast every time they display signs of hunger.
ARE THEY REALLY STILL HUNGRY?!
Newborns are not machines. Many doctors, nurses, and even midwives believe that babies have to eat every two hours and tell new mothers to feed them on this schedule all day and all night. There are even apps now that set alarms to remind mothers to feed their babies.
In all the uncertainty of new motherhood, following a schedule can be helpful. But it’s not for everyone. But to me, and with the support of my midwife, regular feeding schedules based on the time rather than the baby can add an extra level of stress. Rather than focus on the time or an app to know when to feed your baby, watch your baby, learn his/her cues and signs of hunger.
learn her cues
Your newborn baby is on survival mode and a healthy baby will not starve herself. By breastfeeding on demand, your body will learn (from your baby) when she’s hungry and when to produce milk.
Your baby will tell you when she’s hungry. She will display hunger cues by sticking his or her tongue out (rooting), opening his or her mouth widely (searching for a breast), or putting their hands in his or her mouth. If the baby is being held, he or she might start to bob their head around searching for your breast. If after displaying one or more of these signs they may begin to cry if they haven’t been fed. Tune into your baby, pay close attention to them and put them on your breast before they cry. Crying is their last resort.
This may mean that you’re sometimes breastfeeding every twenty minutes. You may ask yourself, “How can this baby STILL be hungry? I just breastfed for the past hour!” In the first few days, weeks, even months of breastfeeding, it’s so important to follow your baby’s lead and feed her when she asks for it.
listen to your intuition
I went against my mother intuition and gave Ivy a pacifier for the first few weeks of her life. My midwife strongly discouraged this as it could cause me to miss her hunger cues and therefore have her go hungry. I listened to others in my life instead, who told me that babies need pacifiers. In the end, my midwife was right. I confused her hunger cues for fussiness, gave her the pacifier and in turn, she missed some of her meals. She was NOT a happy baby. As soon as I realized what was going on, I took the pacifier away and she’s been without one ever since. I know that they work for some babies, but for us, whenever Ivy was starting to display signs of fussiness, I put her on my breast. After all, the pacifier was invented to replicate the comfort the breast provides.
ESTABLISHING A STRONG BREASTFEEDING FOUNDATION
As I’ve mentioned, breastfeeding on demand helps establish a healthy milk supply for your baby because every time your baby suckles on your breast, your body receives a message to make milk. There are many other factors that play into developing and growing a successful breastfeeding relationship between you and your baby.
+ Have a support team in place
Becoming a mother is beautiful, exhilarating and total roller coaster of hormones, emotions and exhaustion. Having a group of people or even just one person that you know you can trust to support you, encourage you and take care of you during the beginning is extremely helpful. My husband was and still is my rock. After Ivy was first born, he brought me breakfast in bed (a smoothie and oatmeal) so I could focus on nursing her. He was also there to support me and encourage me when I felt like giving up, which happened more than once.
+ Empty Your Breasts
Before putting your baby on your other breast, make sure she has fully emptied the breast she began nursing on. This helps your body know how much milk to make for each one of your baby’s meals. Also, the first milk that your baby will drink is the foremilk, a light, thinner milk. Then, she’ll get the ‘hindmilk’, which is the fatty, good stuff. Try not to get too hung up this though. I stressed about it far too much, worrying if Ivy was getting enough hindmilk or not. If your baby is happy and gaining weight, she’s well fed.
+ Eat an ABUNDANCE of food
Your body is working SO hard to produce milk for your baby so make sure to eat until you’re 100% satisfied. This may mean having a meal at 3:00 am. Listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry.
+ Drink LOTS of water!
In the early days of breastfeeding, you’ll notice that as you’re feeding your baby you’ll feel SO thirsty. Make sure you’re staying hydrated during this time and throughout your entire breastfeeding journey. I still drink at least 2-3 litres of water every day.
+ Take herbs
Fennel and fenugreek are galactagogues herbs, which mean they help promote breastmilk production. My midwife shared this tip with me and it dramatically increased my supply overnight.
+ Perfect the latch
Ivy and I were blessed with the foundations of a perfect latch from the beginning, but we still had to work to perfect it. Just hours after having Ivy, my midwife told me that teaching her how to latch was going to be my first job as a mother. She instructed me to not allow Ivy to eat unless she was latched on my breast correctly. If the latch was not correct, I would be in pain, breastfeeding would be difficult, and my nipples could become very sore.
I took her advice and every time I went to feed Ivy, I expressed a small amount of colostrum/milk with my hand so my nipple was dripping. This gave her a little reward to latch properly. Then, I smashed my breast into her mouth. I could feel it right away if her mouth wasn’t open wide enough and wouldn’t let her continue. I’d put my finger in her mouth and carefully take her off of my breast. At times it took over five minutes to begin feeding her and she did get frustrated, but after two days of dedicated ‘latch training,’ we perfected it and to this day, I haven’t had sore nipples.
If you do suffer from sore nipples, try a nipple shield. I also love Earth Mama’s Nipple Butter and used it every day as self-care (and still do, but as a facial moisturizer).
This can be the hardest part. When you sit down to nurse your baby, before beginning, take DEEP breaths. Imagine yourself as a breastfeeding goddess with milk flowing from your breasts. Imagine your baby chugging your healthy milk that’s flowing freely and quickly from your breasts. Then, begin to breastfeed. Continue to inhale and exhale slowly with these thoughts in your mind. Look down at your baby, feel the love and pride you have for him or her and allow your milk to flow out of your body. If it helps, close your eyes and do your best to relax and truly enjoy the experience.
Whenever my anxiety is troubling me, Ivy and I have a bath together. I turn off the lights, light some candles and lay in the warm water with her. Skin to skin, she suckles from my breast. It always helps me relax and she loves it, too!
+ Believe in yourself
Just as your body conceived, grew and birthed your baby, your body is DESIGNED to provide food for your baby. You were meant to do this!
Pumping can also help bring up your milk supply. When Ivy was a few days old, I started pumping every night to build up a stash to keep in the freezer just in case I was unable to breastfeed her.
If you have to go back to work, it’s a good idea to establish a pumping routine from the start to build up that supply. Do your best to pump at the same time every single day so your body gets used to producing extra milk at that time. Take a deep breath before beginning to pump and drink a BIG glass of water. While you’re pumping, envision your baby if you’re not with her. Look at photos of her, day dream about her suckling your breast and feel proud about the milk you’re saving to feed her. If you are with your baby, gaze into her eyes and enjoy the bonding moment.
AVOIDING POTENTIAL (PAINFUL) PROBLEMS
There are a few painful problems that can happen along the way—from engorgement to clogged milk ducts, infections, mastitis and more.
The two best ways to help avoid these problems is to nurse OFTEN. Empty those breasts! Try to massage your breasts daily, preferably under hot water in the shower. If you feel any lumps or warm spots in your breasts, jump in the shower and massage down, towards the nipple. This will encourage the milk to flow. Then, put your baby on your boob and encourage her to suckle, suckle, suckle. The more she nurses, the less FULL you’ll feel.
You may also want to hire a lactation consultant or join a breastfeeding support group. La Leche League is a great resource for this.
Online resources are tricky and the conflicting advice can often leave you feeling more confused, anxious or overwhelmed. Find an online resource or community that you trust. When I needed to troubleshoot breastfeeding problems, I went to www.kellymom.com. She was my most trusted resource.
If you’re unable to breastfeed, formulas are available. You can also receive donated breastmilk from another nursing mother through HumanMilk4HumanBabies. This is an amazing organization that has Facebook pages set up for many regions around the world.
The biggest piece of advice I have for you is this — at the end of the day, believe in yourself. Your body was MEANT to do this. You DO have enough milk and you ARE doing the right thing! Listen to your heart and your mama intuition, it will never lead you astray!
ASHLEY WOOD is a spiritual and intuitive guide, lightworker, Akashic Records reader and mother dedicated to empowering women to live their best life. She is the host of Manifest This!, an internationally recognized and respected podcast and also a long-time contributor to The Body Book. She is passionate about vegan living, yoga, animals and the outdoors. She resides in Winnipeg, Canada with her husband Ben, daughter Ivy and cats Bose and Feesh. Together they create and produce Manifest This! and own Lot 49 Dairy-Free Foods.