Breastfeeding Secrets Everyone Should Know

mom breastfeeding baby

After delivering my fifth baby, I remember being told the lactation consultant would be coming around and rolling my eyes. What could this person tell me that I, the mother of FIVE, wouldn't already know? My prior experiences with lactation consultants were only minimally productive, and most of my breastfeeding successes were hard-won through trial and error. 

Imagine my shock when this woman entered my room as a high-energy ball of information that somehow, after more than a decade of parenting, I had never before heard. Almost a year later, a lot of those gems have begun to fade as I’ve settled into the final chapter of my breastfeeding journey. However, some have stuck with me, and combined with my own experience, here are some key breastfeeding secrets that everyone should know.

Reading Your Baby’s Cues

It can be challenging to understand what your baby wants and why they are crying when they can’t easily communicate – especially when, as brand new people, they may not even be sure themselves what they want! 

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Your baby’s cues can be broken down into three categories: sound (noises and the types of cries they make), visual (facial expressions and color of face), and positional (how are they holding their hands and body). These cues can tell you whether your baby is hungry, gassy, or pooping – which can give you a better idea of how to proceed. 

Some hunger cues you can look for in your newborn include:

  • Clenched fists near mouth: In the womb, babies suck on their hands and associate them with soothing and comfort. Bringing their hands to their mouths can signify that your baby wants to eat and soothe their hungry tummy. 
  • Head turning to the side: Once babies realize that there is a source for soothing hunger, they will begin to turn their heads in search of the breast. 
  • Lip smacking or opening/closing mouth: Likewise, babies will move their mouths in a motion of eating when they are hungry. 
  • Crying with a “neh” sound: As your baby cries for milk, they will often move their tongue near the front of their mouth, making a similar motion to when they latch on to a nipple. This will result in a “neh” sounding cry which escalates more and more loudly and angrily if their needs are not being met. 

You may begin to see a pattern in these cues as your newborn finds their feeding schedule, and you both fall into a rhythm. This is also not an exhaustive list, and you may see your baby doing certain actions that you will come to recognize are their way of saying, “feed me!” or even “I'm full now.”

Delegate Non-breastfeeding Care

You will also start to notice other cues your baby gives that are not hunger related. Things like a high-pitched cry could mean gas or a red face could mean your baby is having a bowel movement. Decoding these signs will help you to more quickly and easily address your baby’s needs. 

Out of all the needs of a newborn, only one (hungry) must be exclusively addressed by the breastfeeding parent. (And even then, if you are pumping or supplementing with formula, some feeds can be done via bottle.)  

It’s easy to just assume every time a breastfeeding baby cries they are hungry and to hand them over to the breastfeeding parent, but this can lead to an imbalance of responsibility or even trigger a stress reaction in the breastfeeding parent every time the baby cries (which for some babies is frequent!). Breastfeeding on demand does not need to mean that the breastfeeding parent is on demand at all times. Working together with your baby's other caretaker(s) can relieve pressure, reduce stress, and create a healthier overall breastfeeding experience. 

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Set Yourself Up for Success

Breastfeeding is nearly as mental and emotional an experience as it is a physical one. To have a successful breastfeeding journey, being relaxed and having a patient, positive mindset can make all the difference. Treat breastfeeding sessions from a loving perspective for both you and your baby. You are figuring things out together with all the setbacks and successes included!

Having a breastfeeding “station” set-up can help you mentally set aside that time and put yourself in a positive mindset. Consider having things such as a comfortable chair, water for hydration, and a variety of sweet/salty snacks to your preference. Breastfeeding supplies like nipple cream, spit-up cloths, breast pads, and nipple shields are also great to have on hand. You may want to have an extra long phone charger or a favorite book nearby for entertainment so you don’t become restless and can settle in for as long as the session takes. 

Slow Down

One of my biggest breastfeeding setbacks was rushing through feedings. I often felt anxious, like I was “wasting” time or missing out on things happening elsewhere while feeding my baby. As soon as my baby slowed down or stopped, I would immediately “close shop” and head back out to where the action was happening – only to be frustrated when my baby would cry from hunger a short time later. 

What I learned was to be more patient with feeds to ensure my baby was getting all the milk they needed during each feed so we weren’t bouncing back and forth as their little tummy emptied. I learned about something called “the mid-meal nap,” where it is common for newborns to nurse on one side, fall asleep for 20-30 minutes, and then wake up to eat on the other side. That would still be considered one “session” or “feed,” even though there was a nap and a break in between. This helped me recognize that while my newborn baby was growing stronger and developing the stamina they would need for longer feeds, they had slower, broken-up nursing sessions — rather than the tons of tiny short ones I saw. It felt much more manageable to have one longer two-part feed than two short feeds because I knew what to expect, and I didn’t try to rush on to another activity. 

Address Challenges Swiftly

Many issues can arise with breastfeeding, including sore nipples, mastitis, thrush infections, or food allergies. The best secret to breastfeeding success is to find a community and support network. Even one trusted, experienced friend to connect with for advice, sympathy, and encouragement makes a big difference! 

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help from a lactation consultant; if you aren’t connecting with that one, don’t be afraid to find another! There’s no reason to suffer alone and in silence through your breastfeeding journey. Each experience is personal and unique, even from baby to baby. And whether you breastfeed for a day, a few months, or a year or more, you are doing a wonderful service for your baby. 

Happy breastfeeding! 

 

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