There are plenty of conflicting strategies and opinions about how to breastfeed—timed feeding versus feeding-on-demand, for instance—but remember that, just as you know your own body, through intuition and experimentation, you will get to know your baby’s needs better than anyone.
That said, breastfeeding is not necessarily as intuitive as it is made out to be. It can be a skill that you learn and develop. Different techniques, combined with persistence and patience, can make a big difference in successful breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding can be a great remedy for postpartum depression. It helps balance hormone swings and increases endorphin levels—but it can also pose some challenges.
There are also some nifty gadgets such as breast pumps (I highly recommend renting or buying a hospital-grade one), nipple shields (very useful if you have small or inverted nipples), and supplemental nursing systems, or SNS, which are tiny tubes that you tape parallel to your nipple to distribute formula.
Supply and demand usually start to match up after a while, but don’t hesitate to seek out a lactation consultant for more tips.
General tips to build milk supply
- Decrease your level of stress (the more relaxed you are, the greater the release of prolactin and oxytocin, which facilitates milk production and bonding).
- Stay hydrated with water, stocks, soups, and non-caffeinated teas.
Power foods for boosting milk supply
- Fermented foods (such as miso soup and sauerkraut) in small amounts with each meal
- Soaked oat and barley congee (1 cup grain to 8 cups water, boiled and simmered until porridge-like)
- Beets, carrots, winter squash
- Leafy greens
- Sea vegetables
Milk-production tea recipe
Boil 1⁄2 cup barley in 3 cups of water for twenty-five minutes. Pour into cup and add 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds. Cover and let steep for ten minutes. Optional to also sweeten with honey.
Drink daily as needed.
Additional tips for engorgement
Engorgement, or intense swelling of the breasts, often occurs when milk first comes in, or when baby decides to not take much milk during a feeding. It may be incredibly uncomfortable, but will generally resolve as supply adjusts to baby’s demand. To help this adjustment along, try the following:
- Apply warmth and gently massage breasts toward the nipples, hand-express the milk to start it flow- ing, and then encourage baby to nurse.
- Soak cabbage or comfrey leaves in cold water and apply to breasts for twenty minutes.
- A hot ginger compress can help when applied under the arms and to the outer areas of the breasts (but not the nipples). Chop up a handful of fresh ginger root, tie it in a muslin bag, and simmer for ten minutes in boiling water. Let it cool just until you can tolerate the temperature on your skin, then lightly squeeze out excess water and apply for five to ten minutes to each spot.
To remedy cracked nipples
- Check baby’s latch.
- Apply vitamin E, aloe vera, or lanolin and ice to nipples in between nursing sessions. (Be sure to clean off the goop before nursing.)
- Express a few drops of milk and rub it into the areola to help the healing time.
- Exposure to sunlight can also be beneficial.
- Mastitis, or raw and inflamed breasts can leave you susceptible to infection, so if you develop any flu symptoms, call your provider right away.