Breastfeeding: easily the very hardest thing I've ever physically endured in my entire life. Also one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things I've ever experienced. After breastfeeding three babies I've definitely learned a trick or two, but most of all I want to share some of the tips I wish so badly I would've known my first and maybe even more importantly my second time around too!
Breastfeeding tips: FED IS BEST
Before we even get into this post, this needs to be addressed. Thank goodness we've changed the phrase “breast is best” into “fed is best.” There is NO SHAME in bottle feeding your baby, whether that's with formula or pumping. I've done all 3 and started Lyla on formula at 6 months and feel absolutely zero shame about it, and if for whatever reason breastfeeding hadn't worked out for me or I just didn't want to, I would have been no less of a mother feeding my baby with formula.
I cannot stand it when people try to mom-shame mothers who bottle feed their babies. Baby being fed is the most important thing, and the second most important is not making that mother, who is undoubtedly already feeling exhausted and questioning herself (as all mothers do), feel like she's failing or less-than. The best mother on this planet that I know (my mom) bottle fed all four of her kids and they turned out pretty dang great if you ask me haha.
But if you want to breastfeed your babies, this post will hopefully help you know what to REALLY expect, how to help yourself have the best chance for success, and what tools I used and loved to get me there.
This is gonna hurt
I wish someone had told me, oh how I wish I would've been prepared that first time around, for the very worst pain in my life! Okay maybe not for everyone, but for almost all of my friends and absolutely for me, breastfeeding is one of the very most painful things I've ever EVER felt. A million times more painful than recovering from childbirth (which was c-section in my case). And no amount of lanolin could possibly make the cracking bleeding nipples feel better.
But it doesn't HAVE to hurt
What DID help: soothies, newman's ointment (prescription only, and they have to make it at a complex pharmacy but ASK YOUR DR for this if you plan to breastfeed!!), and using your own breastmilk to heal cracks in between feeds. I really liked applying the newman's ointment (or even just a little expressed breastmilk) to my nipples in between feedings and then wearing these milk savers so that they could air out in between feedings. That really helped them heal faster!
Most of all, hiring an in-person lactation consultant to come to my house, watch my baby latch, and then physically help me correct my positioning, the baby's positioning, etc was UNBELIEVABLY helpful!! This isn't the least expensive option (although I was relieved to find it was a lot more reasonable than I would've expected for a house call from an RN!), but if you are on a bit of a budget you can look up the La Leche League + your zip code and find a group of women who can help you!! You can also ask the hospital where you delivered if they have lactation consultants and usually they do, sometimes for free and sometimes for a small fee.
I think with my second baby I felt like, “I've done this before, I should know what to do!” And I had heard SO many times, “breastfeeding shouldn't hurt.” When in all actuality I feel like we should be saying instead, “breastfeeding DOESN'T HAVE TO HURT.” Working with a lactation consultant literally made a night and day difference this third time around. I'm not talking about having someone stop by your room in the hospital when you're a literal zombie, before your nipples are all torn up and it's not that bad – I tried that with all 3 babies. I'm talking about having someone help you, hands on, when you're in the trenches dying and ready to throw in the towel.
Good things come in 3's
There's always a major milestone difference for me at 3 weeks and again at 6 weeks with breastfeeding. EVEN with help this time from an amazing lactation consultant, there's just something about that 3 week mark where your nipples kind of just “get used” to breastfeeding and a lot of the discomfort goes away. And then again at 6 weeks, it's like you wake up one day and notice breastfeeding doesn't even phase you, and there's literally zero discomfort.
I held onto hope that I had heard this was the case for other people with my first and I was so glad I did, because after those milestones I was able to really enjoy the GOOD things about breastfeeding. The bonding. The convenience of having the perfect amount of food for my baby everywhere I went with her. And all the health benefits like giving your baby the perfect mixture of what she needs to thrive including antibodies that help her stay healthy. It's also proven to lower your risk of breast and ovarian cancer for the mom who breastfeeds! Which is really cool.
Mastitis and clogged ducts, oh my!
I'm an over-producer. A good problem to have for sure, except that you really can get clogged ducts easily, which lead to mastitis! One of the very most helpful tricks I have for getting rid of a clogged duct, that NOBODY will tell you, is to get into a hot shower and let it get really steamy and then look at your nipple and try to find where there's a little white dot. Pick the dot off (just like you're picking a pimple or white head – yes, gross I'm sorry!) and then press on your boob where you feel that hardness from the clogged duct and most likely milk will shoot out like a water balloon with a leak. You'll feel INSTANT relief!
Also, a bunch of readers reached out after I had Millie and suggested pineapple juice as a great preventative step so last year when I was nursing her I drank lots of pineapple juice and only got mastitis ONCE with Millie, an all-time low record for me!
I've also taken onguard plus pills at the very first sign of mastitis (chills, flu-like symptoms in addition to the clogged duct). Those are retail price but if you're interested in getting wholesale pricing, email us and we can help you set up a wholesale account! I SWEAR by these pills to avoid getting any kind of sickness but it's especially been amazing to me to see how quickly they've zapped mastitis when I've felt symptoms coming on.
I feel like it can really help, especially a first time mom, to have a good breastfeeding pillow when you're breastfeeding. I've loved the Boppy for years but finally tried this popular one this time around (pictured above) and I actually really love it!!
I also just really love a good old regular pillow too though, and I feel like at some point if you're going to be breastfeeding for a long time, you'll have to figure out how to do it without carrying around a ridiculously large pillow with you everywhere (ha) so by no means are these MUST HAVES, but they are really nice especially when you're just figuring things out at first, or if you're breastfeeding on your bed where you don't have an arm rest!
To cover or not to cover
Honestly, with each baby, I've become less and less paranoid about covering everywhere I go while I breastfeed. For me it's all about what situation I'm in and whether I'll feel comfortable or not breastfeeding there uncovered. If I'm around only women, I honestly don't cover most of the time. But when I'm around men, I'm typically more comfortable with a cover on!
I love this cover for breastfeeding and have with all 3 of my girls. It's so nice because it acts as a car seat cover or it's even been a good little swaddle blanket for me in a pinch if I've forgotten one!
Burn the bras
I've tried so many nursing bras, more that I've hated than loved that I've wanted to burn after haha! My very favorite nursing bra with Millie, especially since I used the Willow Pump so much (more on that later) is this 3 pack! They're REALLY inexpensive ($25 for 3!!!) and they're comfy enough to sleep in but also give you a little shape with the soft cup insert in the front, so you can wear them all day AND night, and they're the very best bra to use with the Willow Pump.
My second favorite is this Bravado bra. You can read more about sizing postpartum in my postpartum must-haves post! And OH I can't forget nursing pads — you will probably REALLY need these to make sure you don't leak all over while your body is making milk. THESE are the best ever. Period. End of story. So thin. NEVER leak on me. I'm completely obsessed and wish so bad I would've have them with my first two!
Pump it up
I'm a huge believer in pumping and really enjoy (and rely on) the option of pumping and giving baby a bottle at times. In fact, I gave Millie a bottle every night for her “dream feed” around 11:30 p.m. so she'd sleep a 6 hour stretch from midnight – 6 a.m. She was way too sleepy to breastfeed at that time but she would take a bottle!
In the past, in my best baby registry list ever, I recommended the Medela Pump In Style, which for many years was kind of the gold standard in pumps and I did love it then and still do. But there's a new kid on the block, the Spectra Pump and I LOVE IT. I love that it's reasonably priced, love that it has a tiny night light, love that it's not too gigantic or heavy. My only complaint is that it has a single bottle holder spot in the back, which is nice because it keeps it small but weird that there's just one! It's hospital grade and it was one of the top recommended new baby items that other moms told me about before I had my newest baby Millie.
But for the mom on-the-go, especially working moms or even if you just see yourself traveling or needing to pump on the go while you run kids to different appointments or anywhere where you don't want to have to plug into a wall or have huge bottles hanging off your body and tubes coming out everywhere, the Willow Pump will turn your world upside down!!
This pump was literally a complete and total GAME CHANGER for me with Millie. It allows you to pump virtually anywhere, very discreetly, without having to worry about plugging in or tubes or hiding gigantic pump bottles. In the picture below, I'm pumping with the Willow Pump! Admittedly the shirt I was wearing was a little more fitted than I'm comfortable with when I'm using the Willow Pump, so I highly recommend wearing a very loose button-down or zip hoodie or house dress and it will be even more discreet.
The Willow Pump does have a few drawbacks like you pump the milk directly into bags, so you do have to buy the bags (vs being able to pump into bottles and then just screw a nipple on). I actually rarely did that anyway, because I like to use bottles that help with reflux so I don't typically feed right off the pump bottle. You have to cut off the top of the bag, so you need to bring a pair of scissors with you. I've also found that a pair of nail clippers (even the baby ones!) do the trick too, if you're worried about carrying scissors around or don't want them in your diaper bag.
And lastly, it does take some getting used to. It was definitely more uncomfortable the first 2-3 times I used the Willow Pump, but they have free coaches that will walk you through everything over the phone or even on face time, which was the most helpful for me! Other breastfeeding, pumping moms who have used the pump will walk you through how to make sure you're getting it on right and what might be going wrong. Once I made that face time call I figured out all the little things I was doing wrong and it was smooth sailing from there. Overall, it's the very biggest breakthrough in pump feeding that I've ever seen!!!
My biggest tip if you want your baby to take a bottle is to start early. I know, I know. A TON of sources out there will tell you differently, but this is what has worked with me with all 3 of my babies. I introduce a bottle within the first week, usually the same day that we do the newborn photos, and then this is key: KEEP GIVING THEM THE BOTTLE!! If you do it once but you don't try again until a month or two later when you're desperate to get out of the house for a night while your husband or someone else takes baby for a few hours, your babe might be like “um what the heck is this? No thank you!” And some people say their baby just WILL NOT take a bottle.
Again, I can only speak from my own experience but if I give my baby a bottle within the first week and keep introducing it at least once a week, they do just fine with taking a bottle. At this point in Millie's sleep schedule last year (just a few weeks old), Neil was switching off with me every other night for the late night feed which was SO HELPFUL. So I'd pump at about 10:30-11, and on his nights he'd give Millie a bottle at 11:30 while I slept! It's AMAZING. Plus I pumped about 8 oz at 10:30 p.m. and Millie was only taking 4 oz at the time, so I built up a supply for times when I had to be away and she needed milk, and I could use the Willow Pump to replenish (and keep my supply going, and relieve myself!) while I was away from her.
Bottle it up
My favorite bottles have been these ones that feel like a boob! My girls have loved these, they feel the most like a boob and real nipple so they're supposed to cut down on nipple confusion if you're worried about that! They also are designed so you don't need a bottle brush to clean them out which is SO NICE. They have vents as well to help with proper digestion and to avoid colic or gassiness by reducing the amount of air they're gulping.
These are the only bottles we use at first, but when the baby gets a little older we also start using these bottles that Lyla carried around for EVER! You can get them for about $1 a piece at Target and I never stressed about Lyla leaving one somewhere or having to throw one away if it was gross after not being cleaned out once she switched to formula at 6 months.
Formula does NOT mean failure
When Lyla was 6 months old, I decided to say yes to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go with Kate Spade to Rwanda to support their On Purpose collection, and literally WHILE I was receiving the required vaccinations (like, as the nurse was giving me the shot in my arm) I learned that it would not be safe for me to breastfeed Lyla anymore. SO we had to switch to formula. She hated the first few I tried but ended up loving this kind, so if your baby hates formula at first, try a few kinds! When I started supplementing Millie with formula at about 8 months, as she self-weaned, this was the same formula she used and loved too.
It was honestly really nice once my babies were fully on formula to not have to stress about pumping enough if I wasn't going to be with her to have plenty of milk, and it also just allowed me to work and be a mom easier and have either a babysitter or my husband help with the baby when I needed help, without feeling guilty like I should be breastfeeding instead. I LOVE breastfeeding my babies, but I'm just saying this was something I appreciated once we switched to formula.
Baby bottle maker
If you decide to switch to formula at any point, this baby formula bottle maker is GENIUS!! We used the baby formula bottle maker from 6-12 months with Lyla and we were OBSESSED. It just makes bottle making so easy. Totally not necessary, but totally amazing if you can afford this little luxury while formula feeding!
Let's talk about sex
Also, no one EVER tells you this, but I will because someone needs to say it dangit! Our sex life is ALWAYS better after I stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding makes sex REALLY painful for me because I (and MANY OTHER WOMEN) have dryness caused by the hormones that my body produces when I'm breastfeeding that makes sex painful.
I think a lot of women assume the pain is from vaginal birth, which it could be, but I've only had 3 c-sections so that's definitely NOT the case with me. It's the same type of dryness many women have when they go through menopause, so there are solutions you can talk to you doctor about too like prescription hormone cream or an over-the-counter suppository like Revaree (cleared by the FDA and totally safe while breastfeeding) which uses hyaluronic acid to help combat dryness. I'm going to be honest, none of these really “cured” me of this but they definitely helped!!
Also, to avoid leaking, I always have to wear a bra during the months I'm breastfeeding, which isn't a BIG deal but also isn't quite the same as being able to just be naked. So, yes, when I stopped at a year with my first, 6 months with my second, and 8 months with my third, it helped a lot with our sex life. Things I wish someone would've told me but nobody wants to say! And now you know. You're welcome.
I hope this post helps a few mamas out who are exploring or trying to get ready the world of breastfeeding, pumping or bottle feeding! I've loved breastfeeding all my girls but I also love giving them a bottle too! Snuggling and bonding with them while they eat and they're little is one of my very favorite parts of being a mom. If you have tips for breastfeeding or anything you've loved, leave them in the comments below! And don't forget to check out my ultra popular Best Baby Registry List Ever for more baby products I love!!