No matter what stage of motherhood you’re in—hopeful, expecting, or new mama—you may be considering breastfeeding as your feeding option for your baby. While I am an advocate for any and all safe feeding methods, I chose to breastfeed my child from the get-go. When my son was born, I did my best to keep my expectations low around breastfeeding and often told myself that I would continue breastfeeding for as long as it was an enjoyable experience for my son and me.
Thankfully, that journey has lasted for an entire year, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing. The early morning or late-night feedings were tough to get through, my supply dipped a bit when I returned back to work after my maternity leave ended, and planning any outings always took a bit of extra packing and consideration.
If you are considering exclusively breastfeeding for your child regardless of if it’s for one month, six months, or one year, here are a few tips from a mom who’s been there that may help you too.
1. I made appointments with a lactation consultant
The best thing I could’ve ever done for my breastfeeding journey was getting a lactation consultant. Every insurance plan is different, but most cover at least 1-3 sessions with a lactation consultant once you deliver your baby. It took me about 1-2 weeks of trying to figure out latching and breastmilk intake on my own when I knew I needed help from an expert. She was phenomenal from the get-go. She would weigh my son before and after feedings, watch my latch, give tips and advice on breastfeeding positions, and would provide evidence-based guidance on how much milk he should be consuming at certain milestones for the first year. This was extremely helpful, especially once I went back to work because I needed to make sure that what I was pumping was an appropriate amount for what he would need while at daycare.
If your insurance plan covers it or if you can find the money in your budget, I would highly recommend getting 2-3 sessions with a lactation consultant. Whether you use all sessions right away or space them out over the year, that is a personal choice. But I truly believe that I wouldn’t have made it one year without my lactation consultant by my side.
2. I created a consistent nursing and pumping schedule
When you have a newborn, schedules are completely foreign to them and you just have to more or less follow their lead. That was the case for us, and I’ve nursed as often as every 30 minutes to now going as long as 11 hours when he sleeps through the night. But once we were out of the newborn stage, we consistently nursed at 9:30 am, 12:30 pm, 3:30 pm, 6:30 pm, and an occasional dream feed at 10:30 pm until he was about 9 months.
Having this schedule was important for many reasons. It allowed me to plan errands and outings around this nursing schedule so that I could be ready to nurse at those specific intervals. The schedule also taught my body to produce breast milk at regular intervals rather than constantly producing breast milk back from the cluster feeding stages. Lastly, the schedule helped tremendously when I went back to work and needed to figure out when to pump. Since I had already put my body on a regular schedule, I knew to pump at those same times while at work.
3. I fought for my right to pump at work against all odds
One of the biggest hurdles I experienced throughout my breastfeeding experience was pumping once I went back to work after maternity leave. I truly believe that all moms should go through a crash course of all the things to consider, know, and expect if you go back to work because I found the juggling act between motherhood and my career incredibly difficult.
My biggest advice for you is to be open with your boss about your desire to keep feeding your child in this way and how you plan to incorporate this into your work schedule once you’re back. Let your boss know the times you’ll need to pump, how long you anticipate the entire session taking (at least a full 20-30 minutes when you include time to clean any parts, etc.), and that you’ll need a private space that isn’t a bathroom to pump.
As unfortunate as it is, I know that not all workplaces are open and accommodating for working mothers, especially working, breastfeeding/pumping mothers. While I have heard horror stories of women being threatened to lose their job if they keep taking time away from work to pump, many managers anticipate that they may have this conversation after someone’s maternity leave.
As awkward as the conversation may be at times, being open and honest with your manager from the very moment you know you’ll be returning to work and wanting to pump is important. Give as much information and detail as you can so they can feel comfortable that you’re not only committed to your children but also to your work.
Lastly, block off your pump times on your calendar. Create a private meeting on your calendar for each time you plan to pump. This will lessen the possibility that an unexpected meeting will pop up on your calendar during the exact time that you had planned to pump. Should that happen, see if the person would be willing to move the meeting up or back 15-20 minutes so that you can do both. While it’s not always the case, many people are willing to be accommodating if you just ask.
4. Try to let go of stress while pumping or nursing
One thing I didn’t realize when I first started pumping was how big of a factor stress was in my milk production. Throughout my first year of motherhood, I went in and out of really stressful moments (as many moms do), so I know and understand that being stress-free, even for 20 minutes, can sometimes be easier said than done. But I do know that the one thing that helped me produce more milk, whether it was while nursing or pumping, was when I could roll my shoulders back away from years, soften my eyebrows, unclench my jaw, and breathe slowly.
You may think I’ve gone completely off the rails here, but it’s true. When I’m stressed and trying to express milk, all I’m concerned about is how little is coming out or how I wish the nursing or pumping session would be over now so that I could get back to the thing I’m stressed about. The times that I was able to relax, even if I had come straight out of a tense meeting, was worried about my kid for some reason, or was worried about something else, I saw a huge difference.
If you’re struggling with finding ways to release stress, my number one tried-and-true way is to look at happy and/or funny pictures or videos of my child. Hearing his laugh, watching him take his first step, seeing a cute photo during the newborn days—all of these would instantly bring a smile to my face and remind me of why I’m doing what I’m doing.
If you’re about to begin your breastfeeding journey or you’re already on it, I hope you know that you’re doing a really great thing for you and your baby. All feeding options are just fine, but breastfeeding does come with a whole host of things to consider and contemplate to make it work in your life. Keep your head up, ask for help from trusted sources, and find other moms who are breastfeeding too. And no matter how long your breastfeeding journey lasts, knowing that fed is best is all that matters.