Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Starting breastfeeding right with a topless babymoon

This post is a continuation of Hobo Mama's celebration of World Breastfeeding Week: August 1-7, 2009.


A shirtless weekend of uninterrupted breastfeeding initiation worked wonders for my sister-in-law, and I've heard it works for other mamas, too.

Due to a rockier start at breastfeeding, I did something similar but more complicated, with feeding tubes and other assorted inanities; I recommend going for exclusive breastfeeding instead of any supplementation and pumping, if you can swing it.

I'll explain how below in a simple, three-step program:

      1. Have a baby.
      2. Take your shirt off.
      3. Carry or wear your baby for at least two days straight, sleeping together whenever the baby sleeps.

You will find that the newborn will gravitate toward your toplessness and do what comes naturally: breastfeed!

This might sound like I'm oversimplifying matters, but really, what you need most when it's your first time breastfeeding — or when you've had a lack of success before — is practice. And the best way to practice is to let your baby nurse as often as possible.

So close the blinds, rent some good DVDs, and strip from the waist up. Even if you have a winter baby, your snuggling will keep you warm. (All right, you can put an unbuttoned cardigan on if you need to...)

Then just let your baby lead you in how often to feed. If you're just getting the hang of things, go ahead and stop, sit with a comfy nursing pillow or lie down side by side, and just nurse. Let your partner or another (unembarrassed) helper bring you food and plenty of water to drink, and don't give housework or work-work a thought. It's not being lazy to put your feet up in those early days, just as in your pregnancy days — you're still growing a whole baby, after all! If you really want to get something done or just feel restless, strap your baby to your chest, facing in, and let her snack as she wishes while you wander free.

It might surprise you just how often a newborn eats, but go with the (milk) flow. In fact, that's how milk is produced in the first place: supply and demand. Your baby's suckling prompts your body to produce more milk. If you try to space out your feedings or limit the time your baby spends eating in hopes of "filling" your breasts, you're shooting yourself in the foot...er, breast...er, ouch, never mind that analogy. Here, read this article from Kellymom: "How does milk production work?" It even has handy-dandy diagrams showing how milk is made.

Now, it's natural to be worried about milk supply, particularly in a culture where breastfeeding is not the norm and you might not have had a lot of experience seeing it firsthand, a culture in which bottle feeding seems more straightforward and surefire. We're accustomed to see-through bottles, with lines that measure liquids in ounces; there's no seeing through the opaque flesh of your breasts to make sure they're filling with milk, and your baby's not giving you any feedback in numbers as to how much he's eaten in the past 24 hours. The good news is, no matter if you have a normal, low, or high milk supply (and it's probably normal, fyi), the first suggested solution is always the same: Breastfeed often. As often as your baby wants to eat, feed him. If you don't want to take just my word for it, read another article from Kellymom: "Increasing Low Milk Supply" — which has this word of advice: "To speed milk production and increase overall milk supply, the key is to remove more milk from the breast and to do this frequently."

To remove milk (and thereby ensure that you produce more, until eventually you're at just the right amount for your particular baby), get the baby latched on and positioned properly, and breastfeed frequently. Your topless babymoon will allow you to do just that!

If you need help improving your latch or you're concerned about discomfort on the part of your baby or yourself, don't be shy about hiring a lactation consultant, contacting a breastfeeding-friendly midwife or physician, or having a knowledgeable friend or relative visit to help make sure everything's going right. Sometimes it takes just one little tweak from someone experienced and you have an "aha" moment, followed by comfortable, painless breastfeeding forever after. So if you are having difficulties, don't hesitate to call in some support, even if you don't have a shirt on! A La Leche League leader won't be fazed, believe me.

You might think that two days of being holed up in a cave with no shirt on and no visitors sounds dreary. Try to think of it as cozy instead. (In reality, you'll probably be so spaced-out and feeling so surreal that your baby is here and in your care that you won't even know how much time is passing!) But if all else fails, think of it as hunkering down and taking a two-day breastfeeding intensive. Your baby is born knowing how to breastfeed, but you have to put in the effort to learn how to meet her halfway. It takes practice, my dear — give it a couple topless days, and see how it goes.

Beautiful photo titled "Moment of Tenderness"
courtesy benklocek on flickr (cc)


Jamie said...

This is such a cool idea. I love the idea of ignoring the clock and just letting the baby eat whenever, wherever. Will absolutely keep this one in mind in the event of baby #2- thanks!

Betsy B. Honest said...

Beautiful. Number 3 is coming in November and since we're doing a home birth I look forward to hunkering down in the baby cave in a serious way.

Trying to do too much and please too many visitors with propriety was partially responsible for lactation problems with #1 and #2. Solvable problems but any pain in the nipple area is worth avoiding!

Jessica said...

I love this post! I didn't know breastfeeding could be difficult, so when my inlaws planned to crash at my place for the entire week after my DD was born, I didn't know I should say "No thanks, give us a week to recover and get to know each other first". No wonder I was stressed and we had a hard time getting nursing going. Luckily, we figured it out and are still happily nursing at 9 months (many more to come, I hope!) I love your blog and all of your awesome advice!

Momma Jorje said...

Sasha is 1 now and I *still* walk around topless whenever possible (most of the time). My guests know (or learn right-quick) that I'll wear a sports bra, but I just do not wear a shirt at home unless I am cold!

Sasha gets momma's milk whenever she likes! It is so much easier to have them at-the-ready.

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