Breastfeeding Tips: Latching

I counted it up y’all. For the past 3 years and 11 months I have been either pregnant or breastfeeding (or both) and wanted to share some pro tips I’ve discovered along the way regarding some common breastfeeding complications we’ve had to walk through. I say “we” because breastfeeding really is a team effort – man + wife as well as baby + mama as we all figure out mama’s new body together. It’s something I hadn’t really given much thought to prior to having babies except that I knew I wanted to give my babies the best shot I could. Sure I read some things, taken a basic lactation + birthing class at the hospital and seen other women sucessfully rock breastfeeding. I assumed it would be the same for me, and was shocked when it wasn’t. Isn’t it supposed to come naturally?

Hopefully this will save you some of the trial and error I had to go through or you can at least relate with me, and know that you’re not alone. I’m not a doctor or a health professional or a lactation consultant – just a mama with a little experience under my belt. Everyone’s body has similar but also as individualized needs and I would encourage you first to be a student of your own bodies – including your baby’s –  during the season of breastfeeding, lest you become overwhelmed by panic and tears and your late night google search results like I was.

Today we’re going to talk about Latching.

My first daughter was born in a hospital. It was a great hospital, one that prided themselves in having the lowest epidural rate in town (80%), provided equipment like exercise balls during labor and also the option of a midwife to those who wanted it as opposed to an OB for the delivery. But at the end of the day, they were still a hospital. They didn’t let me eat during labor. They kept asking if I wanted drugs every hour. After several hours of my labor “stalling” at 6 cm they strongly recommended breaking my water to “keep things moving.” They provided lactation support, but because of standard procedure they enforced that the infant needed to nurse within 30 minutes after birth or they would intervene. Which in my case, they did.

(I’m NOT knocking hospitals for birth. It’s a great place to be in the case an emergency does come up. I would do it again. But next time, I will go in with a little more composure and not be spooked by the urgent atmosphere and all the hype.)

My husband STILL remembers the nurse that brought in that dreaded nipple shield, a silicone piece to put over my breast to “help the baby to latch.” I remember feeling like I had no choice. I didn’t know what a nipple shield was, or why it was necessary, but I was starting to get nervous that my baby “wouldn’t latch” like the nurse was saying. She didn’t take into account that I had just gone through 26 hours of labor and 2 hours of pushing to birth her, her umbilical lifeline + nourishment had just been severed literally minutes before, and she was tired from all that work too. Now people were poking and prodding her and trying to get her to eat something. Had we more time, I’m sure we would have figured it out.

When the lactation nurse came in the next morning and was upset the nurses had intervened without consulting her, she shook her head and said sorrowfully that it would take me weeks to wean my baby off the shield and re-train her to my breast. The shield was for special cases, not to be used lightly. She encouraged me the best she could and, through tears of pain and exhaustion, I thanked her for coming. I think I was so delierious I actually hugged her – shirtless – and I’m not even a “hugger.” But that’s beside the point.

It took 3 months of extra stress and anxeity worrying about her slow weight gain (a common consequence from using a nipple shield), and running out to Target to buy a new shields all the time when we lost them in all the chaos of being new parents. After 3 months I was fed up and we buckled down and trained her to nurse properly.

We did this by:

  • Starting her on without the shield for 5 minutes, then taking it off and encouraging her to re-latch
  • Relaxing, listening to soft music, and trying not to stress
  • Offering frequently

Every 4 hours or so if she hadn’t gotten anything and I was starting to engorge I used a breast pump and gave her a few ounces in a bottle to satisfy her. Finally, once she was hungry enough, she became determined; and finally, it clicked. We threw out the shields a few weeks later singing hallelujah.

“Latching issues” is a general excuse that’s overused because it’s convenient. It may sound convenient to use a nipple shield to prevent nipple pain, or pump to prevent the baby from crying if they are dependent on a bottle, but honestly the best thing we did for my oldest was buckle down and train her. It was empowering for me as a new mom as well to know that we had gotten through a hurdle together – her and I. It was our first real teaching moment. It was bonding and it was sacred.

There are obviously special cases that need to be addressed and legitimate latching issues like tongue ties and inverted nipples that equipment like nipple shields can be necessary and useful for. Sometimes, it’s the only way a baby can drink breast milk and that’s what’s important to us breastfeeding girls. But, mama, I would encourage you not to let anyone diagnose you with a general term and be discouraged thinking there’s something you’re missing about the whole breast feeding thing. That it must be easy for everyone else but not you, or that there’s something “wrong” when there might not be. Give yourself more credit as a teacher and your baby more credit as a student – its a process and it takes time. Likely, she’ll get it. And you’ll be rocking breastfeeding in time.

You got this mama!

Kristin

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This is the first of a series on Breastfeeding Tips. Follow along and feel free to share your tips, experiences, and encouragement in the comments as we discuss more topics together here at the Born Well Doula.

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