A Guide to Dealing with Low Breast Milk Supply

My Personal Experience with Low Milk Supply

My postpartum journey was very difficult. It was an extremely emotional time for me.  My feelings of pure bliss were exaggerated by intense fatigue and all the guilt and grief from not being able to exclusively breastfeed my baby.  Now having an eight month old and being able to use my experience and perspective I am happy and proud of our breastfeeding journey and all the hard work and time I put into maintaining breastfeeding.  I have learned a great deal about breast milk supply.

What Causes Low Breast Milk Supply?

There are many factors that can contribute to low milk supply; a premature baby, an ineffective latch, lip or tongue tie in the baby, prior nipple piercings or trauma, and breast augmentation can all impact supply.  Additionally, medical conditions like Hormonal Disorders (PCOS, Thyroid Issues, Diabetes, Hypertension, Luteal Phase Defect), Hypoplasia/Insufficient Glandular Tissue, and flat or inverted nipples can all be contributing factors to breast milk supply. 

I felt so upset about not having enough breast milk and in those first days really desired an understanding of why my body wasn’t able to make enough nourishment for my baby.  It felt like the lactation consultants and doctors I saw truly didn’t care about explaining or figuring out why my breasts weren’t producing enough milk.  I was able to do research to develop a better understanding of possible causes for low supply but was never diagnosed with a particular condition.  

breastfeeding problems

Tips for Increasing Low Milk Supply

There are many lactogenic foods that can help boost supply.  Fortunately, most of the foods are easily accessible and relatively easy to add to your meals.  I found many helpful recipes for lactation cookies and smoothies online that included multiple ingredients known to increase supply.  At the local farmer’s market I found sprouted fenugreek and alfalfa.  The sprouts were easy to add in a salad or snack on by the handful and helped maintain my supply.  

Many herbs are known to help increase supply.  Fenugreek is a popular supplement and is readily available in capsules. Dosage recommendations vary for fenugreek and I was instructed by a lactation consultant to take four capsules three times a day (beware! This herb upset my stomach).  You should also note that consuming large quantities of Fenugreek creates a maple syrup like smell on your skin.  

Other galactogogues include Blessed Thistle, Goats Rue, and Moringa.  These herbs are a bit harder to find but are all are available on Amazon.  I followed recommended dosages included on the products.  Several brands of herbs like More Milk Plus and Mommy Knows Best are widely renowned for their effectiveness. I was able to see some results using the Mommy Knows Best supplements. I found several excellent tinctures and herb blends at Local herb shops.  Mrs. Patels sells fenugreek bars, teas, and other treats to support milk supply. I splurged and tried the chocolate fenugreek bars and they made a slight difference in my extremely low supply. Many of the herbs and tinctures I have taken have a pretty harsh taste and a little chocolate helped get the medicine down.  

What to Avoid

There are also things that I had to be intentional to avoid while breastfeeding with a low supply. Foods that negatively affect supply include peppermint, spearmint, parsley, sage, and oregano. Other things I was mindful of included getting as much rest as possible, keeping a close eye on my health, avoiding excessive amounts of caffeine, and being under too much stress all impacted my supply. I don’t smoke cigarettes or regularly drink alcohol but both are known to interfere with the let-down reflex. I also did not start taking my regular birth control pills because they contain estrogen, which is known to decline milk production. Medications like Antihistamines, decongestants, and diuretics all decrease breast milk supply as well.

There are prescription drugs that can induce lactation. Reglan and Domperidone are known to increase supply. Reglan is documented to have adverse side effects of depression and involuntary body movements. The use of Domperidone is very controversial in the United States and is not currently approved by the FDA. The use is widespread and well documented in other areas. A great resource is the podcast Breastfeeding Outside of the Box and one of their episodes covers Domperidone.

Pumping Like a Pro

lactating mom at work

I hate pumping, and I don’t know anyone who enjoys it. In the early months I was pumping around the clock every two hours after putting baby to breast.  Pumping was very grueling and uncomfortable.  It was upsetting for me to pump because my baby was very fussy in those days and I often had to hold her while I pumped.  A hands-free pumping bra was essential.  I used the Simple Wishes Pumping Bra but wish I knew about the Dairy Fairy Pumping Bra.  The Dairy Fairy bra can be used as a hands-free pumping bra and a regular bra so no need to change in and out throughout the day.

Slanted Flanges were a gift I received from a friend and did make a slight difference with my pumping output and comfort.  I found out about nipple cushions a bit too late, but have heard rave reviews about how they do wonders for making pumping more tolerable and increase milk pumped.  I rented a Medela Symphony hospital grade pump but would love to have tried Spectra Pumps because they are the most affordable hospital grade pumps around.  

Before I pumped I always started with a warm compress. A creative Lactation Consultant recommended I use a disposable diaper and fill it with hot water to warm my breasts before I pump, this worked wonders and held more warmth than a washcloth. While pumping I always did breast compressions and saw a difference in my output. For one dreaded week I did power pumping which increased my supply significantly. I always did power pumping first thing in the morning (around 5am) when milk supply is at its height and would pump for 20 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, and finish with pumping for 10 minutes. I was instructed to do power pumping for no longer than a week; many moms are able to see a big difference in supply in a few days.  

Tips for Supplementing and Maintaining Breastfeeding Relationship

After all my work, the doctors still pressured us to supplement with formula. The baby had lost 11% of her birth weight by the first week and they stressed us out until we gave in and supplemented with formula. There were techniques that helped us with this transition including using the Paced bottle-feeding method. In combination with the Como Tomo slow flow bottles our baby was able to take her time eating so when she returned to the breast she wasn’t too upset/fatigued by the slow flow at the breast.  

Similarly, using the finish at the breast method helped to maintain our breastfeeding time. The method focuses on feeding the baby a supplement similar to an appetizer so that the baby isn’t overly hungry or upset when it’s time to breastfeed and there may be a slow let down or flow of milk.  

I tried using the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) to work on maintaining our latch and stimulate a let down.  I was never able to master using the SNS, but know that it is a miracle worker for many moms. The Lact-Aid is a similar device that I was never able to try.

I hope this information is helpful to others as they use their resiliency and perseverance to create a breastfeeding relationship with their baby. I found that surrounding myself with supportive people, allowing myself space and time to grieve, and creating realistic short-term goals all helped me get through the process. I spent as much time as I could enjoying my baby. In retrospect I wish I would of spent less energy on feeling sad and angry about my supply and more time cuddling my tiny miracle. My thoughts and heart are with everyone dealing with this challenge.  

This guest post was written by Emma Gomez, listen to her birth and breastfeeding stories.

Breastfeeding Tips & Setting Up a Nursing Station

Breastfeeding Tips, Setting up a Breastfeeding Station and How to Get Support

We hear that “breast is best” all the time—the news, the hospital, our doctors, our friends, and even that random lady in the organic foods aisle at the grocery store. Even our social media feeds are peppered with research articles telling us why breast is the right choice. That’s all well and good, of course we all want what’s best for our babies!  But it’s one thing to know what is best and another thing to know how to actually accomplish it. As a lactation consultant, I’m called to give specific advice for breastfeeding issues but I also get asked all the time what my top breastfeeding tips are—so here they are!

Top Breastfeeding Tips from a Lactation Consultant problems with breastfeeding

Take a breastfeeding class while you’re pregnant!

Prenatal education is a top indicator of breastfeeding success after baby arrives! When you know what to expect and what’s normal, you can prepare! If you don’t know what latching is or looks like or how often baby should breastfeed per day, it’s hard to succeed.

Have support.  

Women find support from all different sources—some women find the best support is their husband. He may never have breastfed before, but he can certainly help you and cheer you on no matter what! Other women find their friends or mothers who have breastfed to be their top supports. Either way, research shows that women who have support have more success in breastfeeding.

After baby arrives, make plans to make no plans!  

Skin-to-skin time is so important with a newborn. In the first couple of days after birth, keep your naked-in-a-diaper baby on your chest as much as you can! This can be easy in the hospital since it’s pretty private, other than the nurses who want to look under your gown all the time, anyway. Once you get home, you may have to make more of an effort to rest and keep baby close. Make sure your partner knows ahead of time it will be his job to take over the cleaning, cooking, and bringing home the bacon (literally and figuratively!) for a few weeks after baby arrives. I love this shirt for convenient skin to skin time—or this one that comes in plus sizes too!

breastfeeding skin to skin

Feed baby very frequently.  

I tell moms all the time during personalized consults that you can’t feed baby too much, only too little!  Follow baby’s lead: during those first few days after birth before your milk volume increases, baby’s tiny tummy will need to be filled often. If baby’s awake, turning his head, or fussy: put him to breast!  

Get help if you need it!  

Breastfeeding may be the best and seem like it should be “natural,” but that doesn’t mean it always comes naturally.  If you’re in pain, baby’s not feeding well, or something seems off—get help right away. There’s no shame at all asking an IBCLC for some personalized help.  In fact, research shows that IBCLCs increase the rates of women who start breastfeeding as well as the rate of women who breastfeed exclusively. If those are your goals and you don’t feel confident in your ability to meet them, call an IBCLC!

Setting Up a Breastfeeding Station

breastfeeding lifestyle photos

Now that we’ve gone over some great tips for meeting your breastfeeding goals, let’s talk practicality. Just like “breast is best” is only helpful when we know how to actually breastfeed, those breastfeeding tips are only helpful when we can actually fit breastfeeding into our lives! One of the best ways to accomplish this is to set up a breastfeeding station in your home.

If you anticipate that you’ll breastfeed your baby in many different rooms depending on the time of day, then create your station to be a basket that’s easily transportable. If you know you’ll always be sitting down in the nursery to feed your baby, then it can be a shelf or drawer near your chair. What should you fill this station with? Anything and everything that you think you might even need! This can vary some from mom to mom (are you a reader who will need your Kindle nearby, or do you prefer to binge watch a show on your tablet?).

Lots of Water 

Get a water bottle you can operate one-handed while you’re nursing, I recommend one with a straw because you will drink more. Some moms get very thirsty as soon as baby latches on. A straw type can be great so you don’t have to lean your head back and get off balance, disrupting that perfect latch. I always kept two water bottles or cups at my nursing station at all times because I would inevitably drain all of one and then baby falls asleep on you and you feel trapped and oh so thirsty!

Healthy Energy Snacks

Did you know breastfeeding moms burn an average of 500 extra calories per day? You’ll need to make that up somewhere, so portable snacks like granola bars (these are great if you are trying to limit sugar intake—turkey flavor is my fave!), a piece of fruit, or a simple sandwich can be great to keep close by in case baby is on a marathon nursing session.

Netflix and Chill

Whether it’s a book, your phone, the remote, a tablet, or a sleep mask to catch some zzz’s while baby nurses, you’ll want something. Babies eat very often, so you’ll be spending a lot of time feeding!

Nipple care supplies

If your latch is good, you shouldn’t have much more than transient soreness for the first week or two.  If your latch is painful, talk to an IBCLC and have some of these supplies on hand.  A good nipple cream can be very soothing.  Some moms love lanolin and some love simple coconut or olive oils from the kitchen.  If there are open wounds, something like All Purpose Nipple Ointment (a prescription) or Medihoney can help prevent infection and heal your nipples. A Milk Saver is great to catch extra milk on the other side when your milk lets down and breast pads are great to protect sore nipples.  

Baby care supplies

Babies often will poop during or after a feeding—it can’t come out if it didn’t go in, after all!  So have a diaper and wipes nearby.  In the same vein, veteran moms know that an extra outfit can be needed in this situation, too!  Also make sure you have burp cloths (I’m a a big fan of a stack of plain prefolds as they are super absorbent, cheap and have a million uses!). Burping can be messy and just in case some of that milk makes another appearance, you’ll be reaching for them. Baby nail clippers (obsessed with these!) can be a good idea, in case baby falls asleep or is just finally still enough for this surgery-like activity.

When You Need Breastfeeding Support

breastfeeding tips

We’ve gone over top tips to be successful with breastfeeding, in addition to practical ways to implement those tips, but what if you do everything you can and things don’t seem to be going well?  Ask for help!  The tip to have a support system wasn’t just lip service—it’s really important!  If things are hard now that you’ve been thrust into the trenches with a brand new, needy baby, some simple love, help, and attention from your partner, mom, or friend can be just what you need.  

If breastfeeding itself is the issue, ask an IBCLC for some help!  

Nipple pain isn’t normal outside of some soreness in the first few days.  If you’re in pain or baby isn’t gaining well, breastfeeding support by a professional can be the ticket to breastfeeding success. Lactation Link offers in-person consults in Utah and e-consults for anywhere else, or you can find an IBCLC in your area through ILCA.

If motherhood seems lonely, know that you’re not alone.

Even though you’re constantly around this new little person, it can feel very isolating.  Finding a local group like La Leche League can be the answer to getting out of the house and making some mom friends.

Breastfeeding is Possible!

Breastfeeding can seem overwhelming, but you don’t need to go into motherhood unprepared! A little education, support, and preparation can go a long way in helping you achieve your goals.  Next time you see “breast is best” online or in the news, now you can add “breastfeeding is possible” to it!

This guest post was written by Kristin Gourley, IBCLC. Kristin is a mother of 5 and one of the 3 International Board Certified Lactation Consultants with Lactation Link, a private practice offering breastfeeding support through breastfeeding video classes, blog, and online support forum. She also offers in-home (or hospital) lactation support services as well online lactation support services before and after baby is born. Lactation Link’s goal is to empower women through education to reach their goals, whatever they may be.  

Breastfeeding Roadblocks and Troubleshooting

Navigating Breastfeeding Roadblocks & Finding Solutions

If you spend any time reading about mothers’ breastfeeding experiences and it won’t be long at all before you see the phrase “breastfeeding journey”. This is a perfect metaphor for the reality of the breastfeeding relationship from start to finish. For both a road trip and a breastfeeding journey, many people research and prepare carefully before starting out. They begin with a destination and planned route in mind, but don’t really know exactly what they’ll encounter until they’re in the thick of things.

Whether on the road or the breastfeeding journey, surprises can pop up at any time.  These can be as mild as some extra bumps in the road, or as extreme as route closures and long detours. Roadblocks rarely end the trip altogether, but they often require persistence, patience, and a clear head– and sometimes the help of roadside assistance, or an IBCLC, to get back on track.

Common Breastfeeding Issues

Pain and Nipple Tenderness

Pain is one of the most common reasons mothers give for early weaning. While some nipple tenderness is normal at the beginning of feeds in the early postpartum period, severe pain and skin damage is NOT normal and should be seen as a sign that help is needed.

How can you tell when you should be concerned? Use the “30 second” rule. If your pain disappears within 30 seconds after latching, you can safely ignore it. If your pain lasts longer than that, gently insert your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth to break the suction and unlatch baby, then try again. If you’re not able to get a latch that is comfortable for the majority of feeding session, your pain is severe, and/or you notice any damage to the nipple, you should seek help right away. 

Milk Supply

Concerns over milk supply are right up there with nipple pain as a top cause of early weaning. Neither babies nor breasts come with full/empty gauges, so it can be hard to know how much you’re making and how much baby is getting. You can be confident that your baby is getting just the right amount of your milk if he or she is growing and gaining well, and having plenty of wet and poopy diapers each day. After the first week, and for the first month or so, expect 5-6+ light colored and mild smelling wet diapers and 3-4+ poopy diapers. If your baby is gaining poorly and/or not having enough wet and dirty diapers, help from an IBCLC is a very good idea.

The best way to ensure that you’ll have an ample supply is to start breastfeeding within the first hour after birth and then whenever your baby shows feeding cues after that—generally 8-10 or more times per day. Milk volume works on a supply and demand principle—the more you demand it (by feeding or pumping), the more you’ll supply. Your breasts are always making milk. They’re never truly empty, so you don’t need to wait for them to feel full before you feed your baby. In fact, if you do, you might be telling your body to make less milk.

Medications While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding mothers might worry that prescribed medications will pass through their milk and possibly hurt their babies. The Infant Risk Center at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center is an excellent resource for information on the safety of medications in breastfeeding mothers.  If you’re worried about a medication, or have been told that you can’t breastfeed while taking a medication, you can call their hotline 806-352-2519 or visit www.infantrisk.com for the most up-to-date information.

pain while breastfeeding

Concerns with breastfeeding older babies

Sometimes, breastfeeding problems can pop up with older babies after breastfeeding has been going really well for a while. This can be especially worrying if you don’t know other moms who have breastfed past early infancy and worked through these common bumps in the breastfeeding journey. Joining a local breastfeeding support group is a great way to help you gain confidence in nursing your older baby, and maybe even make some new friends at the same time.

Teething & Breastfeeding

Yes, you can continue to breastfeed through teething and beyond! Many teething babies will nurse better if they get to chew on something cold first. You can also talk to your doctor about pain relief options for your teething baby. If you’re worried about those new little teeth being right next to your nipples, relax. Most babies’ teeth cause no problems at all for their mamas. When a baby is actively drinking, it’s actually impossible for her or him to bite. If your baby does bite, he or she is usually trying to resolve the discomfort of teething, or simply experimenting with new ways to use his or her mouth. Your baby doesn’t realize that it hurts you. You can teach your baby that biting mama isn’t ok by ending the feeding session and calmly, but firmly saying “No, no, no.”

Nursing Strikes

Sometimes older babies will start to refuse to feed at the breast. It is unlikely that a baby younger than a year old is actually self-weaning from the breast. If you can protect your milk supply and be patient, you can be confident that the refusal is almost certainly temporary. Most nursing strikes only last a day or two, but some can last up to a week or more. If your baby starts to refuse the breast, keep offering gently. The trick is to act like you don’t care whether or not baby latches, even though you probably care very much! Lots of skin to skin cuddle time can be very helpful in these situations. You could try nursing baby when he or she is very sleepy, or in a new position– maybe even standing up and walking around.

If the refusal goes on more than a few hours, you’ll need to express your milk. You can give this milk to baby by cup, spoon, or bottle. Older babies who have never taken a bottle may do better with a straw sippy, or even frozen breastmilk cubes in a silicone feeder. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help from an IBCLC when having issues breastfeeding an older baby. We don’t just help newborns, we love helping moms breastfeed babies of all ages!

With any trip, it’s a good idea to expect some bumps in the road. Give yourself some extra time to arrive at your destination and know how to get good help if you need it.  The journey can be hard sometimes, but it can also be beautiful. Happy travels!

Sources: Mohrbacher, N. (2010). Breastfeeding answers made simple: a guide for helping mothers. Amarillo, TX: Hale Publishing, L.P.

This guest post was written by Stephanie Hadfield. Stephanie Hadfield, IBCLC is a mother of 5 and one of the 3 International Board Certified Lactation Consultants with Lactation Link, a private practice offering breastfeeding support through breastfeeding video classes, blog, and online support forum. She also offers in-home (or hospital) lactation support services as well online lactation support services before and after baby is born. Lactation Link’s goal is to empower women through education to reach their goals, whatever they may be.   

Rights as a Breastfeeding Woman in the Workplace

What are your rights as a breastfeeding mama work?

Going back to work after a child is born might be difficult, even emotional, for many moms. It may seem that just when you are getting the hang of breastfeeding, you have to go back to work! I want to make this transition as easy as possible for new moms. I want you to go back to work with confidence, knowing what rights protect you as a breastfeeding mother in the workplace.

This article will first highlight the rights you have as a breastfeeding mother, how those apply to the workplace, what protections you have while pumping on the go and some tips for breastfeeding moms in the workplace. Read our tips on your rights as a pregnant mom in the workplace too!

rights in workplace breastfeeding

Your Breastfeeding Rights

Most states already have in place breastfeeding protections for mothers. In most cases, the law says a mother can breastfeed (with or without a cover) anywhere she has the legal right to be. Some states include enforcement provisions, which allow litigation if a mother is discriminated against for breastfeeding in public. Other states also have specific language that prevents discrimination in the workplace. States vary widely on the amount of protection given to breastfeeding mothers. You can search the specific law for your state on breastfeedinglaw.com. If you are interested in helping other mothers in your states receive more protections, you can get involved with your local or state breastfeeding coalition. Many states have improved laws being currently drafted. Knowing your rights can be helpful to remember when baby is hungry and crying in a public place…feed your baby, it’s your right!

Breastfeeding Rights in the Workplace

As a part of the Affordable Care Act, employers must provide breastfeeding mothers with reasonable time and space to express milk. Let’s break down what this law actually gives moms. The law states that mothers must receive break time to pump milk at work for the entire first year of baby’s life. The law does not give a limitation on how many times a day a mom may pump, but your employer is not required to pay you for the time spent pumping.  The law also states that you must have access to a private space to express milk. Thankfully, it specifically states that it cannot be a bathroom and that it must be “shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.” So in real life, this could be any room with a locking door.

lactating mom at work

There are limitations to this law if your employer has less than 50 employees and accommodating for pumping would “impose an undue hardship” on the business. However, your state might have better protections than given in this law. And if it does, the law states that you are covered by the law with the greatest protections. So if your state requires businesses to give moms a private room with an outlet and sink, you can probably count on a room set aside specifically for lactation purposes. Find out more on your state’s laws at breastfeedinglaw.com.

Some companies go over and beyond in supporting breastfeeding mothers by providing childcare on site so mom can breastfeed anytime during the day. Others have refrigerators and freezers specifically set aside for breastmilk. Many companies help support mothers by providing lactation programs which educate moms on how to breastfeed and pump. Some of these programs also provide access to lactation consultants. Discuss with your company before baby arrives what protections and perks they provide for breastfeeding mothers. You might be surprised!

Work Travel as a Breastfeeding Mother

Spending the workday away from your baby is one thing, but spending a night or more away for a work trip could be intimidating for new moms. Luckily, there are some protections out there for moms who need to express milk on the go! The TSA allows for any amount of breastmilk to be carried in your carry-on bag. Keep in mind that you may be subject to more screening if you are carrying more than 3 ounces. This rule also allows for ice packs and freezer packs in your carry-on to keep the milk cold. Some companies will pay to ship breastmilk back home for moms while they are traveling for work. Check to see if your company offers that particular perk. Many airports also have lactation rooms for pumping and breastfeeding. You can find a complete list of airports that have lactation rooms at Mom Aboard.

Tips for breastfeeding moms in the workplace

pumping mom at work

Make a plan

I recommend making a plan with your employer prior to your maternity leave so this accommodation is taken care of before you return. You could discuss how often you plan to pump (about 4-6 times), where you will pump and where to store your milk each day. Some employers might be hesitant or unsure of how to help. Let your employer know that by continuing to breastfeed, you are lowering the number of sick days you will need to use for your child because breastfed children are sick less often. Request the use of a private room with an outlet and a sink and explain that your pump breaks will be between 15-25 minutes.

Know your pump

Each pump is a little different and you can likely get a breastpump for free through your insurance. Take some time during (or before!) your maternity leave to get to know your pump. Take out the instructions and learn it backwards and forwards. Some moms like keeping extra pump parts, like tubing or cords, at work. Pack your pump bag beforehand with water, snacks and pictures of baby.

Take advantage of hands-on-pumping

When you breastfeed, your baby is using suction and breast compressions to remove milk.  Our current electric pumps only use suction to help a mother express milk. You can increase your milk output by adding in breast compressions with your hands. Lactation Link has a full tutorial and more in our Pumping & Storing class. This is when using a hands-free nursing bra comes in handy! Moving your hands downward in a massaging motion will really help remove more milk. Best to remove milk as efficiently as possible for breast health and for baby. If you’re struggling with low milk supply check out our post on that here

I hope these tips help ease the transition back to work and help create confidence in your ability to bring milk home for your baby each day! Remember that breastfeeding is a new skill for mom and baby and with the right preparation, you can get started breastfeeding with all the tools you need to learn together.

This guest post was written by Lacey Parr. Lacey Parr, CLEC  is a mom of 3, doula and certificated lactation educator counselor with Lactation Link, a private practice offering breastfeeding support through breastfeeding video classes, blog, and online support forum. Lactation Link  also offers in-home (or hospital) lactation support services as well online lactation support services before and after baby is born with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Lactation Link’s goal is to empower women through education to reach their goals, whatever they may be.

Documenting Your Breastfeeding Journey

Beautiful photos of women breastfeeding their babies have crept quietly into the spotlight over the last few years. From TIME to The Huffington Post, images of nursing mothers have been getting a lot of press, both positive and negative. Here are three reasons we love breastfeeding photography.

You can revisit those fleeting moments for a lifetime.

Babies don’t nurse forever. One day, the tiny, eight pound newborn you cradle so gently in your arms will be running off to school, going on dates, and building a life of their own. The breastfeeding relationship is so tender and unique, it evolves and changes over time, and then one day, it’s over entirely. It’s beautiful, difficult, frustrating, incomparable—so many things at once. Suddenly your nights pass uninterrupted, and though you may finally be less tired, let me tell you mamas, you will miss those moments so much. You’ll find yourself years from now yearning to feel the weight of a limp, milk-drunk nursling in your lap at 3 am. You’ll start to forget the rapid, open mouthed movements of rooting, and the sounds your baby makes when they hungrily drink from your breast. Document these things. Document them at every stage, professionally or otherwise. You will never regret having those photos to look back on long after your little one has outgrown their need for you as sustenance.

It creates community.

Here’s something a lot of people don’t tell you about breastfeeding: it is so hard. It can be riddled with obstacles, isolating, and sometimes even painful (yes, EVEN if you’re doing it right!). Mothers may struggle in a myriad of ways… improper latches, tongue or lip ties, thrush, tender, painful, cracked, or bleeding nipples, low milk supply, engorgement, mastitis, the list goes on! Mothers need support from other women who have been there, who can  offer an empathetic ear and plenty of words of encouragement. By sharing breastfeeding images, it’s easy for like-minded mothers at all stages in their journey to make connections. Many of us lack female family members who have breastfed babies, and the community we build, either locally or online, is sometimes all we have to lean on in a society where even care providers are not as well equipped to support mothers as they should be.

It promotes awareness and acceptance of breastfeeding

Speaking of isolating, we’re mothering our babies in a culture where the vast majority of people believe that breasts are for men, and have a hard time acknowledging the multifunctional abilities of the female body. Campaigns to educate people about the plethora of benefits that breastfeeding provides both mother and baby are fairly new still, and while many of us have breastfed, tried to breastfeed, or know someone who has breastfed a child, there are still many, many people who do not have experience with this at all. It has been said that people fear that which they do not understand, so show them! Breastfeeding images aren’t about exhibitionism; they’re about celebrating your body, your baby, your motherhood. They’re about empowering other women. Share your photos, share your stories, the more people see, the more they hear—the more they understand. We’re working towards a world where breastfeeding is nothing more than commonplace, and every nursing mother can take part in facilitating that change.

breastfeeding photo session

How To Document Your Breastfeeding Journey

One of the best ways to document your journey beautifully, of course, is to hire a professional. There are many photographers that are now specializing in capturing the bond between mother and nursling, but you can even incorporate a few images into other sessions too. Fresh 48, newborn, & family sessions all present perfect opportunities to ask your photographer to get a few of these photos for you. Be sure to let them know both before and during your session that you want some of these moments captured, otherwise they may stop shooting during nursing breaks to respect your privacy.

Even if you do not hire a professional photographer, you can still chronicle your journey. Most smartphones are capable of taking pictures of amazing quality, and often have forward facing cameras that make this even easier. Try for at least one photo each month throughout your journey, if not more. The breastfeeding relationship can change in both frustrating and hilarious ways, so document it! You can also hand your phone or camera over to your spouse, a friend, or a family member occasionally. Have them capture the various places you feed your baby: Restaurants? Stores? Church? The airport? You may find that capturing the various places you stop to nurse helps to give you more confidence when it comes to feeding your baby in public places.

Tips for Building Your Community

breastfeeding selfie #brelfie

Share your photos! You can share them anywhere, of course, but I particularly love Instagram for its ability to connect people through the use of hashtags. Here are some of the most popular ones:

#breastfeeding
#normalizebreastfeeding
#normalizenursing
#brelfie (that’s a breastfeeding selfie!)
#beautifulbreastfeeding

I also love the all inclusive hashtag #fedisbest to connect all the mothers (and fathers!) who have mutual respect for one another’s choices in infant love, care and feeding. If you choose to share on Facebook, be aware of their policy regarding nursing photos. It is not uncommon to have breastfeeding images reported, but it is rare to have them removed. The official policy, found under the Facebook Community Standards states: “We also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but we always allow photos of women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring.” If your photos don’t violate this policy, don’t let anybody bully you into believing what you share is inappropriate. It’s these very people that remind us how important it is to show the beauty and innocence of the nursing relationship! So the next time you’re cradling your newborn, infant, toddler or even preschooler at the breast, grab a picture, if for no one other than yourself. Ten years from now you’ll be thankful you froze these moments in time.

This post was written by Kayla Gonzales. Kayla is a birth photographer based in Austin, TX.

Must Have Postpartum & Breastfeeding Items

Postpartum and breastfeeding items are a little different than the rest of the things on your registry or shopping list since they are almost all things for YOU as the mother rather than for the baby. For that reason, I think these are the most important items on your list and most of them are under the “must have” category for very good reason!

Breastfeeding Must Haves

Milkies Milk Saver
This is my number one recommended registry item! It’s a total lifesaver of a product that allows you to save breast milk that is leaking out of the non-nursing side while your baby nurses on the other side. In the beginning many moms are making more milk than is needed while your body adjusts to your baby’s needs (hence engorgement). You also shouldn’t use a breast pump in the early days because it stimulates your breasts to make even more milk so the Milk Saver is also a great way to start a freezer stash for future occasions when you want baby to take a bottle. Without ever pumping, I managed to store around 6 ounces of milk each day just using the Milk Saver. The best part about this product was that it allowed me to feed my baby without soaking through numerous breast pads and my clothes in the process. I brought it everywhere with me and was even able to discreetly use it in restaurants.

LANAcare nursing pads
These wool pads are self-cleaning and simply dry each night so you only need two pairs and just alternate one pair while the other is drying. These are amazing if you have oversupply and your milk lets down at the very thought of your newborn. They keep your nipples feeling dry and don’t have the cold and clammy effect that cotton pads offer—very useful in cold climates or well air conditioned buildings. You’ll also need a bottle of lanolin wash which will last forever (I still have mine 5 years later).

Nursing Pillow
There are lots of choices so if possible try them out in the store before ordering or maybe even see if you can borrow a friends until you discover your favorite. With my first baby, I had the Boppy and still love that product for its many uses. I discovered the My Brest Friend pillow with my second and loved that it stays in place and was way more supportive to me than the Boppy. It also has a pocket where I kept chapstick, nipple cream and secret stashes of chocolate (I mean healthy snacks). It’s also a life saver for c section mamas because you can clip it to stay in place above your scar relieving the pressure that other pillows would cause. There’s also a travel friendly pillow made by some mamas in Texas called the Nursie.

Nipple Cream
This is another department where everyone has their favorite type so don’t give up if the first one you try isn’t working out. I liked thick lanolin for the early days when I’m extra extra raw (put it on before and after every single feeding and before getting in the shower). Then once my nipples have toughened up a bit I switch to a less intense nipple balm.

Water + Snack Station
postpartum family

If you thought you were thirsty all the time when you were pregnant, just wait because you basically transform into a ravenous camel when you are breastfeeding. I suggest having two full reusable water cups WITH straws next to you at all times. I also love the idea of a beautiful filtered water pitcher on your nursing station to remind you (and your helpers) that you need to stay hydrated. Next create a box full of snacks (trail mix, protein bars, nuts) and make sure the rest of the family knows that these are just for you!

Entertainment
At first, simply staring at your baby will be more than enough entertainment but eventually your neck will start to hurt from looking down and you will be stationed in that same nursing chair for so long that you’ll want something to do. Although Netflix can be tempting I recommend limiting TV especially in the middle of the night as it can stimulate you and baby and reduce sleep (we definitely don’t want to do that!). Some other suggestions are books on tape, podcasts (Oh hey I know of a good one!) or using a kindle which you can adjust to be very low light when needed. I love the idea of registering for a Kindle as a great gift from a brother or grandpa who might be nervous shopping for baby items.

Postpartum Needs (aka “down there”)

Earth Mama Angel Baby Postpartum Bundle
So many wonderful postpartum recovery essentials in one gift. The bottom balm and spray are life savers for healing your bottom and perineum. I used them so much that I now associate the smell of these products with my postpartum days. They are also really useful for anyone who suffers from hemorrhoids during pregnancy.

Tucks
Unfortunately most women get hemorrhoids (either during pregnancy or after giving birth). You will want Tucks pads for use after every bowel movement (in place of toilet paper) as well as for cooling and healing postpartum (tuck them into your butt crack or lie them out on your maxi pad). Get a large pack and store them in all of your bathrooms and transfer some to a ziploc baggie to bring in your purse as well. Just trust me.

Herb Baths
postpartum herb bath

I took an herb bath every single day for a week after both of my babies were born and it was my favorite time of day and is still one of my favorite memories of the postpartum haze. It’s a great way to relax and bond with your baby at end of each day. I would bring baby in with me for the first 15 minutes or so and then hand baby off to my husband so I could relax and enjoy the rest of the bath alone. The herbs in an postpartum herb bath are healing for “down there” and for baby’s umbilical cord. My two favorite herb baths are here and here. You can also make your own if you’re handy like that!

Mesh Boyshort Undies
You will likely receive a couple of these from the hospital, birth center or in your homebirth kit. They are glorious (comfy, fit big pads, disposable)! You will want them for a couple days or weeks after baby is born. So either plan ahead and order some extra to sneak them in your bag at your birth place!

Chucks Pads
Midwifes and hospitals use these to protect surfaces from fluids and they are extremely useful around the house. I recommend laying on them for the first few nights when your blood flow is unpredictable and using them under baby for diaper changes, naked time, etc. They will save you so much time in doing less laundry in the early days. It’s also a good idea to put a waterproof sheet on your bed—one trick is to double bag your bed so waterproof sheet, fitted sheet, second waterproof sheet, second fitted sheet. That way if there is a big mess in the middle of the night you just strip off the top layer and go back to bed.