*By “dummies”, I mean sleep-deprived new mothers nearing delirium.  My IQ must have dropped at least 20 points (10 per child?) since becoming a parent.

I have sought out support in breastfeeding, both before the babies arrived, and in the last 5 weeks.  I went to two classes prenatally.  I have also been offered unsolicited advice by well-meaning mommy-friends, and called in a lactation consultant.  I have started going to an awesome support group on Thursday mornings.  From all of these sources, I have distilled a top-ten list of breastfeeding tips, as no one who needs help breastfeeding has time to read any more than 10 bulleted points at a sitting.  Heck, I don’t even know if there are ten.  It’s just a nice, round number.

  • Don’t ask your mother for help.  Or at least, don’t expect her to be the ultimate resource. I tried asking my mother, whom I know successfully breastfed all three of her children.  I personally was nursed exclusively for 15 months, having refused nearly all baby food.  I figured Mom would be a good resource, especially as she was breastfeeding during formula’s hey-dey.  Nope.  Her first response, when I asked if she had any resources (books, advice, etc.) back in the 1980s, was, “No.” She initially claimed breastfeeding was natural, so easy she never gave it a second thought. This led to a lengthy discussion about the manufactured industry of lactation consultants and heavy-handed pressure on all moms to breastfeed nowadays.  Later, however, upon visiting my house and seeing La Leche League’s “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” on my bookshelf, she remarked that it was the seminal resource she herself had consulted.  And also that she had met with a group of stay-at-home new moms of young babies in their homes to, among other things, troubleshoot breastfeeding.  But no, it had been for her, a completely natural, instinctive thing to do.  No support whatever.  So, yeah, don’t hedge your bets on maternal wisdom.
  • When we eat a hoagie (translation for non-Philadelphians: sub/zep/Dagwood/regional sandwich), we don’t just open our mouths and shove it in.  Try it next time.  Watch what you do.  I’ll bet you squish the bun/bread a bit, then roll the sandwich into your mouth from the lower lip first.  Your boobie is a hoagie for your baby.  Compress it, then roll it into the baby’s mouth from the lower lip.  Don’t just try to shove your breast into their mouth as is.  Compression while nursing also helps baby breathe, a vastly underrated function during breastfeeding.
  • It’s called breastfeeding, not nipple feeding. Make sure your kiddo has a huge mouth-full of boobie.  You’re actually aiming for your nipple to go as far back as the place where the hard and soft palates meet.  Feel in your own mouth using your tongue; that’s pretty far back, and if the kiddo is only latched onto your nipple, not only will it hurt like tiny needles stabbing your breast, but there’s no chance it’ll reach that far back in baby’s mouth.
  • Breastfeeding might hurt, even if you’re doing it right.  There’s some mystical bullshit out there that if it hurts, you have to adjust baby’s latch, or your position, or your chakra. Nope.  It might hurt for a minute when they’re latching, or only during the initial let-down, or for four months.  And you might be doing everything right.
  • Bring kid to boobie, not boobie to kid.  Otherwise, you’ll be hunched over like some old hagitha for a half-hour, dangling your breast in your kid’s mouth.  And your back will hurt.
  • To help you bring baby to boobie, get a pillow designed for breastfeeding.  My favorite is the idiotically named “My Brest Friend.”  You’ll feel like a tool the first few times you strap this planetary orbit around your midsection, and stupider still as you waltz around the house wearing a satellite dish, but it’s the best thing ever not to have to fold and fluff a regular pillow into the right position, or to strain your arm holding even the smallest infant in the precise position for any length of time.  Many people love Boppies.  They do have pretty covers, but it’ll be a cold day in Hell if you think you can wrench my “My Best Friend” away from me.
  • When baby is rooting, and opening its mouth, and you seize the opportunity to shove its precious little head towards your engorged breast, manipulate your little darling’s noggin by holding it nearer to its neck, not the round part of its skull.  I usually hold my baby’s heads with a thumb and forefinger or middle finger by the mastoid bones, which are right behind the ears, near where the lower jaw attaches.  If someone tries to move your head around by pushing at the back (occipital region), feel how you tense up and resist (go on, try it.  No one’s looking).  Now feel how much more control they’d have by holding nearer the neck.  Now you have ultimate control over baby’s noggin.  Use it wisely.
  • Set a stopwatch so you can keep track of how long baby is nursing for.  You can try just watching a clock and doing the math, but in my experience, your brain will be too fried to do even simple subtraction.  Plus, when you’re at it ‘round the clock, you won’t remember if the :19 you’re calculating from was from the 3pm feed or the 6pm feed.  The doctors profess to love and support breastfeeding, but it makes them nuts, because it’s so hard to measure.  They want numbers for their reports, so they can make calculations, compare to charts, and write goals.  If you have a formula-fed baby, you can ask how much it’s taking from a bottle, and report back in ounces.  Easy.  With a breast-fed baby, the best you can do on a regular basis is count wet/dirty diapers, and ask how long they nurse for.  Babies are all different, and some are more efficient than others.  Women produce more milk at different times of the day.  And sometimes babies who hang out for a long time at the breast, are just dicking around, using you as a human pacifier.  Sure, you can weigh a baby before and after a feed, but on a daily basis, the duration and frequency of a nursing session is the only number you’ll be able to give the doctors.
  • Get an iPad or an ereader or at least some good phone apps.  Nursing is not only time-consuming, but also soporific.  To keep yourself from falling asleep mid-suckle, download engaging books and mind-numbing games.  Until your baby knows it has hands and can stop flailing about volitionally, you’ll have to help it stay on the breast.  This requires at least one hand.  You will value any and all activities you can do with the other hand, and you may eventually tire of 3am TV infomercials.  Though I am only a recent convert to the ebook world, I have found yet another lesser-known advantage over paper books – you can turn the pages with the swipe of a finger, and don’t have to deal with a paperback folding up, losing your page, or holding the spine open with two fingers and turning pages with another.  While you’re at it, download a stopwatch app and a nursing log app.  The doctors will love you.
  • I guess I only had 9 tips.  Oh, no, wait.  Here’s one more – keep trying.  Breastfeeding can be really hard, but don’t give up.  Call in the troops.  Get a lactation consultant, or go to a breastfeeding support group.  Call a mommy-friend, or  use your iPad to find an online support group.  But keep at it.  You’re awesome.
  • Oh, shit.  Another one.  This one was personal, and stems from a failed 4am feeding where L. wouldn’t latch.  Through streaming tears, I pleaded with her to stop rejecting my breast, to stop rejecting me.  And while this may seem silly from the comfort of daylight hours, it was very real to me.  A baby’s difficulty latching, or sucking, or removing enough milk is not a personal affront on your motherhood.
  • Or your best intentions.  It killed me to have to supplement with formula on doctor’s orders because my babies had lost too much weight since birth.  But by adding formula for only two weeks, I was able to appease the doctor’s need for numbers (Yes, we give her up 2oz to “top off” after a 20-minute feed, etc.), and once I could show my babies were gaining weight, we were back to boobie.  It did not mean I was a failure that I had to give my children formula.  We just needed some help.

I hope my earnest little list offered you’re a little help.  Now go, get some sleep.  You look awful.

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