Breastfeeding by Erica Chidi Cohen

My friends must have all drank the ‘I want a baby’ cool aid around the same time or the planets for manifestation with baby intentions must have aligned because everyone just had babies.I swear the baby boom comes in waves. Just glad I didn’t board it yet. One is plenty… for now!

With all these new beautiful mamas, there is something, other than exhaustion, which is causing them to reach out and ask for help. Breastfeeding is one of the most natural and maternal aspects to becoming a new mother, however, it has become one of the biggest challenges women undergo those first few months. Although it’s instinctual it is not actually all that easy.

Breastfeeding is a learning curve. It takes moment for you and your breasts to adjust, deep breaths, patience and support are key.” -Erica Chidi Cohen, Loom

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From the perfect latch, to under and over supply issues, to breast infections, to pumping or dumping, there are so many questions, concerns and struggles. We all experience something different, just like birth, just like pregnancy. I know for me it was a bad latch in the first 24 hours. I got an awful lipstick nipple, I didn’t even know there was such an awful thing. I later moved on to become a dairy queen with a let down to be proud of. I literally could spray you from across the coffee table; to this day books still have residue of a milk trail.

I decided to do a feature on the facts of breastfeeding: the things you ought to know, before and during! I reached out to my dear friend and lactation goddess Erica Chidi Cohen, from Loom, to give me a breastfeeding breakdown. I first heard Erica speak at The Birth Stories event where she led a talk on this topic to a group of expecting and new mamas. Erica is magnetic and as real as they come. She speaks with such honesty, on a level that is unbelievably relatable. It has been over three years since I’ve breastfed but was blown away by her knowledge. I found myself wanting to share all of what I had learnt with my friends who are struggling. Getting to know Erica has been a pleasure, I feel connected to her because she is so easy to be around. Cool, calm and collected with a warm halo of goodness surrounding her. Who doesn’t want to hang around that energy all day?

Erica is a maternity support specialist, and founder of Loom. She is a doula, lactation consultant and chef. Yes, she can also cook!! Having a doctor and a nurse as parents she is knowledgeable on the western medical front as well as following her own path toward a more eastern and spiritual connection. Having a gentle approach to both outlooks caters to all parents trying to reach a beautiful common ground between the two. This I believe is the new way forward, breaking the mold between one or the other.

So let’s get started…

PREGNANCY:

* 95% of women can produce milk, they just don’t have the right support to guide them through the process. Support goes a long way whether it’s a professional or a good friend. It is important to reach out right away.

* You begin to make milk around 10-16 weeks. At this stage you have enough colostrum to feed your baby the first 0-3 days of life. That’s a really important thing for women to hold on to; most women think they haven’t made any milk when in fact they already have.

NEWBORN:

* Colostrum is in fact breast milk, look at it as liquid gold. It is the precursor to milk coming into the breast, its not the obvious milk one would compare to in a bottle. It can be thick and sticky, different colors: yellow, green, blue. All of it, whatever form it comes in is ALL GOOD.

* A new babies stomach size in the first 0-3 days of life is the size of a marble, so a good feed is 1 teaspoon per breast per feed which can sometimes take up to 30mins per side. This is a good fact to remember, as new mamas tend to get very nervous that their babies are not getting enough milk.

* A pillow can be very resourceful when helping a new nursing mama for the first 2-3 months. As you’re learning to breastfeed correctly and comfortably, having a sort of tabletop helps to lift babe to the breast at the right height for a good latch. (Not every woman needs them or has a hard time with positioning.) It can also offer some support for you to be more relaxed and not to tense up. Generally after 6 months you don’t need them any more…

* If you want to introduce a bottle Erica suggests to start at 2-3 weeks. Milk supply is pretty well established at this point so introducing a bottle during this time will not hurt your supply. It also gives your partner some shared responsibility and abilities to bond, and primes your babe for future separation if you know you are going back to work soon or if an emergency situation arises. Bottle feeding doesn’t need to impede the skin to skin bonding experience. Try bottle feeding with shirts off- this is great for dads- you can still promote the skin to skin contact. It’s not taboo to introduce a bottle early. Waiting 4 months can definitely become harder to introduce because they are so accustomed to the breast they just show no interest in another form. Also some women choose never to bottle feed which is fine too. What ever you choose it is something to consider: what parenting style, what lifestyle you want to lead. If you do decide to introduce bottle, try one bottle a day every day. It can be given at any point. Erica suggest it's best at night so you can get two extra hours of sleep and your partner can help with one of those night feedings…

NIPPLES:

*Breastfeeding is not without pain, initially because the skin is getting used to the amount of stimulation it is receiving. You are breastfeeding anywhere between 8-12 times a day, and most women have not experienced that amount of stimulation to the breast. Even with a good latch a woman is going to experience tenderness and nipple sensitivity. This is a very different discomfort compared to the type that results from a poor latch. The babe should be latching well to the breast- not just the nipple. Some mamas make this mistake and think latching should happen just around the nipple area but you really want the whole breast in their mouth. Initial soreness for two weeks is ok. 30-45 seconds of pain that goes away is ok. If your pain goes on for 5 minutes or the full duration of feed and is toe curling pain then you definitely want to see a lactation consultant right away. Something is not right and it’s probably due to a bad latch. Don’t wait! Support is necessary and can often correct the issue quite quickly.

* Sometimes a pain in the breast can happen when they are filling up with milk, which is called engorgement. This should alleviate after first 2-3 weeks of breastfeeding. A small set of women can experience increased nipple sensitivity or have a low pain tolerance, and these cases need more emotional support.

* Nipple cream is good for in between feeds. It doesn’t prevent sore nipples but it does prevent dryness and for some women dryness can lead to cracking. It can also be helpful for pumping- rubbing your nipples in order to get more slippage around the breast shield to make pumping a more comfortable experience. Erica recommends Mothelove nipple cream for sore nipples. A plant based nipple cream texture is best. (It feels better on the skin.) Lanolin is another good option, but is not plant based.

Hope Gillerman hand poured organic essential oils to help with stress relief to reduce anxiety and restlessness to improve milk supply

Hope Gillerman hand poured organic essential oils to help
with stress relief to reduce anxiety and restlessness to improve milk supply

SUPPLY:

* Oversupply is a problem less talked about. This is when a babe sputters and coughs at the beginning of the feed, or is braking a latch numerous times. Your let down spray is super strong. These are good indicators that you may have over supply issues or an over active let down. Block feeding can be a helpful solution to this. (A good information source on block feeding is kellymom.com.) It basically means one breast per feed, which will help to slow the milk supply until it self regulates. Another technique is to lay down flat on your back when feeding which allows your flow to go against gravity. Another tip is to take your babe off the breast for the let down (save into a cup) and then putting them back on to finish feeding.

* Cabbage leaves do work but use sparingly. It’s more effective for acute engorgement, or pain. This is usually when nipples are retraced from breasts because they are so full and still full after feed. By crushing the cabbage leaves the sulphur properties that are released help lower or even out a women’s milk supply. Erica recommends this more for women who are trying to wean then for engorgement because she feels sensitive to exposing a new mama who is building a supply to a sulphuric property that will decrease her milk supply if we don’t know how long she is stimulating. Draining a breast by hand express or electric pump would be my first attempt to release engorgement.

* To increase supply, try unlimited, on demand nursing, which can mean every twenty minutes or every two to three hours. Skin to skin time is important. The bare chested action increases maternal hormones. Make sure babies are not going too long without nursing or stimulating your breasts through pumping. For the first month she wouldn’t recommend going without stimulation for over 6 hours. This can make supply drop. She also suggests for the first two weeks going without bottles or pacifiers, because at that stage a baby is sucking and very interested. Use this time to get them on the breast as this will keep your breast stimulated and increase your milk supply. Which increases the hormones that make the milk through the babies sucking action. This is particularly important during the first 72 hours. Mamas need to think about this during the time at the hospital, nursing as much as possible!!

DIET/NUTRIENTS

* Eat how cows eat. Cows eat a lot of green grass, so this means a lot of green veggie based foods. Grains and carbs from root veggies. Try to east seasonally. An adaquate amount of good quality protein is really good, preferably animal fats. Omnivore style. Drink to thirst, not gallons, too much water can tank your water supply. Intuitive eating, baby led behavior. Eat when your baby eats, drink when your baby drinks. This will keep you on track.

* Erica doesn’t really believe in eliminating foods due to gas. You can watch for sensitivities, and if you do notice something, you can make your own changes. If you are experiencing a lot of fussiness, Erica first asks about nuts as they cause a lot of gut issues and then look at dairy and start to eliminate from there but I’m not a big fan of food avoidance. She likes to say if it’s not broke don’t fix it.

* The difference between a baby who has gas and colic is pretty simple. A baby who cries 2-3 hours a day with a shrill painful cry and can’t be soothed usually is suffering from Colic. If it is just gas, crying usually occurs right after a feed, stops after 20 minutes, or can be relieved by a burp.

* Tinctures are a great source to help with milk supplies. They work best when you keep your fluids up so stay hydrated. Erica loves Motherlove tinctures; More Milk and More Milk Plus. She is a fan of loose leaf teas too, or these boxed ones by Traditional Medicinals Mother’s Milk Tea and Earth Mama Angel Milkmaid tea.

 

Traditional Medicinals Organic Mother's Milk Tea

Traditional Medicinals Organic Mother's Milk Tea

 Motherlove More Milk Plus Tincture

 Motherlove More Milk Plus Tincture

WEANING

* Supply will shift naturally when returning to work. Supply is led by baby but can be led by hormones too. Being back at work, there can be a shift in stress and anxiety which can also affect milk supply. The most important thing the work environment be is conducive to is pumping. You will need to pump as often as your babe is feeding. Take appropriate measures in terms of diet, eating well, and drinking to thirst in order to supplement a good milk supply. Increase your use of breastfeeding teas or tinctures. Erica would suggest going back to work with a plan. Some women don’t find the environment at work compatible with pumping and become tense. Having a plan and talking to a consultant can help with ways to make it easier. It is also a federal law in California that a work setting must provide a breastfeeding mother a safe, comfortable environment to pump and to store milk. You can make it easier too by pumping in the car. You will need a good cooler. Dry ice is good for storing over long periods. Remember milk is good for 5hrs at room temp and for 5 days in the fridge.

* Ask for help or find resources where you can find women who are going through it too, like creating a working moms breastfeeding group. Mama circle mama babe program link…

* When weaning give yourself some time to think about it, why do you want to wean, how old is your baby, what will your plan be after weaning? If you are due to start back at work trying dropping a feed per day, over 7 days. For each of those nursing sessions you drop add the bottle for that feed. So your slowing your supply down but your baby is still feeding the same. If you are weaning because you are done breastfeeding all together, some babes can wean overnight, or shut down over a weekend. Depends how fast you want to cut them off. Some babes also wean themselves, which can be hard on the mother as it was not your choice to stop. Erica prefers the gentle way by dropping the Milk supply slowly, which will peter out the milk as less stimulation means less amount of milk leaving the breast. In turn telling your body it doesn’t need to make more which eventually depletes your supply!

* After you give birth a lot of body changes happen. A natural shift in shape occurs with the breasts too. As with stretch marks a lot is genetic. However, a lot of the drooping, sagging already began during pregnancy. It is caused by the hormone Relaxin cursing through your body. It is not necessarily the act of your breasts being engorged or filling up with milk or milk supply dropping. The elasticisity isn’t always as great after birth and is harder for some women to snap back. Come to terms with your new body and view it as a blessing into motherhood which has given you the abilities to birth a child and provide your babe with milk. Some women experience temporary shape change from using the wrong size shield when pumping. Most pumps come with a small shield, you should get yourself a medium or large one. If it is to small it can cause pinching, the more room you have the more comfortable pumping will be. Pumping should be an easy experience. If you are really unhappy with your breasts and you are done birthing children, reconstructive surgery is an option for some.

 

 * Last but not least alot of women wonder what the situation is with having a few drinks and breastfeeding. Erica suggests not to pump and dump, pump and save. If you are too drunk to drive then you are too drunk to breastfeed is the rule she goes by. Go ahead and pump, save your milk and label it 'boozy milk' and freeze it. Save it for when your babe is older. The enzymes in the milk while frozen will break down the alcohol and when your baby is bigger it can handle it a little better. Breastmilk is like liquid gold so don't waste it. However, something like THC which has a longer life span due to its high fat content won't break down so it's suggested throwing that milk away. For a list of medication potency and effects on breastmilk go to Toxnet.

Breastfeeding does get better and easier. Just remember most women have a hard first few weeks figuring it out. We think it should come so naturally and there is no shame in the struggle. The moment you share your experience when seeking support you will be amazed by the amount of women going through the same thing. A mom group is a great way to jump right into some newborn support. If I can suggest anything, if you feel in your gut something is up, just get it checked don't try to just deal with it and hope for the best. Breastfeeding and being a new mother is supposed to bring a lot of joy and love and we want you to be able to experience as much of that as possible. I would like to thank Erica for taking the time to share her thoughts on her Breastfeeding Must Knows. Check out her amazing world at This is Loom to learn much more.

 Photos by Lauren Moore

 Photos by Lauren Moore

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