3 ways hamburgers can help you breastfeed

I love a good analogy. I also love hamburgers and helping people to breastfeed. Clearly, this means they should all come together into one blog post. Do you have your rocking shoes on? Because it’s time to rock (and to use your imagination).

#1: Don’t smash it

Imagine sitting at your favorite burger joint. Your server sets your food in front of you and waits for you to smooth the napkin over your lap, add a little extra ketchup, and prepare for liftoff. When your sandwich nears your mouth and you open wide, your server pushes your head forward, smashing your face into the hamburger. You struggle to circumvent the burger with your lips and tongue in the right places to take a bite. Meanwhile, the server begins to move the burger around as well. The server wonders, “Why aren’t you eating? It’s right here!”

Now imagine you are a baby, snuggly warm next to a breast. You nuzzle it a bit. You pull your head back a little and open wide, just as a giant hand pushes your sweet head right smack into the nipple. Man, this is frustrating. This shallow latch means you’re not getting much milk, and it apparently hurts whoever this is that owns the breasts, because you keep getting pulled off the nipple and going through the process again.

You don’t want your face smashed into your food or your food smashed into your face; your baby doesn’t want that, either.

#2: If you’re gonna smoosh it, smoosh it right

One of the founders of lactation consulting, Diane Weissinger, asks people to consider what adults do when confronted with a too-large sandwich (such as a hamburger). We hold it horizontally—the same direction as our mouths—and maybe smoosh it a bit, so that when we open wide, it fits. If we hold the sandwich vertically, well, that wouldn’t work. We also don’t approach the burger straight on; we bring our heads back a bit, our tongues are down, and we roll it in for each delicious bite.

Eli Brand doing his best impersonation of a breastfeeding baby. (Image used with permission from Tamara Brand.)

You can apply this to breastfeeding: If you’re doing any breast shaping, which is an unnecessary step for most people (see notes below), you want to smoosh the breast in the same direction as baby’s mouth and allow baby space to bring back his head and open wide. When you hear that you should align “nipple to nose,” it’s because this alignment helps with the head tilt. Weissinger suggests rolling the breast into a baby’s mouth to get the deepest, most comfortable latch.

Two important notes:

I’m including this section because it seems to be part of the standard script of breastfeeding help. Make the breast like a sandwich! It’s so commonplace that some people have been told to “make the breast like a sandwich” but not told what is actually meant by that. Do you slap on some mayo? Get out a couple of slices of bread? Nope, nothing so strange (or messy).

Most people don’t need to hold their breasts or shape their nipples. No, really! Despite virtually everyone who gives birth being told that they should hold the breast in a U or C shape and bring the baby on when she opens wide, this is not a very successful way to get a deep latch and can be heck on the wrists. It’s not fun to hold your breast for a good portion of the day.

#3: Eat mindfully

As it turns out, babies are people too. When they’re in an uncomfortable position, they’ll complain. Sometimes it’s subtle—rooting and attempting to latch but—and sometimes it’s obvious—screaming one’s head off. If you’re ever puzzled by why your baby is fussing at the breast, put yourself in her booties.

Think about yourself eating a hamburger:

  1. If you’re lying on your back, it takes more effort to bring your tongue forward, and it takes more concentration to get your lips, teeth, tongue, and jaw into a comfortable, effective place. And if you were my kid, I’d scold you for lying down while eating, because you’re gonna choke if you’re not careful.
  2. If your chin is close to your chest, you’re not going to be able to swallow well.
  3. If your head is turned toward your shoulder, it’s going to be a little uncomfortable taking a bite and swallowing will be tough.
  4. If the hamburger is just a little too far out of reach, you’ll have to stretch your neck to get to it. How frustrating! Even if you manage this, you’ll take a very shallow mouthful, using your lips or teeth to grasp on rather than leveraging your jaw.

And there you have it. Will you ever be able to eat a hamburger again without thinking about breastfeeding?