Breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for your infant, not to mention several health benefits for mom including lowered risk for breast cancer and a faster return to pre-pregnancy weight. There are many other pro’s to breastfeeding, but I won’t go into them here. If you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume you have already decided it is something you would like to try. I’m here to help you get ready for success. Read on for some tips on preparing to breastfeed your babe.
1. Take a Class
You may think that reading books is enough, but I highly encourage you to attend a breastfeeding class. Most are not very expensive (I paid $20), and the information is really useful. Try to find a session led by a Certified Lactation Consultant. This certification means they have the proper education and practical background and have also passed a comprehensive exam. They will teach you different ways to hold the baby, what a proper latch looks like and how to help your baby achieve it, and they’ll answer all your questions. They will also be able to put you in touch with support groups in the area and can provide counseling for you after the baby is born. It’s better to have a relationship with a lactation consultant before baby comes since having a newborn can be a bit overwhelming (understatement?!) and you don’t want to be struggling to find someone you can trust when you’re in the thick of it.
2. Find a Support System As I said above, a good lactation consultant should be able to put you in touch with support groups in your area. La Leche League has meetings all over the country and are long-time advocates of breastfeeding. These are usually held in someone’s home and you’ll meet like-minded mamas who are in your shoes or seasoned nursers who can offer some helpful tips. Surrounding yourself with family and friends who are supportive of your choice to breastfeed is also important. If you have a partner, make sure they are on board and willing to help you any way they can. If you are a single mama, reach out to other family members or close friends who may be able to assist you in those early days, even if it’s just a phone call every now and then.
3. Get a Good Pump Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans are now obligated to support breastfeeding moms and that means providing you with a breast pump. The exact type of coverage varies, so you’ll want to reach out to your provider and find out what your benefits are. There is usually a 1-800 number on the back of your insurance card you can call with any questions. You’ll want to ask what type of pump they will provide and where you can purchase it. I was able to get the Medela Pump In Style, and it has worked really well for us.
4. Stock Up on Supplies. You may have heard breastfeeding is a great option because it means you can leave the house without bottles and feed your baby anywhere any time. While that’s true, there are some supplies I recommend you have on hand as a nursing mother. Most can stay at home, though some (like the nipple balm) you’ll want with you at all times.
- Nipple Balm – I loved Honest Company’s Nipple Balm during the first few months of my daughter’s life. It’s a nice consistency, unlike some of the other ones I tried. Not too thick, no overwhelming scent and it’s actually moisturizing for your hands too. There’s no need to wipe it off between feedings and it is incredibly soothing during what I call the “adjustment period” where your nipples are getting used to being used in a new way.
- Hands-Free Bra – This is absolutely essential for pumping. When you are hooking up to your pump several times a day you’ll want your hands free to do other things like browse your Instagram feed, or type some emails. Pumping can take upwards of 20 minutes a session, and it gets really boring (and tiring!) holding the flanges up for that long. I like the Simple Wishes Hands-Free Breastpump Bra.
- Storage Bottles & Bags – There are a wide variety of these available, so buy whatever is compatible with your pump. I like the Medela Pump & Save Bags. I’ve never had a leak, and they stand up nicely in the freezer. You’ll also want to grab a permanent marker to easily label the bags with the date before storing.
- Quick Clean Steamer Bags – With so many other things to deal with, sterilizing your pump parts and bottles in a pot of boiling water will be the last thing you feel like doing! Medela Quick Clean Steamer Bags are so easy and convenient. Wash your pump parts with soap and water, then throw them in the bag with a few ounces of water and microwave for 90 seconds. DONE. Sterilizing is so important for your babe, and these make it so much easier!
5. Invest in a Nursing Wardrobe Friends told me to buy some fashionable nursing clothes before I had my baby, and I responded with, “For what? Where am I going? I’ll just wear my pajamas!” Ha. Good plan, for the first couple of weeks or so, but when you’re planning to return to some sort of normalcy, you will want to be able to nurse any time any where. And if/when you return to work, you will need to be able to pump easily and quickly several times a day. Nursing tops will make it much easier to do so.
6. Adjust Your Expectations
- It may be painful. They will tell you in the breastfeeding class that if you’re “doing it right” it won’t hurt at all and it may actually be pleasurable. While this will eventually be true if you stick with it (and is true for some incredibly lucky women right from the start) breastfeeding can be painful. There is a learning curve for mom and baby, and nursing may hurt for the first few weeks. Your nipples have never been handled in this way before, and your baby has never suckled before. Give it a bit of time. Consult with your lactation consultant who can give you pointers on proper latching technique or remedies you might try. Nipple balm is essential and will help soothe any chafing. If you experience any bleeding or blistering, talk to your physician who can prescribe some ointment and advise you on how to proceed.
- It takes a lot of time. Newborn babies may need to nurse upwards of 12 times a day. Do the math…that’s at least once every 2 hours. And a nursing session can take anywhere from 15-45 minutes depending on how efficient an eater your little one is. Really take a minute to think about the reality of this, and plan accordingly. Basically, you should plan on doing nothing but breastfeeding (and maybe sleeping) for the first 2 weeks after the birth. You will need help doing other things, like laundry and dishes and cooking etc. It is okay to let other people take care of you and your baby, at least for a little while. But trust me…it will get better, and it will take less time as your baby grows. Try to enjoy this time and really savor those moments with your baby, they won’t ever come again and they are a precious gift that really will bond you for life.
- It may not work out, and that’s okay! Not every mother is able to breastfeed and not every mother will choose to breastfeed. If you find you are unable to produce enough milk, or you get an infection, or some other medical problem gets in the way, you may not be physically able to breastfeed your baby. You may also decide, after giving it a try, that it’s simply not for you. If it makes you unhappy, stressed out, or exhausted, it is 100% okay to feed your baby formula. If you are not healthy and happy, breastfeeding just may not be the right choice for you and your family. Remember, you need to take care of yourself first before you can take care of anyone else. Formula is a wonderful alternative. We are so lucky that it is an option and you should not feel any “less than” if you choose to feed your baby this way.
7. Eat Well and Hydrate This is so important, before and after you give birth. If you’re not well nourished, your baby won’t be either. Makes sense, right?
- Try not to “diet”. I know, it’s tempting to go on a diet right after you give birth to shed those extra pounds as quickly as possible. However, it’s important for nursing moms to consume enough calories…it takes a lot of energy to make that milk! Breastfeeding moms need about 500 extra Calories per day, the same amount as pregnant women. Don’t worry…nursing will actually help you shed pounds over time without even trying! It took 9 months to put that weight on, so don’t expect it to come off immediately.
- The AI (Adequate Intake) recommendation for the amount of water a breastfeeding mom should consume is 3.1 Liters per day (about five 8 oz. glasses). However, “AI” means that this amount will meet the needs of 50% of women. It is an average and may vary from person to person. Try to pay attention to your body’s signals and drink when you’re thirsty. It may sound simple, but with so much going on it’s easy to forget. Set a reminder in your phone to drink a glass of water every couple of hours, or make it a habit to always drink something while you are nursing. This may also help you relax and let down your milk more easily.
- Focus on eating more healthy fats, whole grains, fruits & veggies.
- Healthy or “good” fats are unsaturated fats, found in foods like avocado, salmon, and canola/olive oil. These foods contain EPA and DHA, two important nutrients for brain development. There is no period in life where your child’s brain will be developing as rapidly as it is in utero and in those first few months, making them extra important!
- Whole grains are extra important for nursing moms since they provide vitamins B&E, magnesium and fiber which can help prevent/alleviate constipation.
- Fruits & veggies should always make up a large part of your diet, even if you aren’t nursing! But focusing on “eating the rainbow” is important to make sure you’re getting varied and complete nutrition and will also help keep you regular.
8. Make a Plan Are you a working mother? Do you plan on returning to work after 6 weeks of maternity leave, or will stay home a bit longer? Are you a stay at home mom? These are questions you should ask yourself before the big day arrives. If you are returning to work, you’ll want to make sure you start pumping early enough to build up a store of milk you can leave with your baby at daycare or wherever he/she will be during the day. You’ll also want to find out where and when you will be able to pump at work. Your employer is legally obligated to provide you with a quiet, clean place with an electrical outlet where you can pump in private. It’s best to discuss this with your boss before the time comes, so it is all set up upon your return to the office. Be sure to make a plan for storing the milk as well. A cooler bag and some ice packs can be very handy and will keep your milk stash discrete in the work fridge. It’s also handy for transporting your liquid gold to and from the office.
9. Don’t Waste Your Money There are hundreds of special “milk-boosting” foods and supplements in the marketplace. Sorry to break it to you, but these are not scientifically proven to do anything for your supply. If you truly have a medical problem, your physician can prescribe a medication to help, but those teas and cookies you see at the checkout counter of Buy Buy Baby? Probably not going to do much. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Folklore says things like fenugreek can help with milk supply, but the research to support it just isn’t there. The only proven method to increase your supply is to put your baby to the breast as often as possible, and pump in between. The more you draw from the breast, the more it will produce…supply and demand!
10. Relax This one’s important before and after your little one arrives. Stress and/or fatigue can have detrimental effects on your milk supply, so be sure to make time in your day to lay down and take a nap, indulge in a bubble bath, or just veg in front of the TV. Hand off your babe to your partner and take some “me” time every once in a while. This will help you recharge your batteries and keep you sane!
Have you successfully breastfed your baby? Post some more tips for new moms in the comments below and share your wisdom with the rest of us!