Breastfeeding is an amazing, intimate experience. But it is also time consuming, challenging and painful. Early on, it seems like your every waking thought surrounds feeding your baby, and every decision is weighted with self-doubt. “Did she eat enough?” “Is he wetting his diaper often enough” “Did that spicy burrito I ate last night give her reflux?” “It’s been two hours, should I wake him up to feed him?” “Why are my nipples bleeding?” “Am I leaking through my shirt again?” “Is that warm, wet feeling on my pants poop or spit up?” …Plus every other question imaginable.
You hear all the time that “breast is best” and it’s natural and healthy for both momma and baby. It is definitely natural, but natural doesn’t necessarily equal instinctual, or good, or easy. Lots of other things, like, oh, I don’t know…hurricanes, arsenic, marijuana, child birth itself are all natural, but certainly not good or easy.
Being prepared and educated ahead of time will greatly increase your chances of being successful at breastfeeding for as long as you’d like. I was fortunate enough to have a great supply, and a great eater from the get-go. See the tips below to help lay the foundation for successful breastfeeding!
1. Set Expectations
Yow know when a new movie comes out and people just rave about it and tell you that you just have to go see it? And then it ends up being just ok? It’s probably not that the movie was good, it’s that you had such high expectations going in that there was no way the movie could’ve lived up.
Same for breastfeeding – most of what you see on social media and online seems to paint breastfeeding as the easy-breezy process, and for some people it is. For most people though, it will be a challenge, and knowing that ahead of time can help you to be realistic. Set expectations for yourself ahead of time, and you’ll be much less likely to give up when it doesn’t go perfectly from the start.
2. Buy good nursing gear
There is a lot of nursing gear on the market now and most of it is not just a big marketing racket. Retailers have embraced the buying power of new moms and started producing fashionable and comfortable options. Good nursing gear can eliminate some of the stress and awkwardness that surrounds early breastfeeding days as well as allow your baby the space to get a proper latch. You won’t have enough hands to hold up a regular bra, hold your baby, and help him latch properly.
Prepare ahead of time with clothing made for nursing, including nursing bras, nursing tanks, and a nursing scarf. You’ll be whipping out the boob every two hours or so for probably over a month, so you’ll get a lot of use out of these items. When you get more comfortable, you’ll even be able to nurse in public with the right clothing. I had good luck with Old Navy and Gap nursing tank tops, and I’m still on a quest to find a nursing bra that I really love. See my Breastfeeding Essentials post for more details on nursing gear.
3. Learn! Read, go to classes, talk to friends
Before baby comes, while you have the time and mental capacity, educate yourself on how milk production works, how the glands release milk, and what can affect milk production. The more you understand the process, the more you’ll be able to problem solve as you go. Go to a breastfeeding class, talk to friends that have been successful, watch one of your friends breastfeed so you can see what it looks like, watch videos on youtube, or read a book. Don’t rely on message boards, but instead find some published, verified material. I thought the 2 hour breastfeeding class offered through my hospital was time well spent, and I had a friend who was open and kind enough to give me a mini breastfeeding tutorial with her own baby.
4. Get a support group
Along those same lines, set yourself up with a support group ahead of time. Many moms are happy to pass along advice to new moms. Figure out who you know that has successfully breastfed for at least a few months, or find a group you can go to on maternity leave. Your hospital or doctor’s office should have information on pro-breast support groups. Keep the number handy to the lactation consultants at your hospital and call them whenever you have questions – don’t hesitate! I asked so many questions to friends early on, and I am eternally grateful for their advice and overall support. Breastfeeding is now one of my favorite topics to text new moms about.
5. Use a nursing app
There are several free apps available now – download a few before your due date, choose one you like, and get comfortable with it. You’ll want one that allows you to time the feeding session and keep track of which breast to use. Especially in the first few weeks, your newborn will be eating frequently, and it can be overwhelming keeping track of how long it’s been between feedings. Some apps now even let you track wet and poopy diapers, sleep, and other baby things.
Especially in the early days, hours, days, nights, and diapers can all blur together, so it can be nice to have some actual data to look at. I used the Medela app, and for the first few weeks, my husband would start the app when Little Foot started feeding so I could focus on making sure she was latching properly.
6. Make sure your partner is on board
A supportive partner can make or break successful breastfeeding. When you’re first starting out, it may very well be a three-man job: the little foot to latch and stay latched, the dad to bring the baby and help hold her head, and mom to hold her breast and back side of the baby. Take your partner to a breastfeeding class, talk about breastfeeding, and get him/her to buy in. Your partner can also take over diaper changes, burping, or bottle washing while you’re feeding.
Often times, when we were still getting the hang of breastfeeding, my husband would hold little foot while I got situated in the rocking chair, he would help to make sure she was latched properly, start my app, and then bring me water if I needed it.
7. Let baby latch within a few hours after delivery
Hormones released after the placenta is removed helps to initiate milk production, and breast stimulation will also add to the amount produced. Get baby to latch within two hours of delivery – and find someone to help you! The babe won’t get much, if anything, for the first few days, and that’s totally normal and ok. What’s important is that you practice breastfeeding, espeically with the help of nurses or lactation consultants at the hospital. Put baby on the boob every 2-3 hours for the first few days to stimulate milk production and help you both get in tune with each other.
8. Nurse on one side at a time
To spur good milk production, feed on just one breast per feeding session, and feed every two hours. Breastmilk is created by demand, so feeding on just one breast at a time lets the breasts know to produce several ounces of milk, even early on. This will help to encourage milk production and make sure you have enough to fulfill all your baby’s needs.
9. Eat For Two!
Your body expends a LOT of energy to produce milk. In addition to fueling your recovery, you also need to eat at lot to give your body the calories it needs to make breast milk. Think quick and easy, and stock up before baby arrives. Some of my favorites are and were: oatmeal with nuts and flax seed, bagels with cream cheese, quesadillas with beans and cheese, whole milk, Greek yogurt, eggs, string cheese, smoothies (with yogurt, frozen fruit, and protein powder) and granola bars. I also tried to work in some fruits and veggies.
During or after each night time feeding, I ate a granola bar or two string cheese and chugged a lot of water. For the first few weeks, while obviously you should try to eat healthy, getting enough calories is the name of the game.
And, if you’re really ambitious, make some lactation cookies ahead of time and put them in the freezer. I ate one every morning and one every night, and it is a delightful little treat!
10. Find your reason
This may be the corniest, and most important tip: find your reason for breastfeeding, and hang on to it. One of my friends gave me great perspective on this – she reminded me that while it is an all encompassing task, you’re just doing it for one year for your kid. Know the many benefits of breastmilk and breastfeeding for both momma and babe, and remind yourself of that often. Breastfeeding is just one of many sacrifices you’ll make as a parent, but the many pros outweigh the cons by a long shot.
I hope this is a helpful list! Let me know your thoughts!