Get off on the right breast! Prepare to breastfeed while you are still pregnant and get familiar with all things breastfeeding.
“Breastfeeding is an instinctual and natural act, but it is also an art that is learned day by day. The reality is that almost all women can breastfeed, have enough milk for their babies and learn how to overcome problems both large and small. It is almost always simply a matter of practical knowledge and not a question of good luck." -La Leche League
Leading up to having my first baby, I was overly confident in the magical mystical birth experience I would have (I did not) and was overly worried that breastfeeding would be extremely difficult and challenging (it was not).
While I can only speak from my own experience, I believe that with the right preparation just about every mama can be a nursing pro and milk machine. That is not to say that it will be a total walk in the park, but simply that if you do your homework you can be ready for whatever curve balls get thrown your way. Breastfeeding is a skill that (just about) any mama can master.
Because I had been so anxious about being a failure of a feeder, I watched countless videos on latching and positions, listened to podcasts on nursing diets and read up on all things boobie. I ended up having a c-section, but my daughter came (almost) immediately skin to skin and was able to latch within that first magical hour. Because I had a longer hospital stay due to having surgery, I was also able to get multiple visits from the lactation consultants and got lots of helpful pointers and tips.
I nursed both of my babies for over a year and while I am no professional, I am a very confident milk maid. I did have the privilege to stay home with them both and never relied on pumping, but even if bottle feeding will be a part of your plan, these tips will still help you get off to a great start!
As I mentioned, one thing I think that really helped me have a solid start breastfeeding was that I did a lot to prepare for it when I was pregnant. Ways that you can get ready to nurse before your baby actually arrives are practicing hand expressing milk (which you can save), making lactation treats, practicing different holds and putting together a nursing station or breastfeeding caddy.
Another important thing to know leading up to your baby’s birth is that nipple stimulation can often help during labor. Usually this is used as a way to induce labor, but it can also help if labor is slow to progress. You can do this with your or a birth partner’s hand or using a breast pump.
Most people have heard the phrase, “breast is best.” I happen to be in the “fed is best,” camp, but there are plenty of reasons to give breastfeeding a solid effort and to at least attempt it in the beginning to reap the many rewards to baby and to the mother!
Getting baby to latch and suck at the breast in the first hour or so after birth helps the body as it enters the fourth trimester. The oxytocin released during breastfeeding tells the uterus to continue to contract as it shrinks back down to its original size. There are so many health benefits for mom and baby and plenty of support from your birth team to get you started.
“Breastfeeding reminds us of the universal truth of abundance; the more we give out, the more we are filled up, and that divine nourishment - the source from which we all draw is, like a mother's breast, ever full and ever flowing." -Sarah Buckley
One of the most important things to get right when breastfeeding is the latch. Latch refers to the suction the baby’s mouth has on the breast. Sometimes a lip or tongue tie can make getting a proper latch physically impossible so a doctor will snip the skin which will allow for the baby to fully open their mouth.
With my second, his tie was not severe enough to require a snip, but it did make things a little wonky and painful at times. I used a nipple shield until his mouth grew a bit (a month or so) and then it was no longer needed.
When you are first starting out it can be difficult to know if the latch your baby has is right. What should it feel like? What should it look like? What should it sound like? This is one of the many reasons I always tell women to request a visit from the lactation specialist at the hospital or birth center (a great question to ask when you are planning your birth is if this service is available!). The lactation consultant can help show you how to get your baby on the breast and evaluate the latch to give corrections or advice.
Breastfeeding Diet / Alcohol
The saying goes that pregnant women are eating for two, but really it is the breastfeeding mama who needs to really up her calorie intake. Having made your lactation treats towards the end of your pregnancy, you will be ready to go with snacks. You may also be ready to fulfill that craving you’ve had for a margarita, just make sure to plan ahead.
Some women are concerned about specific foods irritating their baby, like dairy or wheat, but generally this is not something to worry about. If you have specific concerns once you have begun breastfeeding, your healthcare provider and pediatrician can help you design an elimination diet specific to your situation.
Tips and Tricks
Getting lots of facetime with the lactation consultants after my c-section, I learned several very helpful tips that I hadn’t seen during my pregnancy research. Touching and gently moving the baby can promote sucking and help your sometimes very sleepy baby continue feeding so that you can fully empty the breast (very important for production and to prevent infection).
I also found a little pamphlet that the hospital sent home with us very helpful, which outlined a number of hunger and fullness cues that babies give. Knowing these can make a huge difference!
I’ve already discussed the potential for lip or tongue ties causing issues with your baby’s latch, but there are a number of other challenges you may face when breastfeeding. Some women have flat or inverted nipples, you may get a blocked milk duct or infection in the breast called mastitis, your supply may be low, your let down may be strong, there may be dietary concerns and on and on the list goes.
My best advice would be to contact a professional, board certified lactation consultant as soon as any issue pops up, but knowing what to look out for will get you help faster. They may be able to offer the solution you need, or refer you to another specialist such as an infant chiropractor or dietician.
Tools + Supplies
Breastfeeding may be a natural thing that women have been doing for millenia, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use some modern inventions to make it easier. Here are the ones I have relied on and found super helpful:
This is something I use for the first few months at least, making feeding more comfortable and the upper back less sore. I have loved my Boppy, but know other moms who have had more success with other options. If the pillow you picked out isn’t working, this is another area a lactation consultant can really help you find the one that's right for you and your baby.
There are so many options out there for nipple creams. There are a few that I have really liked. I avoid lanolin creams as my skin is super sensitive to wool, so that is something to keep in mind when choosing one.
This can really help keep your precious nipples safe and healthy. I know some women worry that they will become dependent on them, but in my case it was easily phased out, and it wouldn’t have been a big deal to me if we had needed to keep using it the whole time.
Those milk jugs are bound to leak and there is nothing like an involuntary wet t-shirt contest in the grocery aisle to make you red in the face. Having tried the disposable options as well, I much prefer the washable ones. They are not only more sustainable, less expensive and softer on the skin - the disposable ones always got waded up in my bra and were always kind of a pain. Maybe that’s just me. Just make sure to put them in a garment bag when you wash them so they don’t end up in your washing machine’s filter like mine did.
I didn’t have this my first go around and I so wish I had! You suction it on to the opposite breast that baby is latched to and it catches the milk from let down, which otherwise would have just been wasted in the wash. It is an easy way to store some milk for a bottle feed from dad or build up a stash in the freezer.
Apps or Jewlery
It can be helpful when you are getting started to use a breastfeeding app, which allows you to time how long baby is at each breast and keep track of which breast you started on at your last feed. I also have used a specific bracelet to swap back and forth, wearing it on the wrist of the side I should start on for my next session.
This is by no means a complete guide on breastfeeding, but hopefully gives you the information and the tools you need to get started. For more information, check out the channels I have linked to above, browse and refer to the amazing online resources linked below or as mentioned a million times already, go see a lactation consultant!
You’ve got this girlfriend! Wishing you a happy, healthy breastfeeding journey and all of the love and support you need along the way!