You have decided to breastfeed your baby. Wonderful! This is probably one of the best things that you can do for your child. While most breastfeeding moms can give you a litany of reasons why they nurse, there are two very simple reasons why a new mom decides to breastfeed their baby. The first is because it’s free. It can be a bit overwhelming when realizing the expense of having a child. Adding the cost of formula to that equation seems unnecessary when you can produce the baby’s entire food source for at least the first six months to a year when solid food is just for fun. The other reason why moms choose to nurse is because it’s natural. No matter what these formula companies try to tell you, there are numerous, often unrecognizable, ingredients including additives that allow formula to remain on the shelves for up to a year. Nothing is as pure as breast milk! Celebrate that your body is designed to grow a baby, raise a baby and feed that baby – making mommy’s pretty awesome!
But now that you have decided to take this breastfeeding journey, there are a few things that you need to prepare for:
- Start Immediately
For some women and their little ones, successful breastfeeding is quick and painless. For others, there are a few bumps before mommy and baby find their groove. Keep in mind that the best way to attempt success is to start as early as possible. As soon as a baby is born, try to get skin-to-skin contact the moment that you can. Once on your chest, your baby will find their way to your nipple, with or without your help, and the breastfeeding (or attempt to nurse) begins. Babies are hardwired to seek out the breast taking 90% of the work away from you. Your job now is to make sure that you little one actually gets as much of your breast in their mouth as possible.
Don’t make the mistake of only putting the nipple in the baby’s mouth under the assumption that there is only one hole at the very center where the milk is released. This misinformation is one of the main reasons why breastfeeding in often painful and new moms do not have success. In actuality, your nipple and most of your areola, are covered in tiny holes were breast milk can flow. While the baby might instinctively know their way to your breasts, its important that you give them enough to feed from. This will allow for a proper latching. Soon you should hear little grunts or sighs and even soft swallowing noises… the sounds of success!
Nursing takes time and you need to be as comfortable as possible while you are breastfeeding. Many moms make the mistake of bringing the breast to the baby. This should NEVER happen! Always bring the baby to the breast. Whether you are at home in a comfortable rocking chair or dining in your favorite restaurant, always position the baby in a way that is relaxing for both of you. This practice will ensure that you are always in a comfortable, reclined position. You never want to be hunched over and uncomfortable while feeding.
Remember that breastfeeding can be a little painful in the beginning while mommy and baby are trying to find their rhythm but the pain should not be prolonged or last throughout the duration of a feeding. If pain persists, there may be latching mistakes (make sure that there is enough of the areola in the baby’s mouth) or a nipple issue (cracked, bleeding or inverted nipples can cause problems). When in doubt, call a lactation consultant.
In typical mom fashion, you are programmed to nurture and take care of your child. Of course, one of those ways is by feeding them. They were in the womb for up to 40 weeks so they must be starving, right? Not really. The baby’s stomach is the size of a marble at birth and will be satisfied with the ultra-healthy colostrum that you will produce the first few days before your milk comes in. Their stomach capacity stretches but try to remember that their bodies can’t hold much for at least 72 hours. It’s amazing how mommy and baby’s bodies are connected; their stomach will expand to accommodate more milk at the same time that your milk supply really jumps into production. Use this time to practice latching properly and counting those tiny fingers and toes again and again. Stressing leads to tension and tension can lock up the flow of breast milk. So take a deep breath, mommy! Your body will produce exactly what your little one needs.
- Get the Pump… Now!
Whether you are heading back to work after your baby is born or you will be staying at home, it is important to make sure that you invest in a wonderful breast pump. This is not an item that you want to have the task of going out to purchase when you desperately need it. Yes, they can be a bit pricey, but it is an expense that you will be happy that you handled.
Medela is the absolute best brand for breast pumps. They have a strong automatic pump that is also hands-free. Their kit comes with a funny looking bra with nipple cut outs to anchor the pump. You may feel a bit silly wearing it but it works wonders! The idea of getting a less expensive, manual pump may seem appealing, but spare time when you have a newborn is very rare. You will be extremely relieved to have an automatic pump.
Another great reason to have a breast pump on hand is to aid with engorgement. Unfortunately engorged breasts are just a painful part of the breastfeeding process. The milk supply comes in and clogs your milk ducts; ducts that stretch from your breast to under your arms. When the milk is not expelled, the breasts become hard (truly brick-like) and could possibly lead to infection if not treated. Often times, your little one will not have the space in their tiny stomachs to accommodate the amount of milk that needs to be expelled, so pumping becomes a necessity. In moments such as these, you will be happy that your breast pump is close by. Hot showers also help with engorgement but the quick and immediate relief can only be found with a pump.
In addition to a good pump, purchase a few wonderful nursing bras and nursing tank tops. Avoid anything with an underwire. Comfort is key! Take the time to visit a maternity store and allow the sales representative to measure you properly.
- Mommy Needs a Feeding Station Too!
With so much focus on how the baby will eat, don’t forget about mommy! It is incredibly important to have some sort of feeding station for you. Breastfeeding allows you to burn up to 500 calories a day and while it may seem simple to sit there and stare at your little one while they nurse, your body is working incredibly hard. During this time, you will get very hungry and thirsty so keep a bag of trail mix, raisins and a few granola bars (think items that can be resealed, are not immediately perishable and can be consumed using one hand) and a big bottle of water on a small table or TV tray next to the chair where you plan to nurse. This will be your breastfeeding station. In between minutes of gazing at your baby’s adorable face, fuel your body and stay hydrated. And make sure to throw water and snacks for yourself in your diaper bag when you need to take the feeding on the road.
- Keep Them Even
Do you have a pretty bracelet that you have been looking for an occasion or reason to wear? Use that bracelet as a breastfeeding marker. This is a simple but necessary component to breastfeeding. Your little bracelet reminder will help to keep your milk production high and prevent you from looking lop-sided. Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. It is important that you make sure that this is happening on both breasts. Your little one, though very tiny, can form preferences extremely quickly. They may prefer one breast to the other (or maybe you favor them nursing on one side because it is more comfortable to hold the baby on that breast versus the other). It is your job as the mother to control this. Make both sides equally comfortable for your little one and remind yourself which breast to use next with the help of your lovely bracelet. If not, you will have one breast that is constantly producing milk and another smaller breast that may need the help of a few baby socks stuffed in your bra to feel great in your favorite sweater again.
- Forget Your Deadline
From the moment that you found out that you were pregnant, you began to plan everything from the nursery, prenatal doctor’s appointments and picked a pediatrician. It is natural to also think about a breastfeeding timeline before your baby is born. Well just like your due date (which is only accurate for a small percentage of mothers-to-be), try to ignore a deadline that you think is appropriate and allow the breastfeeding journey to happen organically. The longer you nurse your little one, the greater your chances are of helping them ward off diseases later in life including allergies, types of cancers and obesity.
You truly will not know how long you will breastfeed until you actually start. Some moms only do it for a short time and some wait until their children are older toddlers and guide them through the self-weaning process. Either way, allow the choice to happen naturally. As time progresses, you will figure out what is best for you and your baby.
- Sorry! You Still Can’t Eat That.
The day you deliver, you have the opportunity to hold your precious little one. Most moms also plan to treat themselves to food that was off limits through their pregnancy as a celebratory meal for their nine months of “heavy lifting.” Successful nursing requires that you keep the same well-balanced diet that you had while pregnant. Unfortunately, the food that you may be anxious to eat (brie with crackers, sushi, lasagna with extra ricotta and steak tartar, etc.) can actually trigger an allergic reaction in your brand new baby. New foods that you did not consume during your pregnancy will show up in your breast milk and could be hard on your little one’s tiny tummy. Even foods with high acidity (marinara sauces and large amounts of vegetable or orange juice) can trigger an allergic reaction, a rash, indigestion or gas making for one unhappy baby. Now of course you should not swear off your favorite foods (after all, you are a champion for growing a person and delivering them so you deserve a treat), just do things in moderation. Slowly reintroduce your favorite forbidden foods into your diet but try doing so only after a few months when you little one’s stomach is a bit stronger.
Despite a few potential challenges that can arise during breastfeeding, you are making the best decision for your child and setting them up for long-term health. Once you and baby get the hang of things, breastfeeding will help build a bond that will last forever.