Breastfeeding is usually a beautiful journey for those who choose to embark on it. However, for many new moms, the journey isn’t quite so beautiful to begin with. There can be challenges along the way but a little preparation and planning can help the transition and learning process go a bit more smoothly.
1. Nipple First Aid
Keep nipple “first aid” on hand. Be prepared ahead of time with a nourishing nipple cream (like the Baby Balm from Primally Pure) and nursing pads. Apply cream to your nipples AND nursing pad to prevent cracked nipples from sticking to the pads. Keep the cream in the fridge for extra soothing. Don’t wait until you actually need this to purchase it. It’s best to have ahead of time for that very first need. If it’s never needed for soothing nipples, it can double as an overnight lip moisturizer, or moisturizing dry patches on baby’s skin or your own, so it doesn’t have to go to waste. *Keep in mind here that breastfeeding in general shouldn’t be painful like this beyond “the beginning” (for me, the most pain occurred until about the fourth week). If pain persists to later breastfeeding, consult your healthcare provider, lactation consultant, or postpartum doula.
2. Nursing Station
Find and create your nursing station. This is a place you’ll be spending plenty of time. Make sure you’re comfortable. This could be a spot on the couch, or your bed, or a special recliner or rocker. Keep a blanket there for your legs or shoulders, maybe your slippers, and even some snacks. Pamper this space however you see fit. You’ll be here quite often.
Bring Your Own Entertainment. For times when you’re not just staring at your precious babe’s adorable features, keep something to read at your nursing station. Nursing sessions can be long for the first 2-3 months, about 45 minutes or longer. Having something to do nearby can help you stay awake during those long overnight feedings, which is crucial for baby’s safety. *This should be a real book or a non-backlit reading device. Use a headlamp or booklight with a red light to not wake up baby, or inhibit your ability to fall back asleep when that time comes. (You can use this same light to change baby’s diaper if needed without waking him/her up.)
4. Seek Help When Needed
Breastfeeding can come with unexpected challenges that can be detected with the help of a trained eye. Find a lactation consultation or postpartum doula in your area who can help with issues like latching problems, adjusting feeding positions, breast massage, engorgment, pain, anxiety about breastfeeding, etc. There are breastfeeding communities and support groups as well. An herbalist can also be helpful in “prescribing” some herbs to aid in boosting supply if truly necessary, or breastmilk-safe herbs to help balance your emotions and sleep.
Proper milk supply is hugely dependent on hydration. Aside from hydrating throughout the day, keep a water bottle filled at your nursing station within arm’s reach so you can continue to hydrate while you’re sitting there nursing. Aim to consume half your body weight in ounces of water, plus an additional roughly 30-50 ounces. It sounds like a lot of water, but there will still be times when you feel like you could give your right arm for some more, particularly when those hot flashes come on in the first month or so while your hormones are working their way back to normal levels.
6. Eat Plenty (Plus Some More)
Just as important as water is for milk supply, so are sufficient calories. Make sure you’re eating enough all the time to supply enough fuel for your body to produce milk. For best results, lean heavily on nutrient dense foods as much as possible for high quality calories that nourish both you and your breastmilk as opposed to empty ones that will leave you feeling continuously hungry. Think foods like animal products, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, rather than foods like pretzels and bagels.
7. Rest Often
Breastfeeding burns through an extra 400-500 calories a day (which explains why you need to eat enough as mentioned above). That can actually feel exhausting, especially in the beginning weeks, which is also exacerbated by sleep deprivation. Allow yourself time to rest as often as your body calls for it. It won’t always feel quite so exhausting, so listen to your body while it’s requesting the rest.
8. Get a Great Nursing Pillow
Being physically comfortable while nursing is something to ensure as this might be something you’ll be doing for the next several months or longer. A nursing pillow is able to provide plenty of comfort while you keep your baby close and off your stomach, where there may be a cesarean incision, and up high enough that you can relax and not be quite so hunched over the whole time. The pillow can also be used for baby’s tummy time in the early weeks and months, and sitting support a little later.
9. Pump (If Your Body Responds Well To It)
You’re the only one who can feed your baby, and while on one hand that feels so empowering, on the other it might be isolating. You may need a break. You may want to get out of the house and have a little me-time. (And you should!) Having some expressed breastmilk ready to go for any other caregiver, whether it’s your partner or a babysitter or your mother, can allow you that time to leave the house and get you feeling refreshed like a normal human being again. There are many pumps available, from electric to manual, or hand expressing is another option. Do whatever works for you.
10. Get a Nursing Cover
Ok this one is, of course, totally your call. I think it’s amazing when women can nurse their babies anywhere without any sort of cover, but I personally wasn’t one of them. I felt more comfortable when I was covered up, which allowed me to freely nurse my babies in public whenever they needed. If you feel like you’d prefer a cover, find one that you like and keep it in your diaper bag for all your outings.
11. Don’t Stress About Supply
Often one of the biggest stressors about breastfeeding is the unknown volume of what baby is eating. A common remedy is to pump out a full feeding, only to be disappointed (and very concerned) that baby isn’t getting enough milk because a small amount was pumped out. This is not unusual. It’s important to understand that your baby is far superior at draining your milk compared to a pump, and not every woman will respond to a pump. If you want to get a true idea of what your baby is consuming while directly nursing, a pre-feed and post-feed weigh-in with the help of a lactation consultant or postpartum doula can be very enlightening. Otherwise baby’s temperament and tracking wet and dirty diapers are great indicators of being fed enough.
12. Remember to Track Your Starting Breast
For even milk supply, it’s best to alternate which breast baby nurses from first because it’s likely that one breast will be drained. Trying to remember which breast you last started from for the previous feeding is next to impossible when you’re nursing 8-12 times per day and running on very little sleep. There are products available to help you remember such as this Pocket Nanny Baby Care Timer with a switch at the bottom (which also helps you track naps, time from the last diaper change, and length of feeding time – I loved this timer for my own babies) and the Eat Sleep Poop Journal (if you’re more of a pen & paper person, I also found this to be really helpful for doctor check ups when answering questions about how many wet & dirty diapers baby has daily and how long feeding sessions usually are). Another idea is to dedicate an easy-to-move bracelet (or even a hair tie) and move it wrist to wrist coordinating with what breast you started on for that feeding so you’ll know to do the opposite for the next.
Breastfeeding your baby is an amazing experience and incredible for bonding with baby, along with many benefits for you. However, it does not make or break your status as “great mom”. If it doesn’t work out for any number of reasons, give yourself plenty of grace and forgiveness. There are plenty of ways to be an amazing mama!