Learning how to breastfeed was probably one of the most challenging parts in my transition to motherhood. Here's ten things I learned from my experience:
1. Educate yourself
Don't wait to speak to a lactation consultant or attend a class at the hospital the day after delivering your baby. You'll be too overwhelmed to properly absorb information. It's important to familiarize yourself with the basics of breastfeeding while you're pregnant. Understanding your newborn's feeding cues and reflexes, how to help the baby get a good latch, and how to make yourself comfortable will be crucial in those early weeks with your baby. Find a local breastfeeding basics class or a private class that you can attend during pregnancy. If you can't get to a class, pick up a book or visit my post where I discussed my favorite online resources.
2. Create a support network
When you're pregnant, create a list of people and groups you can rely on when you're breastfeeding. Find out when and where your local La Leche League meets. Hire a postpartum doula to help support you with breastfeeding when you get home from the hospital. Keep a lactation consultant's number on hand in case you're in pain. Do you know a relative or friend who successfully breastfed? Ask if you can contact them if you have any questions. It's best to prepare yourself when you're pregnant, that way if a problem arises, your research has been done and you can get a solution quickly.
3. Don't worry about the clock
When I got home from the hospital, I downloaded an app on my phone to track the feedings. It included the time I started our session, which breast I started with, and how much time Ava spent on each breast. I was tracking every moment, which was overwhelming. I nursed on demand, but I became consumed with watching the clock and I was worried I was doing something wrong. Instead of trying to get on a schedule, aim to breastfeed your baby at least 8-12 times a day. Follow your baby's cues and remember that there's no such thing as nursing your baby too much.
Keep a simple, written log to track your feedings for the first week or two. The book Breastfeeding Made Simple suggests tracking two things: the number of feedings that are at least ten minutes total of wide jaw movements per breastfeeding and the number of stools at least the size of a US quarter. Count your totals at the end of each 24 hour period. Your number of feedings should be 8 or more (aim for 10!). The number of stools should correspond to each day of life (i.e 2 stools on day 2, 3 stools on day 3). By day 4, the number of stools should be 3-4 or more. Here is a good guide on what your baby's stools should look like and another on how many wet and dirty diapers your baby should have.
4. Don't wait til your baby is crying to breastfeed
Keep your baby close to you during the day and night so you can respond to early feeding cues. Crying is a late indication that your baby is hungry. A crying baby will have more difficulty latching on and feeding well, so it's ideal to start when they're calm. If you've missed your baby's cues, try to settle him or her before breastfeeding by rocking, skin to skin, or talking to your baby. Here's some cues to look for: licking lips, stirring, sucking sounds, moving head side to side (rooting), bringing hand to mouth.
5. Fill your cup
Have you heard of the saying, "You can't pour from an empty cup."? Nursing sessions can be long so make sure you take care of yourself. Think about everywhere in your home that you plan on breastfeeding - your bed, the couch, the baby's nursery. Keep each "station" well stocked. Include easy to eat one-handed snacks like trail mix, granola or a snack bar (I like Lara Bars or RXBARS), a full water bottle, clean burp cloths, pillows, nursing pads and anything else that will make you comfortable. If you have support at home, don't feel guilty about taking a nap or a shower after you've fed your baby. Little moments of self-care will help you give more to your baby.
6. Give your partner tasks
If you're breastfeeding, it's easy for your partner to feel left out. Include you partner by asking him or her to ensure your nursing station is stocked and you have accessible snacks before they leave for work. Every night, Matt would make me overnight oats so I would have a healthy and satisfying breakfast in the morning. It was convenient to pull food out to eat first thing in the morning. Also, let your partner have skin to skin time with the baby after your nursing session. This will help them feel like they're a part of the process.
7. Learn how to use your breast pump
Ideally, you shouldn't have to use your pump for the first few weeks. However, certain circumstances may arise and you should familiarize yourself with your pump and the parts while you have a clear head. Read the directions and practice putting all the pieces together. Turn it it on so you know what to expect.
8. Trust your body and your instincts
A lot of moms are concerned that their bodies won't produce enough milk. I know this was a fear of mine. Always remember that breastfeeding is supply and demand. The more milk that is removed from the breast, the more milk the breast will make to replace it. A good milk supply is established through frequent breastfeeding. If it feels like you just put your baby down and they're looking to eat again, know that at times your baby may cluster feed or have growth spurts. Follow your baby's cues and trust that they need to nurse. This will pass and and your feedings will begin to space out a bit.
If you truly feel like your baby isn't getting enough milk, call a lactation consultant to help you identify and resolve the problem. Also, one of the best indicators your baby is getting enough milk is weight gain. Ask your pediatrician if you can bring your baby in to be weighed. A trip to the doctor will give you peace of mind and confidence in your body.
9. Register for the essentials and treat yourself to something nice
Register for nipple cream, nursing pads, gel pads, a breastfeeding pillow and anything else you think you may want or need. Having these supplies in the house before the baby comes is always a good idea. Get a couple of nice robes to wear in the beginning. Robes are great for skin to skin time. Also, I preferred to wear a nursing cami during the first two weeks. I invested in a nice nursing bra when my milk fully came in and engorgement passed.
10. Subscribe to Netflix
As I said above, you'll be spending a lot of time nursing your baby the first few weeks. Get yourself comfortable and enjoy some guilt free TV binging. I promise you when your baby is mobile in a few months you won't be watching much television!