There are plenty of reasons to breastfeed— health benefits for mom and baby, cost savings and environmental benefits. If you’ve decided you want to nurse your baby, here’s how to prepare before your baby is born.
1) Learn the ropes.
Try to attend a class at your local hospital or birthing center. Get a reliable book on breastfeeding. Many find Breastfeeding Made Simple by Nancy Mohrbacher to be a good choice. Breastfeeding With Confidence by Sue Cox is another excellent book. See if you can spend time around someone who is breastfeeding her baby or attend a La Leche League meeting. On the job training is easier if you’ve seen someone doing the job at least once.
2) Line up help.
Make sure there is someone you can call once you get home for the inevitable questions you will have. Hospital lactation consultants can often do brief troubleshooting or refer you to someone who can help. La Leche League has local chapters and a national hotline. It would be best to line up a lactation consultant who can come to your home, since you can’t get out easily during the first days.
3) Have the right equipment.
Get a good quality double breast pump. Many moms who are not going back to work feel they may not need it, but if they end up with problems, a last minute trip to the local baby store may not give you the choice and variety that would be yours if you’d shopped earlier. Many moms like a feeding pillow— your choice should be based more on your size than on what your friends use. Moms with a long torso can use a wider pillow than shorter mothers. You don’t want the baby positioned up by your neck. A bed pillow can work just fine. Several hot/cold gel packs can be very helpful. Heat helps a lot of moms let down, and cold is great for the inflammation associated with engorgement and plugged ducts
4) Nurse immediately after delivery, even with a C-section.
Many studies have shown that starting breastfeeding soon after birth helps ensure better outcomes. Tell the nurses who are caring for you that you’ll want their help in getting started. This also applies to the nurses who are helping you during your postpartum stay. Ask for help! Nurses are often busy and if they don’t hear from you they may think everything is fine.
5) Room in if possible and try to avoid supplementary bottles.
Whether or not they can cause nipple confusion, the less baby feeds from you, the less milk you’ll make, and some studies have shown that early exposure to cow’s milk proteins can make allergies more likely in infants at risk.
6) Make sure your baby is getting milk (or colostrum).
Even if he or she looks to be latched on right, if you don’t hear swallowing, if your baby is losing weight quickly, or doesn’t seem to be having wet or dirty diapers, hand express colostrum and give it to your baby by spoon, or pump and supplement. This will protect your milk supply as well as make sure your baby is fed.
7) Address latch problems.
If your baby has not latched on or is latched but causing you extreme pain, before resorting to bottles, consider trying a nipple shield (which looks like a Mexican hat). Not only does it make it easier for the baby to latch on, it also reduces the excessive suction which can not only cause nipple pain, but also usually reduces milk transfer. Later when you are home you can address latch in a more relaxed manner. If nothing seems to help your baby nurse, be sure to pump to maintain your supply and hold your baby skin to skin whenever you can. Don’t stress—most babies who don’t latch well right away go on to nurse just fine later. Above all, don’t keep trying to make a crying baby breastfeed. It will make both of you unhappy and things more difficult later.
8) Frequent feedings are important.
It’s best to feed at least every three hours or so in the hospital and to wake the baby to feed if necessary. Sleepy babies who don’t breastfeed tend to get sleepier, making it harder and harder to get started. Also try to avoid extra long (40 plus minute feedings). Most babies get little milk after the first ten to fifteen minutes on a side, and mom is more likely to get sore.
9) Treat severe engorgement and very sore or cracked nipples.
These often occur after you get home and need to be treated. Cold compresses to help reduce the swelling and warmth just prior to nursing or pumping can often help get the milk moving. You may need medicated cream, and can protect your nipples by pumping or using a shield if your nipples are damaged. They will usually just get worse if you try to “push through it”.
10) Get in-home support.
Dad can make no better use of his vacation time. Don’t let anyone in your home who will make you uncomfortable. Have people who can help feed and take care of you. Your baby is dependent on you, and it is not selfish to see that your needs are met, so you can take care of your new arrival.
Last but not least, hold your baby, talk to your baby and try to enjoy this time, stressful as it may be. Remember, your baby doesn’t know that you don’t know what you’re doing. Your “boss” is as new to this as you are.