Preparing To Breastfeed - How To Set Yourself Up For Success Before Baby Comes
Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Breastfeeding... there's so much to chat about! I think I could talk to mamas for hours about breastfeeding. I love it so much, I am very passionate about the benefits of breastfeeding, and I think there are ways that we can prepare ourselves to make it the best experience for our babies and ourselves.
With my first baby, I felt like breastfeeding would be SO easy for me! I worked around breastfeeding mamas all day as a NICU nurse, and teaching mamas to breastfeed their babies was one of my favorite parts of my job. So I put very little thought into nursing my own baby, because I knew all the things! I was honestly pretty excited about it, I knew it was important to me, and I knew in my heart that I would breastfeed my babies no matter what. Fast forward just a few days after Weston was born, I was going to the pediatrician for his first follow up appointment... and I CRIED to the nurse about how I was worried about my supply, he wasn't gaining weight as quick as I wanted him to, and he was nursing CONSTANTLY. So I was that sleep-deprived mama, crying to my pediatrician, texting my friends things like "is this normal?!"And I have to say I am SO grateful I had the support of friends to get me through those rough parts, that assured me it would get better. So I can now REALLY relate to those first time breastfeeding mamas, because it's just not as easy as it seems it should be, yet it is SO worth it.
Breastfeeding seems so simple, so natural, and easy. Yet it can be so complex, so challenging, even defeating at times! I want to assure you that breastfeeding is a positive, amazing, and beneficial journey to enter into for you and your baby. But so often I see new moms get overwhelmed with the hardest part (typically the first two weeks), and give up before they allowed themselves to see the beautiful parts of it. I truly believe the mamas that have the easiest and most positive time breastfeeding are the ones that feel prepared, have witnessed breastfeeding first hand or have watched videos, and have support during the tough parts. I want to break it down a bit so that you feel more prepared, and so that breastfeeding can be beautiful and amazing for you and your baby.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge that there are scenarios in which mamas may want to breastfeed with all their heart, and something unexpected gets in the way of that. I want to prepare you that our plans and preparations as new mamas need to be fluid and flexible, because our babies are all unique, our births are all different, and there are some things that will always be out of our control. If you have a scenario that separates you or your baby in the first few hours after birth, or beyond (baby goes to the NICU, birth trauma, medical situation for mama, or any other reason for the separation) then your journey may have more challenges, more hurdles to overcome. There are things we can do to try our best to breastfeed our babies no matter what the circumstance, but know that I acknowledge it's not always a simple decision for mamas. Our stories are all unique, and we have to honor that!
So here are a few things that will set you up for a successful breastfeeding journey for you and your baby. These are all things that I did to prepare for nursing my first baby, and I plan to do them again the second time around as I get ready for baby girl to arrive.
Check In With Your Expectations
Like I mentioned before, it's so important to have plans and be prepared. But know that our journey as mamas has to be flexible and fluid. The unexpected will happen at some point along your mama journey. It can be tough not to get disappointed if your birth or delivery doesn't go as you had hoped, if something happens you didn't expect despite all of the preparation in the world. Be gentle with yourself. But also know that even through tough circumstances, we can overcome so much. If you are separated from your baby after delivery but breastfeeding is important to you, make sure you start pumping within the first 3 hours after birth (ideally even the first hour). If you don't have support around you, ask your nurse to help you pump! At the hospital they can typically get a pump for you, even hold the pump and do it for you if you are medically unable to do it. Pumping or stimulating your breasts in some way during the first few hours of life begins the lactation process, and assures your body that the baby is here and needs milk. Your body will kick into gear producing colostrum (the early form of breastmilk) even if you cannot be with your baby. And continue pumping at least every 3 hours (this should continue for the first few weeks to make sure you have an adequate milk supply for your baby - this is how often baby should be nursing in the beginning few weeks, and it's often more frequently than this!). If you have a birth plan, I think it's a great idea to include this in your plan. Remind your nurses, doula, midwife that you want to have the opportunity to breastfeed or pump as soon as you can no matter what happens.
Also acknowledge ahead of time that breastfeeding requires you to be with your baby every 2-3 hours at least for the first few weeks while you establish a good latch and milk supply. Acknowledge to yourself any limitations you might have, and have open conversations with your partner about what feeding your baby will look like during the newborn phase. They eat frequently day and night at first, but know that this phase goes by fast. And if you're worried about sustaining all of the night feedings on your own without help from your partner, know that there are ways to get your partner involved in those middle of the night feedings. One idea is to have your partner change diapers and hand you the baby with each waking. Then you can just swaddle and lay them right back down after each feeding, leaving a little more time for you to sleep and rest. I also know that babies are resilient, and if you want your partner involved in doing some bottle feedings at night or during the day, that is totally possible! I recommend waiting until 2 weeks of breastfeeding, and/or when you feel confident in your latch and your supply. But I will admit that I bottle fed Weston during the first week of life because I was really trying to amp up my supply. I was feeling like my milk wasn't coming in fast enough, so I nursed him, pumped after each breastfeeding, and bottle fed him the milk that I pumped to help him get back to birth weight. This is not really necessary unless you have a special circumstance that requires it (jaundice, significant weight loss, etc). But the NICU nurse in me knew that he would be just fine with his latch still (babies are so much more resilient than we give them credit for!), we bottle fed him in a "Side-Lying/Paced" position which is great for breastfeeding mamas, and used a slow flow nipple (Dr. Browns). If you talk openly with your partner ahead of time about what your feeding plan will be, it will bring you both some peace when you're in the thick of the newborn feeding phase.
Prepare In Advance - Seek Out Resources Before Your Baby Arrives!
If you're a new mama, I highly recommend taking a breastfeeding class of some kind. A hospital or midwife group will typically offer a breastfeeding class of some kind. You can also find them online. And get your partner involved so they know what to expect as well! It helps so much to have your partner or support system on the same page with you so they can have realistic expectations of what nursing and feeding your newborn will look like. I think it surprises some couples that it is NORMAL and EXPECTED that your baby should eat every 2-4 hours during the first few weeks of life, both day and night. Even babies fed by bottle or formula should still be eating that often. After a few weeks when your supply is well-established and they are latching and eating well, they will still typically eat every 2-3 hours during the day, and you can slowly work your way into a longer stretch between feedings at night. But this takes time, even for bottle-fed babies. I think it's important to have realistic expectations that both you and your partner are on the same page with, so there are no huge surprises (like why aren't they sleeping through the night at one week old?! Oh wait - that would not be normal for them to sleep through the night so early!). A newborn's tummy is so small the first few days of life, and grows every single day. The process of how much food their tummies can tolerate grows naturally with how much milk we begin to make. Our bodies are so in tune to their needs, so trust that your body and your baby are working together to make sure baby is nourished. Your pediatrician or midwife will check baby's weight as often as they need to during those first few days and weeks to make sure they are getting what they need to grow. But if your baby is nursing hourly the first few days? I hate to say that this is normal but it really is... they are actually working with your body, telling your body to make more and more milk! Just hold on tight and give it a few days, and your supply will start to catch up (and it will happen all at once, and may surprise you - hello leaking boobs in the middle of the night, or screaming baby because they didn't expect to get so much milk with your let down)... It's a process that takes time to even out, but eventually it does. And eventually you won't have a baby that eats constantly, and you won't have leaking boobs every night that hurt and don't fit into any bras you own... I promise you it gets better! And it becomes beautiful, and natural, and so healthy for our babies and our bodies.
Identify Your Support System
It's important to identify who will be your initial breastfeeding support after baby arrives. Does your hospital offer lactation services? Does your workplace offer lactation resources covered through insurance? Does your mom, best friend, sister, aunt, etc. have great experience to share when it comes to breastfeeding? Will your midwife or doula help you? It's important to know ahead of time who will be helping you with the first few latches, or the first few days of breastfeeding your new baby. It's important to have support, and it will make you feel more at ease knowing you will be supported while you both learn and establish your rhythm of breastfeeding. The first few days (and weeks) are the most challenging when it comes to breastfeeding, and we need and deserve help and support to overcome those challenges.
Gather Supplies Ahead Of Time
For more info on my favorite supplies for breastfeeding mamas, be on the lookout for my next post! I have started gathering and washing all of my feeding supplies (pump parts, bottles, nursing pads, nipple cream, etc.) and I can't wait to share those with you. That nipple cream though... is ESSENTIAL!
My Favorite Resources For Those Middle Of The Night Google Sessions
Ok but really, try not to agonize and Google search your way into a panic every single day. That's easier said than done, I know from experience. The journey of breastfeeding is full of different phases, and nursing your baby changes pretty much every few weeks. Their demand changes, their sleeping patterns change, their little brains and bodies are changing and growing constantly... so you will run into different scenarios that may seem confusing or hard to manage. Maybe you will have a really intense supply for a few weeks, and your let down really overwhelms your little one. Maybe baby goes through a sleepier phase and you have to really work to keep baby awake during feeding sessions. Maybe you get a clogged duct or something that makes feeding more painful for a phase. When you have questions about how to handle certain scenarios, or want to do your own research about all things breastfeeding/pumping - my favorite and most reliable resources are:
https://kellymom.com (Kelly Mom)
https://www.llli.org (La Leche League)
I hope this post was helpful to you mamas in preparation for feeding your little ones. Breastfeeding is a journey. I was so thankful to have breastfed my son for 15 months (along with bottles of breast milk when I was working or away), with a little help and supplementation towards the end of our journey. It was honestly one of my favorite seasons as a mama, and I feel like Weston and I have a forever bond because of it. I wouldn't change our journey for anything, despite the sleepless nights, leaking boobs, interesting moments in public places, sore nipples, and daily pumping sessions. Our journey was unique, just like yours will be. I endured a few months of pumping at the hospital while I was back to work, ebbs and flow of a low and high milk supply, pumping while on the go ALL the time, changing my diet to accommodate his needs, and a lot of little things in between. But it was the best, and I loved it so much. So I encourage you, if it's important to you, if you want to learn more, or if you need help and support at any point along your journey... I am here for you. I want to be your support in whatever way you need along your feeding journey.
Embrace the journey mamas, because this season will go by too fast!
And this picture just reminds me of that sweet, sweet time... This was the only picture we took on Christmas this year as a family! At the end of the night, as I nursed Wes to sleep. I loved this newborn phase so so much, and I hope you do too.
Enjoy your day mamas,