All the advertisements and childbirth books out there make breastfeeding seem super easy from the start.
Often we see images of a perfectly dressed and comfortable mother nursing her child. While breastfeeding can and does get to the point where it becomes second nature and is comfortable and easy, the reality is that starting out, it isn’t always that simple.
In fact, while much of it is instinctual, there is some learning and adjustment involved for both mother and baby. So how can you be prepared for what to expect?
There are several ways, which I’ll share below:
• Learn about the benefits of breastmilk (a.k.a Liquid gold)
It is so crucial to learn the value of breastfeeding and what it provides for you and your baby. No other substance can perfectly nourish and protect your infant’s immune system like breastmilk can. The numerous cytokines, immunoglobulins and other bioactive factors and components of breastmilk make it the best liquid to nourish human babies with. Also, the way that breastmilk changes as your infants grows, creating a specifically tailored nutrient rich substance, makes it the ideal form of nourishment for infants. Studies have shown that colostrum and breastmilk protect the gut and create an environment where beneficial bacteria can thrive, setting the foundation for a healthy infant microbiome, one that can not be created with the use of formula.*
Studies have also shown that breastfeeding can also reduce a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer and reduce the number of ear infections a child gets.*
For more information, check out the documentary film Microbirth, which discusses the infant microbiome and how breastfeeding impacts it.*
• Mentally prepare for breastfeeding – It might be tough for a little bit, but hang in there… with the right support and strategies it gets way easier!
Knowing that there will be times, especially in the first couple weeks, that are tough, and preparing for them, can make things a bit easier and can help you continue. There is a learning process involved for you and your baby, but once you’ve gotten past that rough patch, things get a whole lot easier. Knowing that an adjustment period starting out is normal, but that once you’ve passed it breastfeeding becomes seamless, can help you push past the initial discomfort. Remember: “This phase will pass,” sooner than you expect.
(Note: Abnormal discomfort or pain should be addressed by a lactation consultant, IBCLCs can provide you with the information you need, even if it is just to ask whether or not what you’re feeling is normal in the initial phase of breastfeeding)
• Get postpartum help so you can focus on self-care, baby care and breastfeeding
The postpartum period is a vulnerable one where rest and help is needed for both parent and baby. You can ask for help from a trusted relative, partner or friend for meals and household work. If you don’t have relatives in the area, invest in a trained and certified postpartum doula.
Postpartum doulas can be of help with respect to breastfeeding advice and are there to care for you and your infant, so that you can best care for yourself and your baby as well. You could also sign up for a meal train or request postpartum help and support instead of or along with baby shower gifts so you don’t have to worry about cooking and cleaning.
• Join a breastfeeding group or community
Attend a breastfeeding drop-in group in your community. La Leche League meetings exist in many cities, there are also breastfeeding drop-in groups in many communities. Not only can you get great help, support and advice from other women experienced in breastfeeding, you will also meet others going through the same experiences and might make a few friends along the way.
• Go to see or hire a lactation consultant for questions
If you are unsure if some of the initial discomfort you’re facing is normal or due to another issue or if you are taking specific medications or just have general questions, set up a time to have a lactation consultant visit, or go to a free drop-in clinic attended by one.
Make sure to see a trained lactation consultant who is specialized in the field. IBCLC, CLECs and CLCs are lactation consultants who are trained and experienced with helping others with breastfeeding questions. It can really help to hire one for the first week or two after birth. You can get support at the hospital or home and on-call support over the phone, or text on evenings and weekends.
• Take a breastfeeding class (in-person or online)
Becoming knowledgeable about breastfeeding can really help you through the various stages, especially in the beginning. If you haven’t taken one prenatally, that’s okay, you can sign up for one online or request to attend one in-person. Also, it can help to make sure your partner is on board and understanding of your decisions. It would greatly help to have them attend or take the breastfeeding course with you.
• Use breastfeeding support props (pillows, etc.)
A supportive breastfeeding pillow can make a world of difference when breastfeeding. You can also use pillows and blankets you have at home by rolling them up, stacking or folding them to create supportive and comfortable props. This can help alleviate any shoulder or back pain from breastfeeding in an awkward position without support. (See the image on page 27)
• Learn hand expression of breastmilk ( in case of emergency )
In case of an emergency situation, for example a power outage or natural disaster, that does not allow you to use an electric pump and if you don’t have access to a manual one, make sure to learn hand expression of breastmilk ahead of time. If your baby is not yet hungry and won’t feed much and you are experiencing discomfort due to your breasts feeling full and engorged, you need to learn the proper technique so you can express your milk.
Here is a link to instructions on Kelly Mom, a breastfeeding resource that can show you how: https://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/ pumping/hand-expression/
• Get a pump (manual or electric) – Optional
Having a manual hand pump for milk expression can be helpful in multiple scenarios. For example if you are engorged and have an overactive let-down and don’t want baby to choke, you can first express some of your breastmilk using a pump. It’s also helpful when there is a power outage. Electric pumps can be beneficial for if you want to store and save some of your milk to feed your baby later, for example if you are returning to work, however do not introduce a bottle to your baby in the first 30 days, to avoid nipple confusion.
Some hospitals or public health units rent breast pumps to new moms and some insurance providers cover the cost of them, so be sure to ask prior so you don’t have to worry about the cost.
• Use a breastfeeding log
Starting out, a breastfeeding log can be helpful in reminding you at what time you last fed your baby and from which breast. That way you don’t overfeed on one side while forgetting about the other. It also allows you to take notes and record observations and reminders.
• Alternate breasts after each feed
You want to make sure to alternate sides after each feed or sometimes during feedings to make sure you breastfeed from both breasts. After feeding and emptying the breast on one side, make sure to start your next feed from the other breast. One way to
remember this is to wear a hair band, indicating which breast you fed from and then switching it to your other wrist.
• Do NOT give your baby a pacifier in the first 30 days
Giving a pacifier to your baby before that time can potentially cause nipple confusion. Nipple confusion is when the baby refuses to switch back from the bottle to breast.
• Make sure you are in a comfortable position for breastfeeding
The position you breastfeed matters in how comfortable you are and how long you can breastfeed in it. Further on in this guide, in the next few pages, I’ll explain why positioning matters and the different types of positions you can try.
• Make sure your baby has a proper latch
Having the proper latch makes a world of difference, because an improper latch can do a lot of damage. Sore, cracked and bleeding nipples can be the result of an improper latch. In the next few pages, you’ll see how to determine whether or not you have the right latch.
• Learn to identify your baby’s hunger cues
Learning how to identify the signs showing that your baby is hungry, before they get too fussy and start crying, can make breastfeeding a lot easier. It can be difficult to breastfeed when your baby is emotionally distressed because they were crying out of hunger. The page below from the La Leche League Canada website has a link to a
helpful poster showing the different baby feeding cues, such as early, mid and late cues, to help you understand when your baby needs to breastfeed. Check it out here: How will I know my baby wants to breastfeed?*
Don’t forget to practice non-judgment and love for yourself and others
Though it gets much much easier, starting out breastfeeding takes a lot of time and commitment. However, not everyone has a choice. While most new mothers can breastfeed, there are conditions that make it near impossible for some to do so. Mammary hypoplasia, is a condition where the breast tissue does not produce enough milk to sustain an infant, due to insufficient glandular tissue.* However, note that this condition is rare. Difficulty in the first few days or weeks does not mean you have it, as many moms can find breastfeeding difficult at first.
Breastfeeding eventually becomes very easy and comfortable.
In the initial months, breastfeeding is a full time job (though it is not always respected or treated as such). It can start out with a bit of difficulty, but with preparation and understanding it can reach a point where it becomes super easy and second nature. So much so that you won’t need to carry along equipment or wash and sterilize bottles. It’s also extremely beneficial and lifesaving in emergency situations. Instead of a big heavy diaper bag, your load will be much lighter to carry and the long-term benefits you and your infant will receive are priceless.
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