Often in pregnancy it is easy to get a bit of tunnel vision preparing for baby’s arrival. Unfortunately, it is common that the post-partum breastfeeding journey can become an after thought. I would encourage all pregnant women to include preparing for your breastfeeding journey as part of the pregnancy, instead of an after thought. Luckily, there are some simple steps you can take to set yourself up for success and make the process a little smoother.
- Surround yourself with providers who support your decision to breastfeed.If you are birthing in a hospital, check that they have a Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative This is a program where the facility has been certified and commits to taking certain steps to ensure that you are successful immediately post partum. If you are planning an out of hospital birth talk to your midwife about if they follow the Baby Friendly Initiatives. If you are planning to have a doula with you during your birth, check to see their qualifications around breastfeeding. Successful breastfeeding is all about surrounding yourself with providers that support your decision.
- Check in with your doctor or midwife or meet with a local lactation consultant or IBCLC.All too often prenatal appointments can get rushed or the focus is on another aspect of your pregnancy, like your terrible nausea or insomnia. But pregnancy care should include at least one breast exam while you are pregnant and you should make sure to let your doctor know of any surgical history involving your breasts. Some doctor’s skip over this exam, but it’s actually an important step in preparing for breastfeeding. Your doctor can help you understand your breasts/nipples and possibly help you anticipate some situations that may require more attention or care when initiating breastfeeding. I highly recommend finding a local lactation consultant that you feel comfortable with and possibly meet once while pregnant. Many certified Baby Friendly hospitals will have these consultants on staff, but if you are birthing out of a hospital, find your local resources. Often doulas can provide this service or you can contact your local La Leche Leaguechapter to connect you with a consultant. If you can’t meet with someone before you have your baby, I still highly encourage you to reach out as these providers will be crucial in the early days to troubleshoot any issues, assess the baby’s latch and ensure that baby is getting enough milk.
- Establish good eating and hydration habits while pregnant. For some women, especially in the beginning this can be tough if you are battling nausea, but there are so many reasons you are encouraged to eat well throughout pregnancy. Not only are you providing the best nutrition for your baby, but also eating a well balanced diet of protein, fat and carbs will help with your milk supply post partum. The post partum period is often overwhelming for new moms, as there are a lot of changes happening and a new little one to focus on. For breastfeeding, you want to ensure your protein intake is adequate and aim for about 80g per day. Do not restrict healthy fat intake as fat is a crucial component for nutritious breast milk! While you are at it, hydration is crucial to your milk supply. Just as you were encouraged to keep hydrated during pregnancy, you should maintain or even increase the amount of water you drink while breastfeeding. So get in the good habit now and this will be easier in the post partum period!
- Spend some time learning what to expect.Honestly there is nothing that can replace the one-on-one in-person guidance of a lactation consultant in those first few days while you and your baby are both learning how to work with each other and successfully breastfeed, but it’s great if you can take in some education while pregnant on your own as well. Look into finding a local breastfeeding class, or invest in a book (I recommend The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding). Another great resource is KellyMom, where you can find some articles to read about what those first few days will be like. Breastfeeding will take some initial hands-on practice, but it will be valuable to understand the basics starting now. Pay special attention to learning the feeding cues your baby will give you when she/he is hungry and remember in those precious first few days to weeks your baby can feed 10-12 times per day. Feed early and often, as this is important for establishing your supply for later!
- Organize a few basic supplies. There are a couple basic items that would be good to have right out of the gate. First, a good nipple cream will be important in the beginning. I like Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter- get it on Amazon or many stores like Target carry it or you can try a simple lanolin cream. You will want breast pads, either disposable or washable. I would recommend getting both to see what you prefer. You can find disposables and washable pads in many stores like Target or on Amazon, or for washable pads you can always support small producers and shop on Etsy. For the very crafty, there are many patterns online to make your own!Make a decision about a pump- electric breast pumps are now covered by insurance with a prescription from your provider. While you likely won’t need the pump immediately, it is a tool that your lactation consultant may wish to use should any temporary challenges arise. Also if you need to eventually build a freezer stash you will be happy you are all set to start when you need to.
Now that you are educated and prepared, take a step back and get excited about being able to feed your baby! Try to relax about the journey and realize that there may be challenges along the way but you are prepared to know how to deal with them!