One of the most common questions a breastfeeding support person gets asked is “How do I prepare to breastfeed?” In the bad old days, sometimes moms were told to toughen their nipples – descriptions of which were enough to make even the most breastfeeding inclined mom shiver and reach for a bottle. Scientific research has shown, to our relief, that no toughening is needed. But there is still a lot to do in order to prepare –
NOTHING BUT THE MAMA: Specify on your birth plan that no artificial nipples, pacifiers, sugar water or formula be given to your baby unless medically indicated, prescribed by your pediatrician and approved by you. (If supplemental feedings are needed they can be given via oral syringe.) Make a sign for your baby’s hospital bassinet that says “I AM A BREASTFED BABY… no artificial nipples, formula or pacifiers please!!” I made mine with a bunch of breastfeeding related cartoons so the nurses got a laugh out of reading the sign, too. Keeping everything EXCEPT your nipple away from baby’s mouth will help prevent nipple confusion.
NATURAL WOMAN: Babies born via unmedicated labor often breastfeed more easily than those born via medicated labors – medicated labors aren’t a problem for all women and babies, but you improve your odds for successful breastfeeding if you can reduce or limit interventions during labor. IVs during labor can also cause or increase engorgement, so are best avoided if possible – even if you can’t avoid using them completely, try to limit the amount of fluid used. Moms whose births include more interventions have lower rates of breastfeeding – but there are plenty of exceptions! An excellent resource for information on childbirth is The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer.
SUPPORT YOUR BREASTS: Educate yourself about breastfeeding and have a support network ready to answer questions and support you in breastfeeding. Check out a LLL meeting if you get a chance! La Leche League welcomes pregnant mothers at their meetings. You can locate a group near you at the LLLI website. Here are some recommended books and a list of books to avoid. Does your hospital or birth center have a lactation consultant on staff? If not (or if you birth at home) arrange to be able to see one within the first 24 hours if things aren’t going well. Here’s info on how to find a lactation consultant. Call a few before your baby comes, select one you like and keep her contact info with you in the hospital in case you need it. Hopefully everything will go really well and you won’t need to call, but that way you’ll have the info if you need it.
STOCK UP in advance: at least 2 good supportive nursing bras, nursing pads, 100% purified lanolin for sore nipples, pajamas with easy access for nursing (not necessarily expensive nursing pajamas, even pajamas with button up or pull up tops will do), and frozen peas/gel packs and cabbage to ease any breast engorgement/soreness/inflammation. This is the bare minimum equipment; some moms also find it helpful to have a rocker, a sling, a pump, breastmilk storage bottles or bags, a nursing pillow, or other items, but you can do fine without these, too.
PLAN YOUR WORK & WORK YOUR PLAN: Writing up a birth plan and reviewing it with your doctor, midwife, doula and pediatrician to make sure that there are no issues with it prior to the birth is an excellent step. Note, a birth plan is not something that just granola-eating, Birkenstock wearing nudist hippy moms use! Plenty of moms use them to help identify what would make a good birth experience, and allow them to plan for and work towards it. In this day of the professional, educated working mom, birth plans seem to many like a natural extension of the analytical process used for event planning. Many of us had wedding plans, which is usually a less stressful event! Clearly, a birth plan should not be a document that you confront your health care providers over, but something you agree to work together on.
GET IT ON: Breastfeed your baby as soon as possible after you deliver. Babies who are breastfed within the first hour generally have more successful breastfeeding experiences than those who aren’t. Any medical procedures that aren’t urgent may be delayed to accommodate this important first step, and many procedures can be done while the baby is breastfeeding.
LET’S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER: Room in with baby, so that you can breastfeed frequently and also ensure your wishes aren’t ignored with regard to baby. (For example, they tried to take my 1st son three times for medical procedures; I had to keep defending him from eager residents!)
OUT OF YOUR SHELL: Nipple shells can be useful immediately postpartum to help draw out the nipple and to shield sore nipples from contact with fabric. These are different from shields, which CAN be useful but are often overused, and used in the wrong place at the wrong time. Also, purified lanolin ointment can help if you have sore nipples. Have some on hand or know where you can get them right away, if needed.
ZZZZZZZZZZZZ: When they say to sleep while baby is sleeping, it is definitely true that you should! This is NOT just a friendly piece of advice to pamper the new mom – it is a necessity. Your endorphins/adrenaline will carry you for about a week before you crash – hard. Don’t let that happen – get help from family and friends, and focus on recovering from childbirth and on breastfeeding.
WHO’S NORMAL ANYWAY: Understand what normal breastfeeding is like. See What is Normal? and Breastfeeding as Baby Grows and the wonderful descriptions of normal breastfeeding in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by LLL International. Hang out with a breastfeeding friend for a while, or visit a La Leche League meeting and see nursing moms in action.
Good luck, and enjoy your new baby!
- Nursing your newborn — what to expect in the early weeks
- The Importance of Skin to Skin Contact by by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC
- Baby’s Second Night by Jan Barger, RN, MA, IBCLC
- Recommended Books
- Books to Avoid
- How does milk production work?
- What should I know about giving my breastfed baby a pacifier?
- Nursing after a C-Section
- Breastfeeding: Starting Out Right (links)
- Get a crib card from kellymom.com (handout #2)
@ other websites
- What is Normal? by Paula Yount
- Breastfeeding as Baby Grows by Becky Flora, IBCLC
- The Science of Mother Love: Is Science Catching Up to Mother’s Wisdom? by Cori Young
- [PDF] The Chemistry of Love: Could the first opportunity to fall in love influence our ability to love for a lifetime? By Denise Fisher, MMidPrac, BNurs, IBCLC