While many moms are excited and empowered that they get to feed their baby, there are a few things you need to know for preparing to breastfeed before you even get started!
The benefits of breastfeeding are huge – from not having to worry about buying/packing formula to knowing that your baby is being protected with extra antibodies. There’s a good reason that breast milk is nicknamed liquid gold (and why moms cry when that beloved pumped milk spills!).
I’m sure you’ve heard, however, that breastfeeding isn’t all easy. However, with the right tips and knowledge, hopefully, you’ll feel well supported to give it a try if that’s the way you choose to feed your baby. Here are 4 great tips you need to know before you even start breastfeeding.
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Preparing to Breastfeed before Baby’s Born
1. It’s not always easy
Breastfeeding isn’t for the faint of heart. You might have a friend who told you it’s no big deal and their baby latched perfectly, while they produced a ton of milk.
Well…for some women it comes easy, but for the majority of new moms learning to breastfeed – it’s hard work.
Here’s what you need to be prepared for and how you can combat it:
- Pain – Don’t get me wrong, breastfeeding doesn’t have to hurt! However, it definitely takes some adjustments as your body and nipples aren’t used to breastfeeding. There are some great nipple butters and creams out there that can help, as well as making sure your baby is latching correctly (see #2 below!).
- Breastfeeding on demand – There will be times when your baby is SO hungry. These are often referred to as cluster feedings. Your baby will want to eat a lot and you might be feeling exhausted. The best thing to do is to try and keep feeding your baby on demand. However, if it becomes too much – you can always pump instead and ask your husband or a friend to feed the baby (in order to keep your milk supply up). But powering through a cluster feed is one of the best ways to get your supply UP! And baby’s need to eat seemingly non stop DOESN’t indicate low supply. This is a normal thing that too many mamas mistake for the need to supplement
- Teaching baby to breastfeed – Some babies are born knowing how to breastfeed, while others need a little bit of guidance on the proper latch. If you and your baby are struggling, a lactation consultant can be a huge help! If getting to an in-person LC seems tough (though this is the best route), an online class can help, too!
2. Latch is SO important
One of the most important parts of breastfeeding is helping your baby establish a good latch. While many babies are born with the innate ability to breastfeed – most will need a little help figuring things out.
So why is latch so important?
An improper latch can lead to several breastfeeding issues, such as sore nipples, decreased milk supply, or even mastitis. Check with your lactation consultant or nurse before you leave the hospital to see if it looks like your baby is latching correctly.
Here are a few great tips to consider when checking to see if your baby is latching correctly:
- Make sure you’re comfortable. Bring your baby to you instead of leaning over (and sacrificing your posture).
- Line baby’s nose up with your nipple.
- Hold your breast like a hamburger – with a “C” or “U” hold. Keep your fingers far enough back though, so baby has some space!
- Aim your nipple towards the top/back of baby’s mouth.
- Check for your baby’s lips to be flanged out once attached.
Extra tip: make sure you gently remove your baby from the breast, or you could cause some serious trauma or pain to your breast! My favorite way to do this is by gently sticking a finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth and slowly breaking the seal.
3. Supply & demand
Supply and demand may be one of the most crucial pieces of breastfeeding advice that new moms need to understand. By understanding how breastfeeding works, at least in simple terms, you’ll be able to help regulate your breast milk supply (to some degree). Breastfeeding is all based on the idea of supply and demand.
So how does supply and demand in breastfeeding work?
It’s easiest to think of breastfeeding like another supply and demand system – like shopping (just without any marketing tactics)! When there is a high demand for certain toys, the company will make more of that toy (increase the supply) to be able to meet the demand. On the other hand, when a product flops or only appeals to a small audience (lower demand), the company is going to stop making as much (decrease the supply).
This is exactly how breastfeeding works! The more you feed your baby and increase demand, the more you are signaling to your body to increase the supply of breast milk.
This is where you need to be careful with choosing to supplement with formula. If you skip a breastfeeding session and supplement with formula, know that your supply will drop since you are not creating a “demand” for breast milk – therefore your body is going to decrease the amount it “supplies”. If you’re hoping to keep your milk supply the same, one way to combat this is by pumping while your baby eats.
This does not mean that you cannot supplement with formula if you choose to – I just want you to know that your body will not continue to make the same amount of milk. Instead, it will adjust to the number of nursing sessions you are having.
Keep in mind that some women use the idea of supply and demand to make more milk – I cover this topic in more detail with this Power Pumping Tips post.
4. It’s okay (and a great idea) to ask for help and turn to resources!
Don’t think you need to breastfeed alone! While breastfeeding is an adjustment, and if you’re exclusively breastfeeding you’re the only one who can feed your baby, asking for help is ALWAYS a good idea.
Breastfeeding can be both mentally and physically exhausting – at least when you’re figuring things out.
Here’s a great list of people you should not be afraid to ask for help:
- Lactation Consultant/Nurse – Before you leave the hospital, make sure you ask the lactation consultant to look at how baby is latching and nursing. Even as a nurse who worked labor and delivery and took a breastfeeding course – I still asked the lactation consultant to make sure everything looked right! It’s a whole new experience when you’re the one breastfeeding. Ask any questions that pop up – trust me – they’ve heard it all and will be a world of help! They can also give you some great suggestions for sore nipples and signs of mastitis to look for.
- Doctor – If breastfeeding doesn’t seem to be working, you’re experiencing postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression, or you’re noticing breastfeeding pain, talk with your physician. It could be a sign of mastitis, postpartum anxiety/depression, or something else. There’s also a list of medications that are important for you to avoid while breastfeeding – as some medications can be transferred through breast milk.
- Partner – You’re not doing this alone mama! Ask your partner to help during the night by changing the baby’s diaper before you feed him or her. Share your feelings and thoughts on breastfeeding and let him help when they can.
- Family/Friends – Don’t be afraid to ask those around you who have breastfed before questions! Feel free to share your experiences with them and ask for tips and advice
Preparing to breastfeed
While breastfeeding can have its challenges, just remember that you’re not alone! Using these tips and preparing to breastfeeding before you start will make a huge difference.
Having a good support system and not being afraid to ask for help and ask questions will help you go a long way – I’m rooting for you! You got this momma!
Related: Bottle Feeding Essentials