Top 10 Tips For Getting Breastfeeding Off To A Good Start
Ah, the nesting phase of pregnancy. Quiet times spent dreaming about what life is going to be like with a newborn, what the birth is going to be like, what birth is actually going to feel like, what breastfeeding is going to be like… so many of these thoughts and daydreams are hard to conceptualize.
As a planner, I remember so vividly the challenge of wanting to have everything ready for the baby, yet the feeling of “I am not 100% exactly sure WHAT I am getting ready for.” I mean, yes, I knew theoretically what was happening, but it isn’t until you are actually in it, going through the motions of parenthood, that it can be fully understood.
If you are in the depths of the nesting phase, just found out you are pregnant, or have a friend of family member who is having a baby soon, here is my list of top ten things to do to get ready for your baby and to get breastfeeding off to a good start.
- Education and Support
Learn about breastfeeding, talk about what it’s going to look like for you, in your home, out of your home, on maternity leave, after you go back to work, etc. Think about where in your home you feel the most comfortable, where you could see yourself cozying up spending the majority of your time in those first few months. Some women find that their bedroom is the ideal place for them. Other women find that they are most comfortable in their living room. Setting up a nursing basket with snacks, water, entertainment for yourself can help you feel the most comfortable knowing you are going to be stationary for around 30 minutes at a time while breastfeeding. Talk to your partner and family members about your desire to breastfeed. There are studies that show that support can make a huge difference in how long women breastfeed. Finding a prenatal breastfeeding class is also a great idea. Breastfeeding is a learned behavior, one that takes practice, and even though it is natural, it often may not come naturally without some practice. It DOES get easier over time, but like most new things we try, it may feel awkward at first, and support can be important to reach your goals.
- Nursing Clothing
What to wear while nursing?! There are the basics, like the nursing bras and the nursing tank tops. If you are planning on pumping you will want to get a hands-free pumping bra.
When it comes to nursing in public, here are some things to think about – The “two shirt trick” is where you will wear a nursing tank top, and then a shirt over that, so when your baby is latched on, your stomach isn’t exposed, and your breast is mostly covered. This can make breastfeeding in public feel discreet, as you are limiting how much skin is exposed. You will also get good at testing out different clothing and may ask yourself, “how easy can I nurse in this?” before you buy a new outfit. Dresses can be tricky to nurse in, so either pair with leggings, or find dresses that have buttons, or are made specifically for nursing and have zippers built into the front. Now that we are heading into the winter, big sweaters that open are a great option!
- Lighting and Calming Influences
Parenting doesn’t stop when the sun goes down and night time can often feel like a whole different animal! Lighting, music, and mindset can all be helpful when you are awake at 2 am with a newborn. Getting a soft night light that you can see by but isn’t too bright will be helpful in keeping your baby in a gentle restful state, rather than turning on bright lights and startling them with every diaper change. I love the glow that the salt lamps put off, and one that has a dimmer is nice to be able to adjust how bright you want it to be. A lot of babies love music, and it’s amazing how quickly you can learn what songs and music your baby prefers. Singing is wonderful, and can be very soothing, and also has the ability to lighten the mood and shift your mindset if things are starting to feel stressful. A bath is another great way to help you and your baby relax. When parents are feeling relaxed, a baby will pick up on this (and vice versa is true!) so think about things that relax you, and keep those ideas in your back pocket for the middle of the night parties babies like to throw!
- A Village
Having a village is a very important part of motherhood but it can be a challenge to “find” your village. Having even one other mama friend who you can reach out to when things are hard, can make the challenges of the early postpartum period feel less heavy. Just having someone who has a shared reality of “oh yes, my two-week-old baby is also non-stop breastfeeding from 5pm-forever every night and OMG I am so tired!” can make a huge difference for you. A lot of the hospitals offer free breastfeeding groups, the Mamahood in the Highlands has a lot of breastfeeding support groups and new moms groups to attend, and the Baby Cafe at Mothers’ Milk Bank in Arvada is open every Friday from 11am-1 pm (and it’s free!).
- Baby Carrier
Using a baby carrier in the first three months, also known as the “Fourth Trimester,” can be a lifesaver! Newborns want to be snuggled in close, listening to your heartbeat, feeling your warmth, and they have been used to constant motion for 9 months! A baby carrier that helps baby feel close and secure, and also gives you the ability to use both of your hands (and have a snack!) can make things so much easier. A ring sling, or a baby wrap (like the Moby wrap, or the Baby K’Tan) would be my top recommendations.
- Nipple cream
There are some wonderful organic options like Motherlove, or Boobease. These salves are great to have by your bed and in your nursing basket to put on after nursing if you have sore nipples. Always remember, damage is not normal, so if there is damage, reach out to a lactation consultant for guidance.
- Breast pump
Whether or not you are planning on going back to work, and plan on pumping, a breast pump can be a useful tool to have. Contact your insurance company to find out about what coverage you have for lactation consultation services, and also for a breast pump! There are companies like Aeroflow who also makes it really to find out if you qualify for a free pump through your insurance, and can help get it ordered.
- Plan the first two weeks
Talk with your partner about what you envision this time looking like. Some parents love the excitement of family and visitors, and others prefer to take this time with their baby and prefer to make this a quieter time. Meal trains can be great. Some families will put a cooler on the front porch if they want people to just drop off a meal and limit visitors due to health concerns or just seeking privacy. This is an adjustment period where breastfeeding is being practiced and learned, parenting styles are emerging, and of course healing from the birth… and sometimes feeling like you need to host visitors can make things feel more overwhelming. Talking about expectations for the early weeks can be an easier conversation to have with family members before the baby comes, rather than in the midst of it all. In the first two weeks (and beyond), plan to spend as much time skin to skin with your baby. Dads can do this too! Being skin to skin means that your baby is in their diaper, and no other clothing, then placed on mom or dad’s bare chest. If it’s chilly, wrap a blanket, robe, or other cozy piece of clothing around both of you. Immediately after birth, doing skin to skin helps stabilize baby’s temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood sugar. The benefits of skin to skin once you are home are plentiful: calming baby and mom/dad, releases a hormone that lowers mom’s stress, encourages increased milk production, reduces the amount babies cry, and promotes bonding!
- Planning for the first two months
I have heard many, many times, how much easier things seem to feel around 6-8 weeks postpartum. This, of course, happily corresponds with the time your baby will start to actually smile at you and you’ll know they aren’t just gas smiles! This is also when breastfeeding tends to get easier, a rhythm is more established, and parents generally feel more in the flow of their new parenting gig. It’s like with any new job, there is always a learning curve! After the first month, breastfeeding tends to be more established, and it may feel easier to leave your home and “feed on the go!” Knowing that the first 2 months are going to be hard (and sweet, and snuggly, and heart expanding!) can feel easier knowing it’s not going to be like that FOREVER. Things change, and that’s an important lesson in parenthood. Having realistic expectations, can make for happier parents.
- Have your list of “who to call when” ready
Do a little bit of research, ask a friend for a recommendation, or your provider, and create a list of the providers you may need to call. Having a list ready, and if possible, people you have already met with and trust can take out the stress if the situation occurs where you need to reach out. Providers to think about having on your list would be lactation consultants (IBCLC’s), mental health care providers and postpartum doulas.
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