By Megan Van Sipe
There is so much more to breastfeeding than bringing baby to the breast so they can eat. For such a natural process, it truly does take a lot of work, persistence, support, and education! There are many things you can and should do to prepare yourself for your breastfeeding journey. The best thing you can do is get a terrific breastfeeding education so that you are empowered with knowledge of techniques, problems and their solutions, and resources to have on hand so you are aware that there is help out there when you need it. Many moms quit trying not just because it’s hard, but because it’s hard and they don’t feel empowered, determined, and supported. Use your time before your baby arrives to pack your proverbial breastfeeding tool bag so that you will not be surprised by the challenges you may face.
Starting out by reading a highly rated breastfeeding book will already have you so much more prepared than if you had just tried to wing it and use your instincts (instinct really can be misguiding when it comes to breastfeeding as you will learn). Armoring yourself with facts will help you know when to trust yourself and when to tell yourself to listen to the pros. Then, it’s time to seek out some local resources through your hospital, birthing center, and local mom’s groups or even breastfeeding groups. Take to the Internet to seek out reputable breastfeeding websites and blogs so you can keep yourself immersed with new information, and find answers to your more specific questions. You may even find some nice communities of mothers this way. As prepared as you can be mentally and emotionally for the journey ahead, there are a few tools you will need as well so educating yourself on the purpose of a nipple shield and how you might use a breast pump are just as important!
Before you’re even close to having your baby, pick up a breastfeeding book! You don’t need to read every book on the market, because many of them will contain similar information. They are not all created equal, of course, and you may find the details different as there are sometimes conflicting opinions among experts and authors. Choose one that has the best reviews and sounds like it would appeal most to you. As you read it, know that later when you have your baby in your arms for the first time, the information you read will come flooding back to you and finally make sense.
The Breastfeeding Book
The Breastfeeding Book, written by well known and respected Dr. William Sears, is a practical guide that covers everything from perfecting the latch, increasing supply, to pumping and storing breast milk – and most importantly is working mom friendly! It’s encouraging to have a resource that tells you “you can do this” even as a mother working outside the home.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
Often called “The Bible of Breastfeeding”, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is endorsed by La Leche League International. This book is so diverse in its’ content that even experienced breastfeeding mothers can benefit from reading it. Included in the book are real life stories, photos, scientific nutritional facts, nursing in special circumstances (premature babies, special needs, or multiples) and even includes references to support groups to encourage creating a support network for yourself.
Breastfeeding Made Simple
Breastfeeding Made Simple helps you to understand the seven natural laws of breastfeeding, and helps navigate the intricacies of the new relationship you will be having with your baby. A focus on establishing comfort for you and baby in your feeding routine will gently guide you into an empowering relationship that’s nourishing and rewarding.
The Nursing Mothers Companion
With information that goes beyond the “how and why” of breastfeeding, The Nursing Mothers Companion offers a quick guide format to help provide answers to your questions easily and efficiently. It digs into topics such as relactation, introducing solids, nursing after cesarean, and nutrition advice.
If you’re having your baby at a hospital or birthing center, utilize them for their resources to help educate mothers who are pregnant or breastfeeding. These resources are often free when you’re going to be giving birth there, and many often provide low cost or free classes as well as information and other services. Check your hospitals’ website for a list of breastfeeding resources they provide. Many offer lactation consultants (an invaluable resource!), breastfeeding classes, recommendations to websites, and informational books and pamphlets.
The most valuable resource you could glean from your hospital or birthing center is a Lactation Consultant so make this one of your top priorities when you have your next visit. Lactation Consultants are experts in breastfeeding, and can help you perfect the baby’s latch, show you different holds until you find some that are comfortable for you, show you how to use your pump, walk you through issues you may have such as a plugged duct or mastitis, and even weigh the baby before and after feeding and talk to you about what is normal with milk production and how to feel confident in your supply! Ask about the services they personally provide. Do they visit your hospital room right after birth? Do they make home visits? What is the cost? Can you call them months after birth for help when you’re having issues or questions? Put her number into your phone and keep it there!
La Leche League
La Leche League is an empowering organization started by 7 women with a call to action to change the norms of society in support of breastfeeding mothers. Over the history of their organization, they’ve created communities, educational tools, and motivated women everywhere to try and succeed in the art of breastfeeding. On their website, you can ask questions, listen to podcasts, interact in the forums, find a local group near you, and learn about the laws regarding breastfeeding to fully educate yourself before and during your journey.
Search for a group near you:
Local Milk Sharing
Human Milk for Human Babies is an organization that connects mothers who are in need of breastmilk with mothers who are willing to donate theirs! Keep this organization in mind once you have your baby and are in need of milk if breastfeeding isn’t going well. This could be an option for you before buying a can of formula. On the flip side, if your milk is coming in at full force and you’re filling a deep freezer, consider donating some to a local mother who needs your help!
There is so much information out there that goes beyond what can be put into a book. New problems, questions, or even success stories are happening all the time. Breastfeeding focused websites are worth a visit and are packed with supportive information. Bookmark the following websites and browse them for their wealth of facts, stories, and resources. When you’re informed deeply about why you should breastfeed, and how you should breastfeed, and where and when and how much you should breastfeed – you’re going to be much more empowered and determined to make it happen. This is a wonderful gift to give yourself and your baby.
A goldmine for articles on all topics regarding breastfeeding, Kelly Mom is the place to search if you have a specific question. With articles like “What should I know about buying a used pump?” to “what do authorities say about breastfeeding past the first year” to “sadness and depression after weaning” you’ll never feel alone with your questions or problems. You can find pregnancy, nutrition, health and parenting topics there as well.
The Leaky Boob
Personal stories can be so encouraging and inspiring, and most importantly, they are realistic and relatable. The Leaky Boob has Q&A posts along with many personal stories by moms of all types and situations. It’s amazing to read about what moms will go through to feed their babies.
World Health Organization
The World Health Organization is the leading authority for health in the United Nations and have a plentiful selection of trustworthy articles, resources, and support that you can feel comfortable utilizing due to their high standards for health and great respect and protection of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is so wonderful because it is essentially free! This is comforting and gives you a little extra room in your budget in order to get some convenience tools to make breastfeeding easier. Although you can nurse your baby very minimally without fancy products – there are a variety helpful tools that are staples in the breastfeeding routines of many! Pillows to position the baby, nursing tops and bras, covers, breast pumps, pads, nipple shields and creams are all going to become part of your vernacular as a nursing mommy.
The way you position the baby is key to establishing a good latch from the beginning, and as the baby grows, you’ll have to find new ways to hold them that is more comfortable for their size. Breastfeeding pillows such as the Boppy, My Brest Friend, or Gia Angled Nursing Pillow are placed on your lap to give you a comfortable and secure place to rest the baby and your tired arms on while you’re settled in for long nursing sessions. They’re incredibly helpful as baby gets a little bigger and becomes pretty heavy to hold in one position for long periods of time – especially if they fall asleep and you don’t want to move!
Whether you’re out in public or just over at a relatives house, there might be times when you want to feed the baby with a bit of privacy. Consider packing your diaper bag with a nursing cover and a Muslin swaddle blanket, which you can use to drape over your shoulder. The nursing covers, like Udder Covers, are great when you’ve got a tiny baby and you’re fiddling with her latch and need to cover up a bit. When they get older they don’t like being under fabric, so a thin muslin blanket allows you to strategically place it on them without covering their face. You should never feel like you have to cover up, so don’t hide from others to protect their feelings. This is about the comfort of you and your baby.
Nursing Tops & Bras
While we are on the topic of modesty and comfort, we can’t ignore how important it can be to add some really functional breastfeeding-friendly tops into your wardrobe. Pulling your tops down at the neckline works for some styles and body types, but over time you’ll realize that the necklines become very stretched out and you’ve ruined your shirt. Lifting your top up from the hem can be ok if you’re layering, but all the fabric by your baby’s face isn’t always comfortable either. For the amount of time baby spends at the breast, it really is worth your money to get a couple of neutral nursing tops that you can wear with everything. Three to five tank tops that can be worn alone or layered under your regular tops, two or three t-shirts and a long sleeved shirt or hoodie would be a great stash of basics. Then pull out all of your button up blouses and move them to the front and center of your closet! Easy access and comfort and your new goals.
If you’ve never shopped for nursing wear before, be forewarned, it can get expensive! Remember, you might be wearing these tops until your child is a toddler, and then pulling them back out for future children, too! So shop wisely, but do invest in some staples that you’ll be able to wear week after week, for many months or even years.
Boob Design, with a tongue-in-cheek yet literal name out of Sweden, creates high quality maternity and nursing clothes with a super functional “entry” for baby to eat easily and modestly. They even make breastfeeding friendly pullover hoodies! Keep an eye out for them on Zulily, when they often have great deals on some of their classic pieces.
Glamourmom offers great longer length tanks and tops that give full coverage to your body and are wonderful for full busted moms. The snap down tanks are a staple and can be worn every day as a base layer under your regular clothes. They’re also the easiest thing to wear to bed for night time feedings.
Momzelle understands functional basics and focuses on offering tanks, tees, long sleeved shirts and dresses in easy to wear solid colors. Their tops are easy to pull up just enough to nurse baby, while the rest of you stays covered. The modest prices will have you filling your closet with new classic wardrobe staples in your life as a nursing mom.
Milk Nursing Wear sets itself apart with its fresh modern focus on fashion while still being functional for breastfeeding. The look of their clothes are very working mom friendly! They are not only committed to style but to supporting and encouraging nursing moms.
Yummie Tummie is a brand of breathable shape wear that also makes a shape wear nursing tank. This could easily be worn instead of a nursing bra in those first few weeks at home when you’re feeding the baby around the clock. It would be great to invest in one and consider it as one of your nursing bras.
It’s really hard to know what you like until you start breastfeeding and can try out a bra in action. For this reason, it might be wise to only buy one or two nursing bras to start with, then pick up a couple more once you’ve figured out your likes and dislikes of the bras you started with. Make sure the bra is very simple to open and close with one hand, that it’s supportive (light padding) but not snug, and that there is some room to grow into the cup when your milk production is at its highest. It is also ideal to avoid underwires and synthetic fabrics. You want natural, breathable, and lightly fitted to your body. If your breasts are on the small side, you can also get by with wearing nursing tanks as a bra at least at home and at bedtime. Just don’t forget to wear your breast pads!
If you’re planning on going back to work, finding a great breast pump should be one of your top priorities, since you’re going to be spending a lot of quality time with this machine! You may not have success with just any old pump, so it is important to get a highly rated, double electric pump if you’re going to be pumping daily. The Medela Pump In Style is one of the best in efficiency and effectiveness, and the Medela Freestyle is another mom favorite. Be sure to purchase extra tubes because they do occasionally need to be replaced. You might even want to consider going hands free to pump so you’re able to multitask! There are many bras made especially for pumping that hold the cups right onto your breast, so you can sit and try to relax and not hold or fiddle with pump parts. Simple Wishes, and even LLLI (La Leche League) are good brands to look into. If you would like to pump just to have a little backup milk stash in your freezer but will mainly be breastfeeding straight from the source, you can get by with something more basic like a single electric, or even a manual pump. The manual pumps, such as Philips Avent Comfort Manual Breast Pump, are great for times where you just need to express some milk while you’re away, and don’t want or need to invest in an electric pump.
Your main objective when taking care of your breast is to make sure your baby has a great wide open latch. The more comfortable the latch, the less pain and irritation you will feel. Despite a great latch, it is very normal to feel pain, soreness, and skin irritation or even a little bleeding in the first 4-6 weeks (after which it gets so much better). Hang in there and seek out some tools to help care for your breasts and sore nipples in that first trying month. Breast pads, which will help catch all the leaking, are the most necessary tool of the trade. Moms who have a lot of leaking love Lansinoh disposable pads, while those who don’t need as much protection can get by with washable cotton pads. It’s important to care for your nipples with a natural nipple cream after each feeding during the first weeks while you’re still tender. Motherlove and Earth Mama Angel Baby both make wonderful natural balms that work well and are safe for baby. For pain relief, try out some cooling packs that you stick right into your bra after feeding baby, such as Soothies Gel Pads by Lansinoh. If heat feels better but the shower pressure is painful, a thoughtful product called the Shower Hug (which you wear like a strapless bra) protects your sensitive skin so you can shower comfortably and still benefit from the relief and relaxation of the hot water. Your Lactation Consultant may even recommend a Nipple Shield if you’re having problems due to nipple shape or pain. You don’t necessarily need one of these ahead of time, but just be aware that the option is there.
Your breastfeeding journey is a beautiful, natural process and although that might have sounded like a lot to learn and prepare for, so much of breastfeeding is a learn-as-you-go relationship that will continue to grow and change as you and your baby grow and learn together. Don’t stress and worry that you won’t be able to do it. With the support of your lactation consultant, the reference books and websites, and the help of other breastfeeding women around you, you can do this. Focus on learning the basics, gathering your tools, and rounding up some breastfeeding support in the form of a lactation consultant and some local mothers or friends you can call so that they’re right there in the moments you need them!