Learning about breastfeeding before the baby is born (when you have more time to take in the information and seek answers to your questions) can be the first step to helping you to reach your breastfeeding goals. It can be quite overwhelming to start learning the basics of breastfeeding, by listening to experienced mum’s, friends, nurses during the period when you and your baby are recovering from birth.
Whether your first time was a breeze, something of a struggle or somewhere in between, there’s always room to learn. Also, every baby is different. So the more you know about technique (how to position baby), mechanics (how to know baby is getting enough milk) and logistics (when a meal is over and when it’s time for another), the more confident and empowered you’ll feel when you breastfeed.
What does it feel like?
For centuries women’s breasts have always been symbolized as an icon of lust. It has been associated with Mangoes, melons, jugs and what not.
However, breastfeeding is one of the purest responsibilities a woman can ever have.
The first time you put your baby to the breast, it may feel strange. Your new little one may nuzzle your breast with his mouth and nose, will not open his mouth, move his head from side to side with his mouth open, lick your nipple, or latch on strong and start sucking
Here are 6 tips to better prepare yourself and set more realistic expectations before baby arrives:
1. Your nursing space
The starting weeks could be a little embarrassing if you are a first time mum and have people around. Choose a comfortable place in your home where you can nurse your baby in the first couple weeks. You will likely feel marooned there. But don’t worry! Very soon, you can nurse your baby anywhere – the couch, the dining room table under a napkin, in a baby carrier, in your bed lying upside down (haha!) etc. Until then, choose a supportive place which can have your foot rested and is accessible to place things in easy reach – your phone, a drink (you will be so thirsty!), a snack (you will be ravenous!), and the remote. Now is not the time to worry about screen time – as she sucks away.
The first few weeks with your baby are so sacred, so take ownership of them.
What If You’re Embarrassed to Breastfeed?
It’s perfectly normal to feel self-conscious, embarrassed, or apprehensive the first time you try to breastfeed. If you’re concerned about feeling exposed, let your nurse or caregiver know that you would like some privacy.
If there are visitors in your room, they can ask them to give some privacy while you breastfeed. If you’re still in a hospital and yet to get discharged, you can use the privacy curtain. And, if you want to try to breastfeed on your own, you could ask to have some time alone with your baby.
Just keep in mind that it may be helpful to have a nurse, a doula, or someone else with breastfeeding experience stay with you in the beginning.
2. Do your research and get prepared
Unrealistic pictures around the hospital rooms sets an impossible standard by which new mothers judge themselves and cue the mom’s guilt/ feelings of inadequacy! Breastfeeding is hard, but at least if you arm yourself with real knowledge going into it, you will know what to expect and that your struggle is normal, that it is a passing phase, and that it is okay to ask for help or take time to master it.
Frequency of eating – around 10 – 12 times per day
Most babies are nursed frequently and some would be on the clock every 2 hours (from the start of each feeding!). By the time they nursed on both sides, burped, and changed the dress, you would be left with 5 minutes to pee or ravenously raid the pantry and the whole thing would start over again.
Many new mums are not mentally prepared for the commitment and do not understand that this will be a passing phase. Once the new mum and the baby get better at breastfeeding and fall into a rhythm, you can cherished the bonding experience
3. Low supply is rare
Your baby will seem hungry ALL THE TIME, and it is normal to feel like you are not providing him or her enough milk. This can be especially true if your baby lost a percentage of his or her birth weight, as is quite normal, and is having trouble gaining it back. Low supply is pretty rare.
A newborn baby has a stomach the size of a cherry at birth and cannot take in much milk at once, leading to frequency of eating. Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis – you will produce as much milk as your baby demands. Rest assured – your baby is getting enough if he or she is gaining weight and producing enough wet and dirty diapers.
4. Bookmark latch technique videos
Speaking of “the latch,” know what a good one looks like. For most, it is a learned skill. Reading about latch technique is great, but for many the videos with real mothers and babies were the most helpful. Watch them a few times before birth and bookmark them so they are readily available when you bring your baby home. In the fog of new motherhood, this video is particularly very helpful.
5. Plan for help
Last but not the least – research lactation consultants in your area and choose one that is highly-regarded and makes house calls. If you do this before the baby arrives, you will save yourself the stress of finding one when you desperately need help with breastfeeding and are preoccupied with the small task of keeping a tiny and fragile human alive.
What If Your Milk Hasn’t Come in Yet?
During pregnancy, your body begins to produce colostrum. Colostrum is a concentrated, highly nutritious fluid that your baby will drink during the first breastfeeding or maybe even for the first few days of life. Though your baby will only get a small amount, but since it is very high in nutrition, it’s all that he or she will need in the first few days
6. Arm yourself with the essentials
This is the last item last on purpose since it is more important to educate yourself and invest in help than it is to buy gear. With that being said, there are certainly some essential items that can make your nursing experience much easier and smooth. These are the essentials for the earliest days of breastfeeding:
- Nipple cream, breast pads and gel pads – If you suffer from very painful, cracked nipples, these are very soothing and encourage moist wound healing.
- Comfortable pull away bra – In the early weeks, invest in a size nursing bra. Your breast size will fluctuate in this stage, so a simple pull-away style bra is best until your boobs land on a size.
- Nursing pillow – Non toxic, very soft, has just the right amount of firmness, and can be repurposed later on to prop up your baby for play time.
- Nursing cover – To nurse your baby discreetly in public (in the early days, really just the doctor’s office for me), this nursing cover is incredibly soft and stretchy enough to accommodate various nursing positions.
- Water bottle – You will be SO THIRSTY while nursing. You need a lot of water to produce all that milk. Having a water bottle by your side would be very much necessary, as you would not be adept enough to handle a baby and an open glass.
- One-handed snacks! – You will be RAVENOUS from producing all that milk. Have a variety of nutrient-dense snacks available that can be consumed one-handed. Ideas: granola bars, trail mix, almond butter and banana sandwiches, basically anything that’s wholesome and nutritious.
When Breastfeeding Is Challenging
The first breastfeeding is a learning experience for you and your baby. Some newborns latch on immediately and breastfeed well from the beginning and some might forget in after a day or two. Some babies show little interest in nursing and don’t latch on at all. Other babies latch on but won’t suck.
All of these responses to the first feeding are normal. Be patient, keep trying, and most importantly ask for help. Many hospitals have lactation consultants on staff who are available to assist you. If possible, try to use the resources that the hospital provides while you’re there so that you feel more comfortable when you go home.
Once you get past the initial trial-and-error days of finding the best system for you, nursing becomes one of motherhood’s most rewarding responsibilities.