Breastfeeding is as natural a human process as childbirth – women have been doing it, literally, for thousands of years. However, in the early 20th century, a predominance of men in the field of obstetrics, the advent of formula in the late 1800s, and the call of women into the workforce during and post World War II, led to sharp declines in breastfeeding through the first half of the century. By the 1950s, in America and much of the developed world, breastfeeding was considered something practiced by the uneducated, the lower class, those who could not afford formula and was actually discouraged by medical practitioners and the media. Thankfully, we have come a long way in the last 60+ years. And while it should be a very natural process, for many women, it can prove challenging, especially at first. I hope these tips, resources and recommendations for breastfeeding gear essentials both encourage you to breastfeed, as well as persevere through whatever challenges you might face!
Breastfeeding: Tips & Essentials
All you really need to get started are your breasts and your baby! That being said, there are many modern-day inventions and comforts that can make breastfeeding successful, long-term for both you and your baby.
Preparation – Pre-Baby
There are several supplies and resources you can line up before the baby even arrives.
A Great, Nursing Spot
Before my first was born, everyone swore I had to have a Boppy, or nursing pillow, to breastfeed. Whether because I am tall or some other reason, for me, it was a complete and total waste. All the Boppy was ever used for in our house was tummy time in the first weeks, months. I will, however, stress the importance of a comfortable nursing spot. Whether you get a cozy, plush rocker in your nursery, the corner of your couch, or an overstuffed arm chair, test out spots in your home that will adequately support your back, your arm (which will be holding a growing baby), and where you feel comfortable.
Walk around your house, cradle a stuffed animal like a baby, and sit in a few spots for 10-15 minutes to test them out. If you want it to be the rocker in your nursery, try this out before you buy it! For me, it was an overstuffed arm chair – the size and shape was the perfect combination of plush, supportive and the arm was the perfect height for me to rest my elbow on while the baby ate.
If you have other children, stockpile a few of their favorite toys, books in a basket by this spot. It will help you keep them entertained while you feed the baby. Throw a few burp cloths in there as well!
A Good, Nursing Bra
Wait until late in your pregnancy to buy nursing bras. If you think your boobs grew during pregnancy, just wait until your milk comes in! I gain a cup size during pregnancy, and another 2 while breastfeeding. That being said, for nursing bras, I highly recommend staying away from structured, underwire bras. They can cause blocked ducts, mastitis and hinder production. It’s better to have a bra that is more flexible and can adjust with your fluctuating breast size throughout the course of a day.
After nursing two children, these are by far my favorite – they are comfortable enough to sleep in at night (which believe me, you will need!), and supportive enough to wear during the day. They are also currently (and often) available as Buy 3, Get 1 Free! Whether you choose my recommendation or something else, try some options, and when you find one you like, buy several!
Trust me – stock up on these. I had them delivered as part of my monthly Amazon, Subscribe & Save delivery. I recommend Lansinoh Disposable Nursing Pads. You can also find washable, reusable options, and ones that even claim to save your leaking milk (but not gonna lie, that kind of grosses me out).
You will absolutely need them, particularly in the first weeks, months as your baby’s appetite increases and wanes through growth spurts and your supply stabilizes.
Having a breastfeeding support system, both formal and informal, are tremendous indicators of the likelihood a mother will be successful breastfeeding. Know what resources are available to you and utilize them even before your baby arrives vs. waiting until you are stressed or struggling. Choose a birth facility and medical professionals (OB or midwife, pediatrician, lactation consultants) that are supportive of and share your views on breastfeeding.
Ask your OB or midwife to provide you information for a Lactation Consultant. There may also be breastfeeding classes and support groups available at your birthing facility both before and after delivery. Talk about your decision to breastfeed with your spouse – my husband was always 100% on board, just from the shear cost-savings we got by not buying formula, not to mention all the positive health benefits, both for the baby and me. Look up the contact information for your local La Leche League representatives. KellyMom is another great online resource.
And last, and for me the most important, talk to your close girlfriends and family members who have breastfed. When my first was born, 6 of my girlfriends all had babies within 6 months of me. We used to get together with all the babies every Friday for lunch at someone’s house with whoever was still home on maternity leave or staying home, and talk about everything we were going through. Every single one of us had different breastfeeding experiences, but having a group to share it all with was hugely encouraging and helpful.
The First Weeks
The first weeks of breastfeeding often determine your long-term success. These tips will help you establish good supply, and trouble-shoot various issues.
Immediately, Post Birth
Skin-to-skin contact, nursing within an hour of birth and rooming in with your baby at the hospital are all policies you should seek out from your birth facility. They are all breastfeeding supportive indicators. Your baby will be most aware and awake in the first few hours after birth, and it’s the perfect time to get started.
In the first days, weeks, your nipples may become sore or chapped. Lanolin is a natural, safe ointment that is safe both for you and your baby. It can be used before and after feedings, and will help soothe and protect sore nipples. Note that early on, some slight nipple discomfort is normal. However, persistent discomfort during nursing, and continued or severe nipple irritation can be a sign of an incorrect nursing latch, and potentially an indication of a tongue or lip tie. A session with a lactation consultant can often quickly, and easily, correct latch and properly diagnose any other issues.
Focus on Full Feedings
The toughest part of breastfeeding in the first few weeks is keeping your baby awake long enough to insure they are getting a full, feeding and not just snacking, grazing every 20 minutes. Full feedings insure they are getting fattier, more caloric hindmilk, and will help establish your supply. If it is a struggle to keep your baby awake, disrobing your baby and providing skin to skin contact can help. Often a diaper change just before feeding fully wakes them up.
I also followed the Babywise routine of Eat-Play-Sleep, so feedings always immediately followed the baby waking up from a nap, when they were most alert. It also prevented the habit of nursing the baby to sleep, which longer-term, pays off at night. But in the first weeks, don’t worry about sleep or schedules as much as working on full feedings. An established milk supply and regular full feedings will naturally lead to a regular sleep and feeding cycle. Both my girls by about 2-4 weeks, ate every 2-3 hours during the day, with awake periods of 45-60 minutes, followed by a nap. They had a stretch during the night of about 4-5 hours, and then the 2-3 hour cycle began again! Check out my Sleep Series for more tips on Infant sleep.
Are they getting enough to eat?
The other difficult part of breastfeeding is having no visible indication of how much your baby is eating. Offer one breast, allow them to eat as long and as much as they like. If they unlatch and seem irritated, offer the other breast. If they are producing wet diapers (average 1 for every day of life, and 5-6 per day once your milk is fully in), they are staying hydrated. Note also that breastmilk is easily digestable, and breastfed babies can go as long as 10-14 days between bowel movements. Lil’ M regularly pooped once every 8-10 days until she started eating solid foods. Stressed me out to no end, but she never seemed uncomfortable or bothered by it, and the scale at the pediatrician’s office assured us all she was getting plenty to eat!
This infographic from Health & Parenting is also super helpful. Their stomachs are super tiny to start, so even if you are producing tablespoons a day at first, it is more than enough for their little bellies.
Are YOU getting enough to eat and drink?
Most breastfeeding moms need to eat an extra 500 calories a day. When I am breastfeeding, I eat like an NFL lineman. I am constantly starving – and it’s often easy to neglect yourself when sleep-deprived and caring for a newborn. Make sure you are eating a solid breakfast, lunch and dinner. Stock healthy, protein packed snacks at home, like yogurt and nuts. And drink a ton of water. I tried to drink a bottle of water every time I sat down for a feeding, and I always kept one on my bedside table at night.
Many hospitals have Lactation Consultants available on the postpartum ward, or available upon request. If you have any questions, concerns, do not hesitate to ask to see one. Starting out feeling confident and comfortable with feedings (which you will be doing 6-8+ times a day in the first few months) will significantly improve your long-term success and de-stress what can be a trying newborn phase.
True Story. With Lil’ M, I was confident in breastfeeding having fed Big M for a year. We came home from the hospital and for the first month, every feeding would end in her screaming bloody murder. She would eat for 5 minutes, unlatch, burp and when I tried to get her to eat more (because 5 minutes couldn’t possibly be long enough), she would scream like I was trying to kill her. I started dreading feeding her. My husband kept insisting Big M never did this – something wasn’t right. So, one day when he was off from work, Lil’ M and I set off for a breastfeeding support group at Yale Hospital, where I delivered. I met with a group of fellow moms, and a lactation consultant. They weighed her before and after her feeding – in 5 minutes of nursing, she was eating 5-6 oz. She was screaming because she was full and didn’t want to eat anymore!
Moral of the story – if breastfeeding is becoming stressful, before you give up, consult with a professional. There are often quick and easy solutions! Lil’ M went on to happily rapid-nurse for a year, and after a few bouts of mastitis from her rapid-nursing, I learned how to manage my oversupply too.
Tips from My Friends
For more breastfeeding and postpartum tips, check out these post from my friends at HEN Family and This Outnumbered Mama.
Come back next Tuesday for Breastfeeding Part 2 – Tips for Pumping. Did you or do you plan to breastfeed? What did you find hardest about breastfeeding or what are you most worried about?