The first six weeks are crucial when it comes to nursing your baby. Be prepared with our five simple steps to success.
You can give your baby one of the greatest gifts possible by making the decision to breastfeed. Relatively minor ailments, such as ear infections and gastrointestinal problems, are less common among breastfed children, but so are long-term, potentially dangerous conditions, such as obesity and some childhood cancers.
Still, you may have concerns, such as whether you and your baby will actually be able to do it, or if you'll experience problems such as sore nipples. Well, rest assured that with a little bit of patience, some smart planning and a firm resolution, you'll almost certainly be successful, especially if you focus on the first six weeks. That's when you establish your milk supply and develop the skills necessary for a happy, relaxed, long-term breastfeeding experience.
Read on for some simple, proven tips to help you make it through those early days and into the full year that experts recommend.
1. Don't Delay
Well before your due date, take a breastfeeding class, buy a good breastfeeding book and watch a breastfeeding video (How To Breastfeed: Deep Latch Technique). Even better, watch someone in person. "It's a myth that women know instinctively how to breastfeed," says Katy Lebbing, B.S., IBCLC, a La Leche League International leader and a lactation consultant at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, Ill., and West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, Ill. "Breastfeeding is a learned art."
Give yourself time and space to master this art. Prepare your house ahead of time: Stock up on such necessities as diapers and clothing so you don't have to worry about them after the baby is born. Also, create a "nursing station"— an area with a comfortable chair, a breastfeeding pillow, and a side table for snacks, water, nursing pads, burp cloths, your phone and a good book. You'll spend a lot of time there!
When you have the baby, put aside as many obligations as possible so you can focus on your little one. Hunker down and enjoy the time—it passes more quickly than you can imagine.
2. Find a Mentor
Breastfeeding might seem like a solitary activity, but it's best not to go it alone. Historically, women learned proper techniques from their mothers, grandmothers, sisters and neighbors, says Corky Harvey, M.S., R.N., IBCLC, co-founder of The Pump Station & Nurtury breastfeeding stores in Los Angeles. Before you give birth, call a relative or friend (or several) who has breastfed successfully and ask if she'll be available to help.
Start attending La Leche meetings while pregnant, and continue after you have the baby. Also consider a session with a lactation consultant—doing so can help you learn the proper techniques. Your hospital may have a lactation consultant on staff; if so, arrange for a visit as soon as possible after delivery.
3. Pay Attention to Your Diet
You'll need even more calories when breastfeeding than while pregnant— about 300 more per day than in the last trimester, even more if you're exercising or have multiples. But don't go overboard; three well-balanced meals a day plus healthful snacks should cover it. Here are tips for making sure you're getting enough:
a. Fill up your pantry and fridge ahead of time, and ask family members and friends to stock your freezer with meals before you have the baby.
b. Ask a friend or family member to organize a "food train," so people can take turns bringing you home-cooked meals for the first few weeks. After the baby arrives, prepare plates of finger foods (sandwich bites, string cheese, trail mix, vegetables and fruit) to nibble on while you nurse. Also consider a grocery-delivery service; you don't want to have to bundle up your newborn and head out with her to get bread and milk.
c. Breast milk is 87 percent water, so stay hydrated. "Drink to thirst and then a little more," Lebbing advises.
4. Get Help
"New mothers need to be mothered in order to mother their babies," Lebbing says.
Accept help when it's offered: Let friends and family do a load of laundry, clean your bathroom, go grocery shopping, or watch the baby while you shower or take a quick walk. Ask a neighbor to watch your older child for a few hours.
Also be sure to enlist your partner's assistance--i.e. to do all of the above, or simply help you by holding the baby while you get comfortable and settled to nurse.
5. Don't Give in to Fear
Many women who stop breastfeeding do so because they think they aren't producing enough milk—but inadequate production is rare, according to Harvey. If your baby nurses eight to 12 times every 24 hours, has six or more wet diapers, and three or more bowel movements daily by day six, he's getting plenty to eat. Still feeling concerned? Talk to your pediatrician. Nursing often (every one to three hours) should help you establish an ample milk supply. But if you're worried, see a lactation consultant immediately. If she does determine that you have a low supply, she will likely devise a schedule for you that involves both pumping and frequent nursing; she may also recommend herbal supplements, such as Mother's Milk tea, fenugreek or fennel seed.
Need a little help?
If you experience problems with breastfeeding—or if you simply have questions—contact the following organizations:
International Lactation Consultant Association: 919-861-5577, ilca.org
La Leche League International: 800-525-3243, llli.org
Some good books to consult:
The Breastfeeding Book: Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Your Child From Birth Through Weaning by Martha Sears, R.N., and William Sears, M.D. (Little, Brown & Co.)
The Nursing Mother's Companion by Kathleen Huggins, R.N., M.S. (The Harvard Common Press)
The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers by Jack Newman, M.D., and Teresa Pitman (Three Rivers Press)
And check out these videos:
How to Breastfeed: Deep Latch Technique (Fit Pregnancy)
How to Use A Breastpump (Fit Pregnancy)
Better Breastfeeding: Your Guide to a Healthy Start (InJoy Videos; injoyvideos.com)
Breastfeeding: A Guide to Getting Started (Video Transform; breastmilksolutions.com)