The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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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.
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.
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.
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:
> 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.
> 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.
> Breast milk is 87 percent water, so stay hydrated. “Drink to thirst and then a little more,” Lebbing advises.