When I was pregnant, I heard many a story about problems other women had with breastfeeding: bleeding nipples, painful engorgement and inadequate milk supply, to name a few. I knew that I wanted to nurse my baby and felt confident I could, but I wondered: Will this happen to me, too?
Luckily, it didn’t. Almost from birth, my son, Cobi, gulped hungrily at my breast and then rolled off, content. True, the early days were a blur, given my sleep deprivation and soreness from a long labor, but with a little preparation and support, I was able to breastfeed successfully. You can do it, too, especially if you focus on the first six weeks; that’s when you establish your milk supply and develop the skills that will help ensure success.
Read on for tips to help you make it through those first weeks and on to the full year that experts recommend.
1. Be Prepared. Before you have your baby, take a breastfeeding class, buy a breastfeeding book or watch a breastfeeding video. Better yet, do all three. “It’s a myth that women know instinctively how to breastfeed,” says La Leche League leader Katy Lebbing, B.S., I.B.C.L.C. “Breastfeeding is a learned art.”
Give yourself time and space to master this art. Prepare your house ahead of time: Stock up on necessities so you don’t have to worry about them after the baby is born. Create a nursing station complete with a comfy chair and a side table for snacks, water, nursing pads and burp cloths.
Once you have the baby, put aside other obligations. Nichola Zaklan, 46, of Portland, Ore., cleared her calendar for the first month after her daughter, Militsa, now 4, was born. “Don’t worry about anything else,” Zaklan suggests. “Don’t even write thank-you notes—you have the rest of your life for that.”
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., a certified lactation consultant and co-founder of The Pump Station, a breastfeeding-support center in Santa Monica, Calif. Women teaching women is still a great way to go.
Before you give birth, call a relative or friend who has breastfed successfully and ask if she’ll be available to help. Attend a La Leche League meeting after you have the baby. And consider a visit with a lactation consultant. Even if you’re not having problems, she can teach you the proper techniques. (Your hospital may have a consultant on staff; if so, arrange for a visit as soon as possible after delivery.)