When I was pregnant, I heard many a story about problems other women had with breastfeeding: cracked and bleeding nipples, painful engorgement and inadequate milk supply, to name just a few. I knew I wanted to nurse my baby and felt confident that I could, but I wondered: Will these things 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 thanks to 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 pediatricians 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 Katy Lebbing, I.B.C.L.C., a La Leche League International (LLLI) leader and manager of the LLLI Center for Breastfeeding Information in Schaumburg, Ill. “Breastfeeding is a learned art.”
Give yourself time and space to master this art. Prepare your house ahead of time: Stock up on necessities such as diapers and clothing so you don’t have to worry about them after the baby is born. Also create a nursing station complete with a comfortable chair, a nursing pillow and a side table for snacks, water, nursing pads and burp cloths. And keep a cordless telephone and a good book nearby so you’re not left scrambling for them at the last minute.
Once you have the baby, put aside other obligations. Nichola Zaklan, 48, of Portland, Ore., cleared her calendar for the first month after her daughter, Militsa, now 6, 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 before or after giving birth, and consider a session 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.)