In case you haven’t heard, breastfeeding is a pretty rockin’ way to feed your baby. It’s cheap (no need to buy formula); it’s easy (no mixing or warming necessary); it’s “green” (no formula containers in the landfill); and it’s good for his body and mind (a lower incidence of short- and long-term health threats like diarrhea and leukemia, plus an IQ boost). It’s even good for you, conferring a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers. But it can also be challenging.
So how can you make it work, especially in those all-important first days? Read on for our experts’ best tips.
1. Get yourself—and your partner—educated: If you haven’t signed up for a breastfeeding class, do it now. “It’s essential that you take a class while pregnant,” says Shari Criso, a registered nurse, board-certified lactation consultant and certified nurse-midwife in Denville, N.J. “And make sure it’s a class that includes partners.”
Not only will the class help ensure buy-in from your spouse—and studies show that lack of such support is one of the biggest reasons that women quit breastfeeding—but it will also teach him how to help you. “Your partner may be the only one home with you, and he needs to be trained to be your lactation consultant,” Criso explains. “For instance, he has a different perspective than you when the baby’s nursing and can see if he’s latched on properly.”
He’ll also be there if the going gets tough. “When you’re exhausted and can’t think straight, he’ll be the one with the clear head who will encourage you to continue,” she adds. “Someone needs to support you, whether it’s a spouse, family member or friend—it can be hard to do alone.”
2. Line up help before you need it: Yes, breastfeeding is one of the most natural acts in the world, but it can be difficult—especially in the early days, when you are learning the ropes. A mom who has breastfed successfully may be able to help in a pinch, but if you have real problems such as difficulty latching or sore nipples, you may need a lactation consultant. To find one near you, ask your OB or midwife or call the hospital where you’ll be delivering. You can also find a list, by location at the International Lactation Consultant Association website.
3. Prepare to get bare: Your baby is more likely to latch on and begin breastfeeding well if he’s put on your chest, skin to skin, immediately after birth; wait too long and he may be too sleepy. “The baby gets ‘clued in’ faster if he’s placed on your chest right away,” says pediatrician Marianne Neifert, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado, Denver, and author of Great Expectations: The Essential Guide to Breastfeeding (Sterling). “Having no clothes in between you helps calm him after birth and triggers his natural reflexes.”
Many hospitals realize the importance of this and encourage it; others, not so much. So be sure to tell your labor and delivery nurses that you want to be skin-to-skin with your baby as soon as he’s born. Most will accommodate your request and hold off on weighing, measuring or cleaning until after the baby has had a chance to snuggle and suck.