Breastfeeding 101: What You Need to Know Before Birth

Christie Haskell
27

Breastfeeding is what mammals are meant to do. However, that doesn't mean it's always easy, comes naturally, or sometimes doesn't flat-out suck (no pun intended). There are lots of nuances that can easily be missed, and lots of things that people will tell you that seem logical but really aren't.

So, to help get you on the road to success, I'm going to do a mini-series of Breastfeeding 101 posts, so you can get off on the right foot, and stay there.

First up, what you need to know about breastfeeding even before your baby is born whether you're pregnant already or trying to be.

Educate yourself. I don't mean by reading What to Expect either. I mean pick up a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and read it. Get on Kellymom's website and look up anything you're even slightly curious about or that anyone tells you (I find that Googling "Kellymom whatever I'm looking for" is easier than navigating their site), ditto the La Leche League website. Encourage your partner to read some of the basics as well. You can have an information overload, especially when everything is new to you, but knowing things like the fact that a newborn can nurse 14 times a day and it's totally normal can save you tons of stress.

You don't need to "toughen up your nipples." There's no evidence it does anything, other than just make you uncomfortable. In fact, it can actually make your nipples incredibly sore, making early nursing even more uncomfortable than it has the likelihood of being.

Don't stock up on or accept any "just in case" formula. Though people often feel like they need some formula in the house just in case, it's mental sabotage, and can turn into real sabotage if Daddy, thinking he's being helpful, gives baby a bottle -- one bottle of formula can interfere with 2-3 breastfeeding sessions. Decide here and now that you ARE going to breastfeed and you will not have formula in your house unless you end up really needing it.

Pregnancy breast changes say little about supply. There is one medical condition where breasts lack the proper ducts (this is visually diagnosable pre-pregnancy) and it can make exclusive breastfeeding difficult or near impossible, but in general, whether your breasts start leaking and swelling in your second trimester or you don't see a drop until baby is born and don't engorge for a week, don't judge your milk supply by changes to your boobs. If you do have colostrum leaking and big cup size changes, be confident in your body -- those are great signs.

Surround yourself in the right support. Start attending La Leche League meetings, and surround yourself in women who have succeeded with exclusive, full-term breastfeeding. As much as you may love your friends, if they didn't breastfeed for a long time or at all, as well-meaning as your friends might be, they're not going to be the breastfeeding support you need. Physically, 98 percent of women can breastfeed, but it's bad info and subpar support that hurts the majority of other women, so you can be pretty confident that you're going to be able to breastfeed. Have faith that just like your body is doing right now, nourishing your baby 100 percent, it can continue to do that once baby is on the outside as well. Tell anyone who says anything remotely negative that it's not helpful. Nicely.

Know that you're not your mother. Your mom's breastfeeding history has absolutely nothing to do with yours. Neither does your sister's. Too often I hear "My mom couldn't breastfeed any of us" as a reason why a woman thinks she can't or couldn't. It is not genetic.

Make yourself a nest. Choose a couch, your bed, and start moving stuff in there: your laptop, TV, maybe a mini-fridge, trashcan, book, phone, and phone charger. If you go in with expectations that your main goal for the first few weeks is to feed your baby and heal your body, you'll do a lot better than if you're always exasperated that the baby needs you AGAIN and you're stuck being able to do nothing AGAIN. Make sure your partner and family members know this as well -- they can help you be entertained and comfortable, but your main job for the first few weeks or so is only to get to know your baby. Anything that interferes with that can just make life harder.

Easy access, or even nudity, saves a lot of effort. Invest in some very comfortable clothing, such as nursing tanks or even just tank tops with a built-in bra that you can lift your boob out of easily and comfortably. Nursing bras with no underwire can make a huge difference. Figure out what you're going to be most comfortable with in public because if you go out in those early days you will need to nurse -- pumping and bottles can cause you a lot more problems than they're worth, and baby isn't going to be content for your entire dinner, even if you nurse in the car before you go in. Decide if you want to do a double-shirt to pull one up with the other still covering you, want to try a nursing cover, or maybe you just don't care at all -- it's all personal.

More to come on this topic! Stay tuned and if you have any questions, just ask below. I'll get them answered! In the meantime, let's be encouraging, too ...

What would you tell a pregnant woman to help her succeed at breastfeeding?

 

Image via MelanieLouise/CafeMom

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