1-Read some good books. Here are a few of my favorites:
- So That’s What They’re For: The Definitive Breastfeeding Guide by Janet Tamaro
This book is a funny, down-to-earth basic perspective on how breastfeeding works and how to do it. If you’re looking for a book that explains the basics of how your body makes milk and how breastfeeding actually works with humor and sarcasm, this is your book.
- The Baby Book by William Sears
This book has been around for a long time but is very good, for the most part. You will learn great things about how to understand a baby’s cues, how to trust your mothering instincts, and lots of breastfeeding information. It’s also loaded with lots of more “crunchy” parenting topics like attachment parenting, co-sleeping, vaccines, etc. If this isn’t your thing, I’d recommend skipping those parts and focusing on the golden stuff I mentioned. Whether you plan to attachment parent or not, you’ll learn how to bond with your baby in the best way.
- Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacher
This book is great because the author breaks breastfeeding down to the basics: into “seven natural laws”. There is also a great latch graphic on the accompanying website that I highly recommend checking out!
2-Watch moms breastfeed.
Go to a breastfeeding support group or hang out with other mothers who are breastfeeding. In the olden days, breastfeeding support groups and lactation consultants didn’t exist because they didn’t need to. Women learned how to breastfeed by watching all the women around them breastfeed their whole lives. It was the norm. But in the 50’s, when formula feeding grew in popularity and breastfeeding declined steeply, women lost their models. You can read all the books and take classes and watch videos, but nothing is as valuable as mother-to-mother modeling and support.
I started going to La Leche League meetings when I was six months pregnant with my first. I had two other pregnant friends who knew about it and I tagged along. I learned so much in the three months of meetings leading up to him being born, that I felt like I knew all there was to know and was super confident about breastfeeding my baby. (All that would have been great if he didn’t end up in the nursery after delivery, but that’s another story.) Once he was able to breastfeed, it all went swimmingly with no problems at all.
La Leche League meetings have all but maybe a few completely fizzled out. I believe they still have online support, but nothing compares to watching in person. There are other breastfeeding support groups. Breastfeeding USA is very similar to LLL. Also, most local areas have mom organized/ mom run or hospital organized breastfeeding support groups. That’s a good place to start.
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3-Take a class.
Most hospitals and health departments offer breastfeeding classes. These classes are usually lead by lactation consultants or childbirth educators. They are generally pretty good and provide the basic information you need to know to get breastfeeding off to a good start.
4-Touch your breasts.
Seriously. You’ll be doing it constantly once your baby arrives. You will benefit greatly from practicing now and getting comfortable with handling your breasts. A major benefit is learning how to express milk (or more specifically, colostrum for now). This will not only help you learn how to express easily but also is a big confidence booster when you can actually see that you are in fact producing! In some cases mothers will express colostrum prenatally and store it to bring to the hospital when the baby is born. So next time you’re in the shower touch and try to see if you’re able to express any drops of colostrum!
5-Pick a pediatrician.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how many new parents come to the hospital to deliver with no clue who they’ll choose to care for their baby. Don’t worry, the hospital will assign a doctor to see your baby while they are in-patient, but you must choose a pediatrician for outside of the hospital before you get discharged. Do your research: talk to other breastfeeding parents, ask around on parenting groups, ask your OB. Depending on what your feeding plans are, you’ll want to try to find a pediatrician with a similar mindset who supports your plans. For example, if you plan on exclusively breastfeeding, you probably won’t be happy with a pediatrician who routinely recommends that all babies be supplemented with formula at night “so mom can rest” or something along those lines. This new parent business is no joke. You’ll never have a gig that’s harder, so finding as many people who are on your team as possible is a recipe for success.
One more thing to mention here: You’re not stuck with the pediatrician for life. If you pick a dud, you can always switch!
6-Think about sleep.
This may come as a surprise, but you need to think and plan for this now. Yes, babies sleep a lot, but they also eat a lot. Babies typically breastfeed 8-12 times in 24-hours, but can sometimes feed more often than that. That means that you can follow your grandma’s advice and “sleep when the baby sleeps”, but it will be in short bursts between feedings.
A major benefit of breastfeeding to this disjointed sleeping is that mothers who are breastfeeding get better quality sleep in those bursts over mothers who are not breastfeeding and are sleeping longer periods due to the hormones that are released when breastfeeding; oxytocin. That’s helpful! But you still need to plan for this sleep.
It’s so exciting when you have a baby and everyone and their cousins want to come to the hospital and see you, basically 2 minutes after the baby exits the womb. However, you should definitely consider asking them to wait until you get home or limit all visitors to one window during your hospital stay. Think about it: you’ll be functioning on little to no sleep (depending on how long you were in labor), recovering from birth (which is crazy no matter how the baby comes out), AND learning how to care for the brand new human who needs to eat every 2-3 hours. Most moms are not comfortable trying to breastfeed in front of visitors but also feel guilty about asking the visitors to leave. Therefore, my best advice is to give them one short window to all come at once, or better yet, wait until you get home. Unfortunately, the visitors are only one part of the many interruptions to your rest while you’re in the hospital. In most hospitals, there is at least one interruption to the patient every hour around the clock. Most of this cannot be eliminated, but the visitors is something you can control. You can, however, have a good support person who can manage many of those interruptions and help to optimize your rest and recovery. Click here to learn more about nighttime.