Newborns have a reputation for doing little more than eating and sleeping, but most new parents–and especially new breastfeeding mothers–are unprepared for just how much feeding the tiniest member of their family will do during their first few weeks of life. Since so many women learn as they go when it comes to nursing, we sought out the advice of an expert to help our newest breastfeeding moms prepare for the most common hurdles they’ll face in the first few weeks. Melissa Crane, a lactation consultant and postpartum doula, has truly seen it all and has some simple strategies for developing a sustainable and meaningful nursing relationship with your little one.
Don’t prep. There’s really nothing a woman can do to prepare her body for the physical demands of breastfeeding. Trying to “toughen” up your nipples or breasts is impossible and could potentially instigate preterm labor.
Lock down a pump. Good news! You may be eligible for get a personal breast pump at little to no out-of-pocket cost through your insurance. Take care of these logistics in advance of delivery, so you’re all set by the time your baby actually arrives. (Editor’s note: Having a breast pump can mean the difference between getting to breastfeed and not. Our partners at Edgepark can handle this part for you! Click here to see if you qualify for a pump at little to no out-of-pocket cost!)
Do your homework. If you’re returning to work, talk to your employer about where you’ll pump, what your access to refrigeration will be, and how to integrate pumping sessions into your daily work schedule before you deliver. It’s so much easier to have these conversations while pregnant than on your first day back from maternity leave.
Colostrum isn’t milk. Immediately after your baby is born, your body produces colostrum, which is an antibody rich, thick form of breast milk. Colostrum is optimal for your baby’s first days; to take advantage of colostrum, a baby just needs a good latch. However, after a few days of colostrum, your milk comes in–and getting enough breast milk requires a lot of hard work (i.e., nursing) from baby. For many women, this transition happens once they leave the hospital or birthing center, so it’s important to be aware that this shift takes place and to have a means to contact a lactation consultant when questions arise.
Engorgement happens. Some women have a seamless transition from colostrum to milk, but many experience engorgement. Engorgement is an uncomfortable side effect of your body ramping up milk production and can take new breastfeeders by surprise. You’ll have to experiment to see what best helps you manage any pain engorgement may cause: hand expression, frozen peas (or cabbage leaves!), or a warm compress before nursing can all help.
Say no to pain. Though breastfeeding can be uncomfortable at times, you should not experience sharp or extended pain. If you do, it’s likely an indicator that something is off. Try new positions to see if you can mitigate extreme discomfort or invite an expert to watch you feed ASAP.
Avoid being a human pacifier. It can be tricky to tell when baby is totally done feeding–or just sucking for comfort. Get in the habit of watching your baby’s throat to see if they’re actually swallowing; nutritive feeding (i.e., actual eating) is typically characterized by two sucks and then a swallow. If you don’t see that or if baby is taking between 30 and 60 seconds between sucks, then the feeding is likely done.
Breastfeeding is one of the most natural (and beautiful) ways to bond with a new baby, but it takes commitment on both ends to ensure a successful nursing relationship. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to ask for help; if you can make it through the challenges of the first month, you’re putting yourself in a great position to have a positive, healthful breastfeeding experience.