There was a lot that I was nervous about with the birth of my first child - the normal anxieties about labor, our transition to parenthood and countless other things. Even though I was a birth doula and worked at a birth center, I still insisted that my husband and I take TWO separate childbirth education classes. I had my baby carriers figured out and had weeks worth of food in my freezer. We were prepared. The one thing that I assumed would naturally go smoothly - breastfeeding - did not.
I thought that planning for a straightforward vaginal delivery meant that everything would fall into its evolutionary place. My daughter twisted her way out and was stunned in her first moments. The latch didn’t work well from the start. That was the beginning of a 4th trimester filled with visits from a lactation consultant, constant poop watch, check-ins with the pediatrician, pumps and nipple shields. As dramatic as that list seems, it is very normal and very common for American mothers to be challenged in their breastfeeding start. And although lactation is a biological requisite for mammals, breastfeeding is a learning relationship where both you and baby are working together to figure out a process neither of you have done before.
6 ESSENTIALS TO HELP BREASTFEEDING GET OFF TO A SMOOTH START
1. Contact number of a lactation consultant (an IBCLC is most highly trained) and contact information for a Le Leche League group. Having this information ahead of time will save you the stress of scrambling if you have any early problems. You can take it a step further by touching base with them before hand so you know that they’re a good fit for you personally. Have anything funky or painful looked at right away. It’s not worth the discomfort to struggle through 10-12 (or more!) feeds a day.
2. Hydration and nourishing food. This is one of the tenets of a healing postpartum, but it cannot be underestimated how beneficial staying hydrated and nourished are for breastfeeding. Make sure you have glasses of water set up all over your house (especially where you sit to nurse) to increase your fluids intake. Healthy fats and iron are important for establishing and maintaining an abundant milk supply, especially if you suffered any significant blood loss in your delivery. One handed snacks (think nuts, wraps, smoothies) are key for maintaining a nursing mom’s energy.
3. Good breastfeeding bras, breast pads and soft breastfeeding clothes. You will live in your bras. Get ones that you like, that fit you and that are soft for tender nipples and for cuddling with your baby. Cross over sleep style bras are great for the first few weeks since they will accommodate the changing shape and size of your breasts and will wash easily. Soft reusable pads will soak up leaking milk as your breasts figure out supply. Breastfeeding friendly clothes don't have to be fancy, but make sure you have some stretchy v-neck tees or tank tops that will easily pull down. Stock up on warm sleeping options, too.
4. Nipple balm and breast soothers. These little products are life-savers, especially in the early days as your breasts get used to their new (intense) role. Nipple balm soothes sore, sensitive nipples. Ice packs/ heating pads designed for breasts can be comforting as you and baby are figuring things out, particularly for issues like bruised nipples or engorgement.
5. Netflix cue, loaded up Kindle, magazines. Most of your first weeks will be spent getting breastfeeding established. This means a lot of time in bed or on the couch. Sleep when baby sleeps and let them nurse as long as they need, but also have special ways to entertain yourself with reading books, listening to podcasts or watching TV while you and baby are being cozy. (My suggestion is the British Baking Show!)
Most of all, I wish you patience and self-appreciation for the amazing and hard work you are doing.