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Preparing to Breastfeed

This newborn is breastfeeding…are YOU ready?

If you’ve decided to breastfeed (or at least give it a try), you may be wondering…what now?  How do you get ready for it?  What do you need?  What happens if (gulp) you start struggling?

Having breastfed two newborns — one I struggled with, one I didn’t — I thought I could offer some friendly advice. :)

Will I Make Milk?

A lot of women worry about this.  The truth is, as soon as you get pregnant, your body starts gearing up for milk production.  It starts to build new breast tissue in which to produce this milk.  Typically, an early form of colostrum is actually being produced (in tiny quantities, usually) starting at just 16 weeks’ gestation.  This will continue until your baby is born.  You may even be able to squeeze out a drop or two sometimes!  Some women will have a “letdown” in the shower, especially towards the end (and often after baby comes) and end up with milk everywhere.  It varies from woman to woman, though, and how much colostrum you produce early on and whether or not you have letdown-spray-everywhere stuff happening does not reflect how much milk you will eventually make.

It’s also important to know that if you’ve struggled and failed at breastfeeding in the past, it does not mean you will now.  With better advice and preparation, you can succeed.  Also, your body builds up additional breast tissue for making milk in each pregnancy, so your ability to produce is always increasing.

Do I Need to Toughen My Nipples…?

You don’t need to do anything special to prepare your breasts at all.  It hurts, and it certainly won’t make a difference after baby comes!  A few women swear that it will, but not many.  There is unfortunately not really anything you can do to specifically prepare your breasts.  And yes, you will be a little bit sore in the early weeks.  Just use hot showers, cold compresses, and open-air-drying after feedings as much as you can.  (This, too, shall pass.)

It is a good idea, however, to stop using soap on your breasts in the last weeks of pregnancy (if not before).  It strips away the natural oils, which will later help keep them from getting too sore.  Water alone is enough.  (Frankly, water alone is usually enough for most parts of your body; just clean the “dirty” parts, lol.)

Breastfeeding Paraphenalia

You won’t need nearly as much “stuff” as a formula-feeding mom, of course.  It’s just the nature of the equipment!  And truly, how much you need depends on you.  A stay-at-home mom who doesn’t plan to leave her baby in the early weeks might need almost nothing.  A mom who has to go back to work needs a lot more.  Here are some things you should have around:

*A nursing bra — Seriously, get one.  You will be happy to have it, because it will support your heavy, milk-filled breasts, and it will allow you to breastfeed discreetly, even in public.

*Lansinoh — Breast cream.  It will protect your sore, chapping nipples in the early weeks.  It’s also completely safe for your baby, so no need to wash it off before feeding.

*Boppy — Some women swear by them; others don’t like them (I don’t like them).  They help position the baby properly so you can breastfeed without killing your back.  A regular pillow works fine too.  Or, especially if you’re on the short side, you might not need anything.  See what works for you.

*A pump — If you’re going back to work, this is a must.  Otherwise, it’s optional but “nice to have.”  It can relieve a bit of pressure if you’re engorged, just enough to let the baby latch on.  And you can use it to store extra milk for times when you need to be away from your baby, so someone else can feed him/her.

*Bottles — If you’re planning to pump, you will then need a bottle to feed your baby the pumped milk.  There are all kinds of theories on this one.  Some say, don’t introduce it too early because your baby will get confused and refuse to breastfeed; others say don’t wait too long or your baby will refuse the bottle.  All of that depends entirely on your baby.  My daughter could easily switch back and forth with no problems; it never bothered her at all.  Others swear that just one bottle ruined their entire breastfeeding relationship.  You never know.

*Water bottle — This is for you.  You’ll get very thirsty, so having a big, insulated, spill-proof water bottle is a good idea.  Keep it with you and sip as needed.

*The name and number of a good lactation consultant — If you start having trouble, you want someone you can call now.  You don’t want to have to search for help while you’re crying and your baby’s crying….  Just find someone ahead of time, just in case.

*The name and contact info for your local La Leche League — Go to some meetings while you’re still pregnant.  Get to know the local leader.  This is another resource for you, should you happen to struggle.

*A good breastfeeding book, like La Leche League’s “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” — Read it.  It is not (always) as simple as put baby to breast and go.  Especially your first time.  I struggled for weeks with my oldest, trying to figure it out, because I thought it would be that simple (Nope.  But we managed to stick with it…and still are…3+ years later!).  With my second, since I knew what I was doing, I was able to just offer him a breast, he latched perfectly, and off we went.  But that is not the norm, especially the first time!

It’s good to purchase all these supplies now so that you’re not caught off guard when baby comes.  Take your Boppy with you to the hospital, even, to help you get started.  (They tried to set me up with folded pillows and teach me to nurse in the “football” hold and that just never worked for me.  At all.  So be prepared with your own supplies!)

Beyond this, there is not much to do!  Just read, research, gather your stuff, and wait for your baby to arrive!

How did you prepare for breastfeeding?  What did you find most helpful?

Top image by Raphael Goetter

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