Are you planning to breastfeed one day? Do you believe it is a natural process that will happen automatically in the most beautiful way? As someone who works with new and expectant parents, I wish every parent knew all of the following when considering breastfeeding:
First, unless you have spent a lot of time with breastfeeding friends and watched as they experienced the daily triumphs and tribulations of getting started, you should take a class. Yes, even if you are a doctor or labor and delivery nurse! So many parents don’t. Often the problems that I help them with would have been prevented by basic breastfeeding knowledge.
Though considered old school by many, I also recommend reading a good basic book like The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (don’t be put off by the title—it is very up-to-date) or Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, spend a good amount of time reading pages on the website Kellymom and watch videos on latching on The Stanford Newborn Nursery website. Kellymom is a far better resource than most usually accessed options out there.
Your labor and delivery experience absolutely can affect your initial breastfeeding experience. Choose the fewest interventions you can safely tolerate. Also learn about labor and delivery. Feel confident about your choices. Understand all the different paths a labor and delivery journey can take. If your doctor is recommending something such as an induction, make sure you understand why. Ask for evidence-based information about his/her recommendations. Talk with a breastfeeding expert about how different interventions might affect your initial breastfeeding experience.
Most mothers can breastfeed…even if your sister or mother or grandmother or all three aunties did not make enough milk. We have learned so much about breastfeeding management over the last 30 years. We understand that breastfeeding is demand- and supply-based, and that certain things like dieting or certain birth control options affect supply. Way back in the day, some new moms were given medications that suppressed milk supply without being asked if they wanted to breastfeed or even being told they were getting these medications.
If this is your first baby, it is a big change to go from a child-free busy adult to a breastfeeding parent. Many parents report that it takes at least 12 weeks to feel like you’re getting the hang of it. When I had my first, I felt like all I did was sit on the couch and breastfeed for several weeks. To be honest, I was having all kinds of difficulties, and it consumed my life. My second baby was a breeze in comparison, which thankfully happens sometimes.
However, breastfeeding is different for every mother and baby pair. Don’t compare. Look at general guidelines, but every breastfeeding parent makes different amounts of milk, though the majority fall in a “typical” range. Each baby has a different eating style. It can be very self defeating to compare yourself and your baby to other breastfeeding duos.
Breastfeeding should not be painful. When a parent starts breastfeeding it might be uncomfortable, like a slight sunburn. I am always horrified when a mom calls for help saying she has been having toe-curling pain or that her nipples are cracked and bleeding. This is not typical nor how it should be!
Yes, your baby really should be nursing 8–12 times per day, especially in the first couple of days. Again, yes, it may seem like you are breastfeeding all of the time, but eventually feedings will usually space out. Follow your baby’s lead as long as he/she is gaining weight and meeting developmental milestones.
It is not always necessary to pump. Of course you will need to pump eventually if you are going back to work, if your baby is in the NICU, or if your baby is experiencing slow weight gain. However, most breastfeeding parents should not pump at all in the first four weeks. That said, it is good to learn hand expression, as it is the best way to get the early milk (aka: colostrum) out in the first couple days if your new little one is not breastfeeding well. Don’t look at the pictures of freezers full of stored breast milk on Pinterest and compare. That is not typical. That is over production.
Finally, though it is a way of feeding your baby, breastfeeding is so much more than food. It is love, bonding, nurturing. A connection. A parenting tool. Knowing a few things before you start can make it go so much smoother.