Five ways to prepare for breastfeeding while you’re still pregnant
Your breastfeeding journey will be off to a better start if you start to prepare before your baby arrives.
“I will breastfeed – if I can.” This is such a common phrase, and with breastfeeding horror stories almost as prevalent as scary birth stories, is it any wonder pregnant women have their confidence shot even before they meet their newborn?
Yes, breastfeeding can be challenging at first. It’s natural but it’s also a learned skill, like riding a bike or driving a car – and you wouldn’t simply hop on a bike or get in a car and expect to cruise off without any instruction or preparation, would you? By preparing for breastfeeding you give yourself a much better chance of beating the ‘booby traps’ and getting through the early days more easily.
Learn about breastfeeding – before you have a crying, hungry baby in your arms and doubt in your heart.
Read a good book about basic breastfeeding: how milk is made, how to tell when your baby is hungry (look for signs such as putting her hand to her mouth, sucking noises and rooting towards your breasts), how to tell your baby is getting enough milk (tip: does she have heavy wet nappies? After all, what comes out must have gone in), and how to boost your breastmilk supply.
Watch videos of babies breastfeeding; Dr Jack Newman has some great, free videos. Go to a breastfeeding class; the Australian Breastfeeding Association offers antenatal breastfeeding classes. Join a breastfeeding support group such as the ABA, or an online group where you can talk to women who are breastfeeding happily so you can get positive, helpful information, rather than horror stories.
Get to know ‘the girls’
There are some factors that may make breastfeeding a bit more challenging, but by being aware of how your own boobs look, and any medical or physical issues that could affect or delay breastfeeding, you can see a lactation consultant before you have your baby. This way, you’ll be ahead of the game and ready to deal with problems as soon as they arise.
For instance, what shape are your nipples? Do they pop out easily for a baby to attach, or do you have flat or inverted nipples (which doesn’t mean you can’t breastfeed, just that you may need some extra help at first)?
And if you have PCOS, diabetes or thyroid disorders, have had late or minimal breast development during puberty or pregnancy, have uneven sized or widely spaced breasts, these could signal possible challenges too, so discuss these issues with a lactation consultant.
You can also gain confidence in your boobs and your body by expressing colostrum (the yellowish fluid in your breasts before milk comes in) during the last few weeks of pregnancy. This way, if there is any delay in your milk coming in or your baby has low blood sugars (which is possible if you have diabetes), you can give this to your baby and avoid formula top-ups.
Understand the ‘booby traps’
Sometimes, in a busy hospital, you may be rushed into situations that aren’t helpful to early breastfeeding. For instance, if a midwife grabs your baby to ram it onto your breast, put your hand up in a stop sign and ask, “Please can you guide me, I would like to try myself.”
If your baby seems to be having difficulty attaching to the breast, get a health professional to check for tongue tie. They need to feel inside his mouth, not just see that she can poke his tongue out.
Your baby is likely to be cranky on her second night (she’s just realised she’s ‘on the outside’!), so you may be offered a bottle of formula. This can affect your baby’s gut environment, as well as interfering with your body’s messages to produce milk. Allow your baby to practice breastfeeding now, before your milk comes in (she’s still learning to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing before she has to deal with a fast flow of milk, and is also stimulating your breasts to start making milk).
Offer skin-to-skin cuddles, as this will help her feel calm and will boost your milk-making hormones. If you’re exhausted, get your partner to hold your baby and help her settle.
Plan your cheer squad
All new mothers need support, no matter how they feed their baby. A supportive partner is a huge factor in your breastfeeding success, so first up, discuss with your partner how they can support you. Should they take time off work, censor visitors, allow you to rest, feed you and be positive about breastfeeding (ie, never asking “are you sure you have enough milk?”). Surround yourself with positive people who will encourage you and offer practical help such as meals, laundry and shopping.
Prepare your feeding station
Plan to do nothing else but rest and learn to breastfeed for the first two weeks. To do this, you’ll need to set up a comfortable space to feed your baby, a comfy chair with a basket of goodies such as a water bottle (for you), healthy snacks, a pen and notepad, TV remote, phone, iPad or a book (if you can manage to feed one handed).
If this isn’t your first baby, prepare some boxes of toys or busy bags with simple activities or small treats for your toddler that only come out at feed times