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If breastfeeding is so natural, why can it be so hard to do? Because while a mom may plan to breastfeed, she doesn’t often prepare to breastfeed.
It’s common to take birthing classes, buy a diaper bag, and think about what kind of breast pump you should get. Having a good breastfeeding experience involves more than just getting a breast pump.
Breastfeeding is one of the most valuable things you can do to grow a healthy tiny human. It is also something that a brand new mom has never done before. She may never have even personally seen a real baby actually breastfeed.
To increase your chances of being satisfied and happy with your breastfeeding experience, you will want to do some essential things to prepare for breastfeeding while you are pregnant.
There are several other important ways you can prepare for breastfeeding. As a lactation consultant, these are the things I’ve found help give a mom confidence and decrease stress about breastfeeding.
1 – Take a breastfeeding class
This is so important!
Research has shown that moms who participate in breastfeeding education will breastfeed for longer. They also have a better chance of breastfeeding exclusively (Source). Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.
While the majority of first-time pregnant women take a childbirth education class, a much lower percentage take a breastfeeding class. The moms who do take a breastfeeding class report that it was tremendously helpful in preparing them for breastfeeding.
Some moms think that reading a book will be just as good. Or they believe that meeting with a lactation consultant in the hospital will be all they need. The one thing I recommend to the mom who wants to increase her chances of having a good breastfeeding experience that she take a breastfeeding class.
Breastfeeding Class Options
- Breastfeeding classes are usually offered at hospitals and birth centers.
- Private breastfeeding classes
- Look for a class offered by an IBCLC, CLC or Lactation Educator.
- An emerging option for breastfeeding classes is an online class.
- Online breastfeeding classes are popular because they are usually presented in several short modules.
- You can watch them oveer several sessions or all at once. It’s your choice.
- You can take the class in the comfort of your own home. In your jammies. Curled up on your sofa. How awesome does that sound?
- Online breastfeeding classes are popular because they are usually presented in several short modules.
When to take a breastfeeding class
I encourage moms to have completed their breastfeeding class by the time they are 36 weeks pregnant. That way, you will be ready if your baby arrives early.
Don’t worry, though; if you are reading this when you are past your due date, it’s not too late to take a breastfeeding class.
2 – Find Breastfeeding Resources
There are going to be moments in the middle of the night when you want to know something right now. Don’t go surfing on Google. You will end up confused at best, or worse, misinformed.
Facebooks groups aren’t always a great place to go for advice either. Usually, when a mom asks a question, she gets an avalanche of conflicting opinions.
I have a Facebook breastfeeding group, and I can monitor the answers and avoid any poor breastfeeding advice being handed out. I invite you to join us.
Bookmark a couple of trusted websites where you know you can get good advice. I recommend this site, Breastfeeding Confidential. You can bookmark it right now. Kelly Mom is another good breastfeeding website.
Best Breastfeeding Books For New Moms
Have one or two good books where you can get reliable information.
My favorite breastfeeding books:
The Nursing Mother’s Companion – A hospital I worked at gave this book to new moms as a gift. It’s divided up by how old your baby is. I love how easy it is to go right to the age you are dealing with for relevant information.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding – this book has been a favorite since 1956. They update it regularly. It is a publication of the La Leche League.
Latch – I think this might be my new favorite book. It has mom’s stories of their breastfeeding experiences sprinkled throughout. There are lots of question and answer section. It covers everything from preparing to breastfeed to weaning. I downloaded it to my Kindle and the author has links throughout the book to other sections.
3 – FIND LACTATION CONSULTANTS WHO YOU CAN CALL FOR HELP
When a mom needs help with breastfeeding, she usually needs it NOW. You don’t want to be searching for someone when you are exhausted and desperate. You will want to have at least two lactation consultants who you can call. A consultant who is in a solo private practice might not be available. Make sure you have options for breastfeeding help.
How to Find a lactation consultant in your area
- Call the hospitals in your area. They may offer outpatient lactation services.
- Check the United States Lactation Consultant Association site’s page: Find an IBCLC. An IBCLC is an international board-certified lactation consultant.
Some lactation consultants do virtual consults. Many breastfeeding problems can be managed through an online consultation.
Questions To Ask a Lactation Consultant
- Does she do home visits?
- If not, where is her office located?
- What kind of certifications does she have?
- Can she bill your insurance?
- What are her rates?
- What follow-up is included?
- Is there a discount for any follow-up visits for the same problem?
- How long has she been in practice?
4 – Write a Breastfeeding Plan
Birth plans have been around forever. Breastfeeding plans are new but gaining traction.
When you give birth in a hospital, you will want to communicate what your wishes are for breastfeeding. If you deliver in a Baby Friendly designated hospital, they will have policies in place to support breastfeeding. But there are less than 600 Baby Friendly designated hospitals and birth centers in the entire US.
Providing a written breastfeeding plan when you arrive in labor will let the hospital staff know the things that you want and the things you want to avoid regarding breastfeeding.
- Do you want to avoid pacifiers? It is recommended that they not be used in the first month of breastfeeding
- Do you want to room-in with your baby? This is recommended to help you learn your baby’s feeding cues and to facilitate breastfeeding when your baby is in the right state of alertness.
- Do you want to avoid supplementing? Unless there is a medical reason to supplement, it is not recommended as it can interfere with getting breastfeeding established.
- If supplementing is medically needed, what kind of milk do you want used?
- Your pumped or hand-expressed colostrum/milk
- Human donor milk from a milk bank
5- Look at your nipples
An often overlooked way of preparing for breastfeeding before baby arrives is to determine if your nipples could cause a problem. Some breastfeeding problems are caused by flat or inverted nipples or very dense areolas.
Check with a lactation consultant or your doctor or midwife if you are concerned about how your nipples could affect breastfeeding.
How to prepare inverted nipples for breastfeeding
- Wearing breast shells for inverted nipples can help them come out.
- Talk with a lactation consultant to see if she thinks a nipple shield or nipple everted would be helpful to you.
- Get comfortable with your nipples, and learn how to pull them out.
6 – Know how often you should breastfeed a newborn baby
Every so often, you hear about a baby who is breastfeeding and doesn’t gain enough weight or gets dehydrated. That usually happens because the baby is not breastfeeding frequently enough. It can also occur if the baby is not breastfeeding effectively. There can also be problems with a mom’s milk supply.
The first 24-hours your baby may not be interested in eating, or she may want to eat every couple of hours. How your birth went can affect how sleepy a newborn is and how much she wants to breastfeed. Sometimes they have a tummy full of amniotic fluid and won’t want to eat. This can make a baby spitty and not interested in eating.
If you give birth in the hospital, the nurses will monitor your baby to make sure she is doing ok. Do skin-to-skin as much as possible. This encourages your baby to breastfeed.
After the first 24 hours, a baby needs to eat at least 8 times every 24-hours. More than eight times is ok. It’s normal, healthy behavior if they want to eat frequently. On the second night, a baby will usually cluster feed all night long.
Reassuring signs that your breastfed baby is eating enough:
- Eating at least eight times in 24-hours
- Periods of frequent feeding called “cluster feeding” are normal.
- Baby wants to eat or is easy to wake up for feedings
- Breastfeeds enthusiastically
- Baby is content after most feedings.
- You hear her or see her swallowing during feedings
- Having enough wet and dirty diapers
The number of diapers expected changes frequently in the first week. Request my breastfeeding log for newborns. It tells you how many diapers to expect each day.
Concerning signs that your baby might not be getting enough to eat:
- Not enough diapers
- Baby is very lethargic and hard to wake up for feedings
- A dry, sticky mouth
- Very short feedings with little or no swallowing
- Very long feedings with little or no swallowing
- Nipple pain throughout the feedings
7– Learn how to have a good milk supply
Follow these tips to have a good breast milk supply:
- Breastfeed early and often.
- Do lots of skin-to-skin in the first few days after your baby is born.
- Lots of feeding tells your body to make lots of milk
- Breastfeed at least once in the middle of the night in the first few months. You make the most milk at night because that is when your hormone levels are highest.
- Do not use a pacifier in the first month.
- Don’t consume peppermint
Most of the time, breastfeeding is all you need to build a good milk supply. There are times when you should pump in addition to breastfeeding.
- If your baby is not breastfeeding at least 8 times every 24 hours
- Little babies sometimes stimulate small milk supplies. Pump 4-6 times a day after breastfeeding if your baby’s birth weight is less than 6# 8 oz.
Pump after breastfeeding if your baby does not have a strong suck.
- Pump any time your baby gets supplemented with donor milk or formula.
8 – Put breastfeeding essentials on your baby registry
When you create your baby registry, make sure you include these breastfeeding necessities.
- Breastfeeding Pillow
- Nursing Stool
- A front carrier
- Bra pads
- A hand pump
- Hands-free pumping bra
- Pumping adapter
While these next two items are helpful, not everyone will need them. You probably don’t want to put them on your registry list.
- Gel pads or shells for sore nipples
9– Get a breast pump
Approximately 85% of breastfeeding moms use a pump at some point (Source).
There are a lot of breast pump choices. Most moms will be able to get a breast pump at no cost from their insurance.
Everyone has different pumping needs. Do some research ahead of time, so you are choosing the pump that is best for you.
10– Make breastfeeding baskets
You will want to be able to breastfeed in several places in your home. Put all the things that you need for breastfeeding in a convenient nursing essentials basket. Anywhere that you have a breastfeeding basket, you have a breastfeeding station. This will allow you to have what you need within arms-reach.
Think of all the different places where you might nurse your baby.
- Living room
- Family room
- Baby’s room
- Your room
- Your office
Make a breastfeeding basket for each of those places. Include breastfeeding essentials as well as diaper change items.
For a full list of recommended items read: 15 Essentials Every Mom Needs in a Breastfeeding Basket.
Anything can be used to hold breastfeeding necessities. I’m a basket addict, but a tote bag or caddy works well too. Even a smaller laundry basket would conveniently hold your breastfeeding must-haves.
A breastfeeding basket is a great gift for a baby shower or a new mom.
11 – Decide what nursing clothes you need
Clothing that is designed specifically for breastfeeding is not essential. They are nice to have, though. And they have gotten super-cute over the years. I have a free tutorial demonstrating how to make a simple breastfeeding top. This top is so cute, it is something any mom would want in her wardrobe.
- A nursing bra is definitely going to make breastfeeding easier and more comfortable. I recommend waiting to get a nursing bra until after your milk is in, and you are no longer having any breast engorgement.
- Nursing tanks are wonderful. I love them for moms in the first couple of weeks.
- Nursing sleepwear makes nighttime feedings easier.
12– Get ready for breastfeeding and going back to work
Going back to work as a new mom is stressful. Being a breastfeeding mom adds another element that you will need to prepare for.
It will decrease your anxiety about it if you get as much as possible done ahead of time.
- Choose breastfeeding-friendly childcare – more and more states are connecting new parents with childcare providers that are designated “Breastfeeding Friendly.” Just do a Google search for your state and “breastfeeding-friendly childcare.”
- Ask the childcare center staff how they support breastfeeding moms and babies.
- Where can you nurse your baby at the daycare?
- Do they have a refrigerator for your milk?
- Breastmilk does not have to be stored in a separate refrigerator.
- Can you come and breastfeed your baby at any time?
- Will they hold off on feeding if you are due to arrive soon?
- Plan a breastfeeding work wardrobe that is going to be pumping friendly. Shirts and pants or skirts are good. Dresses that zip up the back are not the best choice.
- Plan for pumping at work
- Find out where you will be able to pump.
- Does your employer provide a hospital grade pump for employees?
- Is there a refrigerator to store your milk?
- Is there a sink for you to wash your pump parts?
- When will you be able to pump?
- Get supplies to build your breastmilk stash.
13 – Learn about breastfeeding and the law
You have legal rights as a breastfeeding mother.
Women who live in the US or its territories (the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico) have the legal right to breastfeed wherever they have a legal right to be.
These states have laws for breastfeeding in the workplace laws
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
Also, Washington DC and Puerto Rico.
The law states that If you work somewhere that has 50 or more employees, then your employer must give you time to pump. This is covered under The Affordable Care Act. Employers must:
- Provide “reasonable break time” for you to pump
- For one year after your baby is born
- You can pump as often you need to.
- Your employers must provide a place for you to pump,
- other than a bathroom, that
- is shielded from view and
- free from intrusion from coworkers and the public (Source)
As you check each of these things of your “Prepare for Breastfeeding” checklist you will feel more confident to breastfeed your baby.
Have you done any of these things already? Drop me a comment to let me know.
How to Prepare for Breastfeeding While Still Pregnant
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.