There are two types of mommyblogs – those that focus on product reviews and those that get super personal with intimate details of their lives. All of my favorite momblogs are of the latter sort, and so is this one you’re reading now. So, with that disclaimer of sorts out of the way, here is the first of several posts I’ll be sharing about breastfeeding and how to rock at it. This is what I am calling part 1, for pregnant chicks or those who may someday become pregnant. First-time mamas-to-be, here’s how to set yourself up to be the nursing rockstar of your baby’s dreams.
If you’re pregnant or may someday be prego:
Get comfortable and familiar with breastfeeding. This means hang around breastfeeding moms – either friends of yours who have babies and are breastfeeding, or if you don’t know any then go to a breastfeeding support group like La Leche League or at the hospital where you plan to have your baby. Failing that, go to the zoo or visit a farm in springtime and spend some time watching the mama animals with their new babies (I’m only half kidding). Now, see how normal and natural breastfeeding is? That’s the #1 lesson I want you to get out of watching your friends, strangers or random animal mommies breastfeeding. It is 100% normal and natural. Our society and culture do not make it easy for you to feel this way – in fact, on the contrary, in the US, our general population views breastfeeding as awkward, uncomfortable, shameful or worse. But it’s NOT. The more time you spend around breastfeeding mamas doing what we do best, the more comfortable, natural and normal you will feel doing it yourself.
Read a book or two on breastfeeding. There are lots of good ones. During the last few weeks of my pregnancy and first few weeks of Zoe’s life, I read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, the title of which makes me gag but it’s pretty informative and helpful. Another one I really liked is Breastfeeding Made Simple. These books give you great tips like postpone baby’s first bath until after you’ve had a chance to try nursing her; lose the gown and do tons of skin to skin contact (not just in the hospital but for as long as you like – babies love mama’s warm skin); and consider safe cosleeping to keep night-time nursing as easy on everyone as possible. One early caution, don’t get too hung up on specific nursing positions or try to memorize specific latch techniques before you even give birth. Every baby is different and until you get your little one in your arms, it’s all just theory. I threw half the so-called official positions out the window within hours of Zoe’s birth. Football hold, seriously? I couldn’t even hold a nerf football that way comfortably, let alone a big healthy full-term baby! Check out our stellar position in the photo here – I call it the lazy, sloppy baby hold. Just do what feels right to both of you.
Watch some breastfeeding how-to videos on YouTube. As with my first tip above, the more you see it done, the more normal and natural it will seem, and the more comfortable you’ll be. Also, you can get tips and ideas from videos that may not be immediately evident just from reading a book. Be sure to watch the video called “Breast Crawl” as it will blow your mind. Watching nursing videos is great pre-birth research and that applies to other aspects of pregnancy too – like birthing videos, for example. YouTube is a veritable goldmine of valuable video how-tos for pregnant and new moms. For example, I had read about the side-lying nursing position but until I watched a couple of videos, I wasn’t confident enough to try it myself. The side-lying position is your friend, ladies – it allows both you and baby to nurse and nap at the same time. It is amazing. Get good at this one! It pays off huge dividends in sweet, sweet sleep.
Invest in a high quality pump. Close to your due date, bite the bullet and splurge on a pricey and powerful pump. Once the baby is born, you’ll want to either breastfeed or pump every two to three hours around the clock in order to tell your body how much milk to make. During those critical early days, you program your body to make enough milk – if you don’t pump or nurse often enough, your setpoint will be low and it will be harder to raise it and pump up the volume later. In my case, Zoe was too sleepy to eat much for the first day or so, so I became a pumping mama early on and I actually continued pumping (along with breastfeeding) for 18 months. This makes me somewhat of a pumping rockstar. I’m a big fan of the Medela Pump in Style. It gets the job done, plus it talks to you. No, really – it makes a sound like it’s talking. Mine said “latch on, latch on,” but apparently they vary. Or we new moms are all just nuts (a very real possibility).
Get some good gear. The Boppy pillow is cute and very popular – and I liked mine for other things, like propping up baby for photo shoots or tummy time – but for nursing, I much prefer the My Brest Friend (although again, the name is hideously awful). It has a strap, fastens onto you and even has a pocket for other small nursing essentials like a pen, pad of paper, chapstick, your cell phone, tube of Lansinoh ointment, nursing pads, and so forth. I had two of these pillows as well as an extra cover, so if I had to throw one in the wash and the other was upstairs, I was still good to go. Most photos taken of me during Zoe’s first six weeks or so involve me with the My Brest Friend strapped around me, Zoe resting on it, or the pillow in the background somewhere. It was never more than six feet away from me. That’s how vital this nursing pillow is to your well-being as a new nursing mom.
Get a cute notebook or journal and plan to document baby’s feeds and output (i.e., wet and dirty diapers). You’ll do this for at least a little while, until you and baby get into a familiar, regular rhythm and routine. In the hospital, they urge you to keep notes like this for the first few days. Many moms do it for the first few weeks. I may be the only psychotic mama in history who actually kept this baby log 24/7, day and night, for the first THREE MONTHS of Zoe’s life. Nuts, right? But it’s cool to look back now and read through my notes about her feedings and milestones. Toward the end, I kept asking myself “why am I still journaling her feeds and record-keeping like a nut?” but I was compulsive about it. I didn’t stop doing it until I went back to work – and then I started a new log for my pumping sessions. Oy. Some people just love to keep track of the details, I guess (meaning crazy people like me).
Nursing bras and clothes don’t have to be ugly. Bravado makes the most comfortable, functional nursing bras for pregnant and new moms, but once you’ve been doing it a while and you’re getting your groove back, you may want to splurge on some cute and fashionable ones, too. For about the first year, every time I hit a new breastfeeding milestone or goal (e.g., three months, six months, a year, etc), I treated myself to a cute nursing top. There are some absolutely gorgeous and stylish nursing clothes – why settle for frumpy when you are a life-giving, life-nurturing rockstar! That said, you can also just buy tons of super cute deep v-neck or cowl neck tops from your favorite non-nursing brand, since those can double as nursing tops in a pinch (especially with a nursing cami or t-shirt underneath). Scarves not only make great accessories, they double as nursing covers if needed. And don’t forget all the great new nursing jewelry you legitimately NEED now. All for baby, of course!
Get social with breastfeeding. There are some excellent blogs and communities out there on breastfeeding. Do some reading, browse around, and familarize yourself with nursing issues, hot topics, success stories, challenges, and more. (How do you think I found out about all the new nursing jewelry I needed?!) This will also give you a terrific support system should you find yourself needing like-minded, breastfeeding mamas to answer questions, point you in the right direction or just cheer you on. I’ve got a great collection of breastfeeding blogs on my NetVibes dashboard. I also maintain a pretty awesome breastfeeding blog myself on Tumblr. There are others – search breastfeeding on Facebook and you’ll find a bunch of pages with thriving communities. Or ask me and I’ll be glad to tell you my favorites.
Set breastfeeding goals and visualize yourself achieving them. Based on the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommendations, I set my initial goal at six months of exclusive breastfeeding (no other food or drink of any kind until six months of age). I also set a goal of continuing breastfeeding for at least one year. Both were tough goals as a working mother (I went back to work full-time when Zoe was 11 weeks old). The first one was also tough because my beloved husband had a hard time not giving our five month old french fries to taste! And, I’ll admit, I did give her a peach to gnaw on around that time, too. But for the most part, I set those goals and commited myself to them. I knew NOTHING was going to stand in my way of giving my baby the absolute best. And look at me now – still nursing almost two years later. Holy hell, I’m an over-achiever in at least this one area of my life. Woohoo!
Figure out your immediate support system. Get your husband or partner or best friend or mom on board with breastfeeding – have them do some of the above reading and research with you. Let them know how important nursing your baby is to you. Have them buy in to your plan to breastfeed, your goals, and your desire to succeed. Enlist their help and support with little things like making sure you drink water constantly (making milk is thirsty work), sleep as much as possible in between nursing sessions, and eat good nutritious meals or snacks on a regular basis. But also get them to back you up should anyone (and I do mean anyone – including nurses, doctors, pediatricians or well-meaning grandparents) start suggesting that you send the baby to the nursery so that you can sleep, supplement with formula, or do anything else that would hurt your supply or hinder your breastfeeding relationship in those critical early days and nights. Remember, as I stated above, you must breastfeed or pump every two to three hours – probably at least for the first six weeks or so – in order to build and keep up your milk supply. You don’t want to do anything that could interfere with that.
Note that I am not suggesting that formula is bad or that parents who feed formula are bad. On the contrary, formula can be a life-saving necessity in the rare instances of moms who medically cannot produce enough milk for their baby. However, that is only the case in 5% or fewer women. Most of us have NO problem producing enough milk as long as we nurse or pump every two to three hours in those critical early days and weeks. Is all this breastfeeding difficult at first, yes – of course it is. But did you think giving birth to a baby with a bowling ball head, becoming a mother for the first time, or parenting a newborn through the terrible twos, teens and post-college years was going to be easy?
Breastfeeding is a microcosm of motherhood. The nursing relationship is an intense, concentrated dose of all the love, fear, pain, joy, bliss, anguish, worry and peace that motherhood brings. Succeed at breastfeeding, and I promise you’ll succeed at the rest. Breastfeeding is the most amazing spiritual and physical experience any two human beings can ever share. Pregnancy is the miracle of two souls in one body, and breastfeeding is a continuation of that miracle and a way for those two souls to learn to be in two separate bodies. There is no possible way I can overstate how precious it is, or how glad you will be if you persevere through the hard early days and get good at it. Your baby will thank you, and you will feel like the breastfeeding rockstar you are!
Please don’t ever hesitate to ask me in person, by email, through this blog or in any other forum if I can be of help to you as a breastfeeding mom, or help out anyone you know who may be pregnant or breastfeeding. This is my passion, as you may have guessed. I struggled a ton at the beginning but over the past two years with Zoe’s help I’ve proven myself to be quite the breastfeeding superstar. I would love to help you and your baby reach your nursing goals, too.
So, with that – any questions about breastfeeding? Comments about your nursing experience? I’d love to hear them below.