Blast from the past: this post was originally published on February 22, 2012.
There are two types of mommy blogs – 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 chicas 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 – 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 postponing baby’s first bath until after you’ve had a chance to try nursing her; losing the nightgown and doing 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 considering 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? After my c-section, 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 above – 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 (or both) 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 literally “program” your body to make enough milk. If you don’t pump or nurse often enough in those early days, 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.
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, a 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 just felt 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 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 familiarize 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 started 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 Z 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 committed myself to them. I knew NOTHING was going to stand in my way of giving my baby the absolute best. And look at us – we nursed for almost four years. I guess I’m an over-achiever in at least this one area of my life. Woohoo!
Figure out your immediate support system. Get your husband, partner, best friend and/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 into 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), sleeping as much as possible in between nursing sessions, and eating 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 across four years, with Z’s help, I proved 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.
I have to throw in a shoutout for Kellymom.com. It’s a website devoted to breastfeeding and parenting with all the answers to technical questions like “Can I breastfeed after I’ve taken XYZ medication”.
I love your blog and am happy to read your writing again. I find it hard to read the bullet lists with bright pink text, though. It’s too jolting for my eyes to pay attention. Maybe just me but I thought you would like to know.
Thanks, Rachel – I love Kellymom and spent many, many hours on that site during the first few months of nursing – and anytime I came up against a new challenge, like traveling for work. Thanks too for the feedback about the colors. I was wondering about that. I need to figure out how to change it and just incorporate the pink and orange as highlight colors, not main text colors!
I’ve fixed it for now, although I’d love to be able to still use the hot pink as an accent color for anything bold. Trying to figure that one out now! Thanks again for the candid feedback. 🙂
Yes I nursed my aeughtdr into toddler hood not to far in she and I mutually agreed that it was time to stop when she was about 2 bd ,although if she had wanted I would have kept going for who knows how long. The reason I nursed her beyond just the first year was because I knew it was good for her and I could see the results of every additional day that I kept on. I began the journey of breastfeeding telling myself that I HAD to at least do it for a year but if it worked out I would keep going on as long as possible. The longer I kept it up the more I was like when she is done she is done. Who am I to deny her what has nourished her this long. I gained the knowledge of nursing a toddler , and a healthy child. I learned that its not as hard as a lot of people make it seem. I learned to ignore the people who thought I was crazy for nursing her longer than a year. I would want mothers that are just beginning the journey of breast feeding to know that it may be hard but it is worth it. They should also know that it doesn’t matter if you do not make it as far as you had planned, everyday they did it made a difference for their child. And to take it one feeding at a time and enjoy the time with your baby/toddler. sorry i know that was alot hope it helps
Great post, Lara. You’ve done amazing as a first time mom!! I found breastfeeding way easier the second time around – the first time was rough for me, but we made it!
You may use any of my cmoments as you see fit. I don’t have a blog right now, but feel free to mention my Twitter ID. Did you nurse your babes into toddlerhood? Why or why not? Did you have a specific time frame in mind, plan to let your child self-wean, or maybe you changed your mind along the way? My nursling is 16 months old. Before he was born, I knew I would breastfeed, and my goal was 18 months. I knew it was important to nurse for at least a year, and saw no reaon to wean at exactly 12 months a baby is no different at day 364 than at day 366, right? It just seemed like such an arbitrary cutoff, and I’ve been around toddlers I knew that one minute they can seem like such a big kid and the next, like such a baby.We had a very rough start with breastfeeding, but giving up was not an option for me. As long as he was healthy and gaining weight, I was not going to supplement or stop. Once we made it through the first 2 months, breastfeeding was easy, and even enjoyable. That didn’t surpise me. What DID surprise me was as we approached and passed my son’s first birthday I began to enjoy breastfeeding him more and more! At this point I like to say we’re in the Why wean? phase. We both enjoy it, it’s easy, it’s good for him, it helps me be a better mother and weaning would be emotionally hard for us both, deprive my son of nutrition and immune benefits, and make my life as a mom harder. So why wean?Of course it’s never that simple, right? My husband and I want to have another baby (well, at least SOME days we do, other days we’re not so sure! LOL), and I am very unsure about what another pregnancy will bring. My son and I are in a great place in our nursing relationship, and now I might be throwing a wrench into things by trying to get pregnant again. I have many more questions than answers about this next phase nursing while pregnant, and weaning. What did you gain by nursing your toddler? What do you want other moms to know, especially new moms who are just beginning? What would you tell your younger self? I have gained a special level of closeness with my son by nursing him into toddlerhood. We have shared so many special moments of joy that we probably would have missed out on. I don’t have to stress as much about what he eats (or more accurately, doesn’t eat) because I know that mama’s milk will fill in the blanks. I don’t worry as much about what germs he’s being exposed to. I can calm a tantrum, induce a nap, and distract from temptations all with my breasts. It’s an awesome mothering tool! I want other moms to know that there ARE benefits to continuing past one year, and few reasons to wean abruptly (or even gradually) just because a baby has a birthday. I want them to understand how the body makes milk, the impact of birth choices on breastfeeding success, and how important early skin-to-skin and immediate breastfeeding are to establishing a good supply. I want them to know they will meet resistance, criticism, questions, misinformation, and bad advice but they will also encounter praise, love, support, fellowship, and great rewards. It’s so important to find a like-minded community, whether that’s in a moms group, La Leche League, or online. And I want them to know that babies under a year almost NEVER self-wean (I have never read a story like #17 Tracey’s, where she tried for weeks to continue nursing but the baby refused) but instead active older babies sometimes have nursing strikes and that if mom will persevere, most babies will come back to the breast. I would tell my younger self to have a more open mind about children nursing past age 3. Also, to go with my gut and never use the nursing cover when nursing in public! (I got used to it, then my son became so distracted by it that it was more of a hindrance than a help, and I had to learn how to discreetly nurse a wiggly 8 month old! Would have been so much easier if we’d figured all that out when he was a silent, still newborn!)
Just discovered your blog after you left a comment on my recent Connected Mom post. Love! One question, though . . . do you have a FB page for your blog? When I click on the FB button it takes me to your personal page (i.e., no option to “like” it). I’m following you on Twitter now, but I’m more of a FB gal, so I thought I’d ask 🙂 Great stuff here . . . looking forward to reading more.
Valerie, thanks for visiting and commenting. You’re right, I do need to start a FB page for this blog. I hadn’t even thought about that but it’s a great idea! I’ll do that this week. Thanks again. 🙂
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