I breastfed both of my babies and while it was tough at the beginning, it was the best decision I ever made. Not only are there great benefits for both you and baby but also looking back I got so many special cuddles.
I had no idea how sweet and precious it is to nurse a baby especially after you get over the breastfeeding learning curve. Those first few weeks can be tough and knowing that and being prepared can really help.
Those first few weeks are also crucial to success since that is when you establish a milk supply. There were so many things I could have done before baby’s arrival that would have made those first few weeks easier. So here is what I needed to know, what I should have done and the tips I got from my lactation consultant to prepare for breastfeeding while pregnant.
Understand how your body establishes a milk supply
When I started nursing my first baby, I realized I had no idea how my body knew how much milk to make. As you learn more about breastfeeding, you will hear a lot about milk supply. There are a lot of articles about all kinds of ways to increase your milk supply. But really the best way to ensure your body is producing enough milk is to nurse often enough in the beginning.
Frequency is key. Your goal is every two hours during the day and whenever your baby wakes at night, for at least the first three months. Babies need to nurse this much not only because their tummies are so small but also to increase the amount of milk you make.
How the body knows to make more milk?
Every time a baby latches (attaches onto a boob) a few minutes of baby sucking will result in a letdown (milk will flow). The boob will “empty” (a breast is never completely empty of milk). The beginning of the letdown will be watery, and the end of the letdown will be fatty. After a while, milk will stop flowing.
When milk leaves your breast, your body gets the signal through a feedback molecule to produce more milk. The more frequently you nurse, the more times the body is told to produce more milk. This results in your body increasing its supply.
With my first, I was so annoyed because I felt like I had just nursed, and she wanted to nurse again. I could not believe she was hungry again. Remember, baby knows best. Only they know if they are hungry and they also instinctively know how to increase your milk supply.
Expect cluster feeding
Before I left the hospital, my lactation consultant told me around day 9 to expect a Velcro Baby as in constantly attached to the boob.
When babies want to nurse on and off for hours, they are trying to get multiple letdowns (staying on until the next letdown or wanting to nurse again after popping off). This is called cluster feeding and is a way to increase your milk supply. Cluster feeding usually happens during a growth spurt and there is a lot of these during that first year.
Learn the newborn hunger cues
Something that helped immensely was knowing when my baby was hungry. They can’t tell you they are hungry. Learning hunger cues helped me realize when they were hungry. I then knew not to give a pacifier and instead to work on latching (or calming and then latching) baby.
When a baby is trying to tell you they are hungry, they will:
- Move head from side to side (searching for a nipple)
- Root (if being held, will turn head and bob head towards the person’s chest)
- Put hand in mouth (this is a hunger sign until ~4 months, then it is them exploring)
- Open and close their mouth or smacking their lips
When a baby is really hungry and you missed the early signs, they will:
- Move their bodies, a lot
- Turn red
For the first three months, you can really follow the idea that if baby is awake, then baby is hungry. A tip that I got from the lactation consultant was to immediately nurse baby once I saw her start to wake.
It was SO much easier to latch and nurse before we got to the crying stage. Once crying, I would have to soothe her first and that would take time and she would just get hungrier.
Did baby get any milk?
You can spend a lot of time nursing and baby might not get any milk. You need to ensure that baby is getting milk. Here are the best ways to do that.
Are they swallowing?
When baby latches, they will suck until a letdown. Once your milk flows, you should see and hear a switch to swallowing. You can watch their throat to see the swallowing motions and you should hear them gulping.
The rate of gulping also tells you where they are in their letdown. If they are gulping fast, then they are at the beginning. The fast flow that is mainly water. Once they are on the fatty part of the milk, they will slow down to a few sucks occasionally followed by a swallow. It might seem like they are done but keep them on until they fall off because they are getting the fatty milk that will keep them full.
Do they have a milk drunk face?
A fed happy baby will look drunk. Milk contains melatonin and so once baby is full, they become very sleepy. You will be able to lift their arm and it will be limp. It will just fall back down. They are completely relaxed and happy.
Check using a breast pump
If you are worried that baby isn’t getting anything or you want to check how much you are producing, then use a breast pump. It will also give you an idea of how your breast works. The first time I used a pump I finally understood letdowns since I got to see it in action.
You can also use a pump to latch a crying baby
A lot of times, if you get to the crying stage, a baby won’t stay on the breast long enough to produce a letdown. They are so hungry that they cannot stay latched. The best trick in the book if you are struggling to keep a crying baby latched is to grab your breast pump and pump until you start to see your milk flowing.
At that point, you can stop and try to latch them. If they still will not latch, collect some milk using the pump and give it to them through a syringe. Now, they will be calmer to latch because they have something in their belly.
Wait on starting your storage supply
Do not start storing milk, right now baby needs everything you pump. I wanted to start a supply right away and the lactation consultant convinced me to wait. I’m really glad I listened to her.
Your milk will change so much over the first month adjusting to baby’s needs. If you save that milk, then baby might not even like the taste by the time you want to use it. Your only goal at the beginning should be learning to breastfeed.
Look into various tracking methods
You breastfeed around the clock and it is very easy to lose track. At the beginning, it can be helpful to track your nursing sessions to ensure you are nursing enough. It also helps you nurse as much and as often as you can during the day, so your baby sleeps better at night.
A tracker would remind me to wake baby to nurse every two hours, preventing her from doing her big sleep (usually 3-4 hours in a row) during the day. After nursing, baby would go back to sleep but this way I made sure to get more nursing sessions in during the day.
What kind of tracking methods can you use?
- Simple pen and paper to keep a log of what boob (L or R), start time and end time
- Free apps that can track breastfeeding, poops, and sleep
- A timer that you set for two hours once you start nursing, so you know when to start again
- A nursing bra reminder clip or wear a bracelet that you switch each time to know what boob to start on each time (you want to alternate).
How to latch a baby and check the latch
Latching baby and getting good at it will be one of the first things you work on. A bad latch will result in a lot of pain (bruised, cracked or bleeding nipple) and can end your breastfeeding journey.
How to get a good latch?
Your first step to getting a latch is to hold baby’s head by the base/neck. They need to be able to tip their head back. Try looking up and you will see your mouth automatically want to open. So use your pointer finger and thumb to cradle the base of their head and your hand to support their neck.
By allowing baby to tip their head back when they latch, they will be able to get more of the breast in their mouth. If they are only on the nipple, then they won’t be able to suck well, get enough milk out and it will leave you with a painful nipple.
The next step to getting a good latch is to line your nipple up with their nose. The reason behind this is again to ensure they get on the boob and not just the nipple. If your nipple is pointing to their nose, then their mouth must open wide to latch.
How to check the latch?
Once baby is one the boob, you need to check if their upper lip is out. A lot of times, it gets rolled in. If you see that, you need to use a finger and pull it out. I would just slide my finger under their lip at the corner and run it along the gum.
You will hear that this is caused by a lip tie. You might need to get it fixed but the lactation consultant I talked to also said that a lot of times, you can fix it by just training the lip (unrolling it each time you latch). You can also massage the upper gums so that the area stretches.
After checking that the top lip is out, you then check that the bottom lip is also out. Lastly be sure to check that baby is not just on the nipple. If you can see the nipple or baby is only on the nipple, then unlatch and try again. If the latch hurts or you see something wrong (lips not out or just on the nipple), then unlatch and try again.
If you try to nurse with an incorrect latch, then you will damage the nipple and trust me nothing hurts as much as that.
Start looking at different positions to breastfeed.
At first when I started, I just cradled baby in my arms and nursed. Your arms will get so tired if you just use one position. Changing up positions was a life saver, but it took me forever because I had no idea how many different positions you can use to breastfeed. Also, you might find it is easier to nurse in some positions more than others.
By spending some time before baby arrives learning about them, you will be better equipped once baby arrives. If you search breastfeeding positions on Pinterest or google images, then you will get some really good demonstrations.
And my absolute favorite breastfeeding position is lying in bed with baby. You lay on your side and baby nurses by laying next to you. It is super comfortable and cuddly.
Do you need a nursing pillow?
Some people love them, and others don’t. Personally, I found it more of a hassle. Also, at first when your belly is still big, it can be very hard to use. I really wish I had kept it in the box so I could return it. Birthing centers almost always have one so you can try it out there and then decide if you want to keep yours.
Check insurance on what is covered
The two big things to ask now by calling your insurance company are:
- if lactation services are covered and ask for the name and numbers of a few in network
- if a breast pump is covered, what types and where to get it
Ask your birthing center about breastfeeding
The two best questions to ask during your hospital/birthing center tour are:
- if they have lactation consultants on staff and what hours are they available. If you have a baby at night, then you might not be able to see a lactation consultant till the next morning.
- if they can provide a breastfeeding pump for you to take home. Usually if they do this, then they can also charge your insurance for you.
Also, while you are learning about breastfeeding before baby arrives, write down all your questions. Bring these questions and have the lactation consultant answer them. Also, ask the lactation consultant what are the best ways to get help once you go home. Sometimes, they don’t mind you coming back in or calling them.
I also liked getting my breast pump at the hospital so that I could have the lactation consultant show me how to use it before I brought it home.
Ask your pediatrician and midwife/OB about breastfeeding resources
It is really key to know how to get help before you start. When you have a hungry baby, you need to know how to get help fast and immediately.
The best way to find breastfeeding support is to ask your midwife/OB or your pediatrician. A lot of hospitals or pediatrician offices have a lactation consultant on staff or they have a breastfeeding group that meets every week ran by a lactation consultant.
I found a breastfeeding group and loved it. Not only did it help me breastfeed but also allowed me to connect with other new moms who were going through it all at the same time. It was amazing to have a social group to relate to.
One of the reasons I actually picked my pediatrician is that she was a mom who had nursed her babies so I knew she would be able to relate to me. I felt much more comfortable asking her questions about nursing.
Join online groups
On Facebook, there are a lot of new mom, baby sleep and breastfeeding groups. Some of these are by topic like breastfeeding and some are by location. I suggest joining a bunch now. The posts and comments can give you some insight and be a great place to post questions when you reach that point.
Make a nursing basket/caddy for each floor
I had this idea that I would just nurse in the nursing chair in the nursery. That idea went out the window the first day home. The idea of changing baby’s diaper only in the nursing also was very unrealistic.
Since you nurse so often, it is best to have multiple places in the house to nurse. You can nurse on the couch, in the bed or in a nursing chair. Really you can nurse anywhere. I nursed on a yoga ball while doing little bounces to soothe baby many times. I even learned to nurse her in her wrap carrier.
To make nursing anywhere easier, you want to use a caddy or basket to keep all of your nursing supplies in. This way, it can travel with you and you can reach it while nursing. Another thing that helps is getting a few small end tables and placing them at the end of couches and near chairs if you don’t already have some.
Lastly, if you have a C-section, you might be nursing in bed and changing diapers in bed. A nursing/diaper changing caddy will really help you here. You also need to avoid doing lots of stairs the first few weeks after a C-section.
What to put in your nursing/diaper changing caddy?
- Water bottle
- Tracker (pen and paper)
- Changing pad
- Nipple Cream
- Extra Breast Pads
- Burp Cloth
- Diaper Cream
I eventually made two of these nursing caddies after being home that first week and they were game changing.
Set up for a nighttime nursing
The first few nights home were really tough. I would wake up to complete darkness, stumble my way to baby, change baby and then try to nurse her in a nursing chair. I was not set up to make night time nursing to be quick, easy, and soothing.
First, start by investing in a dimmable nightlight or a touch lamp. I got a reading touch lamp that I had right next to my bed. It gave me enough light to move about without being super bright. You want to maintain the dark environment so both you and baby can go back to sleep easily.
Next, set baby up near your bed so you don’t have to go to the nursery. This is of course personal preference, but I quickly realized, having baby close by meant a lot more sleep for me. I could get to her quicker and before she was super awake.
Another tip is to get good nighttime diapers so unless it’s poop, you don’t have to change them. This is a huge time saver during night wakeups and will get you more sleep.
You want nighttime nursing to be as easy as it can be, so take time to optimize your setup now. It is more important than the nursery setup during those first few months. Most babies can not sleep through the night until at least 4 months and night time nursing is important for your milk supply. The lactation consultant I saw also told me that night nursing is really helpful in increasing supply because the hormone that is related to milk production is regenerated through sleep.
Load up on healthy foods and a good water bottle
Breastfeeding requires a lot of calories and water. If you don’t eat enough or drink enough, then you won’t make enough milk.
So first, get a good water bottle or two and keep them handy while you nurse. A good habit that I tried to stick to was to drink water every time I nursed.
I also wanted to lose the baby weight, so I wanted to be sure I was eating healthy options. I made granola bars, trail mix and freezer meals before baby arrived. I always kept a healthy snack near me while I nursed. You want to be sure to get enough healthy fats (avocado, nuts, etc) and protein. There are also some great breastfeeding smoothie recipes, so find some now to bookmark for later.
I gained over 60 pounds with each pregnancy. I ate a lot while breastfeeding and still lost weight because I wasn’t eating ice cream and chips but instead healthy whole foods. I was back to my original weight after 4 months.
Pursue Breastfeeding Today
Breastfeeding is a wonderful beautiful way to bond with baby. It is a learning experience that both you and baby will go through together.
At first, breastfeeding is harder than bottles but after about 6 weeks, it is easier than bottles. It is truly one of the best ways to bond with baby so take some time while you are pregnant to prepare.
Learn as much as you can about nursing. Find resources both locally and online. Find out how your birthing center and pediatrician will support breastfeeding. Lastly, prep your house so you are ready when baby comes home.