You can learn a lot about breastfeeding from in-person classes, books and blogs, and from nurses and midwives. But when you’re preparing for the arrival of a new baby, there are a million things on your mind, and you may be more preoccupied with actually giving birth than learning about breastfeeding.
So, it can be surprising for many moms when they find out there’s a lot of things they don’t know about breastfeeding that they have to learn as they go. In an effort to make it easier on expecting mamas, we’ve put together a list of 12 things you should know before you start breastfeeding.
It Might Not Be What You Expected
Full disclosure: the first days of breastfeeding may not feel magical. You’re learning how to do something with your body that you’ve never done before. At the same time, your baby is learning how to latch – a skill he or she isn’t born with. Add to that the fact that your breasts and nipples are sensitive areas that aren’t used to a tiny infant’s frequent sucking, and your first few days of breastfeeding may be overwhelming. But there’s good news!
It Gets Better
Within a few days, you’ll learn what you’re doing, your little one will figure out how to latch in most cases, and your nipples will get used to being used frequently. Once you’re over the learning stage, you can begin to enjoy those special breastfeeding moments. In the meantime, try soothing your sore nipples with cooling hydrogel pads or lanolin.
Lactation Consultants Can Help
We all learn along the way, and a Lactation Consultant can be a big help with that process. They can explain the importance of a proper latch and provide you with tips for making breastfeeding easier. Working with a Lactation Consultant right away can help you learn the basics quickly and give you the best start possible. You can use our online tool to find lactation professionals near you.
You Might Get Cramps
In the days immediately after giving birth, you may experience menstrual-like cramps while nursing. That’s because during breastfeeding, your brain releases the hormone, oxytocin, which helps your uterus contract back to its pre-pregnancy shape and size.
Pumping Isn’t Just for Working Moms
Whether you’re planning to stay home with baby, or head back to work, most breastfeeding moms can benefit from a breast pump. A pump gives you the flexibility to express breast milk while you’re away from baby for whatever reason, offers some relief from baby’s suckling when you’re breasts are feeling exceptionally sore, and can help you build your supply whether you’re trying to increase output or build a stash.
You May Feel Like All You Do is Breastfeed
During the first few months of your baby’s life, it can feel like you are constantly breastfeeding. And, you kind of are. In order to reduce engorgement, nourish and grow your baby, and establish a good milk supply, you should be nursing or pumping between 8 and 12 times every day in those first months. But don’t worry, this doesn’t last forever! As your milk supply increases and your baby gets older, the breaks between feedings will get longer.
You’ll Be Hungry and Thirsty
Breastfeeding takes a lot of energy, which burns calories and depletes hydration. In the first 3 to 12 months postpartum, your body burns between 300-500 calories a day producing breast milk, so it’s no wonder you’re hungry and thirsty.
You Can Eat (Almost) Anything You Want
After roughly 9 months of having to avoid many types of food, it’s freeing to know that there are far fewer restrictions when breastfeeding. You should still try to continue to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet to ensure you and your little one are getting all of the nutrients you need.
But, you can chow down on all the sushi, lunch meat, and soft cheeses you want. Just be sure to watch for any fussiness or gassiness from your baby, as some babies can be sensitive to your breast milk after you eat certain foods.
It Can Be a Team Effort
The actual act of nursing or pumping is something only you can do, but there are many ways your partner can help out. Have them bottle feed in the middle of the night, burp baby after a nursing session, or get you a glass of water while you’re pumping on the couch. It can also be helpful to have your partner sit in on meetings with lactation consultants so they can support you if you’re struggling.
Uneven Supply is Normal
No person is perfectly symmetrical, so it’s no surprise that many breastfeeding moms report uneven milk supply. This is very common, and if you and your baby are comfortable, there’s no reason to try to change it. In fact, there may not be anything you can do about an uneven supply. However, there are ways to try to even things out if you want to make feeding more effective, or just to relieve some discomfort.
It’s OK to Stop
Every single drop of breast milk you provide for your baby is amazing. So, if you need to stop for any reason, you shouldn’t feel guilty. Wherever you are at in your breastfeeding journey, if there is a reason you need to stop, you can make that decision. And that’s ok!
It’s OK to Keep Going
Our culture has a tendency to view breastfeeding beyond a year as taboo. However, if you and your baby want to continue breastfeeding, you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable or unnatural doing so. You know your body and your baby best, and the decision to breastfeed, and for how long, is yours to make.