You’ve made the decision to breastfeed. You have heard that it can be hard, especially in the beginning. You have heard that being educated and prepared will help you be successful. So, you take a class. You buy some books. However, instead of feeling prepared, you feel overwhelmed!

It’s true that being prepared contributes to breastfeeding success. It is also true that the overriding feeling from all this preparation may be one of being overwhelmed. The classes pack a lot of information into a couple of hours. The books often just don’t seem relevant when you’re still pregnant. At this point you may just be trying to figure out how that baby is going to get out, and when that is going to happen.

If you Google “breastfeeding tips”, you will get many, many hits. Most of those lists are long. Too long to remember. You have pregnancy brain as it is. And who wants to be looking up lists on their phone in the early days after they give birth?

If what you are looking for are some easy to remember tips for that first week, then you have come to the right place.

The Five Tips

1-Skin to skin –Do it early. Like, immediately after your baby is born. If you can’t do it immediately because of a medical problem with you or your baby, then do it as soon as you can.

If you are giving birth in a hospital and they don’t do skin-to-skin immediately, ask why.

Research studies support the connection between early skin to skin with breastfeeding success. It is incredibly valuable in other ways as well. Infants cry less, they have more stable temperatures and blood sugar levels. It supports neurobehavioral development. Most of the research studies that have been done have looked at early skin to skin. We also know that skin-to-skin, even after the first hour of birth, helps regulate infant skin temperature. I also believe, from my personal observations, that prolonged skin to skin results in more frequent breastfeeding.

2-Breastfeed– early and often.

Watch for your baby’s cues. These are signs that your baby wants to eat. These include sticking their tongue out, smacking their lips, rooting, sucking on their hands. Frequent breastfeeding in the early days results in less weight loss for your baby, less problems with jaundice, it helps your milk come in sooner, and helps stimulate an abundant milk supply.

Most babies, if allowed frequent skin-to-skin, will want to breastfeed often. I call it “keeping them in the kitchen.” I can’t take credit for that quote, but I honestly can’t remember who I heard it from.

It’s also important to understand that breastfeeding is not just about eating for babies. Remember that your baby was enjoying that All Inclusive in your womb. He was in the hot tub, with the 24-hour room service. Then his world was rocked. He started getting this intense massage. All of a sudden, air hits his body, for the very first time. He’s being dried off with towels or blankets. I wonder what THAT feels like? He is probably getting poked and prodded with thermometers and cold stethoscopes. He may have the cool breeze of some oxygen mask shoved in his face.

Who wouldn’t want to find the comforting refuge of his mother’s breast, where it is safe and comforting and quickly becomes familiar. This is where he weans from the womb.  

Photo credit: alicemelofotografia via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: alicemelofotografia via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

3-Rest – a lot! Take good care of yourself.

I understand that you will be excited, and will want to share the joy of this miraculous new life with you family and friends. However, caring for your baby and caring for yourself must always come first.

In the early days babies eat, a lot. If your baby wants to feed very frequently, that is normal, healthy behavior. This is a good thing! As mentioned before, this results in some wonderful things.

Babies also like to eat more at night. When I say more, I mean a lot more. We call this cluster-feeding. Your baby may want to eat constantly, for hours. Sometimes your baby will suck for a few minutes and then fall asleep. But if you try and put him down, he’ll wake up and want to eat some more. What’s a mother to do?

An afternoon nap will become your best friend. If you give birth in a hospital, there may be a “quiet time”  when no visitors are allowed. (Mom’s partner is never considered a visitor). If your hospital doesn’t have this, then you can always put a big sign on your hospital door, “Mom resting, DO NOT DISTURB! If you gave birth at home, or at a birth center where you went home soon after, then you can put that sign on your front door.

Have a greeting on your phone with the relevant details. When people come to visit, once you are home, make them pay admission. People will usually bring gifts. Ask them to also bring a meal, or do something around the house. Throw in a load of laundry, or fold some. Put dishes in the dishwasher, or even clean your toilet. If you are not good enough friends to ask them to do these things, they shouldn’t be visiting you this early. Under no circumstances should they expect you to entertain them by serving them drinks! If you can’t feed your baby in front of them, you need to feel comfortable enough to ask them to leave. Remember, taking care of your baby and yourself always needs to come first!

If you don’t take time out for a rest, you will pay for it later. Trust me on this. Not only will your baby be crying in the middle of the night, you might be as well.

If you hit that wall in the middle of the night, or during the day, you may need to take a break from everything. If your baby is not taking a good long nap himself, have your partner or support person wrap the baby up, and go for a walk, out in the hall or outside, or anywhere away from you. Often an hour or two can make all the difference in the world. It is very important though that whoever is taking some time to bond with the baby, will bring him to you if he is showing any feeding cues. Babies should not have feedings put off.

It’s also important that you eat regularly, and drink lots of water, or non-caffeinated tea, or whatever you like to drink that doesn’t have caffeine or lots of sugar. Avoid peppermint tea though. It can decrease milk supply.

Photo credit: Joint Base Lewis McChord via / CC BY-NC-SA

4-Get a pediatrician  who is supportive of breastfeeding (or family practice doc, nurse practitioner, PA, or whoever is going to be providing care for your baby).

This means choosing someone before your baby is born. Interview them, don’t just get recommendations.

I can assure you that no health care provider is going to say they are not supportive of breastfeeding. What you want to ask is, how they will support your decision to breastfeed.

If they say, “Yes, I support breastfeeding, but…” then they are not that supportive of breastfeeding. It doesn’t matter what comes after the “but”. There is no “but.” Breastfeeding is important. What you want to know is what they are going to do to support you. You want to know under what circumstances they would tell you to supplement with formula or to stop breastfeeding. There are valid reasons to supplement. I have also heard reasons that just left me shaking my head. The decision to stop breastfeeding though, should always be yours and yours alone.

You want to know what they would do if you ran into problems. Would they refer you to a lactation consultant? Do they have one in their office? Do they have someone they refer to? Find out in the community what that person’s reputation is. Find out how long they typically spend with moms during their consults. 

It’s not supportive to have formula in their waiting room, or to give you literature that was produced by a formula company. It’s not supportive of them to give your formula, “just in case.” It’s not supportive if they say, “breastfeeding isn’t for everyone.” You might ask how they have educated themselves on breastfeeding. Medical schools spend about 1-2 hours on breastfeeding. Have they taken any continuing education related to breastfeeding? What else do they do? 

Find out when they will want to see your baby in the office after you have gone home from the hospital, or after you given birth in a Birth Center or had a home birth. It’s important for breastfed babies to be seen by them at 3-5 days of age. Most people go home from the hospital before this. One of the reasons for this early visit is to see how breastfeeding is going. They also will want to see what is going on with the baby’s weight, and to see if there are any problems with jaundice.

5-Get help sooner rather than later – and know how to get it.

Photo credit: edenpictures via / CC BY

If you have access to lactation consultants, have a couple of names lined up. Sometimes the person recommended might not be available when you need her. My advice would be to get at least two names and preferably three.

Interview lactation consultants. If it’s important to you that a lactation consultant come to your home, find out if that is something that they offer. How long have they been in practice? What was their training? What are their credentials?

Lactation consultants charge for their services. Find out how much they charge. If it is important that your insurance pay for it, check with your insurer to see what kind of coverage they provide and what restrictions they might have. At this point in time (September 2017) the Affordable Health Care Act has stated that lactation consults are to be covered without you being charged a deductible or a co-pay. That said, not all insurance companies are compliant and some have so many restrictions, it can be difficult to get that full coverage. One thing I often hear is that if the consult is preventative, they will cover it, but not if there is a problem. I know, that makes no sense. But we’re talking about insurance companies here.

This isn’t a complete list of breastfeeding tips. It should get you through the first week though.

One last thought

Preparation is important. Try to keep it simple though. Take a class. Buy the books, but it’s okay if you don’t read them until after your baby has arrived. You will probably read and get conflicting information. I would say if advice you are getting is very rigid, it maybe should be questioned. Try to listen, first and foremost, to your inner voice. 

Next Time

Getting help with breastfeeding – different options.

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