If you are expecting a baby, you have probably spent considerable time thinking about how you are going to feed your baby once he or she arrives. Whether you plan to breastfeed or formula feed or do a combination of both - there is no right or wrong answer. The only right answer is the one that is right for your family.
But if breastfeeding is what you plan to do, then we want you to be prepared. We want you to know the good and the bad and be ready for all of it.
So here is what to expect during those first few days:
There's this idea that after baby is born, she will be put straight to the breast and begin happily eating away. If only this was the norm, instead of the exception.
For many, many new moms, getting a comfortable, deep latch takes time and practice.
There are a few different moving parts in play, which can make latching your baby to the breast difficult. If you've read any breastfeeding books, you know about bringing baby to the breast, encouraging a wide open mouth, making sure baby's body is positioned correctly, looking for flanged, "fish" lips to ensure a deep latch, and then paying attention to baby's sucking and swallowing.
But you may not be expecting how to maneuver a floppy newborn, how to get baby to open wide at the right moment, that tiny hands might get in the way, that you will probably have to hold your breast and the baby at the same time, and how to do all this with only two hands.
So take a deep breath and remember that old adage: If at first you don't succeed, then try, try again.
In the early days of breastfeeding, you might need your partner's or another support person's help with bringing baby to the breast and getting her latched on. Sometimes you just need an extra set of hands. And remember, it's always okay to unlatch baby and try again if the first latch is uncomfortable or painful.
With continued practice, you will get more skilled at latching baby on, comfortably and easily. But if you find yourself still struggling or dealing with constant pain, get help. A visit with a good lactation consultant can help with any remaining latch issues.
Your body begins producing colostrum, a yellowish precursor to breast milk, in late pregnancy. This will be baby's first "superfood." Colostrum is rich in antibodies and immune-boosting proteins. It is high in nutrients and also has a laxative effect to help baby pass his first stools. It has so many amazing properties that it's often referred to as "liquid gold" and is the perfect first food for your baby.
Try not to stress on days one and two about how much your baby is eating.
Your baby's stomach is tiny and the small amounts of colostrum that your baby is taking in are providing him with all the nutrients and nourishment he needs.
Instead, focus on how often baby is eating. Frequent nursing sessions will help your mature milk come in faster, normally by day three or four (although this is not the case for every woman). Let baby nurse as often as he likes, rather than watching a clock. There's no such thing as too much colostrum.
Remember that latch thing we talked about. Well, latch issues and sore nipples go hand in hand. Even if you correct any latch problems fairly early, it can still lead to pain and soreness.
The best thing you can do to relieve sore nipples is work on a good latch.
After that, it is helpful to find a nipple cream that works for you. Some women love something like Earth Mama Angel Baby's Nipple Butter. Other women prefer to use regular or organic coconut oil. Applying breastmilk to the area and allowing your nipples to air dry can also be very healing.
Remember to keep an eye on any spots that develop into open wounds or bleed. While sore nipples are common, breastfeeding is not meant to be torture.
Open wounds can lead to complications like infection or mastitis. If you are dealing with bleeding, call your care provider or lactation consultant as soon as possible to see what you should do.
All the Breastfeeding Supplies
There seems to be this idea that breastfeeding is all natural, so you won't need anything but your breasts and your baby. If only this were true.
In fact, there exists a whole industry that caters to the needs of breastfeeding moms and sells products that they might need along the way. We already mentioned the nipple cream. Here's a few other things you should consider investing in:
- Nursing Bras/Tanks: If you plan to breastfeed, you will need to think about your wardrobe. You will be feeding a baby almost non-stop in the early days so you need to wear clothing that allows you easy access to your breasts. It's probably best not to buy too much before baby arrives, but you will want to have a few nursing bras and nursing tanks on hand to get you started. It's helpful to think about your other clothes too - what shirts can you wear that will be helpful, and not hinder, nursing.
- Nursing Pads: You can find reusable or disposable nursing pads to line the inside of your nursing bra with. As your supply regulates, it is normal for your breasts to leak milk at inopportune times or for one side to let down as your feed from the other. Nursing pads will keep your shirt from getting soaked. They even make inserts that will collect your leaking milk so you can store it for later.
- Breastpump: Even if you plan to exclusively breastfeed, a breastpump is a great thing to have. Even better if you have it ready to go before baby arrives. That way if you experience any difficulties and need to pump, everything will be set up when you need it. And, even if you don't have to pump often, you might find it handy to have a small stash of breastmilk in the freezer so someone else can feed the baby sometimes. Just a regular, manual breastpump can do the trick for something like that.
- Storage bags: If you do pump - frequently or infrequently - you will need something to store your milk in. Have a box of breastmilk storage bags on hand so you're prepared.
Oh, the feelings. This is the hardest part to prepare for. Because you will have some big feelings during these first days and weeks - lots of them.
You may feel joyous that you are able to feed your baby from your body. Or you may feel like a failure if breastfeeding doesn't go as planned.
You will feel exhausted as you adjust to a schedule of around the clock feedings. You may feel resentful that you are stuck on the couch all day feeding a baby. You may feel like giving up. You may feel all of these things.
All we can tell you is that these feelings are NORMAL. All of them.
Allow yourself to feel these feelings. Give yourself grace.
Breastfeeding is often challenging and difficult and comes with a steep learning curve. This is normal. Just remember this: No matter what, you're doing a great job.