Before You Breastfeed: Ten Steps to a Great Start

1. Use your instincts! Mother Nature is no dummy. Both you and your baby have instincts to breastfeed. At birth, and even for some time after birth, your baby is capable of latching and feeding well at the breast if you know what to do to support them to do so. This technique has a few names.  Sometimes it is called Natural Breastfeeding.  Sometimes it is called Biological Nurturing or Laid Back Breastfeeding.  It harnesses the amazing power of skin-to-skin and your baby’s self-attachment instincts. Learn all you can about these instincts and techniques and how they can help with feeding, rest, and recovery.

2. Consider doula care.  Doulas are trained support people for labor and postpartum.  Use of birth doulas has been shown to considerably reduce labor time and interventions; they are associated with fewer c-sections and an increase in positive birth experiences and better breastfeeding outcomes.  Postpartum doulas help families adjust to the transition of a new family member; they are physically and emotionally supportive during this sensitive time. They help with breastfeeding education, entertain older siblings, and ensure a mother is fed, hydrated, and comfortable (which can be very helpful in the event of a surgical birth). Both birth and postpartum doulas can help you sort out what is normal and what is not, and help you quickly connect to qualified assistance should it be needed.

3. Take a good prenatal breastfeeding class. Find a class that is taught by a qualified breastfeeding professional who has had personal experience breastfeeding.  Attend it early in your third trimester. Consider a private class to get the most customized experience. These are especially helpful for moms with known special situations such as expecting multiples or a health history that includes things like breast surgeries, hormone/endocrine/blood sugar imbalances, or a history of infertility. Independent classes taught in locations besides hospitals often focus on prevention of problems and provide more practical breastfeeding information.  Hospital classes tend towards promoting what is “allowed” per a particular hospital’s policy and are occasionally taught by individuals who lack proper training in lactation.

4. Buy, borrow, or download a good book and read it before baby arrives:

5. Find your closest independent breastfeeding support group early. (Click here for our local directory). Independent (and free) mother-to-mother support groups, run by peer counselors or organizations like La Leche League or Breastfeeding USA, are a valuable resource for help and emotional support. It is actually a good idea to attend one or two meetings before baby arrives! Some meetings encourage spouses/partners to attend too. Bring them! Research shows that many women quit nursing earlier than they intended to due to lack of support from friends, family, and spouses/partners.

6. Make a list of things people can do to help you when they come to visit. If visitors must come in the early weeks have a list posted on the refrigerator of small tasks that YOU would find helpful and reduce your stress. (Here’s a great one to print and post on the fridge). Usually someone else holding the baby is not as helpful as someone running a load of laundry, fixing a meal, or changing the sheets on your bed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; your job is to spend time with your baby learning about her, feeding her, and resting.

7. Learn about how to know your baby is feeding well. One of the biggest concerns new mothers have is whether or not their baby is getting enough from breastfeeding. Following are some signs to look for:

  • Your baby wakes frequently to nurse on their own and is alert and active when feeding and is satisfied and drowsy after a feeding.
  • Your baby nurses somewhere between 8 -12 times per 24 hours.
  • You hear or see baby swallowing as they feed.
  • You feel your milk increasing in volume in your breasts around day 3. By day 4, you notice the color of your baby’s stools are changing to a mustard yellow color.
  • You are not in pain and have strategies for management of engorgement.
  • Your baby is gaining weight well after a period of initial weight loss. Normal weight loss is in the 5-7% range by day 4, but perhaps up to 10% if mom had lots of IV fluids in labor. A sign breastfeeding is going well is a regain of birthweight by at least 2 weeks postpartum.

8. Use technology wisely!  Lots of “new baby” phone apps track things that aren’t very helpful or sometimes even provide information that is downright undermining! Breastfeeding USA maintains a great list of phone apps that are actually useful for breastfeeding moms.  Research also shows that your time on social media will increase after your baby is born, so use your time wisely! These sites are very well known, so fill your feed with encouraging and evidence-based information by following these organizations online:

9. Make yourself a portable nursing basket. Whether you decide to have a special place to nurse your baby or nurse in different locations throughout the house, having a basket of self-care items within hand’s reach is invaluable. Here’s a list of things you may want to include in your portable nursing basket:

  • Water bottle
  • Healthy snacks – High protein, low sugar, high fiber, tasty snacks to keep you satisfied.
  • Clean diapers and wipes – for the inevitable diaper change.
  • Cell phone – You wouldn’t be without it anyways!
  • Relaxing music – increased relaxation helps those breastfeeding hormones flow better.
  • Burp cloth – For little spits and leaking milk.
  • Your choice of nipple cream and breast pads
  • Books, magazines, or an e-reader and perhaps a Netflix or Hulu subscription and remote

10. Get help early on if things are not going well. (Click here for our local lactation consultant directory). Many moms are reluctant to get help or not sure where to find help with breastfeeding issues, but getting help early is so important! Many times minor issues can turn into major problems if help is not found early on. Getting qualified help is the key when facing challenges. An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is the highest accredited breastfeeding helper and has proven skills to assist in many of the common breastfeeding challenges. But not all Lactation Consultants are IBCLC’s so be sure to ask! Your local La Leche League Leader, a peer-counselor, or a Breastfeeding USA Counselor can also be valuable resources for help and support.

 *** This guide has been adapted with generous permission from a post originally authored by Bay Area Breastfeeding & Education. Thank you!!