Guest blog from fellow Cake Maternity writer, Jaren Soloff
Most expecting parents know the ins and outs of their birth plan, from where they will deliver, and techniques they will use during labor to who will be with them when they meet their baby for the first time. When it comes to breastfeeding, however, it often gets relegated to being discussed in the moment after delivery. For many new parents, this is a result of the messages we get around breastfeeding and how natural and instinctive it is. Breastfeeding is natural, instinctive and women have been doing it for centuries however given the many factors that can impact one’s breastfeeding journey, putting thought and preparation towards it can make all the difference in defining and meeting your goals to feed your baby.
Just as we prepare for birth, preparing for breastfeeding can help you make informed decisions about feeding and can help you enter postpartum feeling empowered. Here are some tips to consider when preparing for your breastfeeding journey.
1. Take a prenatal breastfeeding class, virtual or in person
Similar to when you are preparing for birth, having some roadmap of what to expect can lower anxiety and increase confidence. There are several virtual breastfeeding class options available online or you can contact a local birth center/hospital for referrals in your community.
A prenatal breastfeeding class will cover common challenges such as the physiology of milk supply, how to manage engorgement as your milk increases in volume and how birth experiences impact breastfeeding.
Having this knowledge in your wheelhouse can provide you with such peace of mind as the first few days after birth can feel like a rollercoaster. Once you know what falls within the spectrum of normal (for example, that most babies lose weight after birth) you can move away from panic mode and enjoy time with your sweet newborn.
2. Prenatal consultation with an IBCLC, virtual or in person
This might sound like the same point as above, however it is different and so important! In addition to a prenatal breastfeeding class, a prenatal lactation consultation can provide you with personalized support and education based on your health history and feeding goals.
Some health factors can impact your ability to breastfeed such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and a history of breast surgeries, so it is important to set goals and expectations for feeding. A prenatal evaluation allows you to go in prepared, as breastfeeding with any of these conditions is 100% possible with the right support and plan in place.
You can schedule a prenatal lactation consultation with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who will walk you through everything from feeding positions to different interventions that could be used if you need support with milk supply (such as cup feedings, finger feeding, etc).
3. Gather supplies
Know that you don’t need all of the gadgets for breastfeeding that show up on your social media feed. While some can be supportive it is best to stick to some basics and then procure any other supplies you might need if you encounter a challenge postpartum. Some common supplies to stock up on include:
Hydrogel pads, these are a godsend after delivery as they provide cooling to breast tissue that is sensitive after birth and lots of cluster feeding (many feedings that happen close together) which is common in the early postpartum days.
Nipple cream or lanolin to soothe. Look for a product that does not have petroleum jelly and wipes off easily since you often use it multiple times a day.
Haaka is perfect for capturing breast milk during feedings (you can feed your baby on one breast and catch breast milk from your letdown on the other, genius!).
A good nursing bra. This can feel like a big investment so be sure to find a brand that offers plentiful sizing options, quality materials and provides the best fit!
A breast pump, however this depends on your feeding goals — whether you will work and/or plan on being separated from your baby, how long/often you will be away etc. Not everyone will need a pump so be sure to discuss your goals with your lactation consultant in your prenatal consult if you are unsure if you need one. If you do decide you need one, consider adding a pumping bra to your essentials.
Other items such as breast milk storage bags, bottles and bottle/pump cleaning supplies all depend on your breastfeeding goals and journey. Start with the basics and work with your lactation consultant to determine which are essential to you.
4. Know who to call & when
We can never make decisions soundly in the middle of a crisis and breastfeeding is no different. Many parents wait until they are in pain or their baby is not latching to reach out for help and it can make it hard to find supportive solutions in these situations when everything seems to hurt.
Know that breastfeeding should never hurt, so contacting a lactation professional if these concerns arise can help you address the root cause.
Concerns about milk supply are one of the top questions after birth and often parents can mistake real low milk supply for perceived low milk supply. Your lactation consultant can help you weed out which is which.
If you start any new medications or herbs it is important to consult with your midwife, primary care provider or lactation consultant to see if there will be any impacts on your milk supply.
Know where you can find breastfeeding support if you do not already have a consultant prenatally by having some local providers written down. You can also seek out some breastfeeding support groups in your area either hosted by birth professionals or La Leche League.
5. Plan to create as much space in your life as possible
In many cultures, there is a period of lying in, which refers to the first 40 days where mothers are confined to rest and healing after birth to support their recovery and help establish breastfeeding. Planning to have a period of “lying in” rest, recovery and non productivity during the postpartum period can help support breastfeeding as it can be all consuming in the early weeks as you and your baby learn one another’s rhythms. You can help encourage a lying period might by:
If family is staying with you or you are hiring help, outline what tasks can be helpful while you focus on breastfeeding and resting.
Thinking about setting up care for other children and other logistics during this time.
Our thoughts and feelings around breastfeeding can be easily influenced by other experiences we hear and see around us (positive or negative), so ensuring you have some strategies in place can help you enter into postpartum feeling knowledgeable, empowered and supported!
Just as with a birth plan, know that we can plan for many things but birth and postpartum can throw us many curveballs and cause us to course correct. Having a good base of knowledge of what to expect from breastfeeding, your body and how/when to get support are a wonderful place to start your feeding journey with your baby!
Jaren Soloff is a Registered Dietitian and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and one of the resident writers at Cake Maternity. Jaren combines her expertise as a skilled nutrition therapist and lactation consultant to support individuals looking to heal their relationship with food and body. Her practice, FULL CRCL, provides evidenced based practices to support women at all stages of the reproductive cycle, from preconception to postpartum.