How to prepare to breastfeed before baby’s arrival.

Breastfeeding can be an overwhelming and daunting task, especially for a new mother. And, to be honest, it can even be overwhelming to a seasoned mother because it is work. Breastfeeding is A. Lot. Of. Work. However, it is work that gets easier with time and practice. Breastfeeding is an art; an art form one learns better by actually doing versus reading or taking an instructional class on. So, in the midst of nervous anxiety, if you are choosing to breastfeed, take some small comfort that breastfeeding will get easier with time and experience.

I grew up around breastfeeding. My mom nursed my siblings and myself well past our first years. As a young child, she was open about feeding my younger siblings in my presence. I am the oldest, and there is close to nine years age difference between my youngest sibling and myself. Because of this, I have clear memories of my own mother’s breastfeeding journey. However, that in no way means, I had vast knowledge of the practice prior to my first child. My mother has been a wonderful informational resource and support, but it has been decades since she breastfed herself. Some breastfeeding information and practices have changed in that time period. And, a lot of the breastfeeding details have become a distant memory for her. Because of this, and my type A personality tendencies, I felt a need to learn as much as possible before becoming a mother myself. Now, like I said, breastfeeding is better learned by actually doing; however, it is beyond helpful to still learn what you can about the “art form” prior to baby’s arrival.

I recommend any expecting mother who intends to breastfeed take a prenatal breastfeeding class. Most hospitals, doctor’s offices, and breastfeeding consultation departments and/or businesses offer them. Sometimes one can find a class for free. However, if there is a small fee…save your receipt because you can use any expense to assist with breastfeeding as a medical tax write off. I took my class at a local hospital, it cost $25. The class was one evening for 3-4 hours and taught by a lactation consultant. I also took a birthing class and a “baby cares” class. Both of these classes covered a small bit of information regarding breastfeeding. That being said, an actual class dedicated to the sole topic of breastfeeding is worth the time and money, it covers far more material and information.

If there is a group in the area you reside, attend La Leche League (LLL) meetings during your pregnancy. This organization is well established as the original breastfeeding support group and has been around for decades. LLL has well trained volunteers who are able to provide free support on a personal level. Not only will attending meetings help you prepare for breastfeeding your own baby, but it will set you up to have strong breastfeeding support after baby arrives. The kind of support and knowledge that can come from other mothers is invaluable. Did I mention this is FREE? AWESOME SAUCE! Having a baby is expensive, so why not utilize a fantastic free service?  

I recommend any expecting mother who intends to breastfeed also have a consultation with a lactation specialist prior to baby’s arrival. There was an awesome business dedicated to the practice of breastfeeding where I lived that offered wonderful services to mothers and expecting mothers. I hired and met with my lactation consultant two times prior to my baby’s arrival. She was a Registered Nurse (RN) and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). And, as luck would have it, she also worked at the hospital where I delivered my baby. Because of this, I was extremely fortunate to have the same Lactation Specialist during our hospital stay (through the hospital) to assist me once baby arrived. Check with your insurance, often times lactation services are covered or partially covered. If not, once again, they can be used as a tax write off in the medical expense department.

Do some reading. I certainly didn’t have the energy during my third trimester to be moving a hundred miles a minute. Resting, with my feet up, a cozy blanket, and a good book was much more my pace during the later months of my pregnancy. So, I used that time to read-up. There are so many books on the market about breastfeeding. It can be overwhelming to narrow down one, two, or even three books. My top recommend is The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Cheesy name, I know, but like I said earlier, breastfeeding is an art form. This book covers information far past the early days and weeks of breastfeeding, it is a reference guide for a woman’s entire breastfeeding journey. Two other book suggestions would be The Baby Book by William Sears, and The Milk Memos-Book

Get your breast-pump (or two) prior to baby’s arrival. The same business I received Lactation Services from (outside the hospital I delivered at) was a breast-pump retailer. I asked my OB/GYN to write me a “prescription” for a breast-pump, she happily obliged. By doing so, it allowed me to submit the purchase of my breast-pump to insurance. Fortunately, I had great insurance at the time. My insurance completely covered the cost of my Medela Pump In-Style Advanced, this would have been a $230-250 expense otherwise.

I suggest getting more than one breast-pump. I was satisfied with my Medela Pump In-Style Advanced; I also tried a few other pumps in addition to this one. I want to point out Medela pumps (and most other breast-pump brands) have a life span of approximately a year. I did a lot of pumping in the early days of my breastfeeding journey, especially to triple feed (I will cover this topic in a later post). However, I chose to nurse from my breast so my pump got little use in the later months. Because of this, I was able to push the lifespan of my Medela Pump In-Style Advanced beyond the first year. Since the pump lifespan is figured with baby nursing from the breast during that time, if one is planning to exclusively pump, return-to work and pump frequently, or plans to pump beyond the first year, I recommend getting more than one pump. Breast pumps are expensive, but if your insurance doesn’t cover the cost of this investment one can (once again) use it for a medical expense tax write off. Investing in quality breast-feeding supplies such a pump(s) is still less money than the expense of baby formula over the course of one to two years.

Have a well stocked supply of breastfeeding and breast-pumping necessities ready to go before baby’s arrival. I love Target, and I love any excuse to go to Target. However, the last thing I wanted to do when my baby was so little was make an errand run for supplies at some inconvenient hour of the day because there is no convenient time with a newborn. Just because you purchased a breast-pump does not mean you have everything you need. So, stock up ahead of time. I will be publishing a breastfeeding and breast-pumping supplies list in a separate post.

If there is one thing I could’ve done prior to my baby’s arrival to make everything from breastfeeding, to sleeping, to overall life easier, it would have been to adjust my diet while still pregnant. My baby was lactose intolerant, and had a number of other food intolerances as an infant. As she has gotten older, she has grown out of most of them. However, it would have made all the difference with her breastfeeding and colic if I had adjusted my diet prior to her birth. I eventually had to cut out all dairy containing lactose, gluten, beans, onions, broccoli, anything with tomatoes or tomato based, and really any kind of food seasoning. It would have been easier to cut out items prior to baby’s arrival and gradually integrate them back into my diet after baby had begun breastfeeding, slowing watching for baby’s tolerances and tummy issues. Of course, I am not a doctor, and I would only recommend doing this after consulting your physician first.  

Breastfeeding is a journey. It is an experience that no amount of attending classes, joining support groups, or reading about can prepare you for. These kind of preparations do help. However, they mostly tell one about what the “average” breastfeeding journey looks like. One needs to keep in mind that a baby hasn’t attended those same classes, joined those same support groups, or read those same books. A baby has strong instincts to nurse, but a baby still doesn’t know how to breastfeed either; a baby needs guidance and to be taught what to do. In reality, an “average” baby does not exist. Every baby is unique, and every mother choosing to breastfeed is unique. Because of this, every nursing experience will be different. It is helpful to prepare before baby’s arrival and have knowledge of what an “average” experience looks like so one has reference points to guide them. And, if one’s experience doesn’t go ‘right by the book’ of the “average” baby, it is okay. Bumps in the road are to be expected. If problems should develop, use it as an opportunity to learn more and seek help from professionals who are trained to do so.

If you are choosing to breastfeed, be prepared for the information overload, embrace the learning curve you are about to experience, and take pride in the fact you are about to become an artist at a beautiful mother and baby art form! I wish every mother the best of luck on their journey 🙂

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