When I was pregnant with my first daughter, Sasha, I was certain that I'd breastfeed for the first year. Then I gave birth. The rest, as they say, is history, and like any good story, it was rife with drama. Her latch was off. I had cracked nipples, poor milk production, and an infection. There was lots of crying -- by both of us. By the fourth week, it was clear that nursing wasn't a forte for Sasha or me. After much soul-searching and guilt, I gave up. When I found out I was pregnant with my second, I wasn't sure I was up to the task again, but I gave it a try. Nearly a year later, I'm still breastfeeding Dvora, and it's been wonderful. What changed? I had pinpointed what didn't work the first time and adjusted accordingly. Learn from my experiences as well as those of other moms, and you'll know what to do to score nursing success even before the baby makes her appearance.
In the beginning, you'll find breastfeeding is a full-time job. Your life needs to revolve around it, and many women aren't ready for that reality. They get overwhelmed and stressed, which compromises milk production and, in turn, stresses the baby, who may not nurse as well. "A woman who doesn't have enough information might assume that something normal, such as temporary engorgement -- when breasts become full of milk, swollen, and painful -- is a sign that something's wrong and that they need to quit," says Jane Crouse, a spokeswoman for La Leche League in Schaumburg, Illinois.
SMART STEPS Talk! I found that asking other mothers how they dealt with breastfeeding challenges and gathering lots of different answers broadened my knowledge far more than any class did. Other moms like to check out instructional videos (you can see a slew on americanbaby.com/lactation-videos). Some find classes helpful; many ob-gyns, midwives, and hospitals run them regularly.
HOORAY! BREASTFEEDING CAN BE BLISSFULLY CONVENIENT
No frantic runs to the store: Breast milk is instantly available -- and delivered warmed! No futzing around at an ungodly hour to whip up a bottle; many moms roll out of bed and nurse in a soporific state. No cleanup. No feeding supplies to shove into that already bursting diaper bag. No worries when you travel. (Stuck in a plane? Your baby will never run out of food.) And once you and your hungry one find a groove, nursing in a carrier can be handy. The only catch, as you're probably aware: Until men come with boobs, most feedings fall on you.
When I had Sasha, aides whisked her away minutes after laying her in my arms. Breastfeeding your baby immediately can help form a good nursing foundation, but that proved impossible for me. Although I sought breastfeeding advice later, the nurses were too busy or didn't know enough to help, and the hospital didn't have a lactation consultant. Amy Winston, of Wilton, Connecticut, had a similar experience: "The nurses looked at me as though I were asking them to do something well beyond their call of duty."
SMART STEPS Before giving birth, scope out services at your hospital. If it's short on guidance, find a good lactation consultant and arrange to have her visit you at the hospital. If you deliver vaginally, unless your infant has health issues, the nurses should let you breastfeed right away. Ask in advance whether it's practice to remove the baby after delivery, regardless of her health. Moms who have a cesarean section may not be able to nurse immediately after birth due to the logistics of surgery.
NICE! NURSING IS GOOD FOR YOU TOO
The perks: Breastfeeding helps ward off breast and ovarian cancers over the long term. It releases "mothering hormones," including prolactin, which keeps those baby blues at bay, and oxytocin, which helps the uterus contract. Plus, it burns mondo calories!
To ace breastfeeding, a new mom needs to be free to sit comfortably and nurse. If you're trying to cook, host visitors, and write a gazillion thank-you notes, there's no way you'll be able to breastfeed enough. This pace can make it hard to establish a good milk supply- -- and get your bod in sync with your little one's nursing habits.
SMART STEPS Arrange for help before the baby arrives: Call on family and friends who can lend a hand in those first few weeks. (We're talking to you, Superwoman!) No relatives around? A postpartum doula can give you an assist. (Find a local one at Dona.org, or get recommendations from your OB or midwife.) Ditto for grocery-delivery services and part-time housekeepers. As you settle into motherhood, don't hesitate to limit visitors to only close friends and family. Ask each one to do something helpful, such as bring a meal or toss a basket of laundry into the washing machine; they'll be psyched to lighten your load.
LOVE THAT! BREAST MILK IS REALLY, REALLY HEALTHY
We're not pressuring you to nurse, but we do want you to be aware of the benefits. Breast milk contains antibodies that even brainiacs in lab coats can't engineer. "Breastfed babies get fewer colds and sinus and ear infections," says Jim Sears, M.D., coauthor of The Baby Book. They have less diarrhea and constipation, and are not as likely to develop allergies.
It's not easy to breastfeed when those closest to you seem clueless. "One day, my husband wanted us all to take a walk to the park," explains Annie Meyers, of Marblehead, Massachusetts. "I was nursing our 4-week-old and asked if he could wait half an hour. His reply: 'Just pull her off and reattach her at the park.'" Meyers' mother wasn't much more helpful. "She'd say: 'Give it up. You're killing yourself. Nursing isn't really that important.' But it was important to me."
SMART STEPS Talk to your family now about your plans. "Let your partner know that nursing sessions have a biological design -- the baby first gets the foremilk, then the fattier hindmilk --so he'll understand why it's not good to interrupt you," says La Leche consultant Crouse. Explain to your mom too; nursing might have been less common in her generation.
Need a lactation consultant? Most charge between $50 and $150 per session, but some insurance plans cover the cost. Get referrals from your pediatrician, midwife, friends, or the hospital. Another good resource is La Leche League. Chapter leaders are aces at troubleshooting. And it's free! Visit LaLeche.org.
An estimated 1 in 10 women suffers from postpartum depression (PPD), and many of them don't realize they have it. You might feel as if you're in a haze or you're so sad and your judgment is so off that you can't begin to keep track of when you last fed the baby. The uplifting news is that breastfeeding (when it's going well) can buoy a mom's mood. Rates of PPD tend to be lower in women who breastfeed. Why? It helps reduce the hormonal shifts that may be linked with PPD.
SMART STEPS Be aware of signs like constantly feeling hopeless and lost. If you suspect you're depressed, talk to your OB. Treatment could involve counseling, watchful waiting, or medication. Be sure to connect with friends and family, who may pick up if things are heading south for you. Being alone with a newborn can challenge even the strongest psyche, but with solid information, resources, and support, you'll be a breastfeeding champ!
PHEW! PLENTY OF WOMEN PUMP MILK
Some do it to stoke their supply or relieve engorgement; others, to nourish Baby while they're at work. Occasional pumpers do fill a bottle so Dad can do a midnight feed or so a sitter can feed Baby on date night.
Originally published in American Baby Magazine in 2011. Updated in 2014.
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