When I was pregnant with my oldest child, I was intent on breastfeeding -- and I went all out to prepare myself. I bought it all: the heavy-duty electric breast pump, the travel breast pump, a dozen nursing bras and easy-access nursing shirts, breast milk storage bags, nipple cream, two types of nursing pillows, and a nursing cover-up. If they sold it, I bought it, regardless of the not-insignificant cost. You can guess where this is going... It turned out that nursing was a lot harder than I thought. I developed thrush, my son had latching issues and, truth be told, I just didn't like it. Three weeks after Jack was born, I switched to formula and we were both a whole lot happier. Of course, I was also stuck with a ton of expensive gear -- and guilt for not using it.
It's good to give thought to important issues (such as breastfeeding) when it comes to your baby's arrival, but there's also a lesson here: Sometimes you can go overboard and be too prepared. Your best bet: Research what's important to you, but keep an open mind to the alternatives.
Your Plan: You have the perfect picture in your head of how your labor and delivery will go. Maybe it's all natural, with no medications and as few medical interferences as possible. Putting together a birth plan can give you a sense of control and allows you to tell those around you -- your ob-gyn, doula, partner -- your preferences in various situations. But there's something to be said for being flexible. "After having two extremely different pregnancies and labors, I know for sure that you can't plan anything," says Robin J., mom of two, from New York City. "I went into both labors with the hope of going natural. I did with my son, but with my daughter, two years later, the labor was very painful. I got the epidural and was very thankful I did. She was almost 2 pounds larger than my son and I needed the extra support."
How to Ease Up: It turns out there can be a downside to a set-in-stone (at least in your mind) birth plan, according to Mahsa Lindeman, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Walnut Creek, California. "Feelings of shame and guilt that result from having a rigid plan of labor and then experiencing a change in those plans, such as a C-section, can interfere with mom's recovery and her ability to bond with her newborn."
Instead of taking a birthing class that only focuses on natural birth, consider taking one that gives you an overview of other options, including taking pain meds and what happens if you have to have a C-section. At the very least, read up on these things. That way, if you decide you want an epidural or if your labor takes a different turn, you're not completely in the dark. Remember that the goal is to get the baby delivered as safe and healthy as possible, no matter what method that takes.
The Plan: Everybody -- family, friends, your doctors, your partner -- seems to have an opinion on the breast-vs.-bottle debate. "Society places tremendous pressure on mothers and, in turn, many mothers place the same amount or more pressure on themselves to breastfeed," says Lindeman. Or maybe you come from a family of formula-fed babies and you secretly want to nurse even though your mother-in-law has already bought you tons of formula.
How to Ease Up: No matter how much you think you may go in one direction (as I did), it's not a bad idea to start with just a few items before investing in more gear. You can rent a hospital-grade breast pump rather than buying one right off the bat, for example, and make do with just a few nursing bras at the beginning. Because of lifestyle, comfort level, medical considerations, and other issues, some moms who thought they'd breastfeed might ultimately decide on formula. "Sometimes new mothers catastrophize how horrible it would be for a baby to be bottle-fed, but in reality, millions of babies are bottle-fed each year without any problems," says Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker.
As with labor, it's okay to have an idea of what you want to do, but don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work (and you'll feel even more pressure if you have all the stuff!). Instead, keep an open mind, take a class that includes both breast- and bottle-feeding, and maybe borrow some breast-feeding items from a mom friend to tide you over until you figure out what's right for you. (And if you're struggling early on? That money you've saved can be put toward a session with a lactation consultant!)
The Plan: You want to get your babe on a sleep schedule ASAP, so you're loading up on baby sleep books and asking friends for advice. You're afraid you might miss the boat on sleep training -- and miss out on those precious zzz's yourself!
How to Ease Up: Here's the honest truth -- sleep training "really isn't an option in the first two months," thanks to your baby's need to eat on demand every two to three hours, according to Tanya Altmann, M.D., a pediatrician based in Westlake Village, California, and the author of Mommy Calls. In fact, trying to formally sleep-train a baby younger than 4 months can compromise your milk supply -- and thus your breastfeeding efforts if milk storage within the breast is not being emptied frequently enough by your newborn, says Jenni June, a certified infant and child sleep consultant who specializes in pediatric sleep. So skip the books and forget about adhering to a rigid schedule for those first few months.
The Plan: Your goal is 100-percent homemade, baby! "I was convinced I was going to make all my own baby food with my oldest, so I started the process the last month of my pregnancy," says New Jersey mom Lisa A. "I registered for the baby food maker and all the accoutrements and I started freezing all my purees. Then when my son was born there was little room to store breast milk, because my freezer was already chock-full of baby food. That's when I realized my baby wouldn't be eating solids for months. Why did I knock myself out?"
How to Ease Up: Relax, mama! This is one area where you definitely don't need to stress out or plan for during your pregnancy -- or even immediately after birth -- since solid food isn't recommended until your baby is 4 to 6 months old. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about the first 6 months.). So you've got plenty of time to start steaming, pureeing, and freezing organic apples and sweet potatoes, if that's something you want to do. But keep in mind that there are lots of healthy, interesting, and, yes, organic, ready-made options available these days, so feeding your baby doesn't have to be all-or-nothing. Nor do you need to spend a ton on gear -- you don't need the specifically-for-baby-food trays or a fancy baby-food maker to make nutritious, simple meals. A basic ice cube tray and your trusty food processor will do!
Of course, it's good to prepare for your baby's impending birth. Doing so can help you feel less anxious -- and that's always a good thing. But ultimately, it's impossible to predict the future and how you'll feel, even on the big topics that you've given much thought to. So keep an open mind, put down that registry scan gun, and try to relax for the last few months before your baby's arrival.
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