When I meet with pregnant women at their prenatal doula meetings, I often get asked, “What can I do to prepare for breastfeeding my baby?” Often times, women have preconceived notions of what breastfeeding will be like from watching friends or family members. Maybe they have heard how wonderful it is to bond with your baby or how inexpensive breastfeeding is or maybe they have even heard horror stories about mastitis or thrush. Every woman brings her own unique perceptions of what to expect in the first few days and months of life with a newborn. So when I get the question, “What can I do to prepare for breastfeeding my baby?” I first have to break down that woman’s already preconceived notions. What have you heard? What have you seen or read? She must ask herself how that has impacted her perceptions.
A big misconception about breastfeeding is that moms sometimes think that they will be able to get a lot of projects done or tackle those novels that they have been wanting to read during the time that they are home with their baby. WRONG! Breastfeeding takes a lot of time. A LOT! So when a woman who believes that she will have time for all of these extra projects comes home with her baby, it is sometimes a very rude awakening (no pun intended for those sleepless nights!). It is normal for babies to want to nurse around the clock – from every hour to every 3 hours. It can often feel very overwhelming. Many women feel like they don’t even have time to do some of the regular every day things that they used to (like showering). But rest assured, this is the way nature intended. After women give birth, they need their rest to recuperate – breastfeeding forces women to sit down and keep off their feet. Breastfeeding frequently also helps the mother and baby to bond - something which is so important in the first days and weeks of the baby’s life. The tummies of babies are the size of a marble when they are born, so it does not take much to fill that tiny space. Therefore, breastfeeding frequently will allow babies to gain weight even if they are eating only small amounts at a time.
One of the most common expectations is that breastfeeding is going to come naturally. For some lucky women this is true. God bless them! But for the majority of first time mothers and even second and third time mothers, it is a work in progress. Therefore, it will give you much more mental sanity if you think about breastfeeding as a process. Just like you didn’t get pregnant and then give birth the next day, try not to think about giving birth and breastfeed perfectly right away. It is a process of learning for you AND your baby. Over the first few hours of life, your baby is learning how to coordinate the ability to suck, swallow and breathe – all at the same time! This is a lot to learn all at once for your little human. So give them the time they need and be patient. The first few feedings are an introduction – not a Thanksgiving meal. Your baby puts on a lot of extra weight at the end of your pregnancy so they are nice and pudgy and have what they need until your milk comes in. Plus, the colostrum that you are making is packed with tons of calories and immunities for your little one. It is absolutely normal for your baby to lose up to 10% of their birth weight.
An important thing to know about breastfeeding is that you are not alone. It is easy to feel isolated when you are spending a lot of time at home. Over the first few weeks of your baby’s life, you may encounter some breastfeeding challenges. Challenges can range from engorgement to milk supply issues to mastitis. If you know about resources in your area to turn to for help, you will not feel the pressure to get through these challenges alone. Go to a Le Leche League meeting or breastfeeding support group and talk to other moms who have been through this before. Contact a lactation specialist and schedule a personal consultation. Getting the right help will increase your chances of having a successful breastfeeding relationship with your baby.
In addition to Christina being one of the doulas of Natural Baby Doulas, she is a Certified Lactation Specialist offering in-home breastfeeding consultations to new mothers. Christina also teaches Breastfeeding classes in her home in Elon. To contact Christina, email Christina@ncnaturalbaby.com