What’s trending for pregnant moms-to-be this year? If you’re planning to paint your nursery walls a soothing gray, have chosen a cool gender-neutral name like James for your baby girl or Harper for your son, or are keeping your baby’s gender a surprise until birth, guess what? You’re right on trend.
Another trend you’ll want to jump on? Breastfeeding.
More than 81 percent of new moms initiate breastfeeding at birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest Breastfeeding Report Card.
After all, most of us know that breastfeeding is great for babies—and for us (hello, weight loss!). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months and that breastfeeding continues with the introduction of complementary (solid) foods for at least a year.
But as much as we all want to breastfeed our babies, let’s get real: Most moms who breastfed will admit that breastfeeding is tough—harder even than pregnancy or labor and delivery! It’s likely why the CDC also reports that the number of moms who continue to breastfeed after 6 months goes down to 51.8 percent—and at a year, that number is 30.7 percent.
“When you’re pregnant, it’s so easy to gloss over what we tell you in your breastfeeding class,” said Teresa McCullen IBCLC, RLC, an international board-certified lactation consultant at Augusta University Health. “After all, can you really envision what breastfeeding will be like if you’ve never done it before?”
But to maximize your chances of success at making it to #12monthsbreastfeeding, here are some of the best breastfeeding secrets that every mom-to-be should know.
- Make your lactation consultant your best friend.
Your international board-certified lactation consultant is your go-to source for all questions breastfeeding. She can also be a shoulder to cry on when you need one! So while you’re still pregnant, definitely attend a breastfeeding class, make friends with the lactation consultant and exchange digits and emails.
- Go hands-free.
“When you’re buying those last items to get ready for baby, along with your two-sided breast pump (which you can now obtain at no cost through your insurance), definitely invest in a hands-free pumping bra,” McCullen said.
Pumping can take about a half-hour, and that time is gold. While you still have to sit in one place to pump, the bra will allow you to use both hands to type, fold laundry or even just hold a book and relax.
Two-sided pumping also helps to boost your milk supply, which can be a concern for some new moms.
- As soon as your baby arrives—literally—start feeding.
Most moms are nervous about breastfeeding.
“To help boost your odds for success, ask for immediate skin-to-skin contact after your baby is born, and have your baby breastfeed as soon as possible but definitely within an hour of giving birth,” said McCullen.
You may be nervous, but in most cases, your baby will have the instinct to know exactly what to do. You just need to keep your baby close and feed on cue. If you can, have your lactation consultant visit to check position and latch, too.
- But don’t start pumping just yet.
Once your baby arrives, frequent feeding by your baby is critical to help establish your milk supply. So if you want to help to ensure a strong milk supply, feed your newborn on both sides as often as he or she requests it. After all, when you’re hungry, you want to eat! Your newborn is the same way.
- If your supply seems low, you can add in a morning pump.
“Remember this: The more milk that comes out, the more milk your body will produce,” McCullen said.
A quick pump—even just five minutes—in the morning, right after your baby has had the first feeding will help to fully empty your breasts, since they tend to be fullest in the morning. That emptiness cues your body to make more milk. You can also talk to your lactation consultant about power pumping, which can really jumpstart supply. Another benefit: All this pumping helps you to get a head start on having a stash of frozen breastmilk. (This will become so important to you in the coming months!)
- Sore nipples? Here’s what you need to do.
Store-bought lanolin is available under many different brands and can certainly soothe nipples. (And yes, unfortunately, you can’t get away from that. You’re going to need time for your breasts to toughen up.) But the best salve is something you already have: your own breastmilk. You can gently express a few drops and rub on your nipples.
“Soreness is often related to how your baby is latching, so reach out to your lactation consultant if your tenderness persists or becomes worse,” added McCullen.
- Eating right has never been more important.
To make the best milk supply for your baby, focus on eating good protein, healthy carbs like whole wheat, lots of fruits and vegetables and plenty of calcium-rich foods. Avoid caffeine and sugar (although a good scoop of ice cream has dairy to counteract the sweetness!). The very best thing about breastfeeding, however, is that for maybe the only time in your life, you can literally eat as much as you want. In fact, you may be astonished at how hungry you are, all the time: It’s a lot of work to make enough milk for a hungry baby, and most moms can burn up to 500 calories a day just through feeding!
What you eat can also help to boost a low milk supply. Eat oatmeal for breakfast every morning; add more calcium-rich foods (say a cheese stick as a snack); take a calcium/magnesium supplement, or you can also try the herb fenugreek—it works well for many women!
- OK, here’s where you can start pumping.
Once breastfeeding is well established (after about a month), you can start training your baby to drink from a bottle for some feedings, which is especially helpful if you’re preparing to go back to work.
This is when you can start pumping in earnest to store up milk. A good general schedule is to pump right after your morning feeding and fully empty your breasts and to pump again at those times when your baby is getting a bottle. (If you still have plenty of milk after your baby goes down at night—and you aren’t worried about a hungry baby waking up crying in an hour or two—you can pump at night too.)
Get your partner, family, neighbors or hired childcare to help feed the baby a bottle so you can pump. Otherwise, if you’re the one feeding your baby the bottle but also have to pump, try to pump as soon as you can after feeding (hopefully, your baby will be napping!). It’s a juggling act to be sure since you also want to make sure you’re not pumping too close to the next time your child will need your breast. And you don’t want to skip a pump, since that may engorge your breasts and, even worse, cue your body to make less milk.
- Be prepared for dips in supply, but always focus on your baby.
Month four can be a tough time since that’s when many women experience a dip in their milk supply.
“Lots of feeding and lots of pumping—as well as eating foods helpful to milk production—can get you through it,” said McCullen.
At the same time, please don’t beat yourself up. If breastfeeding is important to you and your supply has dropped, you can work to get it back up, but ensuring that your baby gets the nutrition he or she needs is of utmost importance. So add in a bottle of formula here and there. It can help take the pressure off you (stress affects production, too!).
Because while #12monthsbreastfeeding is a great goal to strive for, the very best one is #everybabyhealthy