Breastfeeding is one of the hardest, easiest, and most fulfilling things I have done. Before having my baby I had planned on breastfeeding, done my research, and felt prepared, but I still had a few things to learn along the way. Here are six things I think every new breastfeeding mom should know.
The beginning is challenging.
Here I was thinking breastfeeding would be the most natural thing in the world. Five months in, it totally is for me now, but the beginning is hard. Breastfeeding is instinctive, but not instinctual. That is to say you and baby both have the instincts to do it, but have to learn how, so don’t give up! Some babies latch on right away, but when mine didn’t, figuring it out was a challenge. I felt like I needed at least two more hands to hold his head and body, position correctly, express milk, and adjust my body. And then once you’re doing it right, it hurts. Like a lot. I’m not saying that to scare you, your nipples just have to adjust and toughen up, sort of like when you first start wearing sandals in the summer. Use nipple cream every single feeding at the beginning and that helps a ton! All that may sound a bit scary, but I promise once you have the hang of it, the benefits are worth it.
Your milk changes almost as much as your baby.
You may know all about how your milk changes from colostrum in the first couple days, to transitional milk, to normal milk. But did you know that your milk actually changes based on what your infant needs from day to day? In the morning it helps wake him up and puts him to sleep at night. Some days it may have more antibodies to protect against things either of you may have been exposed to. Other days it may have a higher fat content to help him put on weight. Plus it changes over time as your baby gets older. I found this article on the timeline of a breastfed baby super intriguing to answer some of those questions!
You can get free breastfeeding supplies and support.
As of August 2012, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) became a law in the United States covering preventative care. Among many other things, this includes both covering a breast pump and lactation consultant. We’re generally not talking about a little single hand-held pump — every insurance is different, but whether you have private or commercial insurance, this law applies to you and you should be eligible for even a fancy double electric pump (some will cover the rental of a hospital grade one). If you’re headed back to work a free pump is a no-brainer, but even if you are a stay-at-home or work-at-home mom, having a pump can give you a little freedom or allow you to breastfeed longer. Just call the 800 number on the back of your insurance card so you can take advantage of this.
You need a good support system.
Having others you can rely on is key to being successful at breastfeeding. It will take hours out of your day, every day, so you need your family on board. If you have family or friends who have breastfed before, that can be really helpful too both for advice and moral support. Be sure to talk to your partner, children, boss, and others around you so you can be clear about how this will affect your life and how they can support you. And if you need extra advice or want to find other moms and specialists, you can always find a local group, like La Leche League, in your area.
Don’t be shy to get help!
Whether it’s day two or day 362, don’t hesitate to ask for help from a specialist. Lactation consultants are trained to help mothers, like you. Before I started breastfeeding I took a class, which really helped set me up before I ever started. Then after I delivered, I asked my nurses about a million questions still. And when I still felt like I wasn’t getting it, I got a specialist in to help me, which made a world of difference. Don’t be shy to ask questions and get help. Every mom and baby are different, so even if this isn’t your first baby, you may benefit from advice of a specialist.
You have the right to breastfeed!
Know your breastfeeding rights so you can defend yourself, if necessary. Every state is different in terms of some laws, but federal law dictates you have the right to nurse in any Federal building or on Federal property that you and baby have the right to be. You also have the right to pump at work and should be given a discreet place to do so. Take the time to inform yourself on your state’s laws. BreastfeedingLaw.com has great information on what your rights are.