It had always been a goal of mine to breastfeed. Sure, I had my reservations, and I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that my body would magically know what to do. Still, I was committed.
To help me get a better grasp of nursing, I scheduled a breastfeeding class to learn the basics and sort through the dozens of questions on my mind.
Well, I never made it, as I ended up giving birth on the day of the class. I’m not exaggerating when I say I didn’t have a clue on the first steps of breastfeeding; I just knew I wanted to try to make it work.
Due to having a c-section, there was a chance that my milk would be slower to arrive than those who delivered vaginally. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, and my milk came in as expected and in full force (ouch!).
Note: deciding to breastfeed is an extremely personal choice. No matter what you choose, please know that I believe fed is best.
There were a lot of things no one told me about breastfeeding and nursing – like that it’s an extremely emotional and exhausting journey at first. I hope that the below list of must-haves gives you a leg up on nursing and leaves you feeling empowered instead of thinking “I wish someone would’ve told me.”
Oh, mama. Accept that things will not always go as planned when it comes to motherhood, including breastfeeding. Something helpful I would continually repeat to myself is the below affirmation:
My baby and I are learning together.
Give your body and your baby time to get to know each other, and do not feel ashamed to throw in the towel on breastfeeding at any point. Your mental health is essential, and baby will thrive whether he’s ultimately breast or formula-fed.
If you’re breastfeeding, you are going to be hungrier and more thirsty than ever before. I’m not kidding.
Make sure to stock your nightstand with high-protein and easy-to-eat snacks for those middle-of-the-night feeding sessions. I would wake up with hunger pains and blindly fumble around for a protein bar at 2 AM, all while trying not to wake the baby.
My favorite nursing snacks:
Breastfeeding moms need an additional 500 calories in their daily diet, so it’s no wonder that your hunger feels insatiable at times. Follow your appetite as a guide, and try not to worry about overeating – your body is going through major recovery on top of producing milk.
In the early days of breastfeeding, getting baby to latch correctly can be exhausting both mentally and physically. I found that having a nursing pillow helped to alleviate my back pain and frustration.
The nursing pillow you choose is ultimately a personal preference, but here are some of the top nursing pillows, including the one I decided to use.
Also, make sure to try different types of breastfeeding holds to find what works best for you and your little one. We were a bit fan of the football hold in the early days due to my incision.
The Haaka is hands-down a breastfeeding must-have. In fact, I have two!
This manual breast pump will be your best friend. It will help you to collect milk from the breast you’re not actively nursing off of. In the early days, I was able to collect a small collection of colostrum-rich milk simply by using the Haaka during regular nursing sessions.
Also, I used it to help relieve some pressure to help baby latch when I was too engorged. That saved us both a lot of frustration!
I suggest getting the version of the Haaka with the small base and lid as it’s sturdier and less likely to tip over with your precious liquid gold inside. Add this nursing must-have to your registry if it isn’t already on there!
There are a lot of lactation-support teas on the market, but they’re not all created equally. I believe it’s essential to find one that is organic and also fenugreek-free.
Fenugreek is a popular herb found in many lactation teas that is proven to increase supply, but it doesn’t work for every mom. I opted for Tea-Tas by Legendairy to be safe.
As with any new herbs, do your research before consuming while pregnant or breastfeeding.
More than likely, your nipples are going to hurt a few days into your nursing journey. There were two weeks or so that I would cry in pain every time he latched – and then one day, the discomfort disappeared.
Two tools that helped ease my discomfort were cooling gel pads like these and an organic nipple cream like this one.
Pro tip: store the cooling gel pads in the fridge between use for extra relief!
Note: if you’re experiencing recurring pain with breastfeeding, please reach out to an IBCLC lactation consultant to help you pinpoint what’s going on and support you through your journey.
Much like nursing pillows, nursing bras very much a personal preference.
To be honest, I’ve tried all different types of nursing bras and have yet to find one I totally love. The Busty Maternity Bralette from Lively is my favorite so far!
Below are some well-known nursing bra brands to try:
In the early days when you’re trying to conquer breastfeeding, having some easy-access tops will save you a lot of frustration – wrap tops, henley’s, scoop, and v-necks are all great options.
Also, stretchy nursing tanks (like these) are great, too!
While not always easy (especially when you’re sleep deprived), having a clear and constant stream of communication with your partner is essential.
Remember that being specific in your needs when asking for help can help to save a fight or two. When someone asks how they can support you, give specific action items like washing the dishes, walking the dogs, starting the laundry, etc.
Not only will the other person feel helpful, but more importantly, you’ll feel better-taken care of and less stressed.
Also, when you ask your partner to bring you a drink or snack while nursing, make sure you ask them to open it for you beforehand. Trust me on this one and learn from my mistakes – ha!
Read next: Encouraging Healthy Communication in Relationships
No one warned me that my boobs would leak 24/7 in the early days. Even at four months postpartum, I’ve woken up with a large wet spot on my pajamas. Spoiler alert: it’s not fun.
I found that using reusable (read: washable) nursing pads helped to keep me and my clothes fresh and dry. I like the Charlie Bananas brand as they’re very soft and absorbent, but also hold up well in the wash.
Pro tip: I suggest buying two sets because you don’t want to be caught without clean nursing pads…
While I didn’t start pumping until four weeks postpartum, many mothers choose to start pumping in the hospital or never start at all. It is truly a personal preference of what works best for you and your baby.
I recommend having a reliable breast pump and taking some time before your baby arrives to get used to it. Please don’t pump before baby arrives without first talking to your care-provider, but get to know the parts and pieces beforehand, so you’re not left scrambling.
For me, I knew that I wanted a hands-free breast pump because of the freedom it provided. Being stuck to a cord or an outlet wouldn’t work for me, which is why I chose to go with the Willow wearable breast pump after careful consideration and review.
In the 12 weeks after giving birth (also known as the fourth trimester), having support is essential, whether it’s your partner, husband, mom, friend, or sister. You’re recovering from a significant life event, and doing it all on your own isn’t realistic, especially if you already have a little one at home.
You may find the below resources helpful when navigating postpartum:
Read: Postpartum Self-Care TipsRead: My Willow Handsfree Breast Pump ReviewRead: Sharing the Loads of Domestic and Emotional Work
Above all, remember that this time of your life is a sacred, special, and possibly overwhelming time. Do your best to be patient with yourself and your baby. Keep in mind that not every moment feels beautiful at the time, and that’s perfectly okay.
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