How to succeed at breastfeeding

mother nursing baby

Tips for you and your baby from a lactation pro

When you’re expecting a baby, there are a lot of decisions you need to make. One of the biggest is figuring out how you are going to feed your baby. And while the idea of breastfeeding an infant may sound overwhelming if you’ve never done it before, in the long run, it can simplify your baby’s feeding routine and provide you both with significant health benefits.
Just like any big life change, preparation is key to building your confidence. Having clear, attainable goals, a go-to support system and identifying potential challenges will help you get through the early days of adjusting to your baby’s sleep and hunger needs.

Get clear on why and how you want to breastfeed

“Breastfeeding is an investment in your baby’s health, not a lifestyle decision,” says Starla Jo McGorty, BSN, RNC, a board certified lactation consultant with Roper St. Francis Healthcare. “You are biologically designed to provide your baby all of the nourishment they need.”
Breastfeeding can also help you save money on healthcare costs, as nursing infants have higher levels of immunity and are less susceptible to disease.
In addition, it has been found that breastfeeding boosts brain development. A 2017 study by the Children’s National Health System found that breast milk optimized white brain matter in both hemispheres of the cerebrum and cerebellum more effectively than formula.

Take a breastfeeding class

Educating yourself on breastfeeding will help you make and stick to your decision to do it. Your hospital’s women’s health services will offer childbirth and breastfeeding classes, many of which you can attend virtually or in-person.
At Roper St. Francis Healthcare, these classes help you prepare mentally and physically, so that when your baby comes, you will feel confident in yourself and your providers.

Plan to make breastfeeding work in your day-to-day life

McGorty advises patients to start thinking about their daily schedules and routines early on in pregnancy. Will nursing and pumping fit into your workplace environment, or do you need to come up with strategies to make it work? If you work full time, will you be able to take one, two or three pump breaks during the day? If it isn’t clear how or when you will be able to pump, this is something you can negotiate with your employer.
“Your best resources for making nursing and pumping work with your job and career are your fellow coworkers,” McGorty says. “Talk to other moms at work. There’s a good chance that they’ve had to navigate these situations themselves.”
And if those moms are still nursing, you can support each other. They’ll understand the stress and exhaustion of returning to work with a new baby like no one else — and they can help make it easier to fit pumping breaks into your schedule.

Decide what kind of breast pump you want

When it comes to a breast pump, decide what kind will work best for you before your baby is born. Manual, electric or hands-free, there is a pump to fit your lifestyle and budget and your providers at Roper St. Francis can help you make the right choice.
You can borrow a hospital-grade pump kit during your stay at Roper St. Francis, and you can even rent a pump from us when you are ready to go home. Insurance companies often cover pumps, too, so check to see what pumps are covered under your plan.

Establish a breastfeeding support network

Having other moms you can share breastfeeding stories, worries and tips with will build your confidence. It will also provide the assurance that you are not alone. This network will form naturally in your life, with friends, family and coworkers, but you can also tap into online breastfeeding support to expand your network even further.
Organizations like La Leche League International have incredible online forums and serve as valuable sources of information that cover all aspects of breastfeeding. Many local La Leche League chapters have Facebook groups where you can connect with other breastfeeding moms in your own city or town. And you can even attend La Leche League Support Groups at Roper St. Francis locations throughout the Lowcountry.
In addition to La Leche, moms can find expert help and support with other robust online resources including: Founded by an international board certified lactation consultant, this website was developed to provide evidence-based information on breastfeeding and parenting. Run by doctors, this is a website with instructional videos dedicated to helping moms work through breastfeeding problems in the early days of nursing.

The Infant Risk Center. Located at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, this is a world-wide call center that helps moms have safe pregnancies and teaches new moms how to breastfeed safely while using medications.

Plan to start breastfeeding right after birth

“The most important thing you can do to encourage breastfeeding is to initiate skin-to-skin contact with your baby as soon as possible after birth,” says McGorty.
Babies are highly alert during the first few hours of life. If you lay your baby down on your chest, they will instinctively root around your chest, trying to suckle. Encourage your baby and they will begin to latch on to your nipple. The early milk you produce — called colostrum — contains antibodies and other substances that will protect your baby from gastrointestinal and respiratory infections.
Make it clear in your birthing plan that initiating skin-to-skin contact and nursing are important to you. Talk to your doctor about it during your prenatal visits and let the nurses know that this is what you want to do when you arrive at the hospital.

Create a breastfeeding space at home

As you prepare your home for your new baby, create a comfortable space for yourself. Make sure you have a cozy chair, support pillows and a place to stash nursing supplies. You may also want to keep a radio or Bluetooth speaker nearby for music and meditation, as well as a stack of magazines and books. This should be a quiet space where your baby can nurse and you both can rest or nap.

Plan to limit visitors

Being able to relax and focus will help you and your baby learn to nurse together. While at the hospital, you’ll have plenty of interruptions as hospital staff check in, so limit the number of people who visit you there and after you get home.
These conversations can be hard to have with family members, so work with your partner to clearly communicate your wishes in advance of your due date to manage emotions and stress. Let extended family and friends know that they are welcome at home after a few days, once everyone is settled.

Set realistic expectations

The first few days of nursing are the hardest.
“Your baby is going to want to nurse frequently. You’re going to worry that they aren’t latching, aren’t eating enough and aren’t having healthy bowel movements,” McGorty says. “All moms do, and it will take a few weeks to get to know your baby and what is normal for them.”
You’re also going to be insanely sleep deprived. But once you get past that, things will gradually get easier. Know that there will be milestones and don’t be hard on yourself as you and your baby move through them.
“Give yourself the permission not to be comfortable with it for a few weeks,” says McGorty. “It will feel unpredictable. The sleepyhead you had one day will be wide awake the next day, but just roll with it and your confidence will grow.”
This includes being kind to yourself and your body. McGorty points out that no one has perfect breasts. “A lot of women think they have flat or inverted nipples when they do not. Breasts can be weird and no two are exactly alike.”
If you’re having trouble getting your baby to latch and are worried that your breasts and nipples are making it difficult, a lactation consultant can visit you in your hospital room or at home to help you find nursing positions that work with your body and for your baby.

Know when to use a pacifier

Try to hold off on giving your baby a pacifier until after breastfeeding is established and your baby is an avid nurser. Your baby should be over their birthweight before you offer a pacifier and sucking without nursing won’t help make that happen. McGorty recommends holding off until your baby is about one month old before introducing a pacifier.

Prioritize breastfeeding during coronavirus

Coronavirus has given expectant moms a lot to worry about this year. Keeping yourself and your baby healthy during pregnancy takes more planning and thought than ever, but there are some aspects of social distancing and our heightened focus on sanitization that can actually help new moms who are getting started breastfeeding.
Because hospitals are limiting visitors and doctors are recommending limited contact with people who aren’t members of a baby’s household, it may make it easier for new parents to draw boundaries around their personal time and space. And with many parents working from home, working moms have more time to breastfeed exclusively before returning to an office environment where they will need to either pump or rely on formula.
The coronavirus pandemic has also brought more options for maternity education and care. At Roper St. Francis Healthcare, expectant parents can register for online childbirth classes, connect to their doctors via virtual visits and consult with lactation consultants remotely, bringing care and support directly to you so you can focus on self-care, rest and your newborn baby.
If you have questions about breastfeeding your baby, talk to your doctor during one of your regularly scheduled visits. Find a doctor today.