Preparing to Breastfeed–The Only 5 Things You Need

As the due date of my third baby draws nearer, I decided I should dig out my breastfeeding supplies. As I opened the box of leftover milk storage bags, my breast pump, lanolin cream and nursing pads, I was pondering what else I needed.

It’s only been about 8 months since my second baby stopped nursing. So it’s funny that I was having trouble coming up with anything else that I absolutely needed to rush out and buy to prepare to nurse another babe.

The memories of when I was pregnant with my first baby are drastically different though. I remember—distinctly—standing in the middle of the bottles and feeding supplies isle at Target and being overwhelmed to tears. I actually left without purchasing anything (SHOCKING right?? Target ALWAYS gets my money!!) because I felt such anxiety at the 647 different bottles, nipples, pacifiers, milk bags, pumps, gadgets, creams, etc to pick from.

So I decided to share my wisdom with you mamas who are new to this season of life. The season of being the sole provider of nourishment to a sweet new baby. Whether you are pregnant for the first time or just had your first baby, I hope you find encouragement and support by reading this.

Even if you are like me and slightly more experienced having nursed more than one baby now and just can’t remember what it is you need (#pregnancybrain is real!), I hope this jogs your memory and helps you realize you totally are prepared and can do this again! OR, if you had intentions of nursing one or more babies and it didn’t go as planned but are pregnant again, I would love to have you read this if you are interested in giving breastfeeding another go!

So without further ado, my list of the only 5 things you actually need as you prepare to breastfeed:

#1: The WILL to Try

You can think of this as a first step. Without this step, you can stop reading here. The rest of my list is in no particular order, but without the willingness to TRY, the other four things on the list are useless.

In order for breastfeeding to work, both mom and baby must be willing to try. Sometimes this can be the hardest step too—maybe your friends or family have told you horror stories about breastfeeding (shame on them), or your mom told you that she didn’t produce any milk so neither will you. If you are not willing to try, then your story will end no differently than theirs.

Setting an intention to give it a shot sets you up to say with intention and conviction “I am going to breastfeed” to the doctors, the nurses, your doula, midwife, spouse or partner and family. It means you have educated and prepared yourself by reading or buying “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” bookmarking reputable sites like LLLI.org and/or kellymom.com or otherwise equipping yourself with the knowledge that breastfeeding may not (probably will not) be easy in the beginning but it WILL be worth it and you are willing to try it.

I will even go a little further and say you must put a time-oriented goal with this as well. If everyone gave up the second it was not easy, the breastfeeding rate after 1 week would probably be around 2%. I suggest the goal be 4-6 weeks. It might seem like an eternity when you are in the throes of yet another 2am feeding, but this is generally when a lot of moms say that they and baby finally find their groove and breastfeeding seems much more do-able and enjoyable.

#2: Support

This is SO critical. I can still tell you, 5 1/2 years after my first daughter was born and I had my first go with the “art” of breastfeeding, who my main three support people were. I know that without them, I probably would not have succeeded in meeting my breastfeeding goals.

Even the second time around, I relied heavily on the advice and support of my new mom-friends I had met at the free La Leche League meetings in my area when I was pregnant.

It’s actually the entire premise behind the international La Leche League organization. For over 60 years, the group of volunteer La Leche League Leaders (moms experienced and trained in providing breastfeeding support) have been on a mission to “help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.”

P.S. You can find a local Leader on the website that you can call 24/7 with questions. If there is no local leader, just pick one and call. She will always help you!

Just having ONE person that you can call at any hour of the day or night to ask a question, or reach out to for support, can make a world of difference.

And while we’re on the topic of support, it’s important (although not a deal-breaker) that your partner or spouse is on-board with breastfeeding. Often just expressing how important it is to YOU will convince him, but you can also tell him how much time, money, and energy it will save to breastfeed. If you want a list of health benefits for mom and baby, the above listed books and websites are great sources for that too!

#3: Determination

Yes, this is slightly related to #1. Remember those first 4-6 weeks I mentioned? Without determination, and probably some stubbornness, you will be WAY too inclined to throw in the towel.

I don’t want to paint this picture of despair to discourage you, but rather to help you right now to get in the state of mind that no matter how difficult, if you have the will to try, you are going to need the determination to stick it out and give it a fair chance.

So, think of utter exhaustion. Feeling like you do NOTHING every day except sit in a chair and nurse. Seemingly around the clock at times. Your milk at first barely seemed adequate, then you felt the extreme rock-hard breasts signaling engorgement, meaning your milk did come in. Then cracked painful nipples every time baby latches on. You cry. The baby cries. The easy thing to do is throw in the towel.

But if you have determination, you can push through. You can call one of your support people from #2 and they can help put things in perspective.

After you make it through those first weeks, often you will see the other, rewarding, “easy” side of nursing a baby. No bottles to make in the middle of the night. No worrying about if you have enough water and formula packed every time you go out with baby. Perfect nutrition for baby. Always being able to easily comfort baby or toddler when they are mad, sad, scared, hurt, tired etc.

My journey with baby #2 was nearly painless, involved no cracked or bleeding nipples, and went relatively smoothly. Every baby is different.

#4: Patience/Time

Breastfeeding is often called “selfless” and for good reason. You might feel like, for weeks, that all you do is feed a baby. It requires massive amounts of time and patience on your part. Patience with yourself because it is such a lifestyle adjustment at first. Patience with your spouse because he might not know what you need or what is helpful at first. And patience with your baby because he/she too is trying to adjust to this new dance of life outside the womb.

Especially with my first, I felt like I planned every outing around baby’s feeding “schedule.” As in, feed the baby and then hurry and leave the house to try to run an errand so I could be back home before baby was hungry again. Now of course I am much more comfortable and confident just plopping down on a park bench or in a restaurant booth and nursing, but that was not the case the first time around.

And when you are home, there are many days you feel tied to the rocking chair, while the dishes pile up, the laundry fails to do itself, and oh what you would do for a shower!! I promise, those days will pass, and paper plates are amazing.

When you go back to work, there is then the struggle of making the time and place to pump regularly through the day. It takes time yes, and patience and understanding from your boss and co-workers, but guess what? Even without their understanding, YOUR BABY trumps their opinions and in MOST workplaces, you are covered by the law as far as being granted time to pump.

#5: Toughness, Dedication, Perseverance

Ok, I know this looks like more than one thing. But after consulting with a couple of other seasoned moms on what to name it, we decided it’s slightly different for everyone.

Whatever it is called for you, it kind of ties in with #1—willingness to try, and #3—determination. Being prepared for the possible pain, the time you will spend, and the knowledge that you are going to do something hard despite it possibly being difficult are all necessary.

It won’t always hurt (in fact, if it does hurt beyond the first week or two, I highly suggest you get in touch with a lactation consultant or La Leche League Leader right away to troubleshoot). But it does require some toughness for those early times when it does hurt and you have to bite your lip and let baby latch on anyway.

It won’t always feel like nursing is a lengthy chore. In fact, the older baby gets, the more efficient that they get at nursing and each nursing session gets shorter. However, there are always exceptions, like if baby hits a growth spurt and again wants to cluster nurse (or nurse around the clock seemingly).

And perseverance—well, that kind of speaks for itself. Breastfeeding is such a wonderful gift to give your child, in terms of health for mom AND baby and in terms of bonding. Keep all of the benefits of breastfeeding fresh in your mind so that when the hard times hit—the exhaustion, or pain, or criticism from others—you keep on keeping on.

Recap

My hope is that you are now equipped with a helpful list of what you actually need to prepare yourself for successful breastfeeding—the will to try, support, determination, patience and perseverance. While a good pump and nursing pads are certainly handy, I hope you feel empowered with this knowledge.

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