New moms can sometimes be unpleasantly surprised by how tough breastfeeding it is. Even veteran moms can be thrown for a loop when their second child doesn't take to nursing as well as their first. Giving you and your baby the best possible chance at a strong breastfeeding relationship starts well before they're born, however. In fact, there are a few things you should do before baby arrives to make breastfeeding a success.
The most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about 60 percent of mothers quit breastfeeding sooner than they intended. Some of the biggest reasons include issues with milk supply and proper latching. It may surprise you to hear, but you can actually start working on addressing both of those issues before your baby is born. I spoke with Danielle Downs Spradlin, a certified lactation consultant, about what moms can do before they give birth to get ready for breastfeeding; below, she shares the techniques to learn and resources to research before your baby comes along that will give you a leg up — because knowledge is power, after all.
Follow these five tips, and both you and your baby will both reap the benefits.
1. Learn How To Hand Express
A highly effective method of stimulating your milk supply, even before giving birth, is already literally at your fingertips. "The most important thing is learning hand expression techniques," says Downs Spradlin. You can learn the technique on YouTube and start practicing so you have it down by the time you give birth. If you're having a normal, complication-free pregnancy, it should be safe to begin hand expression after about 36 weeks, but of course, you'll want to check with OB-GYN first. There are two big benefits to hand expressing before birth: It stimulates your milk supply, and may also produce colostrum that you can save for when your baby is born. Having that back-up supply on hand is a big win for babies who aren't able to nurse immediately after birth, which Downs Spradlin says is very common. In that situation, knowing how to hand express in the first hour after birth is a big boost to milk-making capabilities. "We see those hand expression parents having larger supply of colostrum more rapidly and then having that transitional milk begin a lot earlier," says Downs Spradlin.
2. Reach Out To Breastfeeding Friends And Family
Downs Spradlin urges moms who want to learn how to breastfeed to turn to friends and family members who've already done it successfully. "We learn breastfeeding by doing and watching," she says, so being around someone who can do it in front of you can be super helpful. Your loved ones can also help support your breastfeeding relationship once your baby is born. One mom told Today's Parent that before giving birth, she made her friends and relatives aware of her breastfeeding goals so they could offer helpful tips if any problems arose, as well as help her with household tasks so she could focus solely on nursing.
3. Find The Right Support Group
Heading to a breastfeeding support group while you're still pregnant can help you get prepared, and find extra support if you don't have friends and family close by. But keep in mind that you might want to try a few different options. "Not all breastfeeding support groups are equal," says Downs Spradlin, and some might be a better match for you than others. Starting the process before birth gives you more time to find the right fit. La Leche League can help you find groups near you.
4. Line Up Professional Support
Many moms turn to their pediatrician to work through breastfeeding issues once their baby is born, but Downs Spradlin says they don't always have the time or the expertise to help. You may want to look into lactation support services before you give birth, and figure out if your insurance will pay for them, so you're not scrambling to find resources when you've got a newborn to deal with. "That way if a problem does arise, you're getting expert advice rather than muddling through with somebody who might just be guessing."
5. Get The Right Supplies
Downs Spradlin says it doesn't take much beyond your boobs and your body to nurse successfully, so don't feel like you have to run out and buy every breastfeeding support product on the market. She says a water-proof mattress cover (for the inevitable milk spills and leaks) and comfy pillows are good investments. There are some things you might want to stock up on to be prepared for the discomforts that nursing can bring, however. Kelly Mom suggested grabbing items like nipple cream, nursing pads, and nursing bras while you're pregnant so you can be ready when your baby comes.