Happy international breast-feeding week everyone! As someone who recently started breast-feeding for the first time, I feel like things got off to kind of a rocky start. Did you have this experience? I felt prepared for childbirth, prepared for a baby but not so prepared for this thing my body and baby were naturally supposed to be able to figure out.
While everyone goes through their own individual struggles I do feel like there are a few things I can offer that I personally found helpful. There are some things that I really wish that I had on hand before in order to make my breast-feeding journey easier (so if you're pregnant now, its not too early to get these items! Trust me, don't wait till its too late!). Here's a list of things every new mama should have if they plan on breast-feeding:
Nursing Tops: I would recommend getting two different kinds. There are some designs that have the clip at the top of the strap that makes undoing and refastening your top easy to deal with one handed. These are great as they can be layered underneath other T-shirts or can be their own layer. You can find them relatively cheaply and in all sorts of different colors.
I would also recommend getting a cotton top that does not have the plastic clips on them. I found that for sleeping I needed a top that didn't have any straps or clips so that I could sleep comfortably. You can find sleeping tops for nursing that fit the bill, and are super handy at night when you're bleary from lack of sleep as you can simply slide a boob out and start feeding baby.
Nipple Cream: if this came in gallon jars I would buy it, seriously! There are all sorts of amazing nipple creams out there, make sure you have it DAY ONE of nursing, start immediately! My favorite nipple cream was Motherlove. The great thing about this cream is that it doesn't need to be wiped off before you nurse and makes it so much easier when you're sleep deprived as there is one less step in the nursing process.
Nipple creams can help prevent the uncomfortable chapping and cracking (things we definitely don't want) that can happen in those first weeks as your nipples get used to breast-feeding. This was my lifesaver, and I would apply it after every nursing session. Eventually I found I no longer needed it, but I felt like it was crucial to my first weeks postpartum. And again, why does no one talk about how tender your nipples get??
Water Bottle: each time we nurse the fluids leaving our body need to be replaced. Staying hydrated can be difficult but is so important to your health, healing and can help prevent thing like mastitis. I made it a goal to try to drink a bottle of water every time I nursed. What made this easy? A good water bottle. It's sounds silly, and for someone who's never been big on water bottles before, I found myself honing down on what I wanted.
Here are the things to look for in your water bottle (here's the bottle I loved):
Nursing Pillow: I love my nursing pillow much in the same way that I loved my pregnancy pillow. My nursing pillow helped me to find a comfortable way to hold my baby while nursing and also ensured that I was putting less strain on my neck and my shoulders in order to position baby while they ate. There are tons of nursing pillows out there and so you can find the one that works right for your body and your baby.
And here's a little tip that I learned from my sister-in-law, buy an extra cover. I can't tell you how many times I have put a fresh cover on my nursing pillow only to have baby throw up all over it. Having that second cover has allowed me to always have a nursing pillow available when I need it.
Breast Pump: there are so many breast pumps on the market and just like a nursing pillow, it can be a matter of finding the features that are right for you. While you might think that you don't need a breast pump, I will say it was something that for me, even though I wasn't planning on going back to work full-time, a pump came in super handy during that first week when my milk came in. I had a problem with engorgement and the pump was able to give me relief in ways that nothing else was. Also pumping when my milk supply was high allowed me to bank milk for later when baby's needs increased or when my supply.
Plus for many of us, basic breast pumps are covered by our insurance and so why the heck not? I encourage you to investigate this and see if you are eligible. You can use an online company that will do all the footwork for you because face it how many of us actually have time to do this research?
Breast Pads: think of these like menstrual pads for your boobs. So necessary in those first weeks when your milk is coming in! I remember telling my partner at the time that I felt like I was constantly leaking breastmilk and tears. And again why does no one tell you what an emotional roller coaster ride those first few weeks are? When your milk comes in it is a time of high emotion, on top of which your body is still trying to figure out how much milk to make and so often times you'll find that you awake in the middle of the night with one or both boobs leaking all over your bed and yourself. Wearing breast pads to sleep (and for some of us also during the day) can help absorb some of the excess milk so that you don't make a mess of everything that you wear.
A note on what they are made of, just like menstrual pads you can get ones that are disposable or you can get ones that are reusable. I used the reusable kind which were great because they were super soft and I could throw them in the wash when I was done with them and reuse them. The only problem was that because I was producing so much milk in the beginning my breast pads were constantly wet. With the constant dampness of the breast pads, I ended up developing a fungal infection on my breasts. Which let me tell you sounds disgusting, but in reality is simply super itchy and uncomfortable (either way something you don't want). One of the things that our pediatrician recommended was switching to the disposable breast pads until the infection went away so that my breast could dry out completely. I personally found the disposable pads to be really uncomfortable, but they got me through this time until the infection cleared and I wasn't leaking milk all of the time.
As with everything and new mama hood, we all make our own choices based on what's best for ourselves and for our babies. For those who formula feed out of necessity or choice, this certainly isn't a judgement on you. We all do what we need to do to navigate these new times with our little ones and ensuring that baby is fed and healthy and that we are happy and healthy are the most important things.
If you are trying to breast-feed, and finding that you're having difficulty I highly recommend seeking out the support of a lactation consultant either privately or through your care provider. They can be hugely effective in helping you navigate nursing together and can address all sorts of issues (none of which are your fault mama) that may be inhibiting ease in breastfeeding. If cost is a barrier, many ares offer lactation cafes or group nursing sessions where you don't get one one time, but can get some insight and tips from other mamas and from a trained professional. Either way, don't let this create a divide between you and your baby. If nursing is creating heartache and stress, get help early!
Bottom line, I don't know anyone that didn't have a moment at some point during their breast-feeding journey that was challenging. Hopefully this list will help prepare you a bit and I encourage you to comment and let me know your "can't live with-outs" from your time nursing.
Wisdom and insight with a dash of humor to help guide you on your journey through motherhood.