Before I had Wes, I remember looking through a list of items my sister suggested I would need for nursing, scratching my head in total confusion. For any expecting and first time moms, here are the basics about breastfeeding, specifically as it relates to items you may use throughout the process. I’m not a lactation consultant by any means, but have almost 1.5 years of nursing under my belt and this will give you a general understanding if you’re clueless like I was. Products I found to be most useful have *s.
*Pump – There are manual or hand pumps, plug in pumps, pumps that use water to massage your nipples... They all do the same thing: simulate your baby’s suckling to express milk from your breasts. You’ll use the pump if you plan to have a caregiver feed your baby your expressed breast milk in your absence, whether returning to work, out running errands or catching up on sleep. You may also use it to increase your supply by pumping immediately after feedings to empty breasts completely. Also, check out YummyMummy to see if your insurance qualifies you for a free pump.
*Breast Shields – Breast shields are the part of the pump that cups your breast and funnels milk from your nipple. It literally looks like a funnel. Each pump comes with a standard size breast shield and depending on the size of your nipple, you may need to order a custom size (Amazon typically has them) to avoid discomfort and blisters. I found this guide on Medela’s website very helpful. I had trouble finding the right size, so unless you plan to meet with a lactation consultant in your home, I recommend bringing the pump to the hospital to make sure the breast shield is the right size for your nipples, and to get guidance on how to use the pump.
*Storage – You may want to store milk just in case. My freezer had one shelf devoted to stored breast milk and it was useful when Wes was 11 months. He got so sick that he only wanted to nurse or have a bottle of breast milk. By 11 months, my supply wouldn’t fulfill his calorie needs so I supplemented nursing with defrosted milk. Generally, you’ll want to freeze milk within 2-3 days of pumping (to be safe, refrigerate expressed milk after pumping). If it smells funky, it’s probably not good anymore. You’ll see some separation, which is totally normal. I tried a few different brands and found Lansinoh bags to be the best. Make sure you get all the air out when you seal the bags. Lay them on a flat surface in the freezer and once frozen, stack them upright (I used large Ziplock freezer bags) organized by date. Be sure to include the volume. To defrost, put the frozen bag in a bowl of warm tap water. I found it most useful to store in a variety of 2, 3 and 4 ounce bags. Your baby’s intake will fluctuate and since you can’t reheat defrosted frozen milk, this helps avoid waste. I refer to KellyMom.com for all the in-depth nursing and breastfeeding details and you can find more about storing breastmilk here.
Keeping your supply “up” – some people will insist that your supply will never drop, while some swear that if you even think your supply is dropping it’ll totally diminish. I found that mine fluctuated whenever I worked out and I’m the only one of all my friends who experienced that. So I think it’s a personal thing and just go with what feels right for your body, not always what others tell you. When I noticed a drop in my supply, here’s what I did to increase it:
Hydrate! Drink a lot of water, and coconut water if you like it. For H2O, I drank 60% of my body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 100 lbs, you’d drink 60 ounces.
Fenugreek supplements – not clinically proven but it seemed to work for me when I was low.
*Mother’s Milk tea – I drank this nightly. It tastes good and was a relaxing bedtime ritual (it's our secret that Mark liked the taste, too).
Sleep. It may be hard to come by, depending on your situation and baby, but sleep when you can. Whenever I was totally drained and got an extra nap, I’d always pump more than usual.
Pumping for 3-10 minutes immediately after Wes nursed from a breast to empty out completely 1 - 2 times daily (storing pumped milk).
Positioning – this was a journey, too! This refers to how you and your baby sit or lay while he nurses. At the hospital, a lactation nurse came in and showed me how to position Wes for “proper” nursing. It worked great at the hospital but it was practically impossible to replicate at home – she must have used 12 pillows under and around us! I think the aches on a nursing mom’s shoulder is a challenge to avoid, so after you’re done with a session, do a gentle shoulder stretch and roll your head. Try a few positions until you find the one that feels most comfortable. I love this site that actually shows videos for positioning. I found laid back to be the best in the beginning and cradle as he got older. Again, positioning is a personal thing based on your and your baby’s comfort/size so explore and try a few until you find the right one.
*Nursing bras – I lived in these. They were the most comfortable, held the girls up well, come in a variety of colors, are so soft, have a light lining and are easy to remove for breastfeeding. I’m a 32B/Small pre-baby and went up to a 34C/Medium at my largest while nursing. These took a beating and are still in good shape a year later. Best to get wireless for ease and according to my lactation consultant, avoid underwire so milk can circulate to the breast.
*Pillows – They help position the baby close to your breast to make for a comfy situation. If it works for you, use any pillow, especially if you find a good position that doesn’t require something special. If you have a hard time and need a pillow specifically designed for breastfeeding, the most popular seem to be the Boppy Pillow and My Breast Friend. Order it before your baby comes and bring it to the hospital so the lactation nurse can show you how to use it.
*Nipple Balm – if your nipples get sore or cracked from nursing, there’s balm to help soothe. You typically don’t need to remove it before you nurse (coconut oil also works). It’s helpful if you’re pumping a lot to prevent possible chafing. Apply a small amount to your nipple after nursing or before/after pumping.
*Hands-free Pumping Bra – At the risk of sounding crazy, I used this mostly when I pumped while driving. I wore a nursing cover or a scarf and turned that thing on! (That said, if your pump doesn’t come with a car or battery adapter, you may want to get one if you plan to pump in unpredictable locations, like in your car.)
Covers help if you’re feeling shy want to keep things private (Wes never liked them and I eventually just got used to popping out the boob).
Nursing pads – keeps things tidy if you have a high production of milk and milk leaks in excess.
Stools help raise your legs while you’re sitting to angle the baby and cradle him in your lap.
Clogged Ducts – ouch! If you have a high milk supply or have gone longer than usual without expressing milk, you’ll notice a lump start to form somewhere around your breast. I got clogged ducts regularly when Wes was 6 - 9 months because he started eating solids and nursing less. Reusable warm compresses are available like these, or if you don’t want to buy one (and even though Mark thought I was crazy), I filled a diaper with hot tap water and it worked extremely well. That, and coconut oil to massage, worked out the clog. KellyMom.com has a great How-To for unplugging ducts here.
In the beginning, feedings can take an average of 45 minutes and you may feed every 1-2 hours. I liked to keep Wes awake to maximize each feeding. Also, ask the lactation nurse about latching. It seems like it would be intuitive for babies, but sometimes they need guidance to make sure their lips and mouths are settled just right on your nipple.
Remember that breastfeeding is a journey. While it can come naturally, there's so much to it and you may find moments challenging or emotionally draining. At the same time, the closeness, euphoria and love you experience while breastfeeding will have you forget about any hiccup.
The most helpful advice I can give is to stay committed to it and don’t get attached. It's great to have a goal and go easy on yourself if you don't meet that goal. Celebrate victories, whether two weeks or two years! You and your baby will find a rhythm, style, position, etc.
If I’ve missed anything or if you have any other questions, please reach out in the comments section. I obsessed over breastfeeding for the first nine months after Wes was born and would love to share any additional part of our journey and all of my knowledge with you! Good luck, mama!