Planning for breastfeeding? Start preparing when pregnant

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Congrats to the mommy-to-be!! Since the new member of the family is due anytime now, let’s get mentally (and physically) prepared for one of our biggest responsibilities – breastfeeding! 

Feeding is one of the very first acts of an infant, and you are encouraged to feed the moment she is born. If mastered the right way, breastfeeding can offer more benefits than discomfort. Breastfeeding can initially feel overwhelming, with your routine tossed out of the window and an infant who needs continuous monitoring, leaving you with very little time for yourself. However, this chaotic phase is bound to settle down in a couple of weeks. 

Let’s explore the ways how to prepare yourself for breastfeeding before your little one has come into the world.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

  1. It is complete nutrition for your child with immune-boosting antibodies, and easily-digestible composition that fights against numerous infections and illnesses.  You can read more on the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby, here.

“Cognitive development is improved by breastfeeding, and infants who are breastfed and mothers who breastfeed have lower rates of obesity. Other chronic diseases that are reduced by breastfeeding include diabetes (both type 1 and type 2), obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, hyperlipidemia, and some types of cancer.”

Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 2016

2. Mothers also reap the benefits of breastfeeding, by burning off calories and helping the uterus shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size, apart from the psychological benefits and forming a strong mother-child bond. Read more on the benefits of breastfeeding for moms, here.

Apart from this, your spouse can be a pillar of strength by supporting your decision to breastfeed. According to a study published in the Journal of Human Lactation in 2013, it was found that the education and support from fathers improves breastfeeding rates. An increase in breastfeeding rates, even on a small scale, brings huge public health benefits.  Most clinics offer antenatal packages to educate couples; make the most out of these useful sessions.

Breastfeeding Essentials

An infant needs to be fed approximately 8 times a day, and up to 12 to 15 times during a growth spurt. Each feed can last anywhere between 20 minutes to almost an hour. Considering the fact that you are going to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months, you need to be comfortable to make the breastfeeding experience pleasant. Here is a list of items that you might want to consider stocking up before your due date:

1. Prenatal education

Educate yourself as much as you can before giving birth to your baby. To prepare yourself for breastfeeding, you must learn the techniques, challenges, factors that control the adequacy of milk production, some basic breastfeeding positions, etc. Studying the feeding guides will help a lot in making the initial days of breastfeeding your baby easier and comfortable. Besides learning about the technique, it is also essential to learn the role of the baby in the process; what difficulties she may face or how you should feed on her cues etc.

2. Discuss breastfeeding problems with your physician

It is always better to ask your doctor ahead of time about every possible condition you might face during lactation. Discuss the following breastfeeding problems or concerns with your physician on your next visit: 

  • Know your body. There might be some conditions that can come in the way of lactation but can be solved if measures are taken early.  So, be it, thyroid, diabetes, hormonal imbalance, late pregnancy, PCOS, history of breast surgery, lack of breast growth during pregnancy, whatever conditions that you may have, ask your doctor while pregnant. Having any of these conditions not necessarily can cause breastfeeding problems, but if there’s any possibility, discussing them beforehand will give the opportunity to plan for a solution. 
  • Colostrum, when does it form, the importance of feeding colostrum right after birth, hand express colostrum to store in case your baby needs supplements. 
  • The importance of skin to skin touch right after birth and how to do it.
  • Another breastfeeding problem that every woman face at least in the initial stage is, nursing in public. Expert’s counseling will surely help you cope with the obvious discomfort during the initial stage.

3. Your own breastfeeding space

Select a room or an area that you think might be suitable for nursing and make it your sanctuary. Also consider space for keeping supplies such as nappies, creams, wet wipes by your side, as most breastfeeding infants tend to have bowel movements during a feed. Plan to keep a few things for yourself within your reach, like some snacks, water, or a healthy drink. Remember you’ll feel famished most of the time all these days and thirsty too! Also, these will help to make nursing time refreshing and enjoyable for you.  

4. Feeding pillow/boppy

A boppy is a breastfeeding essential. Most mothers feel a regular sleeping pillow is sufficient, but a boppy is worth buying. It saves you from a lot of pain, especially backache and arm or wrist aches. A boppy makes the experience of breastfeeding your baby more pleasant and comfortable, leaving your hands free to engage in reading or even to grab a quick bite!

5. Feeding outfits

A comfortable outfit is necessary to make breastfeeding a baby seem less of an inconvenience.  Nowadays, maternity wear doubles up as feeding outfits too. Dresses with an opening in front make breastfeeding more enjoyable and comfortable too. Make sure you get a feeding bra soon after delivery (as the bust size varies from pregnancy to lactation).

6. Breast pads

Breast pads are crucial. They are less embarrassing and help lock in the milk leaks, especially during the initial weeks when the milk supply is not yet stabilised.

7. Comfortable chair

Sitting in a comfortable position makes a world of difference. Choose a chair with an armrest and backrest to support your back. Arching your back or bending down while breastfeeding your baby will only intensify the pain.

8. Footrest

Not a must-have, in my opinion but a footrest makes the experience a tad more comfortable, especially if you have a cesarean delivery.

9. A good book/Soothing music

Since you will be spending quite some time nursing your little one, a book is an excellent way to keep you engaged.

10. Night lights

Switching off lights at night and keeping the room bright during the day will let the child distinguish between day and night from as young as 2 weeks old. So practice dimming night light to allow yourself to see during night feeds.

Foods that enhance milk supply

It is believed that certain foods increase breast milk supply. Nevertheless, a well-balanced diet and plenty of water help a new mum recover faster and increase breast milk supply too. Curb the amount of junk consumed. Your milk supply is building up during the initial days, so don’t panic or worry if you feel your milk is insufficient. Positive affirmations and the following foods will help to keep up your supply. A few foods known to increase breast milk supply, also called galactagogues are as mentioned below:

  • Fenugreek seeds – 1 tbsp soaked overnight and consumed the next morning
  • Oats – In the form of porridge, dosas or pancakes
  • Garlic – in everyday cooking
  • Almonds – a handful to snack on
  • Dry fruits and nuts – In the form of laddoos or enjoy them as a snack
  • Milk – Dairy and dairy products in any form that you like best
  • Water – Aim for 4 litres of water per day. Try infused waters such as fennel water, jeera water, ajwain water, ginger water, and lime water to stay well hydrated.

Foods to avoid while breastfeeding

  • Alcohol and tobacco
  • Fish high in mercury such as tuna, mackerel and sharks.
  • Caffeine
  • Some experts also suggest staying away from strong smelling foods or heavy-to-digest and gassy foods such as beans and cauliflower. Their belief is that the smell from the foods can get carried in your breastmilk or natural body odour and make the baby not like breastfeeding. Also, gassy foods can make the baby gassy as well but there is no confirmation to this theory. It is best to try and see for yourself and your baby what works for both of you.

Recipes to try

Turmeric Milk – Boil together a few pieces of chopped fresh turmeric in half a tumbler of water. Once it is well cooked, pour in a glass of milk and add a sweetener of your choice.  Boil for a few more minutes, remove from flame and enjoy while warm. You can also use turmeric powder. Just add to milk and sip away.

Dry fruits laddoo – Finely chop dry fruits of your choice. Make a puree of dates. Mildly heat the date puree and the dry fruit mixture. Throw in desiccated coconut and powdered cardamom if desired and shape into laddoos while warm. Add a few warming herbs such as ajwain to it. Traditionally, it is believed that warming herbs help with the letdown of milk.

Emotional health and breastfeeding

The most crucial aspect if you ask me: a positive attitude matters most while breastfeeding. Auto-suggestions like, “I can do it, my milk supply is more than sufficient,” “This is the best gift I can give my child”; works wonders too! Also, stay calm and relive happy memories while feeding.

One of the most important skills that a new baby and mother have to learn together is how to position and attach the baby to the breast.

Australian breastfeeding association

Top feed dilemma

As a mother, always trust your instincts and believe that your milk will suffice. Know the fact that nature has designed it in such a way that no mother’s milk will fall short for the child, however much you may feel so. It is possible that the baby falls off to sleep during feeding, or is unable to latch properly and so remains hungry even after the feed. In some cases, babies want to be fed after every hour since their intake of milk in one breastfeeding session is not much. Do not let these scenarios confuse you into thinking that your body is not producing enough milk for your baby. The let down of milk only happens after a few days and so wait patiently for the rhythm to set in while both you and your baby keep trying breastfeeding.

Unnecessary introduction of bottle feeds, or cow’s milk (upon other’s insistence in some cases) will have a negative impact on your milk supply. Besides, your baby may face digestive issues as her system isn’t fully mature as yet. The milk ducts are activated at the action of the baby suckling, so the more you feed the baby, more the milk production. If you start with top feed, since the baby will suckle less, the breastmilk volume will go down gradually.

Working Mum Woes

A maternity leave of 12 to 26 weeks is common in most workplaces. Once a mom rejoins work, it is not necessary to discontinue breastfeeding the baby.  Invest in a good pump and read well about storing breastmilk. Milk can remain in refrigerator for upto 4 hours. Once refrigerated, do not heat the milk directly; instead warm your container by placing it in warm water. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Train your caregiver to feed by a spoon or a small conch shaped container, and refrain from introducing plastic bottles and nipples.

Do note, that if you still breastfeed directly (especially at nights), some nipple confusion is bound to be there, as the milk flow is slower when the child suckles than when feeding her with a spoon. It is nevertheless a wise option to stick to EBM (Expressed Breast Milk) than introducing other feeds.

Take home message

It is our primary responsibility to breastfeed our offsprings.  However, under certain circumstances, a mother may need to supplement feed with formula. Don’t worry momma, switch to formula as per your paediatrician’s advice. It doesn’t make you any less of a mother. You are still giving your child the best you can!

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