As a pregnant woman, how much time are you spending preparing for birth? Are you taking breathing classes? Touring your hospital? Packing a hospital bag? Reading books?
What about for breastfeeding? If you’re anything like me, you barely prepared at all! Before giving birth I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I really had no idea how to do it or even when! As a first time mom, there is just so much to prepare for but I want to encourage you to take a break from researching the best stroller and think a little bit more about breastfeeding before you have that newborn in your arms.
As an active member of Tokyo Mother’s Group and various mom and baby events around Tokyo, I hear a lot of women saying how they didn’t get started on the right foot with regard to breastfeeding in the beginning. Usually, this is not due to a physical issue but more because of lack of support and information. It’s really breaks my heart to hear this because for me, breastfeeding has been such an integral part of my motherhood journey and a mothering tool I use on a daily basis. (If you want to read more about using breastfeeding as a mothering tool, click here.) Now I am only one woman with one son and therefore one experience, but I’ve learned a lot since those early days and I’m hoping this post is helpful to you as you prepare for birth.
Now, I’m only going to be addressing specific information that applies to the first few weeks of your nursing journey. If you want to learn more about what I learned from the first few months of breastfeeding, you can read that post here
First, I just want to get something out of the way.
You should want to breastfeed! Barring any physical or health-related complications, you should 100% be able to breastfeed, and because of that, you should. La Leche League International, a breastfeeding support organization with groups all over the world, states that, “there is almost nothing you can do for your child in his whole life that will affect him both emotionally and physically as profoundly as breastfeeding.” Human milk provides the specific nutrients that babies need to grow, both in size and maturity. Your milk is made to order for your baby.” Breastfeeding also allows antibodies to enter baby’s system and protect them from illness. Breastfed babies have a decreased likelihood for allergies and dental caries. They also benefit from appropriate jaw, teeth and speech development as well as overall facial development. It is this commitment to breastfeeding that is going to get you through any and all obstacles thrown at you along the way.
Moving on to the things you should know! These are all proven techniques to help ensure breastfeeding success, so they will absolutely benefit you if done correctly:
- Do everything in your power to get skin to skin with baby as soon as possible after birth. Immediate skin to skin after birth helps to let your body know that it’s time to start producing milk (or in the beginning, colostrum). Having skin to skin with baby regulates their body temperature and encourages them to latch independently, even when first born. Even if you cannot have skin to skin immediately (because of a c-section or other reason), you should try to get skin to skin as soon and as frequently as possible when you are in the hospital. And during that skin to skin you should…
- Breastfeed as frequently as possible in the hospital. Breastmilk is made by supply and demand, meaning the more you feed, the more milk you make. Your milk may not come in for 3-5 days after birth, but the small amount of colostrum you are producing is full of vital nutrients for your baby and enough to sustain them for those few days. Even if you are tired (which you will be), still breastfeed at least every 2 hours day and night. I think I nursed Asahi every hour for the entire night after giving birth to him (he was born at 5:45PM) and continued every 2 hours for the rest of our stay in the hospital. If your baby is sleepy, wake them up every two hours to nurse. Often times if you have had an epidural, your baby may be sleepy for the first day or two. But it is crucial to feed frequently so baby gets the right nutrients and it encourages your body to produce milk.
- Don’t let the nurses/midwives give your baby formula so you can rest. This may be tempting because you will, of course, be exhausted. But if you can, try to nurse at every feed versus giving formula. Again, this goes back to supply and demand. To produce enough milk, you need to nurse frequently. If you skip a feed and give a bottle, then your body thinks that baby is not hungry and will not produce as much milk. This is more of an issue over time than a one time occasion, but the colostrum you produce in the first few days is so important to the health of your baby. If you absolutely need to, you can use a breast pump to express the colostrum and give it in a cup or a spoon. In the early weeks, you will want to avoid giving a bottle because the baby could be confused by the nipple and begin to prefer it over the breast. It is harder work for a baby to suck milk from the breast than from a bottle, so it important they are on the breast in the early days to prevent them developing a preference for the bottle. If you want to introduce a bottle at a later date, that is completely fine! Just wait until breastfeeding has been properly established before doing so.
- Your nipples WILL be sore, so come prepared. If you have never breastfed before, your nipples will be sore. Make sure you bring some nipple balm to the hospital to help with the soreness. I used the Earth Mama organic nipple butter and it worked perfectly. I put it on after every feed during the first few weeks.
- Ask the nurses/midwives for help getting the correct latch and positioning. They will most likely show you the first time how to latch and position your baby, but it takes practice! Don’t be afraid to have them come and help you many times throughout your stay. It can be difficult in the beginning to get a deep latch because babies mouths are so tiny, but keep at it! It will get easier as you both keep practicing. Also, it is not uncommon for babies to have a tongue or lip tie which prevents them from latching deeply. Make sure to ask your caregiver to check this before you leave the facility just in case.
- Have a postpartum doula or lactation consultant you can contact if you need support. It can be quite overwhelming leaving the support of the hospital or clinic and heading home by yourself with a newborn who is dependent on you for survival. Having someone you can call for advice, such as a lactation consultant, will greatly increase the chances of you having a successful breastfeeding relationship. Some local doulas and LC’s are Stephanie Kawai (her website is here) and Celia Hughes (her website here). There is also a La Leche League Chapter in Tokyo that meets every month. Here is the link to their Facebook group. This is a great place to get support from other breastfeeding moms and it’s run by the two women above.
- Trust your body and your baby. Providing 100% of the nutrition for another human being is incredibly stressful. You are going through an immense physical and emotional recovery all while sustaining another being’s life. However, your body was made to do this! Trust it. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t breastfeed or you don’t have enough milk. If you are breastfeeding on demand (every two hours or more in the beginning), then you WILL have enough milk. It is normal for a newborn to feed nonstop, this does not mean you don’t have enough milk. It is normal for a newborn to not sleep very long, this is not an indicator of your milk supply. The only thing to watch for is how many wet and dirty diapers they have. If they have enough and are gaining weight correctly, you do not need to worry.
One last thing, if you do end up in a situation where your baby is drinking formula, don’t worry too much about it. The wonderful thing about breastfeeding is the more you do it, the more milk you produce. So you can always continue breastfeeding! Any amount of breastmilk you can give your baby is so incredibly helpful for them. So many mothers start off supplementing in the beginning and end up with long and happy breastfeeding relationships after they work out the kinks. So don’t give up mamas! Breastfeeding has been one of the greatest joys in my life thus far, so I hope this information will allow you to get started on the right track. Happy boobin’!