I often get asked this question by pregnant women: “What are the essential tools I need for breastfeeding?” My answer is almost always this: At least one breast and at least one healthy term baby. That’s it! Provided everything goes well with birthing, you are able to avoid mother and baby separation and you are able to keep your baby skin to skin, things should go well.
Sometimes they will follow with this question: “But what things do I need to know or know how to do?” My answer is this: Get comfortable with handling your breasts and nipples. Review reverse pressure softening and hand-expression, especially areolar expression. Review breast massage. Watch some YouTube videos on baby-led latch. Talk to your partner about protecting you and your baby so that you have the private time you will need for learning.
Breastfeeding is a relationship between mom and baby. All relationships require one on one time to foster closeness and confidence. Pregnancy is like a Facebook romance where you communicate only with pictures – and the other party can’t speak back to you! You make a commitment to that person before you ever meet face to face, know what they really look like or anything substantive about their personalities. You sign the marriage contract (like an arranged marriage) with a vast unknown before you. You consummate the marriage – and then you begin to learn about your partner.
The next question I may get is this: “But what if there are issues? Are there any products or supplies you would recommend to have on hand, just in case?” Here is my list:
1. Breast pump – double electric. If your baby has some issue that makes it difficult for her to attach and draw milk from your breasts AND you need to establish your milk supply, I strongly recommend temporarily renting a Symphony from your local rental agency. You can use your breast flanges and attachments from a Medela personal pump, but will need to purchase a conversion kit if you have not received one from the hospital. Breast milk supply potential is established in the first four weeks of breastfeeding. Failure to remove milk from the breasts signals lactocytes to shut down production. It is easier to protect your supply from the beginning than to try to rebuild a supply later on. Medela Pump In Styles are my favorite personal pump, but I will admit prejudice. Your insurance company may provide you with this. This style of pump was designed for helping moms transition back to work and for occasional use when you have a healthy nursing baby.
2. Tendercare Hydrogel Pads by Medela. These are sold online, by Target, Baby’s R Us and hospital boutiques. For sore nipples. There are other brands but Medela pads can be cut in half to go further, if needed.
3. Microwave sterilizer bags. These save a ton of time if you need to sterilize/clean breast pump parts, pacifiers, bottles etc. You may never need these for your baby. They make great bags for steaming broccoli and other vegetables if you don’t need them for baby supplies. And they’re reusable!
4. Nursing pads – disposable or re-washable. Soft cotton pads are very comforting especially if your nipples are sensitive but not sore.
5. Bacitracin. A great topical antibiotic for scrapes and cuts and useful, should you need it, for treating nipple trauma.
6. Ice diapers. Make these yourself. Take 4 disposable diapers. Open them out and wet them. Drape them over a cup in the freezer. These are great for soothing tight breasts throughout the engorgement period.
7. Nursing support pillow. There are lots of styles and brands. One of my favorite is the Boston Billow. This can be found on-line and in stores (check with the website). Additional pillows, some firm, some more adjustable, may be needed. Make your own wrist support. This can be made from a long tube sock filled with rice and tied off. The wrist support can be placed strategically to help support your hands, arms and the baby during the first few weeks while baby is unable to support his own head.
8. A comfortable chair for nursing. A small rocker/recliner can be very useful. Combined with an assortment of pillows and supports, this will help you be comfortable and relaxed. A small table nearby can be a place to put your water bottle, nursing pads, and your phone.
9. A support system! The first four weeks of breastfeeding are the most difficult. This is when your breasts establish your production capabilities. 20% of women note that their breasts grew during this period of time rather than during early pregnancy. It is important to have a team (family, professionals, friends) that give you encouragement if you have a slow improvement in supply. Professional support is very important, but it takes a team effort when additional help is required. Even when things go well, moms need help to get rest and recover from childbirth and to nourish themselves. If there are older siblings, they will need attention and explanation, so that mom and baby can adjust to each other.
10. A positive attitude! Breastfeeding can be the easiest or the most difficult thing in the world. Every baby is unique with a unique body and personality. Every mother-baby relationship is unique. If you enter into this relationship with the idea that this baby has good will towards you, and you have good will towards him, any other issues you face will be simply about communication and adaptation. Sometimes you may need interpreters and facilitators, but ultimately with persistence, you will grow to love and understand each other. Good luck and blessings!