Are you planning on breastfeeding? While nursing your infant is a natural act and ability that a mother has, it takes a lot of planning, a bit of know-how, some support, and even some shopping. If you plan to continue to breastfeed after returning to work you will likely be throwing a breast pump into the mix, adding even more moving parts (literally!).
While there is a lot to figure out, breastfeeding is a highly rewarding part of being a new mother and is highly beneficial to infants. To help get you started on the right foot we have created a primer for you on how to prepare for breastfeeding during your pregnancy, how to shop for the best supplies, practical tips on getting started with nursing, and tips on pumping at work. Good luck!
How to prepare for breastfeeding before your baby arrives
The hours immediately following your baby’s birth are important ones for breastfeeding success. Check to see if the location where you’d like to deliver has resources to help you figure things out. This is worth looking into, as some hospitals are known for having better resources than others. Ask for information on the hospital or birth center you are considering in your local mother’s Facebook groups as a starting point.
Take a breastfeeding class. Taught by women with lots of experience who love to breastfeed, many breastfeeding classes are fun, educational, and even inspirational. If you are very determined to make breastfeeding work this is one of the best indicators that you will be successful, as women who attend a class are more likely to end up breastfeeding than those who don’t.
Ask for a referral to a lactation consultant. Researching practitioners is not what you want to be doing once your baby has arrived and you decide that you would like support. Make contact with someone in your area and be prepared. If you are using a doula or a midwife they will have several great practitioners to refer you to. Search lactation consultants and lactation counselors on AfterThird.
Make breastfeeding a part of your birth plan. The baby’s sucking instinct is very strong in the hours after it arrives so you will want to begin as soon as possible. Talk to your doctor, midwife and labor & delivery nurses about trying to breastfeed immediately after birth (if your birth facility does not already do this)
Have a conversation with your doctor about your birth control options and any supplements or medications you will be taking. It is best to get everything cleared ahead of time and to confirm what is safe for breastfeeding and if you need to alter anything before you begin.
Get your supplies. Before your baby arrives you will have fun shopping for all the little and big items that will make breastfeeding more pleasurable. After the baby comes, maybe not as much. You will also want to avoid sending your partner out for things you’d prefer to pick out yourself.
Breastfeeding supplies to shop for during your pregnancy
Maternity bras: experts recommend that you have at least three so that they can be changed and laundered often. Get one that is just for sleeping and a small handful for during the day. Make sure they are comfortable, supportive and easy to use.
Nipple cream: you may very well be one of the mommies who doesn’t experience sore nipples, but many do. It is best to be prepared for this ahead of time. Many mothers swear by lanolin creams.
Cooling gel pads: these are great especially in the early days of breastfeeding when the nipple cream may not be soothing enough. Not as many moms have heard of these. Here are some examples. Medela Hydrogel Pads, Lansinoh Soothies Gel pads, Ameda ComfortGel
Nursing pads. Initially buy small packs of a few different brands. Try them all out to see which you prefer.
Breast therapy packs
A handful of maternity tops: you will be able to shop for more after your recovery, but you will be very glad to have at least a few to choose from in the days after baby arrives and the visitors start showing up. You want tops that are comfortable and easy to get in and out of. Some mothers swear by tank tops with button up cardigans over them.
Want more helping shopping for the “must-haves” that you will need after the baby comes? Check out our comprehensive guide: What mom needs in the first weeks after birth.
Tips for finding the best maternity bra
- Guess what? You don’t have to wait for your baby to arrive to be fit for a nursing bra. At about 36 weeks you can get a fitting at a maternity boutique or large department store, as this is the size you will be from about six to eight weeks postpartum (they will fluctuate like crazy before that).
- After you get sized, buy three day-time nursing bras and one or two for sleeping (without wires but still supportive and able to catch leaks). If available, get one of a few different types.
After you breastfeed for a couple of weeks and recover from your birth, you can then shop for additional bras based on your experience with this first batch.
- If you enjoy wearing bras with underwires, keep in mind that lactation professionals recommend waiting until the sixth week postpartum to use a nursing bra with an underwire. While perfectly safe for breastfeeding, there is the potential that the underwire can inhibit the rhythm of flow in the early days. After six weeks your breasts and milk supply will be up and running with a routine of their own and it is fine to make the switch.
- The bras should fit comfortably on the largest latch, allowing room for you to tighten as your rib cage shrinks in the early weeks.
- What works best for you. While you can overwhelm yourself by Googling “best nursing bars,” the truth is that each woman’s body and needs are so different that the best way to find the best nursing bra for you is to try a few out.
Getting started with breastfeeding
While it may be a natural act, breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily come naturally to many women. Taking the time to get educated on how to be prepared will go a long way in setting yourself up for success. Here are some of our tips on navigating nursing once your baby arrives:
- Make sure to have a few books or online sources (with pictures!) bookmarked and ready to go. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League is a wonderful and easy to follow resource.
- Breastfeed as soon as possible after birth. As mentioned above, your baby is going to be ready to suckle very soon after arriving in the world. This is a wonderful time to get a “proper latch” from baby and to build up your confidence as well. Don’t worry if things don’t go as planned, however, you won’t lose your chance to breastfeed even if there is a delay getting started.
- This is one area where practice often makes perfect. Breastfeed as often as possible after birth (this will likely involve keeping the baby with you overnight).
- Read up ahead of time on proper positions and good latches. There is a lot to learn, so you may want to acquire one of our recommended resources below and educate yourself on the ins and outs.
- Experiment with different positions and find something that works well and feels comfortable. Don’t get locked into one position or another just because it’s what you’ve been taught or see other mothers doing. Mix it up as much as you need to until you find what the sweet spot.
- Who can you talk to? If you haven’t breastfed before it is extremely helpful to have a family member or friend to call and ask about little things that may come up. Don’t worry if you don’t have anyone close to you who has experience, however. There are a lot of great support groups both in-person and online. Some of these are included in our resource list below. Postpartum doulas, lactation consultants and lactation counselors are great options for professional support.
- If you run into “trouble” it is important that you not panic and remind yourself that every baby is different and that most breastfeeding issues are solved with a bit of patience and a few adjustments. Give the lactation consultant that you selected a call and enjoy figuring it out. Also, remember that you can change your mind or make adjustments to your plan at any time.
Getting started with pumping
Just when you start to get comfortable with breastfeeding your little one it will be time to start getting comfortable using a pump. Welcome to the ever-changing world of motherhood!
If you want to continue breastfeeding after returning to work, pumping is a great option. It will ensure that your precious one continues to get all of the nutritional benefits from your breastmilk and will also keep your supply flowing. It also provides the option to leave home without the baby and get some valuable ME time.
There is almost as much to learn about pumping as there is breastfeeding. Here are five things to help get you started:
- When to begin pumping: If your baby was delivered healthy and full-term, you can wait a few weeks to begin. You will have more than enough milk during this time and if you begin pumping too early you may end up with more milk than you need.If your baby was early or unwell in the first days, or if you plan only to pump, you can begin right away. Discuss this with your birth team as soon as possible.
- What type of pump: anyone planning to pump regularly needs a high-quality electric pump. Start researching and shopping as early as you can and have one ordered early in your third trimester. The pump you get will add a lot to how successful your experience is and it’s not something to put off until you have your hands full with your baby, or worse, need to begin pumping.
- Working your pump: This is also something that you should figure out ahead of time. The good news is that there are videos galore on how to assemble and use your device. Take advantage of the many resources available and do not wait until you are ready to pump your first batch to Google how to do it.
- How much to pump: It is best that you speak to your birth professional or lactation consultant about your situation and desires as far as how much you want to continue breastfeeding, if at all, in order to determine how much you need to pump each day or week.
- To give you a general idea; if you are exclusively breastfeeding you will need to work up to pumping 25-35 ounces a day. See our resource section at the bottom of this article to learn more.
How long does breast milk stay good in the fridge?
Breast milk should be stored in clean, new glass or BPA-free containers with air-tight lids and should hold just the amount for one feeding. To store, label with a waterproof marker the name of your baby and the date and time the milk was expressed before adding it to the back of the fridge (the coldest area). The milk can then be kept in the fridge for up to five days, though three is ideal.
Breast milk can be stored in the freezer for up to 12 months and in an insulated container for one day.
(All information from Mayo Clinic.)
Pumping at work – five tips to get you started
- Plan way ahead of time. This means speaking to your employer about your needs and requirements for space as early as possible and doing a trial run of 2-3 weeks before returning to work. This is going to be an intense time for you and your baby and all the preparation that you can manage will go far in lessening or preventing issues.
- Know your rights and love your space. Your employer must make a space for you to pump and it cannot be a bathroom. It must be made available to you whenever you want to use it. Some women enjoy using their own cubicles and use a curtain or partition to create privacy.
- Think about timing. If you had been breastfeeding before returning to work, you will need to pump as often as you were breastfeeding. In other words, you need to pump for each time your baby will need to eat while you are apart. This will likely mean pumping three times a day. It is absolutely do-able, you will just need to think about your schedule ahead of time and be realistic about the pressures you put on yourself once you return to work. If you weren’t one to take breaks during the workday before maternity leave, you will probably have to start now.
- Take things week by week. There is a learning curve for expressing milk at work. Don’t expect to ease into things effortlessly. Be open to learning as you go.
- Select your supplies carefully! Are you planning on carrying the pump home to disinfect at night? If so, you need a very lightweight pump. Do you prefer to keep your milk with you in an insulated bag? You may want to choose something easy to throw over your shoulder, leak-proof, and perhaps discrete. How are you going to clean the parts if you aren’t taking it home each night? Do you need two pumps, or is one enough? The name of the game for pumping at work is to make it easy, so invest wisely!
Resources to help you on your breastfeeding and pumping journeys:
La Lache League International – resources, answers to any and all breastfeeding concerns, referrals to professionals, and help finding a local group.
Ameda: Breast Pumping Guide: When and How Long to Pump
Nursing Mothers Advisory Council
Breastfeeding USA – great for finding local support groups.