1. If you are planning to breastfeed, go to a lactation consultant (LC) within a few days of coming home from the hospital. Just as new parents are directed to take their babies to the pediatrician within 48 hours of leaving the hospital, breastfeeding moms should have the same rule for a lactation consultant. Do NOT wait until there's a problem! It is well-worth the money and time to have this help early on and get started on the right foot. If you are worried about the cost, think of all the money you're saving on formula. Don't rely on hospital LCs unless you feel like yours was super fantastic. The one I saw was a bit of a joke. Make sure you get a good LC who shares your values and isn't an alarmist–get referrals from friends who've breastfed and are having similar issues that you had. Same goes for a pediatrician. If you can find an LC at a non-profit or one who is working for herself but not selling products, I recommend that over one who runs her own business and is selling products for profit. Just my feeling, having worked with 3 different LCs in different settings.
2. Don't underestimate the value of skin-on-skin contact. I learned that this can account for up to 25% of your supply! It is hard to commit to this, but strategic dressing of your baby can really help. Use front-closure outfits, not over-the-head ones. Then you don't have to completely undress your little one to get the skin-on-skin benefits. Do this whenever you are home nursing (pretty much always during the first few weeks. If you're going to swaddle, try to limit it to nighttime so that you don't have as much to unwrap. Also, use velcro swaddlers to make it easier to undo and redo them. Wearing your baby and sleeping close to your baby can also help with milk supply.
3. Don't beat yourself up if you need to supplement. You have to feed your baby and make sure that he/she is growing and healthy first and foremost. Then, you can work on protecting your supply. Many, many women who supplement go on to have a full supply. Make peace with it however you can and then fight like crazy to meet your goals. People who told me that it was bad to supplement really just added to my stress, which probably hurt my supply more (see point #4). If you do have to supplement, consider using human milk. Human Milk For Human Babies is a great resource on how to do so safely and answers lots of questions regarding common misconceptions. If you supplement with formula, please read the WHO guidelines to safely preparing and storing it. Many children become ill from improper formula preparation.
4. Try not to stress. This is so much easier said than done, but stress really does hurt your supply. Part of me wonders whether I would have had so many problems if I had not gone to the lactation consultant that I did when I did. I went after a week because of soreness, and she told me that I had supply issues and would probably need to supplement. At that time, the pediatrician was very happy with my daughter's weight gain and didn't see any problems. I started feeding on a schedule and major stressing about the prospect of needing to supplement. Of course you never know because you can't go back and do it a different way, but part of me will always wonder whether I would have had low supply if I had just stuck with what I was doing in the first week and didn't stress about it.
5. Know that you are not alone in whatever problems you are having. I felt like the only breastfeeding mom in the world who had to supplement my baby... UNTIL I started talking with other moms about it. Then I realized that at least half the breastfeeding moms I knew had had to supplement at some point. If you are having any kind of problems or have questions, go to a Breastfeeding Support Group meeting if you can find one (check your local hospital, moms groups, or La Leche League). I thought this meeting sounded like a place to complain about breastfeeding, so I didn't go until most of my problems were resolved and I was just looking for activities to get me out of the house with my baby. It turns out that these groups are places to ask questions and hear about what is working for other moms. Who knew.
6. Expect some pain. Everything I read said that breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, so I kept wondering whether I was doing it right. Let me clarify–breastfeeding shouldn't hurt forever, but your nipples will be sore during the first 1-2 weeks, even very sore, and that is totally normal. If you have cracked or bleeding nipples, that is NOT normal– get yourself some help pronto. It doesn't hurt to get your positioning and latch checked out by an LC (hence point #1 above), but you should be prepared for some soreness in the early days.
7. Educate yourself before you give birth. Read about breastfeeding (see My Favorite Things for some good books). Watch videos on how to latch correctly. Have a support person (doulas are great!) at your birth who can help you get started off right. Try to choose a hospital that has labor/delivery nurses who are trained in breastfeeding and helping obtain a good latch.
8. Try for a natural birth. In our culture, birth is seen as something scary and unbearably painful. I believe that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. At least research natural birth and consider it as an option. Be open to it. Read some books (again, My Favorite Things). Take a Bradley class. Interview doulas. Educate yourself so that you can make an informed decision. At the very least, you'll learn more about your body and the birth process. You might be surprised at what you learn about natural birth, including that it's actually easier on your body, not just your baby's. The moments following birth are probably the most critical for breastfeeding, so be sure to do skin-on-skin contact as soon as possible. Talk to your doctor/midwife about this as part of your birth plan. Take charge! If you have a natural birth, your baby will independently be able to scoot herself to your breast and latch on, just like piglets and puppies and other mammals! Who knew?! These creatures do not have LCs or breastfeeding problems. They also don't have labor drugs. Hmm. Coincidence? Read my birth story, or check out our birth story photos for inspiration.
9. Don't give up! Prepare for a bit of a struggle. Then, if you have an easy time, you'll be pleasantly surprised, but if you have a rough go, you're ready to fight. Remind yourself (and your support people) of all of the amazing benefits of breastfeeding, for both mom and baby. It's up there with sending your child to college in terms of the best things you can ever do for your child, and, unlike college, it's completely free (well, mostly). Any breast milk is better than no breast milk, so at least try. And then once you get started, take it one day at a time. Set goals, meet them, and set more. This too shall pass, and if you make it over the hump, you will be so glad that you fought through it.
10. If you have a boy, consider whether you want to circumcise, or at least whether you want to do it so super early. Obviously I don't have personal experience with this, being a woman and having only had a daughter. However, I have heard of cases where little boys won't nurse after having had a circumcision in the early days of life. I think a lot of moms let dads make this decision without learning much about it or just go ahead and do a circumcision because it seems to be the thing to do, but it's actually a body-altering surgery on a child who is not able to give consent. Consider that, and at least read up on it so that you can make an informed decision rather than let society decide for you. You may be surprised to hear that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not actually recommend it as a routine procedure.
Wow, look at that– 10 points. What a nice round number! Didn't even plan that. Happy nursing!