- Explore prenatal education.
Consider taking a class and/or reading a book about breastfeeding/
chestfeeding prior to your baby arriving. A bit of education in advance of your “on the job training” will enable you to better understand what to expect about breastfeeding/ chestfeeding and your baby’s behavior in the early days.
Since babies don’t come with instruction manuals, a class taught by an experienced IBCLC or lactation educator or a good book on the subject (check our our curated book list) is a great starting place or enhance what you already know, give you new things to think about, and in the case of a class will also ideally connect you to local resources.
- Talk with your family.
Letting your family and close friends know your plans for feeding your baby will give you a chance to make sure you’re on the same page, gauge their comfort and level of support you’re likely to receive from them, and discuss important topics such as how specifically they may be able to support you.
If you have a partner, it can also be a good idea to discuss your goals in terms of duration of breastfeeding/chestfeeding. Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding/chestfeeding for 1 year but the World Health Organization recommends 2? And that it should ultimately be for “and for as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby.” That’s quite a wide range! So, chat with those close to you before baby arrives, but know that things can change as time goes on!
- Make a plan for immediately after birth (and the first day).
The hour or two immediately after birth is often referred to as “the sacred hour,” “the magical hour,” or “the golden hour” (the latter not to be confused with the photography term). Raylene M. Phillips, MD, IBCLC, FABM, FAAP, is a doctor and lactation consultant who gives professional presentations about the value of uninterrupted skin-to-skin immediately after birth. Skin-to-skin and letting baby tune in to their reflexes may be part of this plan.
I think it’s also worth noting that even if this can’t happen immediately after birth for whatever reason, whenever this can happen it’s a great way to connect with baby and enjoy these first moments with baby on your body. And, there’s also research that shows value of skin-to-skin with the non-birthing parent for even 15-20 minutes has benefits too!
- Make a plan for the first week.
So much happens during the first week of breastfeeding/
chestfeeding! No, really. The first week with a new baby is one of the biggest changes a human can go through. If you gave birth, you’re recovering from birth, having huge hormonal changes, your body is transitioning from colostrum to mature breast milk, and you’re likely getting very little sleep. Having as much help as possible with everything possible will make this week as smooth as possible.
The best ways others can help often include bringing you food and beverages, changing diapers, and holding and soothing baby when you’re resting. Making a plan for this and making sure that everyone is on the same page is a great thing to do before you’re in the thick of it all.
- Make a plan for the first month.
In the lactation profession we often tell families that the first month is when the breastfeeding/chestfeeding relationship is established. Once you’ve made your plan for the first week, you can set your sights on planning through the end of the first month. There’s an old midwives’ adage that you should spend a week in the bed, a week on the bed and a week near the bed.
While it’s a common experience that many families want to fill the first month with visitors, outings, and other non-bed activities, it’s clear that physiologically there’s a lot going on that makes the downtime beneficial. Coming up with a postpartum plan that covers the first month will ease concerns that may pop up if you haven’t thought through some of these things.
- Talk with your birth team.
Letting your birth team know your personal plans and goals for breastfeeding/chestfeeding your baby is an important step to take care of prenatally. This can include your fabulous O.B. or midwife, your wonderful doula if you have one, even any family members who may be there for part of all of the birth.
Often your pregnancy health care provider and doula will ask you about your plans for feeding your baby and see if you need any additional information or support, but it’s totally fine for your to bring it up when you’re ready to discuss it. If you’ve already done number 3 above, share about your plans so that those who will be with you during that immediate postpartum time will be able to support those goals.
- Contact your insurance company.
While you’re expecting is a great time to look up your insurance benefits to find out what your coverage includes for both “breastfeeding/chestfeeding supplies,” i.e. a pump and lactation support. This varies based on insurance company and even under your specific policy so it may mean making a phone call or logging into an online insurance portal—tasks that are often easier to do when you’ve had a bit of sleep and don’t have a tiny person to take care of each day.
If you learn that a pump will be covered but there’s a specific method with which to purchase it, or that you’re entitled to so many lactation consultations but it needs to be billed a certain way, those are also things you can research or act on before your baby arrives.
- Line up lactation support.
Once you’ve done step 7, you’ll know your insurance coverage for lactation support. This is good information to keep handy so that should you need additional clinical, you will have already have a name and number of a great local lactation professional and/or support group.
Hopefully you have access to care from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). It can also be helpful to know about local lactation-related gatherings including drop-in groups or peer-to-peer support such as Breastfeeding USA and La Leche League.
- Wrap up and delegate.
Wrap up as many projects and delegate as many tasks as you can during pregnancy so that you can really relax and focus on your new little one and the precious newborn days filled with cuddling, nursing, resting and bonding.
It may seem like parental leave is a great time for home projects or things that have been on your to-do list forever, but really, if you can do those in a fit of last-minute nesting before baby all the better—or leave them until later (which may honestly end up being when your kid is 4, but maybe that’s just me).
- Enjoy the end of your pregnancy!
Seriously. Sleep when you can. Nourish your body. Do something spontaneous. Take a nap.