You got the results – positive! Whether you were expecting it or not, if it was a surprise or planned, you have a little one on the way. It’s such an exciting time, but things can get overwhelming real quick.
“Is it a boy or a girl?” “What if there’s more than one in there?” “How do we tell our parents, friends, other family members, boss, co-workers?” “Do we have enough room?” “How should we decorate the nursery?” “How will our pets cope?” “What do we need?” “Do we get this car seat or that one?”
See? Overwhelming. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
One of the biggest decisions every new mom has to make when waiting for their little one’s arrival is whether or not she will breastfeed her baby. For some it’s an easy decision; for others it is not. And whether you want it or not, just about everyone will be quick to share their opinion with you.
There are instances when a doctor will advise a mother not to breastfeed her baby. But, if you are considering it, there are several things that factor into the decision-making process. Here are just a few:
- Convenience – The great news about breastfeeding is that baby’s milk is always available! No need to constantly search for bottles or make middle-of-the-night runs to the store for more formula. If you work outside the home, however, you need to take into consideration the reality of scheduling pump breaks and your employer’s policies.
According to the US Department of Labor, 61.4 percent of women with children under age 3 are employed outside the home in the civilian workforce. And while not all employers are required to provide new mothers the time and space to pump at work, employers with more than 50 employees are. There are additional provisions under the current law you should be familiar with.
It’s best to have a plan in place with your supervisor prior to the birth of your child that addresses your needs and their expectations.
Also to be considered is the prospect of feeding a baby while out and about. A mother must decide if she will nurse in public, and while there is no law preventing women from doing so, some women insist on modesty and, one step further, privacy. This may not always be possible when away from home.
- Time – Although extremely convenient to have a ready supply, nursing can take significantly more time than bottle feeding. For some, this may be a deterrent. When you’re a nursing mom, not just anyone can feed the baby—including Dad. Factor in middle of the night feedings and you will likely experience a level of exhaustion you didn’t think possible.
That extra time nursing your baby, however, further nurtures the emotional and physical bond with your child.
- Expense – Aside from the up-front costs of purchasing a pump with supplies (if you plan to use one), bottles and supplies (if you are planning for daycare or just want to have them on hand in case), breast care supplies, and nursing clothing, there aren’t a whole lot of on-going costs throughout the time you plan to nurse your child. This is a definite plus!
Formula can be expensive and, depending on any allergies your baby may have that force you to buy a certain brand, may leave you feeling like you have to take out a second mortgage just to feed your child.
- Nutrition – This is where the debate, both internal and external, can really heat up. So let’s stick to the facts. While many different studies have shown a multitude of benefits, WebMD offers this list:
- Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants with a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat – an exact match to what baby needs.
- It’s easier for baby to digest than formula.
- Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria.
- Breastfeeding lowers your baby's risk of having asthma or allergies.
- Babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
There are also many health benefits for mom. Not only do you burn more calories during the day when breastfeeding (helping shed those pregnancy pounds faster), it may reduce post-pregnancy bleeding, and lower your risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
With this in mind, there are helpful resources out there that point to what you will need in your diet to stay healthy while nursing your baby. For those who qualify, WIC is an excellent resource that offers many services, including nutritional tips for breastfeeding moms. The average woman expends an extra 500 calories a day during the first six months of breastfeeding and 400 extra after the 6-month mark. With the extra energy expenditure, it is necessary to balance the energy need with an additional 170 calories on top of your normal caloric intake. Your caloric need jumps to an extra 400 after the 6-month mark. It is also highly recommended that you continue taking your pre-natal vitamin while breastfeeding and drink the right amount of water. The total need for water increases from 2.7 liters for non-lactating women to 3.4 liters a day for lactating women 19-30 years old.
Tip: many women find it convenient to drink water while they are nursing.
In addition to what you should be putting IN your body, there are also things to avoid. Recent randomized, controlled studies reveal that a low-allergen maternal diet was associated with a reduction in distressed/colic behavior among breastfed infants. Some foods to avoid include cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy. It is always best to talk to your doctor, however, before committing to a particular nutritional plan.
At this point, we should note that there are some very real challenges to breastfeeding. While some women find it easy, many will face one or more of these challenges throughout their breastfeeding journey. That’s why support is so crucial.
So, now what?
If you’ve decided to give it a go and you want to nurse your baby, the first thing you need to know is that you’re not alone. There is a wealth of information out there as well as experts who can guide you through those first few rough weeks (they are hard, but worth it) and beyond.
The first thing you’ll want to do is set a goal. Do you want to breastfeed your baby for six months? A year? Longer? Setting a goal will help you mentally get through any rough patches along you and your baby’s journey. Even if you wind up not reaching your goal, it’s important to have that motivation.
Next, you’ll want to gather as many breastfeeding resources as you can prior to the arrival of your baby. These can include books, pamphlets from your doctor, or web articles. Familiarize yourself with what to expect and what CAN happen once you begin nursing your baby so that if something seems “off,” you know it’s time to seek help.
Speaking of help, there are likely many experts where you live who can help coach you and answer any questions and concerns you may have. Most hospitals will have one or more lactation consultants on staff who will come meet with you shortly after your baby is born. Even after you go home, many of them are available for outside consultations if you feel you need to schedule one. Don’t be afraid to ask; that’s what they’re there for.
Additionally, you may want to seek out a support group with other mamas who are seasoned breastfeeders as well as other newbies like yourself. Look for chat forums online where anyone in the group can post questions and get feedback from others. Many groups even have meet-ups where moms will get together and discuss anything and everything having to do with nursing.
One such resource is La Leche League International. If you go to their site, you can search for a support group in your area as well as access a library of helpful information and links.
With all of the above helpful hints in mind, one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby is to find any friends or family members, anyone in your immediate circle of influence, who has breastfed or is also currently nursing. You will need someone you trust who you can talk to at any time, and who knows what you are going through.
There WILL be times you are ready to throw in the towel. You WILL question if you are doing the right thing at some point. You WILL wonder how much longer you can do it.
The truth is, only you and your baby can decide. Some mothers reach their goal and decide that’s it. They’re done. Sometimes, for some unexplained reason, your baby will just stop nursing and decide on their own that the journey is over. Sometimes there are outside factors that will influence your decision. Whatever the case may be, there will also be support available to you when that time comes. Just as it’s not always easy to get started, it’s sometimes quite difficult to come to terms with the end.
With August being National Breastfeeding Month, it’s a great time to talk to a few experts, browse all the resources out there on the subject, and decide if it’s right for you and your baby.
Good luck on your journey, mama!
If you have any helpful tips or encouragement for first-time nursing moms out there, we'd love to hear them in the comments below!