Preparing to Breastfeed
Your breasts have been preparing to feed your baby since you conceived, growing larger as milk-making structures develop within them. Since the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy, your breasts have been able to produce milk for your baby.
You may have already noticed beads of deep yellow fluid on your nipples. This “liquid gold” is colostrum, your baby’s first food, and it usually appears sometime in the third trimester. This special, early milk is full of elements that protect your baby from bacteria and viruses. It is high in nutrition and easy to digest.
If you nurse your baby early and often in the first days after birth, the colostrum will soon turn to mature milk, tailor-made to provide your baby with all the nutrients he needs until he is 5–6 months old and beyond.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
The American Academy of Pediatrics provides lots of information on the benefits of breastfeeding, including:
- Helps babies fight off colds, the flu, respiratory infections, ear infections and diarrhea
- Reduces the baby’s risk of many diseases, including asthma, diabetes and obesity
- Helps you return to a healthy weight faster.
Set up for Success
You know breast milk is the best thing for your baby, but you may not be sure what you’ll need. Here are a few suggested items:
- Breast pump: Expresses breast milk if you need to be away from infant
- Breastfeeding pillow: Helps you position baby to feed
- Nursing bras: Provides easy access to the breast; you should be fitted for a bra at 36 weeks
- Milk storage bags or containers: If you pump, these allow you to store milk
- Breast pads: Keeps your clothes dry in between feeds
- Nipple cream: If your breasts become dry, this will help and is safe for baby
Take a Breastfeeding Class
Breastfeeding classes are designed to help expectant parents prepare for breastfeeding. They offer information on the benefits of breastfeeding, getting off to a good start right after the baby is born, maintaining lactation and what to expect.
If You Aren’t Planning to Breastfeed
Many women choose to feed formula to their babies in bottles instead of breastfeeding. A small percentage of women are unable to breastfeed due to a health condition.
When breastfeeding is not possible or you choose not to breastfeed, you can still gain many of its benefits:
- Breastfed babies are held, often skin-to-skin, and make eye contact with their mothers while nursing. A formula-fed baby can also be held during feeding, receiving the same close contact and socialization.
- Breastfed babies eat according to their appetite, rather than on a schedule. Doing so may have long-term benefits in controlling appetite and preventing obesity. You can also feed your formula-fed baby when she is hungry and only as much as she wants, rather than pushing her to finish a bottle of formula after she’s already full. Learning to eat according to individual appetite, rather than beyond a full feeling, may help develop healthy eating habits.
If you do feed formula to your baby, don’t fret that you didn’t breastfeed. The vast majority of babies, formula-fed and breastfed, grow up healthy.