5 Things You Can Do During Pregnancy To Help With Breastfeeding

When you’re pregnant, it can often be difficult to look beyond the birth. That moment seems like the finish line of a 10 month long marathon, when in fact, it’s more like starting point of the race. If you think about it, pregnancy is the training you do before the big race. Maybe you take special vitamins or take extra care while walking up and down the stairs. Maybe you attend prenatal exercise classes, birthing classes, and hire a doula as your coach. But what about after the birth?

Once they are born, the race really begins! You are tasked with feeding, diapering, and clothing a baby day in and day out. You will potentially be breastfeeding for longer than you were pregnant and it will become an incredibly important part of you life. In order to prepare, here are 5 things you can do to help breastfeeding get started on the right track:

Think about setting up your birth plan to increase your chances of breastfeeding without complications

Research tells us that there is a correlation between experiencing interventions during birth and breastfeeding complications. Interventions in birth refer to any medications or procedures that occur. Commonly this includes epidurals, inductions, c-sections, vacuum extractions or forceps, and episiotomies. Of course, there is no way to know how labor and delivery will go forehand but do understand that interventions tend to snowball. Meaning that having just an epidural may not lead to breastfeeding struggles, but people who have epidurals also have higher chances of c-sections and other interventions which could negatively impact breastfeeding.

Why can interventions be such a problem? Depending on the policy of your caregiver, having interventions tend to prevent you from having skin to skin immediately after birth and can increase the time in which baby and parent are separated. For example, in Japan it is almost unheard of for you to get skin to skin if you have a c-section delivery. Skin to skin and the opportunity to try to breastfeed within the first hour of birth are incredibly beneficial to breastfeeding. Rooming in with baby as soon as possible after birth (within the first few hours) is also beneficial. The longer you are separated from baby after birth, especially if first breastfeeding is delayed, may make breastfeeding more difficult. So what can you do?

Ask your caregiver about skin to skin and breastfeeding during “the golden hour”

From La Leche League:

Immediate SSC for a minimum of one hour after birth is one of the most effective methods for promoting exclusive breastfeeding.  Babies who have early SSC are more likely to be exclusively breastfed at discharge, exclusively breastfed after discharge, and  breastfed for longer durations.

“The golden hour” is the first hour after birth. If possible, baby should remain with the birthing parent, doing skin to skin and attempting breastfeeding for the first time during this hour. Tests such as Apgar scoring and the Vitamin K shot can occur while doing skin to skin. The mothers body will also help regulate baby’s body temperature and keep them calm. Before birth it is important to ask about your caregivers policies regarding skin to skin and first breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is important to you, you may also consider changing caregivers if their policies do not align with your birth plan. Here’s a recommended list of baby-friendly caregivers in the Tokyo area.

Discuss your breastfeeding goals with your partner, family, and anyone else who will be around you during the postpartum period

Breastfeeding may seem like an individual act, but a successful breastfeeding parent has a lot of support behind them. Discussing your plans to breastfeed with those who will be in your intimate circle after birth ensures that you are all on the same page. Family members often try to help by offering to feed the newborn formula so you can rest, but this is not necessarily conducive to exclusive breastfeeding. If you explain your goals, they will hopefully support you in working towards them. There are many ways family members can be helpful to you that don’t include feeding the baby!

Attend a La Leche League meeting and/or other breastfeeding class

Support comes not just from your family, but from your community as well. La Leche League is a great place to start if you are looking to build a pro-breastfeeding community around you. La Leche League is a renowned international organization based around creating a free space for people to share their breastfeeding experiences and help one another with a leader as facilitator. You can find out more about LLL in Japan here.

Mamaka Tokyo also offers breastfeeding classes and prenatal breastfeeding support. You can see all the services here. If you are working with a doula, they may also be able to help answer your questions about breastfeeding.

Don’t buy formula, bottles, or pumps before giving birth

Now I’ll be honest, I didn’t take this advice with my firstborn. I thought I needed to buy at least a few bottles and have some backup formula in the cupboard. When I look back it actually makes me cringe a little bit that I didn’t even stop to question WHY I thought I needed these things when I planned to exclusively breastfeed? The truth is, having bottles and formula in the house for when you return from the hospital is generally unnecessary and actually contradicts breastfeeding.

Imagine this scene:

You have a two week old newborn in your house who is getting really fussy in the evenings and wanting to breastfeed nonstop. You feel like your supply is going down and your breasts are empty because baby is constantly drinking. You start to get worried that you don’t have enough milk. Your partner suggests innocently, why don’t we try a bottle of formula? You reluctantly agree since you have it ready to go in the cupboard and you are distressed. Baby seems satisfied for a time, but then the crying happens again the next night, and the next. When you gave the bottle, you forgot to pump or hand express. Your body starts to actually make less milk (because of the concept of supply and demand).

In reality, cluster feeding is very common with newborns and it’s not an indicator of your milk supply. If, on that first night, you had chosen to do skin to skin, put on some calming music, and just let baby nurse as frequently as they wanted, you probably could have avoided giving formula and your supply would increase to meet baby’s needs.

So, my advice is don’t buy bottles or formula “just in case”. If you want to buy or rent a breastpump, especially if you are going back to work soon after birth, that is an individual decision. But that is also not something you need to buy prior to birth. You can buy formula and bottles at most drugstores so if the need arises, you can always get it at that time. Or if you don’t have it already, Amazon Prime is a great resource for getting items quickly.

Now I’m curious, what would you add to this list?

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