Breastfeeding Essentials for the Early Weeks

Those early weeks of motherhood are rough. Livia had her days and nights mixed up for a few days and postpartum hormones will do a number on you (especially if you aren’t prepared for them).  In those early days I definitely had a love/hate relationship with breastfeeding.  Livia wanted to eat all the time – which is normal, but that doesn’t make it any easier to be up for hours at a time in the middle of the night.  Thankfully, the hard part ended by the time she was six weeks old and it became second nature.  

I’m not sure I would have made it through the early weeks without the following items:

  1. Positioning pillow

I used a Boppy because it’s pretty standard, millions of moms have used it, so it must be excellent, right?  I found it to be incredibly helpful the first few weeks as Liv and I were learning how to get everything arranged.  I have a very short torso and, at times, it felt to tall to use comfortably, but we made it work.  While I found it invaluable in the early weeks, I was so excited to kick it to the curb (actually the floor to be used in tummy time) when we no longer needed it.  I still will arrange our couch cushions to help prop my arm up when feeding, but that’s more because Livia is in the 95% percentile for weight and my arm starts to hurt.

  1. Breast pads

Those early weeks of breastfeeding are a leaky mess.  Waking up covered in milk was typical if I didn’t wear breast pads to bed; a soaking shirt was my reward for thinking I could skip them for a bit.  Breast pads are invaluable in keeping leaks (and soaked shirts/sheets) to a minimum in the early weeks.  I wore them daily until 9 weeks postpartum, which is about when my supply regulated. I recommend using disposable for the first few weeks (and I actually needed them in the last 15 weeks of pregnancy) and then switching to reusable for a few reasons: the reusable ones hold less, thus you are more likely to leak through them and remembering to wash, dry and find breast pads in the postpartum haze is more trouble than anyone needs.  I used the Lansinoh brand disposables  and the Medela reusables.

Another point to consider is the threat of thrush.  Disposables are more likely to cause thrush, but reusables are more likely to harbor thrush if you are trying to kick an infection.  I had a touch of thrush for a few weeks and I made sure the religiously wash my reusable pads in hot water after every use.

  1. Burp Rags

Newborn babies are messy, y’all.  I was completely expecting the blowouts (which only really happened like twice) and the spit up, but I wasn’t expecting the dribbly mess running down my side as she was eating.  Learning to grab a burp rag before sitting down to feed her was a huge deal for me because I could tuck it into my bra and it would dry up any milk running down and I didn’t have to hunt for when afterwards when she needed burping. Skip the cute monogrammed burp rags for this, you need something thin and very absorbent. We used the Babies R Us brand flannel burp rags and they worked like a charm.

  1. Earth Mama Angel Baby Nipple Butter

Nursing a newborn is hard.  Their mouths are tiny, it’s tough to get a good, deep latch and they want to eat all. the. time.  This combination culminated in sore, beat up nipples.  This nipple butter fit the bill perfectly.  I would slather a light coat on after she ate .  I found that it moisturized and protected so well – plus I didn’t have to wipe it off before she ate again.  I still use it for pumping and the occasional rough patch of skin that comes up on my hands or elbows (also good for chapped lips!).

  1. Snacks

I only thought I was hungry while I was pregnant, but nothing prepared me for how ravenous I would be a few weeks postpartum. After Livia was born I was starving and chowed down on the breakfast the hospital brought by (she was born around 6:30 a.m. so right before they passed food trays) and then ate a chicken biscuit from Chick-Fil-A and then I wasn’t hungry again for at least three days.  But once I started getting hungry, it didn’t stop.  I’ve read all sorts of conflicting things about how many calories you need to keep your supply up, the only thing I can say with complete certainty is to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.  Not eating enough can adversely affect your supply.  I kept a stash of Kind bars, Larabars and nuts that I could quickly grab before I sat down to feed her.

As an aside, I would totally keep sandwich making supplies on hand.  You can eat them with one hand, they take no time to make and if you are like me you were craving a turkey sandwich so bad by the end of your pregnancy you were having dreams about one. Plus, you can yell at your husband, “Honey, go make me a sandwich,” and then have him feed it to you.

  1. A Reusable Water Bottle or Cup

See the above comments about hunger and apply it to thirst, except I was crazy thirsty from the get go.  During pregnancy and the first weeks postpartum I used a big Tervis tumbler but it was replaced by a smaller Yeti cup that I received as a gift.  I’ve also used a S’well bottle and highly recommend them for outings where you need the lid to stay securely shut, however, the lid requires two hands to open, so it’s not as easy to use while feeding a newborn.

  1. Lactation Consultant

I asked to see a Lactation Consultant in the hospital right after Livia’s birth, but because we were there on the weekend following Thanksgiving there wasn’t one available. Our pediatrician’s office likes to schedule a meeting with their LCs before baby is a week old to check latch and do a weighted feed.  The night before we went to our appointment the hardest night, Livia didn’t sleep, it hurt to get her to eat and I was fighting all of those crazy postpartum hormones.  I cried the whole way to our appointment thinking that I was irreparably screwing our child up.  But, lo and behold, her latch just needed a little tweaking, she was getting 1.5 ounces a feeding (which is a ton for a newborn) and she hadn’t lost much weight following her birth.  That appointment encouraged me to keep breastfeeding because she was doing great.  It most likely saved our breastfeeding journey.  I do regret never making a follow up appointment because her latch was something I fought with until she was around six weeks old.

  1. A Strong Support System

I straight up could not have gotten to where I am without a strong support system.  I relied on my husband, especially, during the first month after she was born.  He was always ready to bring me a snack or drink if I needed them and cheered me on when it got hard.  My family and in-laws have been incredible, they have been so supportive or our commitment to breastfeed exclusively.

I know that not everyone will have the same support from their husbands or families, but there are many different ways to get a support system built. I am a part of a local nursing moms group on Facebook.  With 1200+ members and quite a few lactation consultants acting as admins it was a great resource to go to in the middle of the night when I needed something to let me know I was doing okay.  I strongly suggest looking to find a similar group in your area!  We have a La Leche League for SWLA, but I’ve never been able to make it to a meeting because they meet during the work day, but it’s another great resource to build your support system.
This list isn’t all-encompassing, and you may find that some of these things aren’t needed for your breastfeeding journey.  Let me know in the comments what you would add to this list or anything you would take off!

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