2. Learn & Practice Hand Expression
Hand expression is the original milk expression technique. I believe it is an underrated skill that has the potential to make feeding your baby less stressful, and more successful! Hand expression can be used:
- In combination with a spoon, cup, or syringe, to provide your baby with human milk and effectively stimulate your supply if your baby is having trouble latching, is too sleepy to latch, still appears hungry after latching, is having jaundice or sugar issues, and/or is in the NICU.
- To get the milk flowing before your baby latches, to both entice them to suckle and help them get milk more quickly.
- To help relieve engorgement.
- To move milk if you do not have a pump, your pump has not yet arrived, or you forget your pump.
- To elicit the initial let down if you have a forceful let down that is difficult for your baby to handle (you can catch the milk in a towel or cup).
- If you have a plugged duct.
Around your 36th-37th week of pregnancy, consider spending a few minutes each day or every few days practicing hand expression. You may notice a tiny bit of clear, white, or yellow fluid at your nipple, OR you may not see anything – BOTH are completely normal. The goal is to be ready with this handy technique if needed. Here are a few helpful videos to that show you how to hand express:
You may also want to investigate harvesting colostrum prenatally – just in case. If you do not see any colostrum, please do not be discouraged! While this can be helpful, it is not a necessity and not everyone will be able to express colostrum prenatally. Before attempting to harvest your colostrum, please consult with your provider to confirm that it is safe for you.
There is encouraging research to show that hand expression and harvesting colostrum has many benefits for both you and your baby. Check out the following articles for more information.
3. Choose a Pump and Learn How to Use It
Perhaps you do not plan to pump as part of your breastfeeding/chestfeeding journey, or perhaps you plan to offer a bottle regularly. Despite our plans, a pump may be a temporary or permanent part of your feeding journey.
If your insurance company allows, choose and acquire a pump in the last weeks of pregnancy. Consider sterilizing the parts, setting it up, and trying it out. Do an internet search, and watch a few videos about your particular pump. Here are a couple good video playlists to start with:
(If you are having trouble accessing the playlists, right click on the links and select “Open in a New Tab”)
4. Find a Local Lactation Support Group and Join Prenatally
As someone who hosts a number of Lifecycle’s Lactation Support Groups, I think they are a wonderful place to share and troubleshoot your struggles, learn about your baby, build community, and hopefully make lifelong friends.
By joining prenatally, you can ask questions, hear about different feeding journeys, and see parents latching, pumping, and bottle feeding their babies. I also hope doing so will make you more comfortable and likely to join once your baby has arrived, and your need for the love and brilliance of other parents has grown.
Lifecycle’s Lactation Support Groups are currently taking place via Zoom. They meet:
- Every Wednesday from 10-12
- Every other Thursday from 10-12
- Every Friday from 10-12 (on Fridays, groups alternate between Lactation Support Group and New Parent Support Group).
You can view the full schedule here. For the Zoom login information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Find an IBCLC (or 2) and Consider a Prenatal Consult:
IBCLC stands for International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. If you have never breastfed or chestfed, a prenatal lactation appointment with an IBCLC will give you the opportunity to discuss all of the basics as well as any specific questions you may have.
Topics covered typically include your feeding goals, the basics of latch and positioning, building a milk supply, and how to assess that things are going well. You could also discuss pumping and various products. If you have breastfed or chestfed before but you would like a refresher or there were difficulties, you may be able to discuss a course of action that improves your experience this time around.
The more comfortable you feel beforehand and the more knowledge you have, will only serve to bolster you on those first few nights of joy (that are also accompanied by sleep deprivation and brain fog).
At Lifecycle WomanCare, we offer in-office lactation consults Monday through Friday in both our Bryn Mawr and South Philadelphia locations.
If a home visit feels more appropriate, please visit PRO-LC (PA Resource Organization for Lactation Consultants) for a list of potential lactation providers.
6. Investigate a Few Breastfeeding/Chestfeeding Products
There are a lot of products on the market that can help you along your lactation journey. Below are a few that I often recommend or have come highly recommended by my clients.
If you have never used a manual/hand pump, this video will give you some helpful pointers.
Similar to other baby items, you may not find all of the products above necessary or helpful. Therefore, it may be worth looking for them at a discounted price or seeing if you have family or friends that can lend them to you. You can also check your local Buy Nothing Group or shop local consignment shops/sales like The Nesting House, Kid to Kid, or Just Between Friends.
7. Write Down Some “Feeding Hopes & Dreams”
At Lifecycle, our version of a Birth Plan is called “Birth Hopes and Dreams.” We have shied away from the word “plan”, because we do not always get to plan birth. With this concept in mind, I would like you to take some time to write down a few “Feeding Hopes and Dreams.”
I would also like you to consider, as you compile your “Feeding Hopes and Dreams,” what you might do in the event things do not go as you hoped or dreamed. What are your ultimate goals? What aspects can you most likely keep in place? What changes are you willing to make? Because in the end, no matter how you feed your sweet, cherubic, fascinating baby, you will be trying your very best, and you will be doing a great job.
Although this blog is written for those interested in breastfeeding/chestfeeding, our desire is to help everyone reach their feeding goals. Please call our office at 610.525.6086 and we will be happy to discuss any and every plan you would like to explore.
In addition to writing amazing blog posts, Cara sees lactation clients in our Bryn Mawr and South Philly Offices and helps facilitate Lifecycle’s Lactation Support Groups.
Photo credit: Meg Brock Photography
Colostrum photo credit: https://helpmebreastfeed.net/confused-about-expressing/