Today’s topic is so near and dear to my heart because I had such struggles with breastfeeding with all of my 3 babies. I have since learned that the best time to prepare for your feeding journey (whether you decide to breastfeed, formula feed or combo feed) is actually while you are still pregnant (and a tip we share today also helps with cervix dilation – yay win win!).
I sat down with Julie Matheney who is part of The Lactation Network. The Lactation Network checks your insurance policy to get you the lactation support you need (often zero out of pocket to you) and a free pump (even for your second, third etc pregnancies), if you want one. As an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with Masters in speech-language pathology (who worked for years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as a speech therapist), Julie knows a thing or two about breastfeeding and all the essentials that come with making nursing easier.
Here are Julie’s Top 5 Tips for a Successful Breastfeeding Journey all VBAC mamas should know about:
1. START COLLECTING YOUR COLOSTRUM STARTING AT 37 WEEKS (This process also helps with cervix dilation)
Julie says, “Learn how to collect your colostrum before the baby is born! Colostrum IS milk and has been in the breast since around 10-14 weeks gestation and is ready for whenever a baby is born, even if they are born prematurely. Antenatal hand expression is a great way to see your milk for yourself to have confidence that your body is making exactly what the baby needs with no need to wait for “milk to come in” to start feeding your baby.
Starting around 37 weeks you can even start harvesting colostrum to freeze in case supplementing baby is needed after birth. No, collecting colostrum even a few times a day will not increase your risk of going into premature labor. If hand expression alone could induce labor, every OB would recommend that over a medicated induction.”
Julie does an amazing job showing and explaining how to do hand expression in this video.
I love these Haakaa Colostrum collection containers. I have used them personally and brought this cooler full of colostrum to the hospital when it was time. This allowed me to get a good night’s sleep before my milk came in and my husband was able to feed our little baby with my own colostrum at night for the first 2 nights.
Nipple stimulation simultaneously can help your cervix to start softening! Win win! NOTE: Stimulation can cause contractions and even induce labor so discuss with your provider when full nipple stimulation is appropriate and only start after 37 weeks.
If your baby has jaundice and you’re in the hospital, in addition to baby being under lights, you will most likely feel the pressure from the doctors to supplement with formula to get the jaundice out of the baby’s system faster. You will be able to use your own frozen colostrum instead, avoiding using a formula, but still having your baby recover faster.
As you can probably tell, we’re big fans of collecting colostrum after 37 weeks of pregnancy and feel like it’s such a valuable process that all VBAC mamas should know about.
2. SKIN-TO-SKIN AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE AFTER BIRTH
Julie says, “Don’t underestimate the power of skin-to-skin time once the baby is born for supporting your milk supply and helping baby feed. Your skin contact helps regulate a baby’s heart and respiratory rates, temperature, and blood sugar while helping you release hormones that stimulate milk production! Have baby out of the swaddle and on your body as much as possible in the first week after delivery.”
3. FIND YOUR LACTATION CONSULTANT EARLY
Julie says, “Find a lactation consultant to work with for a prenatal class before you give birth! Not only will the lactation consultant not have time to teach you about lactation after delivery, you may not even see a lactation consultant while you’re admitted. Your brain also really can’t learn new information after the work of labor. Learn about breastfeeding while you can still retain information and have your questions answered before being thrown into the deep end. “
With my last baby, I found my lactation consultant at 37 weeks. She came to my house during one of my baby’s naps (my other kiddo was in school). That’s when I learned about hand expressing and collecting colostrum early. I recommend treating a lactation consultant (especially since thanks to The Lactation Network, you can get them covered for free with your insurance) as part of your birth team. Similar to how you interview a doula, you should ask to interview your Lactation Consultant to make sure you like them and that they are the right fit for you.
If you don’t already have a few people in mind you want to interview, The Lactation Network can verify your coverage and find you the right lactation consultant (called IBCLC). One of our team members used The Lactation Network matching personally with her third baby and really appreciated that they made sure that the lactation consultant she was paired with was certified and highly qualified to help her (which they did and she had a beautiful breastfeeding journey!).
4. FINDING THE RIGHT BREAST PUMP FLANGE IS KEY
Julie says, “Get a quality breast pump while you’re still pregnant. While a pump is never needed to successfully breastfeed, if you need to go back to work or it’s your goal to bottle feed you’ll want to have a quality pump. Sometimes breastfeeding also doesn’t go as expected in the early days after delivery, and having a quality pump can help jump-start milk production while you’re perfecting baby’s latch.
Not all pumps are created equal and you do want a quality pump, like the Spectra s1 or s2, Unimom Opera, Pumpables Genie Advanced or Baby Buddha. There are other good pumps out there that can work well for many, these are my current favorites.
When getting that quality pump, flange size absolutely matters! Just like bras are not one size fits all, neither are pump flanges. The perfect fit follows the 3 F’s: Fit, Feel, and Function.
Fit: the flange should fit well with only the nipple moving in and out of the tunnel. The bell part of the flange should hold the areola back. If too much areola is being pulled in, it can swell the nipple and areola around the nipple pores and not let milk empty efficiently. This leaves milk behind which will eventually drop the supply. It also increases the risk of plugged ducts or mastitis.
Feel: pumping shouldn’t feel uncomfortable or painful!! The flange should feel comfortable with no rubbing, pinching, or stabbing pain, and pumping should not cause damage or swelling to your nipples or breasts. If you dread pumping, most likely it’s the wrong flange.
Function: the pump flange should allow your milk to empty efficiently and well where you don’t feel like milk is being left behind.”
We talked above about scheduling your consultation with a Lactation specialist before the baby arrives. During that time, they can also measure you for the right flange. So helpful not to worry about that once the baby is here. Shop for pumps here.
5. BEWARE OF TONGUE TIE ONCE THE BABY IS BORN. HERE IS WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Julie says, “Tongue Tie – also known as ‘Ankyloglossia’ – occurs in 3-10% of births but is often overlooked or goes undiagnosed. A tongue tie is a congenital oral anomaly that may decrease the mobility of the tongue and is caused by an unusually short or thick lingual frenulum, a membrane connecting the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth. Because it is a membrane, it DOES NOT stretch over time and baby will not “outgrow” it. It is often genetic and seen in multiple family members. Some babies who have tongue-ties don’t seem to be bothered by it. In others, it can restrict the tongue’s movement, making it harder to breastfeed.
To breastfeed successfully, the baby needs to latch onto both the breast tissue and nipple, and their tongue needs to cover the lower gum so the nipple is protected from damage.
The tongue needs a full range of motion to create adequate suction to express milk from the breast. Breastfeeding works less like a straw and more like a vacuum for transferring milk. When the tie is severe enough to impact range of motion, children are also at risk for speech disorders such as a lisp, difficulties transitioning to solid foods, and an increased risk of dental cavities because their tongue cannot clean food oof the teeth effectively.”
Here is a great video from Julie on how to check for a tongue tie. The earlier the tongue tie is diagnosed (we’re talking the first few days/weeks, not months) and fixed, the easier the transition is for both of you.
I wanted to say a huge thank you to Julie for spending time with me and sharing the top tips she learned with us. You can find Julie on The Lactation Network here, her website and practice is LA LACTATION. Her YouTube channel has a ton of great videos on everything breastfeeding and beyond. Julie went above and beyond and even created us a video on these “Top 5 tips for preparing to breastfeed when planning a VBAC” we discussed today. Thank you, Julie!
Also, a great thank you to The Lactation Network for existing and making our VBAC Mama lives much easier by handling our insurance, so we can get the insurance-covered pumps and the lactation support we need.
Please note: This email has sponsored inclusions of The Lactation Network, but all opinions are those of Meagan and The VBAC Link editorial team.
I will leave you today with this affirmation and a reminder:
Grateful to be supporting you on this journey!
If you would like to learn more about the history of c-section, VBAC, and how to prepare for one, check out our VBAC prep course for parents. And as always feel free to email us with any questions.
– Meagan and The VBAC Link Team