Preparing for Breastfeeding Success

Get breastfeeding started on the right track

Planning to breastfeed? Amazing! Breastfeeding offers a ton of health benefits for babies and moms. Your little one gets an immune system boost, reduced risks of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), infections, childhood obesity, allergies, and more. You get less bleeding after delivery, lower risk of postpartum depression, and some long-term protection against health issues like breast and ovarian cancer. Win-win.

But – just because breastfeeding is a natural process, doesn’t mean it always comes easily. Nursing is a skill that you and your baby will learn together, and it often takes time, practice, and hands-on help before things go smoothly. Breastfeeding is also a choice that will impact the next several months (or even a few years) of your life. So, it’s a good idea to start planning during pregnancy. Certain experts, like certified lactation consultants or postpartum doulas, can help you prepare and manage any issues once your baby is here. If you need it, don’t hesitate to find help to connect you with the right resources.

Tips for success

Preparing for breastfeeding early can save time and struggle during the postpartum period. Here are some tips to get started:

Get knowledge. Take a breastfeeding class, if you can, or read books and websites to learn the basics of latch and positioning.

Get support. Find lactation consultants in your area and ask your doula or friends for recommendations, so you won’t need to search for help later. When you choose a pediatrician for your baby, ask if they support breastfeeding – not all physicians do – and if they have a lactation consultant on staff. Join a support group or social media group for community. And find out if friends or family who have breastfed can help during your baby’s early weeks.

Get pumped. A breast pump can be an essential tool, allowing another parent or caregiver to feed your baby, relieving engorgement, increasing milk supply, and helping you prepare if you’re returning to work. Most insurance plans are now required to provide breast pumps free or at low cost. Find out which pumps are available with your plan, check out their features and reviews, and order one early.

Get stuff. Pick up supplies to make breastfeeding more convenient. Soft, comfortable nursing bras or tanks, soothing nipple cream, breast pads to catch leaks, milk storage bags, and a nursing pillow can all be useful.

Get going. State your desire to breastfeed on your birth plan and remind providers during labor. Request skin-to-skin contact with your baby right after birth and breastfeed as soon as possible, ideally within an hour of delivery. This should usually be possible even if you have a C-section. If you give birth in a hospital, keep your baby in your room and tell staff you will not be using formula unless it’s medically necessary. Try to latch your baby every few hours, even overnight, and make sure that a nurse or lactation consultant helps you breastfeed several times before you leave.

Make plans. The first few weeks with a newborn are intense. Plan to spend lots of time resting, holding your baby, and breastfeeding. You can’t hold your baby too much or breastfeed too often. Your baby will probably wake often at night to nurse, so plan how your partner, a family member, or doula can help you take breaks to rest or nap.

Think ahead. As your baby grows, breastfeeding is still a big job. Once you’re getting out of the house, remember that your right to nurse in public is protected by law in all 50 states. Consider how nursing will affect your schedule, especially if you’re returning to work. If you will be away from your baby during the workday, you will need to pump frequently. Under federal law, your employer must provide you with a private space (not a bathroom) and reasonable break times to pump.

Remember. Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. If you’re in pain, call your doula or lactation consultant. While breastfeeding won’t be possible or the right choice for every mom, most nursing problems can be solved with the right information and support.

Need more info? Talk through your breastfeeding questions with one of Mae’s experts.

Pregnancy Complications: Symptoms to Know

Pregnancy is an extraordinary time and full of surprises. You’re growing a human! Your body is changing every day, and it’s common to feel weird or even pretty anxious about this. Many pregnant women, particularly first-time moms, struggle to judge what’s physically normal during pregnancy and what’s not. Is what you’re feeling just typical discomfort or something else? When should you reach out to your obstetrician or midwife?

While most aches and pains are par for the course, it’s important to know the early signs of pregnancy complications. Specific symptoms can indicate serious conditions that should be treated by your healthcare provider to protect both you and your baby.

Rooted in the long-term impacts of racism, we as Black women are more likely to experience pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, blood vessel problems, and mental health conditions than white women. Providers may also not notice early warning signs due to bias or symptoms presenting earlier than expected. Being familiar with these symptoms and staying in tune with your body during pregnancy and postpartum can help you catch complications as early as possible.

Here are some symptoms to know:

Preeclampsia: a condition of high blood pressure in pregnancy

  • vision changes
  • rapid weight gain (over five lbs. per week)
  • constant headaches that are not relieved with medication over two days
  • extreme swelling in the face and hands

Cardiomyopathy: a condition of heart failure during late pregnancy or postpartum

  • severe shortness of breath
  • extreme fatigue
  • extreme swelling in the lower legs

Depression, Anxiety & Mood Disorders

  • feeling sad, hopeless, or worthless most of the time over two weeks
  • changes in eating or sleep patterns
  • difficulty concentrating
  • panic attacks
  • hallucinations
  • suicidal thoughts

If you experience any of these symptoms during or after your pregnancy, call your obstetrician or midwife right away and make sure you are evaluated for treatment.

It’s a lot to think about. And we’re pretty sure you already have a few things on your mind! That’s why Mae helps keep things simple by tracking your symptoms for you. The on-demand symptom tracker helps you routinely check in with your changing body and flags any causes for concern. Mae can also let you know when to call your healthcare provider and what information they will need to take action.

Unfortunately, not all pregnancy complications have noticeable symptoms. That’s why you should always prioritize your prenatal care. Routine physical check-ups can be the only way to detect signs of a problem.

Remember that you know your own body best. Most pregnancy complications can be managed safely with care and support, but early detection matters.  You can and should be your own advocate to get the care you need. Knowledge is power, and you’ve got this.

Birthing While Black: Medical Racism and Self-Protection

The problem isn’t race. It’s racism.

Let’s be real. Talking about Black maternal health means talking about racism in health care. Are the greater health risks that Black women face during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum because Black bodies are sicker or less able to have healthy births than white bodies? No. The reasons why Black women experience more pregnancy-related health issues are rooted in structural racism. This is true whatever your income level, your education, or your social status. Racist attitudes in health care and false beliefs about Black bodies continue to cause physical and emotional harm to women and babies. As a pregnant person of color, these are scary things to think about. You might be anxious about keeping yourself and your baby safe. You’re not overreacting. And you’re not alone. You can have a birth support resource, like a doula, to be your advocate and ally, helping you to resist medical racism and prevent it from impacting your birth.

What is medical racism?

The reality is that lots of healthcare providers have unconscious biases. What does that look like? It might be attitudes toward you that are rude or disrespectful. It might mean that you feel invisible or ignored. It could be labeling you as “aggressive” when you ask questions. It might be pressuring you about treatments or procedures, touching your body without permission, or minimizing your pain. It could be making false assumptions about you or your partner. It might be not taking your symptoms seriously and refusing to take action. None of this is okay. And all of it violates your rights as a patient.

How can you protect yourself?

Whether you’re planning to give birth in a hospital, a birth center, or at home, there are steps you can take to keep your maternity care as respectful and compassionate as possible.

  • Knowledge is power. Learn about pregnancy, labor, and birth, and what to expect during each stage, so you can clearly state your preferences. Be aware of complications and the warning signs of serious conditions. Stay in tune with your body and trust your gut if something feels wrong. Yes, health care providers have medical knowledge and experience, but you know your own body best. Ask for a second opinion if you feel pressured or unheard. Demand help when you need it.
  • Explore your options. Depending on your location and insurance, you might have just a few or lots of choices about your provider and birth setting. Check out the available hospitals, birth centers, obstetricians, and midwives. Look for online reviews. Ask providers about their C-section rates, their views on un-medicated birth (if you want one), vaginal birth after cesarean (if you want one), induction, and other interventions. Ask if they welcome doula support. Ask all your questions and watch their response. Do they listen? Do they treat you with respect? If you feel rushed or dismissed, choose another provider.
  • Bring back up. If possible, bring someone you trust to your prenatal visits and your labor/delivery as an advocate. Having a witness in the room can motivate providers to watch how they act. Your advocate can also remind you about questions, help get clear answers, and talk through options. Research shows that doulas can be especially useful for women of color, helping them claim their power in health care situations.
  • Make a plan. Create a plan with all your birth preferences. Share it with your provider and make sure they are on board. Remember to also plan for the postpartum period or fourth trimester. Complications can show up after delivery, so it’s important to have support from family or a postpartum doula.

Remember that plans change. Birth can be unpredictable, so you might find yourself needing care from providers you didn’t choose. No matter what, no one has the right to treat you disrespectfully, or to bring bias or racism into your birth.

To find out more about how care advocates like doulas can support you in combating medical racism, schedule your free 15-minute consultation on Mae.

Managing Labor Pain: What Are Your Options?

How painful is labor, really?

Let’s talk about pain. As your due date gets closer, you’re probably wondering: How much is labor going to hurt? There isn’t a single answer. Everyone experiences childbirth differently, but most women will tell you that, Yup, it hurts. The good news is there are lots of tools for managing labor pain, either with medication or without, and you don’t have to pick just one. It’s important to check out all your options and remember you can combine different methods or choose a new one any time. Your doula can help by talking through the pros and cons, and making a pain management plan together.

What’s your pain perspective?

It’s useful to think about labor pain from a few different angles. One approach is about relieving the pain completely, or as much as possible, which usually means medication. Another is more about coping with the pain, not making it disappear. Many drug-free techniques can reduce pain or make it easier to handle. A third option is: both. You might find that coping strategies work up to a certain point, and then it’s time for drugs. Either way, it’s your choice. But even if labor pain gets physically intense, you should never feel unsupported.

A medication situation?

If the first thought that comes to mind when you think of labor pain is “Nope! There are drugs for that”, here are some options to be aware of:

  • Epidural: Epidural is the most common method of labor pain relief and the most effective. A tiny tube inserted in your lower back delivers medication at a level you choose for as long as you need it. It should relieve your pain without making you so numb that you can’t push. You can start an epidural any time during labor, but keep in mind that once the tube is in, you probably won’t be able to walk or move around much.

Epidurals have potential side effects like low blood pressure, which can affect your baby, slightly longer labors, and numbness in your legs. Rarely, some people get an intense headache called a spinal headache after an epidural. Strong medical evidence shows that epidurals don’t increase your risk of having a C-section and that the small amount of medication that reaches the baby isn’t harmful.

  • Spinal & Combined Spinal-Epidural: If you need pain relief like right this second, your doctor might use a spinal block. This shot in your lower back can work faster than an epidural, but only lasts for an hour or two. Combining it with an epidural keeps the pain relief going after the shot wears off.
  • Opioids: If you don’t want an epidural, or your doctor doesn’t recommend one, opioid drugs are another option through a shot or IV. Opioids can take the edge off the pain, but they’re not super effective for labor and often have side effects like nausea, vomiting, and drowsiness. These can make pushing difficult and may also have some effects on your baby after delivery.
  • Nitrous oxide: Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) has been used for decades in the U.K., Australia, Scandinavia, Canada and other countries, but it’s less common the U.S. The gas won’t relieve labor pain completely, but it can be as effective as an opioid with fewer side effects. These can include drowsiness and nausea, but since you inhale the gas through a mask, you decide how much to take, and the effects go away quickly when you stop. There is less research on nitrous oxide than other medications, but it’s considered safe for both women and babies.

Prefer to go au naturel?

If drug-free is more your style, there are lots of pain management options that don’t involve medication:

  • Doula Support: Strong medical evidence links having a doula during labor with lower rates of pain and less need for medication. Doulas are trained in a range of comfort and coping techniques like touch and massage, deep breathing, relaxation, emotional support, labor positions, birth balls, aromatherapy, and more.
  • Labor Positions: Women have always used movement and physical positions to help manage labor pain, and there’s a lot of evidence to back up this approach. Research shows that walking and staying upright, instead of lying down, often means shorter labors and less pain.
  • Hydrotherapy: Does a warm shower or bath relax your aches and pains? It might also work during labor. Hydrotherapy is a risk-free, widely used method for reducing labor pain. There is consistent evidence that getting in a shower or tub lowers pain levels and helps with relaxation. Side note: hydrotherapy is not the same thing as waterbirth where the baby comes out in the tub.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis has basically been around forever, and doctors have studied its effects for decades. The idea is to shift your consciousness into a relaxed state where you are receptive to “suggestions.” For childbirth, these might be words or images that create safe, positive feelings about labor. In some cases they might even be able to change how you perceive sensations like pain. Sorry, there’s no guarantee this will happen, and the evidence is limited, but it can still be a helpful technique.

Need more info? Mae’s experts are on call to help you understand these pain management options, and put in place the best plan for you.  Visit www.meetmae.com to find your expert today.

Postpartum Healing: What to Expect

What is this about a fourth trimester?

You did it, mama! Your precious baby is here! So, now what? Welcome to the fourth trimester. There’s a common theory that babies need about three months to adjust to being out in the world. Well, mamas need recovery time too. Whether you had a vaginal birth or a C-section, your body just went through a very intense experience. It needs to rest and heal while you figure out caring for this tiny human and the new shape of your family. There are resources, like postpartum doulas, who can help during this important time. Experienced with baby care, doulas can show you the ropes or refresh your memory, while supporting your physical healing and emotional balance. Postpartum doulas can also help with breastfeeding, meals, light housework, caring for older kids, and more.

Vaginal Birth Healing

Yes, there’s blood. After birth, your uterus sheds its lining, so it’s normal to see heavy bleeding and blood clots for several days, and lighter bleeding for up to 6-8 weeks. Too much blood is serious though. If you’re soaking more than one pad per hour, if your bleeding gets worse, or lasts longer than 8 weeks, call your doctor or midwife.

After pushing out a baby, your vagina and perineum will probably feel all kinds of sore and swollen. If you had a vaginal tear or an episiotomy, you may also have stitches. Warm baths, ice packs, and witch hazel can soothe the area, as well as gently cleaning with a squirt bottle. Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen can help with pain and are considered safe for breastfeeding. Watch out for any signs of infection like severe pain, increased swelling or redness, or a fever.

You may have cramping as your uterus shrinks down again, and, ahem, ‘going’ might not come easily. TMI, we know, but this is a real thing to navigate! Eat your fruit/veggies and take stool softeners if necessary to get things moving.

Feeling more like yourself again? Wait until your 6-week health check up before using tampons, having sex, or exercising. Bouncing back quickly is also not the reality for many women. So, ignore those Instagram snap back photos of other moms and take your time.

C-section Healing

C-sections are a major surgery, so healing will likely take a bit longer. Your doctor should explain how to care for your incision, keeping it clean, and avoiding pressure or strain. Stay on top of your pain with regular medication, and try ice packs for extra relief from pain or itching. Watch for infection warning signs like pain getting worse, your incision becoming red, swollen or pussy, or a fever.

You’ll have vaginal bleeding too for 4-6 weeks as your uterus does its shedding thing. Driving will be off limits for a while and also bathtubs. When you shower, run soapy water over your incision and gently pat it dry. If you’re breastfeeding, your doula or lactation consultant can help you find a comfortable nursing position.

Is everyone telling you to rest while you’re caring for a newborn? We know, it’s tough, but do your best. Stay off your feet until you feel ready for walking, and don’t lift anything heavier than your baby. After 4-6 weeks, you should be moving more easily, but listen to your body, and if it hurts, slow down.

Got Too Much Milk?

When your breast milk comes in, there might be a lot! Many mamas start out producing more milk than baby needs, which can lead to engorgement. Full, hard breasts, with tightly stretched skin – oy! Meet your breast pump. Pumping should soften your breasts, but try not to empty them completely, which triggers more production. If you’re breastfeeding, engorged breasts may be too hard for baby to latch, so pumping briefly beforehand can help. Also try a shower or warm towel before nursing and gentle massage from the chest toward the nipple while baby feeds to move milk through the ducts. The milk factory works through supply and demand, so things should even out as long as baby is nursing well.

If you’re formula feeding, your breast milk will usually dry up within 7-10 days. Ice packs can help reduce pain and swelling, as well as pumping small amounts. Wear a supportive bra, but don’t “bind” your breasts tightly, which can cause problems.

Watch out for plugged ducts (hard, painful spots on the breast), as well as hot, red patches, fever, or flu symptoms, which can be signs of mastitis. If engorgement lasts longer than a day or two, or your baby is having nursing issues, talk to your doula or lactation consultant.

Emotional Healing

Feeling weepy, moody, or mad? Say hello to postpartum hormones. After birth, your body is going through major hormonal shifts, which can bring mood swings and anxiety, hair loss, acne, and night sweats. Just fun times with the baby blues. You’re also adjusting to first-time motherhood or a growing family, caring for a newborn 24/7, and not getting much sleep – feeling overwhelmed is so normal. Be patient with the emotional rollercoaster. Things usually get better within two weeks as your hormones calm down. Also, your life has changed, and it’s okay to love your baby and still feel scared, disappointed, or sad at times.

There’s a big BUT though. If it’s been more than two weeks and you’re still feeling sad, hopeless, angry, or disconnected from your baby, if you’re crying a lot, or having sleep issues, extreme anxiety, or intrusive thoughts, don’t ignore any of this. Postpartum depression and other mood disorders after birth affect millions of women. There are treatments that work, so talk to your family, your doula, and your health care provider, and get help as soon as possible.

Ready to learn more about expert support during your postpartum period?  Schedule your free 15-minute consultation on Mae.

What is a doula? And how do you know if one is right for you?

What is a doula?

We get this question a lot. Doulas are professional caregivers for pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. They are not midwives or nurses, so they do not provide medical care. But they are trained in physical and emotional support, and can play a huge role in helping women have healthy pregnancies and positive birth experiences. 

While obstetricians and midwives are often focused on medical issues and can’t always be available on demand, doulas focus personally on each client every step of the way. Your doula is a birth expert who is there throughout your pregnancy to answer your questions and address your concerns.

Is a doula right for you?

To decide if a doula is right for your pregnancy, it helps to understand the scope of what they do.

  • Pregnancy: During pregnancy, doulas provide information about comfort, lifestyle, diet, and exercise, as well as emotional support. Feeling anxious? Your doula may be able to address your concerns. Think digestion issues are TMI? Your doula has heard it all before.

Doulas can also offer information and advice on choosing an obstetrician, midwife, or birth setting, as well as the latest evidence on maternity care options. Whatever type of birth you prefer, your doula is there to support your personal choices.

  • Childbirth: During labor, doulas provide continuous physical and emotional support, including nonmedical methods for pain management. As labor progresses, doulas can help parents understand the medical care they are receiving, discuss options and informed consent for any interventions or procedures, and help communicate with healthcare providers.

Doulas also provide support for fathers, partners, friends, or other family members who may be part of the birth team.

  • Postpartum: Doulas assist new mothers with postpartum healing, breastfeeding, and bonding with a new baby. They often help with cooking and household tasks, as well as caring for older siblings. Need a nap after being up at night with a newborn? Your doula can help give you space to rest and recover.
  • Advocacy: Throughout pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, doulas play an important role as advocates. Aware of barriers and biases in healthcare, they help women to know their rights, navigate their care options, ask the right questions, and find evidence-based resources. Doulas create a safe space for women to voice their preferences and concerns, and they work collaboratively to achieve each client’s goals.

What does the data show?

Numerous medical studies show that doulas have a positive impact on pregnancy outcomes. Having a doula lowers the chances of both preterm birth and C-section, shortens labor times, and reduces the need for pain medication. 

For Black women, who have disproportionately higher rates of pregnancy complications than white women and are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes, doulas are a critical resource. Unfortunately, many women of color are unable to access doula care due to lack of information, cost, and difficulty finding a doula. This is where Mae can help.

How can you find the right doula?

At Mae, we believe a safe and beautiful birth begins with your choices. Mae will help you create a birth plan that reflects your unique needs and preferences. We then use fit-based matching to find an expert doula with the right skills for you. Interested in a water birth? We’ve got a doula for that. Exploring all your options for pain relief? We’ve got a doula for that. Want to prepare for successful breastfeeding? We’ve got a doula for that too. 

Join us, and let’s get started: www.meetmae.com