All About You
You're making a turn towards the homeward stretch! Time to start considering some big decisions. In addition to the breast or bottle question, what will you do about circumcision? In some religions and cultures, circumcision, cutting a baby boy's foreskin, is a matter of custom and belief. In others, boy babies are never circumcised. For many people without clear cultural guidelines, circumcision is a difficult, but important choice to make.
It is also a good time to start working with your birth support partner or healthcare team to plan your birth. As part of your preparations, it's not too early to begin perineal massage to help prevent an episiotomy or tearing during delivery. You may not be able to reach by yourself—have your partner assist you.
As your baby-to-be grows bigger, you may find your pregnancy pains increasing. By the end of the day your back aches and your feet become swollen. Frequent potty breaks are probably becoming a nuisance as your wiggly baby presses down on your bladder.
Ready for Breastfeeding?
Increased breast size is one of the first signs of pregnancy. Even before your bump makes an appearance, pregnancy hormones send messages to your breast tissue to get ready to feed your baby come delivery day. If this is your first baby, or you've had trouble nursing in the past, breastfeeding may seem foreign. You may still be unsure whether or not you want to breastfeed. Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare to nurse your newborn.
When milk comes in: From the first days of pregnancy your breast tissue is building and readying to feed your baby. Between your fifth and sixth month of pregnancy you might notice clear to yellowish liquid occasionally coming from your nipples. This beginner milk, called colostrum, is made up of antibodies, the perfect diet for a newborn. After your baby's birth, your breasts will produce colostrum for three to five days until your milk comes in. Your breasts will most likely feel fuller and heavier as breast milk replaces colostrum.
Why breastfeeding is good for your baby: Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby—a carefully concocted mix of fats, proteins, and antibodies that help your child grow. The makeup of breast milk changes over time to meet your baby's growth needs and also changes during individual feedings. When your baby begins nursing, she first receives foremilk—a more watery, but still high-fat mix—which is replaced with regular milk in the middle of the feeding and then thinner milk as the feeding comes to an end.
Babies easily digest breast milk, which is why you should expect to feed your baby every two hours for the first few weeks. Her body breaks down the nutrients from your breast milk quickly and she's ready for more.
Why breastfeeding is good for you: When you breastfeed, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin, which signals your uterus to contract, explains Dr. William Camann, MD, director of obstetric anesthesia at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and coauthor of Easy Labor: Every Woman's Guide to Choosing Less Pain and More Joy During Childbirth. These contractions pull at your uterus, bringing it back into pre-pregnancy position (these contractions may be painful at first). Along with pulling your belly back into place, breastfeeding requires calories. Your body will use up fat stores to produce breast milk, meaning nursing should help you lose pounds and return to your pre-pregnancy weight.
Breastfeeding can also help you grow closer to your baby. During feedings you can stare into his eyes and memorize his features while he in turn looks at yours. Nursing gives you an excuse to slow down and spend a few quiet moments together.
Convenience comes with nursing as well. You won't need to measure the right amount of milk into bottles or mess with heating up your baby's breakfast. Breast milk comes at the perfect temperature, ready to eat, and is free.
Breast evaluations by your physician: "There are two reasons a doctor will examine a woman's breasts during pregnancy," says Dr. Camann. "First, to check for any abnormal growth. It's not common, but some women have been diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy." And second, your healthcare provider will be looking for any anatomical issues that may make breastfeeding tougher, for instance if you have flat or inverted nipples.
How to Get Started
You may want to attend breastfeeding classes before your baby's birth. For some mother-child pairs, nursing comes naturally, but there are often difficulties for mother or baby. Learning more about how to nurse before your baby's birth will go a long way toward making nursing a success. In class you'll learn different ways to hold your baby for feedings and how your baby should be placed on the breast. This knowledge will help you feel more comfortable nursing from the start. Call your hospital's lactation consultant if you have any questions or concerns. The La Leche League is also a great resource for information and support.