Skip to main content

Planning to breastfeed? Here's what you need to know

We've covered the basics

You have a lot of decisions to make during pregnancy. What color you’ll paint the nursery, whether you’ll go back to work after the baby is born, and if you’ll breastfeed — just to name a few.

When it comes to feeding your newborn, you have two options: breast milk or formula. The American Academy of Pediatrics External Site encourages breastfeeding and cites many health benefits for both mom and baby. "Breast milk provides your baby with excellent nutrition and immunologic protection," says Michael McCormick. D.O., medical director at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. "The first three to four days of breastfeeding prior to full breast milk production provide the newborn with colostrum, which contains antibodies and white blood cells that help your baby fight infection and improve their gut health throughout their life.

No matter what you choose, remember, fed is best External Site. If you decide to breastfeed, even if only for the first few weeks, these tips will help you get ready.

Before your baby arrives

Breastfeeding can be a learning experience for both you and your baby — especially if this is your first child. That’s why making a plan before you give birth is the best way to prepare for breastfeeding.

“If you breastfeed your baby for the first six months of their life, you’ll spend around 490 hours External Site doing it,” says Angela Swieter, RN, BSN, IBCLC, ICBD, ICCE, owner of Basking Babies in Des Moines, Iowa External Site.

Just like you might prepare for the birth of your baby by taking classes, writing a birth plan, and hiring a doula, it’s a good idea to speak with a lactation consultant before you give birth. A lactation consultant can help you make a plan for breastfeeding before your baby arrives. That plan might include a physical evaluation, especially if you’ve had trouble with breastfeeding before or aren’t noticing the physical changes to your breast tissue — growth, tenderness and increase in circulation — that typically indicate breastfeeding success.

“Establishing that relationship ahead of time will make it a lot more comfortable for you,” Swieter says. “This is one of the most intimate things as a woman that you ever do, so it’s nice to know who is going to be helping you throughout your breastfeeding journey.”

Before you decide whether to meet with a lactation consultant during pregnancy, review your health plan benefits to see what's covered. Lactation consultants who practice in a hospital setting are usually covered under insurance, but lactation consultants who own a private practice, like Swieter, typically are not covered. However, you may be able to use your flex spending dollars to pay for appointments.

What supplies will I need?

Though breastfeeding is often touted as free, there are a few supplies to consider purchasing that will help make it easier:

  • A few nursing bras or tank tops for easier access
  • Disposable or cloth nursing pads to absorb leaks
  • Hot-and-cold therapy packs to relieve engorgement and plugged ducts
  • Nipple balm or cream to soothe sore nipples
  • A breastfeeding support pillow for added comfort
  • A breast pump for times you need to be away from your baby

The first few days

Once your baby is born, you will want to focus on giving them plenty of skin-to-skin time, if possible. Keeping your baby close will help you recognize the subtle cues that they want to nurse, like turning their face toward the breast (also known as rooting), moving their head around, and bringing their hands to their mouth and sucking.

“Babies are pretty tired in the first few days after birth, and sometimes won’t cry if they are hungry,” Swieter says. “That’s why it’s important to feed based on your baby’s cues.”

As you’re recovering from giving birth, it’s important to remember to stay hydrated and nourish yourself with healthy foods.

“I like to encourage moms to make a ‘nursing nest,’” Swieter says. “Create a comfortable place in your home with snacks, water, and anything else you might need for breastfeeding.”

How do I know if my baby is getting enough milk?

In the first few days after your baby is born, they will want to nurse every two to three hours — possibly more. If they are not getting enough milk, you might notice:

  • Constant nursing
  • Crying after most or all feedings
  • Skin turning yellow
  • Not waking up for feeds
  • Unable to stay awake after feeds
  • Trouble latching
  • Dry lips
  • Fewer wet or dirty diapers than expected

If you notice any of these warning signs, contact your pediatrician or lactation consultant.

Middle of the night and your worries can’t wait? Try BeWell 24/7SM. You’ll get one-on-one support over the phone at any time of day or night. Just call Eight, Four, Four, Eight, Four, Be Well.

Going back to work

If you plan on going back to work after your baby is born, you may want to consider getting a breast pump. This will ensure you can continue to give your baby breast milk even when you’re away from them.

“I tell moms that every drop counts,” Swieter says. “So it’s worth it to pump if you’re going back to work.”

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), your health insurance plan must cover the cost of a breast pump. Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield covers one breast pump per birth with replacement every two years, as long as it isn’t hospital grade External Site and you buy it from a participating durable medical equipment (DME) provider. To purchase a breast pump using your benefits, you'll need a prescription from your OB-GYN or midwife. Then, you can find an in-network DME provider by logging in to myWellmark® Opens New Window. There are local options and mail-order companies, like Better Living Now External Site or Edgepark External Site, so you can choose the one that works best for you.

Before ordering your breast pump, double check your Coverage Manual to find out if you’re responsible for any cost. You can find your Coverage Manual by logging in to myWellmark, selecting Coverage and navigating to Resources on the right-hand side.

Getting help with breastfeeding

Breastfeeding isn’t the easiest at first. And, since you may be spending a lot of time doing it in the first few months of your baby’s life, it’s OK and encouraged to ask for help.

The ACA requires health plans to provide support for breastfeeding, which includes counseling and education. Check with your health plan to see what it covers at no cost to you.

You can also join local support groups External Site and follow up with the lactation consultants at your hospital, if available.

More resources for you and your baby

Wellmark members can get trusted advice and resources during their pregnancy with the Pregnancy Support Program through myWellmark. The free program is available 24/7 throughout your pregnancy and after your baby is born and includes:

  • WebMD® Pregnancy Assistant, which has information about the stages of your baby’s growth and provides support throughout your pregnancy.
  • Count the Kicks®, an app that helps you keep track of your baby’s normal movement patterns in the third trimester.
  • Text4BabySM, a tool you can use to learn about baby milestones, set appointment reminders and get safety information via text message.

You can also register and log in to myWellmark Opens New Window to get a transparent look into your health insurance use, plus easy-to-use tools, resources and insights. With myWellmark, you can check claims details, view health care spending, find an in-network doctor, use tools to understand your benefits, and more.

And remember: If you choose to breastfeed, celebrate the small wins and try not to get discouraged if you have low supply or baby isn't able to figure out how to latch. At the end of the day, feeding your baby is the only thing that matters — not whether you breastfeed, exclusively pump, give them 100 percent formula, or use any combination of those methods.