Did you know that steps you take during pregnancy can help feeding your baby go more smoothly? Here’s what new Moms wish they had learned earlier when preparing for baby.

You want to do everything you can to give your baby the best start. So you may be getting ready by stocking up on baby essentials, setting up a nursery, making a delivery plan, and packing a hospital bag. But many new Moms look back and say they were surprisingly unprepared for feeding their baby—and the little challenges that can arise.

Our preparing for baby checklist, can help you better prepare during your pregnancy. We asked new Moms and baby experts to share their suggestions for smart feeding plans. That way, when your baby arrives, you can spend less time stressing and more time enjoying so many amazing moments with your newborn.

Know that feeding can benefit from learning.

Even though feeding is something most humans do, it can take a little practice to get the hang of—both for babies and parents. That’s why education from hospitals, childbirth educators, and lactation consultants can be so helpful. Ask your doctor or midwife about classes available to you.

Gather information on all feeding options.

New Moms say you’ll be best prepared by brushing up on both breast-feeding and formula-feeding, no matter which path you’re planning on taking. During her pregnancy, Stefanie D. of Byron Center, Michigan, read breast-feeding books, attended classes, and watched instructional videos; as she says, “I had my heart set on exclusively breast-feeding.” After her son’s arrival, however, “I began experiencing every problem I read about, except the simple quick-fix solutions described in my books weren’t helping at all.” For three weeks, she says she became “emotionally, physically, and mentally consumed by breast-feeding. I realized I was missing out on precious time with my newborn that I would never be able to get back.”

Even if the goal is to breast-feed, the reality is that many mothers have unexpected challenges that pop up. So it’s smart to be familiar with the how-tos of formula-feeding. “The truth is, exclusive breast-feeding doesn’t work out for everyone for one reason or another,” says Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, Mom Adrianna B., who had planned to nurse for a year but developed postpartum depression. “Breast-feeding wasn’t working out for me and my son. I was reluctant to let go of breast-feeding altogether, so I began to use formula while [also] breast-feeding.”

This combination feeding, or supplementing, approach is more common than you might realize. Unfortunately, new Moms aren’t always aware that it’s not an either-or decision.

Room-in with your baby.

When possible, having immediate and ongoing contact with your newborn relaxes you both and strengthens your bond, however you plan to feed your baby. Holding your baby close against your skin, naked except for a diaper—called skin-to-skin contact, or “kangaroo care”—has been shown to raise Moms’ confidence. The easy contact also helps a nursing baby latch on better, and gives you a better chance to learn the cues that tell you your baby is hungry. Hospitals may have different policies about this, so be sure to ask your healthcare professional about this arrangement.

Line up your feeding help squad.

Your doctor or midwife and hospital nursing staff can answer initial feeding questions. Some hospitals also provide a lactation consultant to help you get started if you’re breast-feeding or combination feeding. Make a plan with your doctor, midwife, childbirth educator, or paediatrician for where you can turn if you face feeding challenges. An experienced Mom can also be a great resource and source of support. Knowing ahead of time where you’ll be able to turn with feeding questions can help your peace of mind and ensure you’re meeting your baby’s nutritional needs.

Above all, keep an open mind and focus on what matters most.

“I planned to breast-feed exclusively for at least one year,” says Shelley N. of Dover, New Hampshire. However, it didn’t go as planned. She says a “protective instinct kicked in” to do the best by her daughter, which meant letting go of her initial vision and embracing a different way. “I've learned that sometimes these things are beyond our control,” she adds.

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