I don't think I could come up with a single thing that changes a woman's life more than becoming a mom. Pregnancy, birth and motherhood come with physical and emotional changes that turn day-to-day life on its head. And the newness of every part of it can pile on additional stress.
As a breastfeeding expert and mom of two, I've learned that nursing a baby requires education, a healthy body and support from loved ones. So in honor of Pregnancy Awareness Month -- an organization that promotes these same tenets -- here are some of the things that moms-to-be should know about breastfeeding as they get closer to their due date.
If your baby's latch and your body's position are correct, breastfeeding shouldn't hurt.
Lots of moms hear that breastfeeding is painful and are nervous to even try it. While some breast and nipple tenderness is normal when you start nursing, adjustments can -- and should -- be made if tenderness turns to pain and persists. Here are two things to try if you're experiencing any persistent discomfort.
First, remember the importance of good positioning. Make sure the baby's head and mouth are even with the nipple and that the baby is facing the breast. A second typical cause of pain is improper latch. Check to see that your baby is taking both the nipple and a good part of the areola tissue into his or her mouth. To get him to open his mouth wider, tickle him beneath the chin. Another helpful latching tip is to make sure that the baby's lips are both turned out. Mothers can use an index finger to flip their baby's lower lip up.
If pain persists after trying these solutions, ask for help from a lactation counselor or LC. What starts as a simple issue can become complicated if you suffer in silence.
When you're pregnant or breastfeeding, your health is directly connected to the health of your baby. So staying fit and eating right is more important than ever. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that healthy pregnant women exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week. This will give you more energy, help you sleep better, reduce discomforts like back pain and bloating, and get you prepared for labor and childbirth.
Most forms of moderate exercise are acceptable (even running, for those who ran regularly before becoming pregnant). But avoid exercises that require you to lie on your back after the first trimester -- or sooner if this position makes you dizzy or short of breath. The "talk test" will tell you if you're working too hard -- if you can have a conversation, your exertion and heart rate are within acceptable levels.
When it comes to calorie intake, pregnant and breastfeeding women need to account for the extra calories they're burning, but shouldn't overdo it at mealtime. During your pregnancy you'll generally need 300-500 calories extra per day in the second and third trimesters.
When breastfeeding, moms burn an additional 200 to 500 calories per day producing milk. So even if you're trying to drop the baby weight, be sure to eat 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day (probably closer to the high end of that range) so you don't put your supply in jeopardy. Most importantly, focus on eating healthy foods rich in nutrients like whole grains, lean proteins and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.
Breastfeeding moms can get help from Dad.
While the physical responsibilities of nursing fall on Mom, a dad's behavior can either support or undermine breastfeeding success. In fact, Pediatrics published a study in 2005 that found that of the mothers whose supporting partners were taught how to help manage common breastfeeding problems, about 25 percent were still breastfeeding exclusively or predominately when their babies were six months old. Of those women whose partner was only educated on general health and nutrition, the breastfeeding rate at six months dropped to 15 percent.
Dads should take the time to learn about breastfeeding so that they understand and can get on board with moms' goals. This will keep them from getting frustrated with a crying baby who is taking a little time to learn to eat. That frustration is what leads many fathers to suggest formula -- they don't know how else to help. The best thing to do in those situations is understand that breastfeeding is new for the baby and the mom, and that encouragement and support is more helpful than supplementing with formula.
From the moment you conceive, your life is forever changed. And the experiences of pregnancy, birth and caring for an infant are magical, but also trying. Preparing your mind and body for these years, and asking for help when you need it, will alleviate some of the stress so that you can enjoy even more of this special time.
This is what Alisa Donner and Anna Getty had on their minds when they came together in 2008 to create Pregnancy Awareness Month. The mission of this annual, month-long event is to educate, empower, inspire and build a community of support for expectant women and families.
Alisa and Anna host an annual series of Motherhood Begins Now events across the country throughout the month of May, welcoming hundreds of pregnant women, new parents and those planning to start families for a day of family fun, information and inspiration. The goal is to educate expectant mothers, help them stay fit and healthy, and nurture them during and after their pregnancy.
Thank you to Pregnancy Awareness Month's board and founders for celebrating and supporting all the soon-to-be moms out there!
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more