I recently came across an article titled: “Don’t Breastfeed — Until You Read This. Everyone says “breast is best,” but no one tells you how doing it can ruin your life.” Ruin your life? Wait, what?!
After quickly re-reading the title, I dove in. What I discovered was the emotional account of the writer’s breastfeeding experience. It was raw, and it was honest. The mother in me wanted to scoop this Mama up and give her a hug; I wanted to applaud her commitment, success, and bravery in sharing such a personal struggle.
The professional in me, however, cringed. Make no mistake; I am passionate about breastfeeding. However, I am even more passionate about mothering our mothers. My stomach sank as I envisioned the new, or expecting mother reading this. I prayed that she would make it to the last paragraph of the lengthy piece and know the sliver of positivity it possessed.
My purpose here is not to tear apart the original article or call into question some of its facts. It is my goal to follow through on what the writer was trying to communicate - the importance of breastfeeding education before breastfeeding. As a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC), and nursing mom of two, here are the four things you should do during pregnancy for better breastfeeding.
1. Educate yourself
We have this idea that just because something is natural, we don’t have to learn about it or work for it. Birth is natural, yet we still educate ourselves (hopefully!), and seek out skilled professionals to ensure that everything goes according to plan. Breastfeeding is no different. Unfortunately, breastfeeding is not normalized in our country. We don’t see other women breastfeeding, many of our mothers didn’t breastfeed, or did so in private, and breasts are hyper-sexualized, all of this creates a very complex learning environment for our mothers.
Reach out to the hospital/birthing center you will deliver at, or your OBGYN/Midwife, and ask about where you can attend a breastfeeding class. They are typically inexpensive, around $25, and short, lasting about 1-1.5 hrs. You will learn the basics, such as feeding cues, frequent feedings to maintain supply, and most importantly you will view other women breastfeeding. I cannot stress enough the importance of getting credible breastfeeding information. The internet is full of an overwhelming amount of conflicting and outdated misinformation. If you chose to read a book, ensure you have the most current edition, and that it’s not older than two years. The study of Human Lactation is constant and ever evolving.
2. Understand The Milk Making Basics
The number one concern of new and expecting mothers, about breastfeeding, is milk supply. It’s also the number one reason women stop breastfeeding or begin to supplement. The only way to establish a healthy milk supply (enough to sustain an infant) is through frequent stimulation of the breast and nipple in the first 48 hours after birth, specifically the first 1- 2 hours - when baby is most eager to learn this skill. It's during this window that we can prime the body, hormonally, for milk production. Understanding this is critical. Also, be familiar with the “Magical Hour”. There is an amazing video available which beautifully explains this. Keep your baby close to you during this time. Practice rooming in, skin to skin, and nurse as much as possible. If this is not feasible due to circumstances beyond your control, reach out to a certified lactation professional as soon as possible, and they will walk you through how to prime your body for lactation in the absence of your baby.
If delivering in a hospital opt for an Approved Baby Friendly Hospital. These hospitals are reviewed and approved by the World Health Organization and UNICEF and operate in ways that promote and protect breastfeeding. Their staff is knowledgeable and trained to support your breastfeeding goals optimally.
3. Know Your Community Postpartum Resources
Of the 85% of women who want to breastfeed exclusively for 3 or more months, only 32.4% of them achieve that goal. Moms aren’t getting the support they need. As a nursing mom I, too, am all too familiar with the struggles specific to breastfeeding. For formula feeding moms, the exhausting battle might be infant reflux or diarrhea. Early motherhood brings with it a challenge. We will all, at one point or another, feel unattractive, and overwhelmed by strife, regardless of how we choose to nourish our children.
Before you find yourself sleep deprived, hormonal, and in need of assistance, see where your community offers postpartum support. Check out your local La Leche League, WIC Office, Certified Lactation Professionals, and Hospital/Birthing Center, for example. Many of these resources have groups that are social in nature and allow you to connect with other breastfeeding mothers.
Lastly, save these hotline numbers in your phone:
(800) LA-LECHE (525-3243) National La Lecher League office
(800) 994-9662 National Women’s Health Information free telephone help
4. Understand Baby Ages & Stages
The first few months of motherhood are messy, sleepless and tear-filled (ours and theirs!), at best. It’s important to know that newborns are all-consuming in a way that most mothers, myself included, are not able to comprehend until you’re in the trenches. Having realistic expectations and understanding infant behavior, throughout different stages of development, will be helpful in how you feel about your breastfeeding relationship - especially in those first few months.
The following is an excerpt from the original piece: “Why didn’t anyone tell me that breastfeeding would turn me into a crazed maniac who never eats, sleeps, exercises, or leaves the house?” I had to smile because what the writer is describing is not so much breastfeeding, but more so adjusting to new motherhood. I know many exclusively formula feeding, exclusively pumping, and supplementing mothers who recall feeling the very same way. I leave you with this: Mama, you are not alone; however you choose to feed your baby. Let us always strive to be a part of the solution versus part of the problem. Know that when you speak, mothers listen. We listen to each other more than we do any doctor, professional, or scientific study. Our words and the discussions between us are powerful.
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