August is International Breastfeeding month and to show our support we’re sharing three tips every pregnant woman should do to ensure she meets her breastfeeding goals. Did you know 86% of moms would like to breastfeed but struggle to achieve their personal goals? If you’re wondering what you can do while pregnant to prepare for breastfeeding, follow these three steps to set yourself up for success.
Breastfeeding in today’s world requires a little advance preparation and some thought – best not leave it to chance following your delivery. The hardest time to learn about breastfeeding for the first time is after the baby is born, when you are exhausted, vulnerable and could be at the mercy of hospital staff who often don’t have the best information or skill-set to help you breastfeed. You wouldn’t show up to a marathon in flip-flops without proper training, some coaching, and a game plan, right? Knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work with breastfeeding will give you confidence, empower you and increase your chances of a problem-free breastfeeding experience.
We’ve boiled it down to 3 simple things to set you up for breastfeeding success – even before baby is born.
Step 1: Set your expectations.
Breastfeeding is instinctive. Babies born after a non-medicated birth can find their way to the breast by themselves and even self-attach.(1) BUT, nursing is also a learned behavior and a skill that both you and your baby have to master over a period of time. You need to learn how to read your baby’s hunger and satiation cues and your baby needs to learn how to milk your breasts efficiently. This learning curve generally lasts 4-6 weeks and it’s why experts recommend you commit to breastfeed until at least that point. If that seems like too long, know women need to break it down even further to get past the first few days. Set your sights on small, attainable goals - commit to the first few days, then a week, then another week . . before you know it you’ll be at a month or two. Acknowledge and reward yourself at each juncture (or better yet have your partner do that!). By the time you break the six week mark, you’ll start to have the hang of it and be glad you stuck it out.
To use a great analogy: Breastfeeding is a lot like learning to ride a bike. Before you ever rode one, you were probably intimidated because you hadn’t done it before. You didn’t know how to balance yourself, or what that felt like, and you probably were frightened because you saw or heard of all the falls and skinned knees. However, you mustered up your courage and a commitment to succeed. Whoever was helping you didn’t let you quit, either. Now, for almost everyone, that bike wobbled, tilted and knocked you down a few times but you brushed yourself off and got back on again and again until you were riding! Whoever was helping you learn encouraged you, wouldn’t let you quit, and told you that you can do it. Sadly, too many well-meaning friends, family members and professionals tell expecting moms to “just try” without making sure they have the proper support.
Step 2: Find your People.
One of the biggest and most prevalent roadblocks to successful breastfeeding is a lack of support. The time to line up you’re A-team to coach and cheer you on is while you’re still pregnant. Using the bike analogy again: Almost everyone had someone else who already knew how to ride a bike show them how to do it, right? Who can forget that special friend or relative holding your bike and jogging along side you until you had the hang of it? Your A team should be a square, comprised of 4 solid sides.
- Your Prenatal care provider (Ob/Gyn, Family Doctor or Midwife) should be knowledgeable and encouraging about breastfeeding, can discuss any reservations you might have, give you the pointers you need to succeed, or at least be able to point you in the right direction of help. Ask your provider when you should start breastfeeding. If he/she does not say, “barring any serious complications, immediately after birth”, (within the first hour) a red flag should go up.
- Choose a baby friendly or Breastfeeding Supportive hospital. Want success? Go where there is a track record for it! If you have ruled out giving birth at home, the hospital or birth center you choose (and where you live), can determine the kind of breastfeeding help you will get. Arm yourself with information: find out about your their breastfeeding track-record and the kind of lactation help available – see Best for Babes Top Ten Questions to Ask Your Hospital for more.
- Find an EXCELLENT Breastfeeding-Friendly Pediatrician or Family Physician. We can’t stress this one enough. There are some wonderful pediatricians and physicians out there who have acquired the necessary knowledge of breastfeeding and who will become your most trusted resource and guide. Consider choices in your baby’s first line of care very carefully. Begin the hunt well before birth. A great question to ask is 'For how long should I breastfeed?' The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six (6) months, continuing to at least one year with solid foods added, and beyond as long as desired. Beware if his/her answer is along the lines of: “Breastfeeding is best, but it’s not for everyone” or “Either is fine, it’s up to you.” A good pediatrician is unequivocal about breastfeeding and will help you work through or get help for any issues so that you can succeed, much as a coach helps you set realistic goals and achieve them.
- Surround yourself with other breastfeeding moms: positive role-models, women who are breastfeeding successfully and who enjoy it, will inspire and support you. Ask questions. Have a chat with them while they are nursing. Observe their babies. Listen to what they have to say about the experience. Learning firsthand from other women who are succeeding is an incredibly valuable part of your education. Be conscious that although mothers are being urged to breastfeed, many are set up to fail, so you may meet mothers who have conflicting feelings about breastfeeding, and have not had the opportunity to heal from poor experiences.
Step 3: Take a class.
A quick Google search in your area will provide a list of resources at your fingertips. Breastfeeding courses can be most helpful for you and your partner to feel fully prepared prior to giving birth, but when baby arrives it's helpful to continue them or meet with a consultant so they can observe and provide catered feedback to you and your baby's needs. Centers like Modern Milk in Scottsdale, AZ have a plethora of classes partners can take!
1 (Lennart Righard and M. Alade, “Effect of Delivery Room Routines on Success of First Breast-feed,” The Lancet 336, no. 8723 (3 November 1990): 1105-1107.)
3 (Dewey et al, 2003)
4 , (Hall et al, 2002),
5 (Smith, 2007),