The joys and benefits of breastfeeding are often shared openly, but we rarely talk about the many hurdles that can arise and make breastfeeding difficult.
Managing them with the right expectations and gentle support can be extremely beneficial.
As a lactation educator counselor and birth worker who’s supported families around the globe, I’ve found that there are a few key tips that universally make a difference in the comfort level and success that a woman has with breastfeeding.
In my book "Milk Boss 101: The Modern Breastfeeding Journal & Guide," I lay out a series of steps that every family can begin doing during their pregnancy.
Here are a few of those steps:
Build your breastfeeding tribe.
You're likely building a birth team in preparation for birth. It's equally helpful to round up a few friends to support you on your breastfeeding journey.
Your tribe should consist of a close friend or partner, your medical provider and a coworker. Each of these people will play an important role in helping you successfully start breastfeeding after birth, during The Golden Hour; maintain breastfeeding once home and access help should you begin to experience any breast/nipple trauma or your baby struggle to gain weight.
Your coworker will be someone who supports you in achieving your breastfeeding goals if you decide to return to work. They play an important role in encouraging you if in a non-breastfeeding-friendly work environment, and can also cover for you if ever your pumping routine overlaps with a work commitment.
Attend a prenatal breastfeeding class.
Breastfeeding seems quite intuitive, but it doesn’t come naturally to most women. It requires lots of practice and finesse. It's also most difficult during the first weeks; this period of time is also the most crucial to establishing a health milk supply.
A breastfeeding class will teach you the warning signs of a problem before it’s too late, while also educating you on how to know if your baby is getting enough.
I recommend that a friend or partner attend the class with you. They're likely to remember things that are hard to recall once you’re in the thick of the postpartum period and will be equipped with information on resources to use if you need to.
Write out your breastfeeding goals.
Instead of solely focusing on the recommendations made by your provider, friends or family, take a moment and think about what milestones you’d like to reach in your breastfeeding journey.
This allows you to objectively consider why you are breastfeeding and prepare for the help you’ll need to reach each stage.
For example, if you’d like to continue breastfeeding at six months, but you know you’ll have a work trip, you can plan by creating a small freezer supply for your time away or using a service like Milk Stork.
Meet with a lactation professional.
In addition to attending a breastfeeding class, it’s extremely important to know of a lactation professional you can call up personally during the first days/weeks of breastfeeding.
Questions about spitting up, diapers and feeding usually require a simple answer and not necessarily a full lactation consult, which would require showering, getting dressed and leaving the house with a newborn. Meeting a lactation professional before giving birth allows you to call this person up for quick advice.
You can find lactation professionals by attending a La Leche League meeting or other local breastfeeding meet up, calling your hospital’s lactation department or reaching out to a doula for a list of professionals.
Your mental health is just as important as your baby’s physical well-being.
I’ve heard many mothers share that they feel trapped by breastfeeding at first, since they are their baby’s sole source of nourishment.
You can ease this feeling by taking walks, scheduling a massage, or attending a yoga class a few times a week. Requesting gift cards for such services at your baby shower can help assure that you make time for them.
These practices usually take no more than an hour and can really do wonders for your sanity.
If it seems overwhelming to tackle each of these five steps now or if you are already toward the end of your pregnancy, I recommend prioritizing a meeting with a lactation professional.
They will be able to provide you with some basics to get you started off right and remain available to you should you need additional support in the future.