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 woman can begin implementing during the pregnancy and after birth to greatly increase the chances of having a successful breastfeeding experience. Here are a few of those steps:
Assemble your breastfeeding tribe.
You’re likely building a birth team in preparation for your delivery — 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” (the first hour after birth when a mother has uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact with her newborn); maintain breastfeeding once home; and access help should you begin to experience any breast/nipple trauma or if your baby struggles to gain weight.
Your coworker will be someone who supports you in achieving your breastfeeding goals if you decide to return to work. This individual will play an important role in encouraging you if you are employed in a work environment that is not breastfeeding-friendly, and he or she can also cover for you if your pumping routine ever 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. Breastfeeding can also be most difficult during the first few weeks; this period of time is also the most crucial in establishing a healthy 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 nourishment.
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 they will be equipped with information on available resources if you require them.
Write down 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.
Doing so 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 building up a freezer supply for your time away or by using a service like Milk Stork.
Meet with a lactation professional.
In addition to attending a breastfeeding class, it’s extremely important to identify a lactation professional you can call up personally during the first days and weeks of breastfeeding.
Questions about spitting up, diapers and feeding usually require a simple answer and not necessarily a full lactation consultation, which would require showering, getting dressed and leaving the house with a newborn. Meeting with a lactation professional before giving birth allows you to ring up your consultant for advice on the fly.
You can find lactation professionals by attending a La Leche League meeting or other local breastfeeding meet-up, calling your hospital’s lactation services department or reaching out to a doula for a list of recommended professionals.
Your mental health is just as important as your baby’s physical well-being.
I’ve heard many mothers share their experiences of feeling 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 ensure that you make time for them.
These practices usually take no more than an hour and can really do wonders for your sanity.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2018, and updated in April 2019.