If you are pregnant and planning to breastfeed, chances are you’re busy reading books and articles and even taking classes to learn the ins and outs of breastfeeding. You’ve read about let-down, latch, engorgement, and other lactation components, and may already have purchased a breast pump if you’re planning on using one. The truth is, however, that as important as it is to prepare and educate yourself ahead of time, once your baby is born and you are in the midst of figuring everything out, you may still be caught off guard by any number of breastfeeding obstacles. If you put baby to breast for the first time and suddenly can’t remember half of what you learned in your class, or in that book you read, you are not alone! Pregnancy is a time where you are bombarded with incredible amounts of information, and no one expects you to remember it all after giving birth. That being said, one of the most important keys to breastfeeding success is building your support team. That way, when you encounter questions and challenges, you’ll know exactly where to go to get the help you need. Lack of resources and support is a leading reason why women get discouraged and give up on their breastfeeding goals.
Here are the seven people you want in your corner to help you achieve success in breastfeeding.
1. Your partner. Whomever is going to be your primary support person at home, whether it’s a partner, spouse, relative, etc. You and your partner must be on the same page about your breastfeeding goals. It’s important for them to have information about breastfeeding, and to appreciate that breastfeeding is not always a cake walk. A partner who is unfamiliar with the process, or unaware of the many challenges that can arise while nursing, may be quick to worry that breastfeeding is not going well, and may make suggestions that go against your original breastfeeding plan.
2. Your doula. Both birth and postpartum doulas can aid in your breastfeeding success. Birth doulas not only provide you with quality, evidence-based information about breastfeeding, but the positive effects that they can have on your birth experience can also lead to better breastfeeding outcomes. Studies show that the continual support of a doula during your labor not only reduces the rates of cesareans and interventions, but also reduces the likelihood of postpartum depression, which is a contributing factor in women having breastfeeding difficulties. Women who feel supported and have positive birth experiences are more likely to have breastfeeding success. Postpartum doulas are also great to have in your support team. Coming to your home after you give birth, these doulas are also equipped with knowledge of lactation basics and can help connect you with local consultants and professionals trained in more complicated breastfeeding issues. Postpartum doulas also tackle some of the tasks on your household to-do list (laundry, vacuuming, dishes, meal prep, etc.) so you have more time to spend taking care of yourself and your baby.
3. Your baby’s pediatrician. Yes, having a pediatrician who is breastfeeding-friendly is a crucial part of your success. Some practices may even have lactation nurses on staff! If your pediatrician does not seem supportive of your choice to breastfeed, you are being told your baby is behind on the growth curve and you feel pressured to supplement with formula, you may want to get a second opinion or possibly find a new pediatrician. If you are unable to switch doctors, make sure you utilize other resources like lactation consultants to help improve your breastfeeding experience.
4. Hospital nurses and lactation staff. Those first few feeds with your newborn can get you and your baby off on the road to breastfeeding success, so make sure you make the most of your time in the hospital. You will encounter numerous lactation and labor and delivery nurses during your stay who can provide a wide variety of experience and advice. Some hospitals even have a lactation nurse that you can call up after you have taken your baby home.
5. Certified lactation consultants. Depending on where you live, you may have a number of lactation professionals in your local area. Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs) are professionals who have undergone forty-five hours of breastfeeding management training, and passed an exam. They are also required to complete continuing education credits every three years. International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCS) have received even more training and practical experience and their credentials are internationally recognized. You may find them working in hospitals or doctors’ offices, or they may run their own private business. Some CLCs and IBCLCs even make house calls, which can be a blessing for new parents.
6. Support groups. Lactation professionals are great for clinical help in breastfeeding, but sometimes it can be so helpful just to talk with other parents who may be having similar postpartum and breastfeeding experiences as you. Support groups and La Leche League meetings for new parents are a great way to connect with families in your area, and provide a space to be heard and receive emotional support. La Leche League is an international breastfeeding education and support network that provides resources to nursing families, as well as hosting support groups and lactation clinics in cities and towns all over the world. Visit www.llli.org to find a meeting in your area.
7. Print resources. In this day and age, a vast world of information is right at your fingertips. If you have a computer or smartphone, millions of blogs, ebooks, news articles, and forums are just a mouse click away. Libraries, childbirth educators, and doulas are also likely to have helpful breastfeeding books and materials available to borrow. Having access to books, websites, and other resources that provide information and encouragement in breastfeeding is one more tool for success. Here are a few top-rated breastfeeding resources to get you started:
If you start your breastfeeding adventure and encounter any obstacles, you’re not alone! According to a study done by UC Davis, 92% of women struggle with breastfeeding in the first few days, and many continue to encounter issues throughout the postpartum period. A major factor for women who end up supplementing with formula or who give up on breastfeeding entirely is lack of resources and support. It’s never too early or too late to start building your breastfeeding dream team, it can make all the difference in the world!
-Anna Nieves-Herrera, Birth and Postpartum Doula.