By Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC
You are a mammal. You expect that you will have your baby and he will just latch right on and you are all set.
But then you see all of your “friends” struggling. Why is it so darn hard?
Breastfeeding is a learned behavior for parents. Babies are very instinctive. They know how to nurse when given normal circumstances. Unfortunately, many newborns are not born into biologically normal circumstances.
Breastfeeding involves two people: the parent who gave birth and the baby.*
Many people are unaware of the impact of birth on both the mom and baby for breastfeeding. If the birth is induced, medicated or surgical this all impacts both parties. When you throw in vacuum of forceps delivery this makes an added complication for the newborn.
Medications for induction can make both mom and baby sleepy. The intravenous fluids that are necessary add fluid not only to the mom and her breasts but also to the baby. This fluid in the breasts can make it more challenging for the milk to flow in the first couple of days. As the baby sheds this excess water it may look like a dramatic weight loss, which often results in unnecessary supplementing.
We live in a culture where babies are not frequently included in social situations. Breastfeeding is hidden. It is hidden in homes, behind burkas and in bottles of pumped milk. Breastfeeding moms are often shooed away – either blatantly or subtly. This means we do not see breastfeeding on a regular basis.
Breastfeeding is very different from bottle-feeding. It is hard to quantify how much a baby is getting. In a world where most everything is measured and monitored and checked off breastfeeding is a challenge.
Breastfeeding is not routinely taught in medical school – or in any school for that matter. This means that the medical team meant to support you often have little to no training in the normal course of breastfeeding.
So, what are new and expecting parents to do?
These things can help to get breastfeeding off to a good start and continue.
Attend La Leche League Meetings http://www.lllusa.org/– these are meetings for pregnant and breastfeeding parents with trained volunteers with personal breastfeeding experience. This is a great opportunity to see real breastfeeding babies and to hear what works, what gets in the way of breastfeeding and to learn that there is a wide range of normal.
Make a birth plan. No matter what kind of birth you plan or want it is a good idea to write out your desires – even if things do not go according to your plan many of your wishes around the birth could be honored including drugs used, having skin to skin with your baby – possible even with a Caesarean if you plan ahead – rooming in, avoiding supplementing, etc.
Have a labor support doula! This person can help you craft your birth plan. Women who use a doula are more likely to have a vaginal birth and reduced interventions. This leads to easier breastfeeding.
If you need help at home after your baby is born a postpartum doula is great! She can teach you newborn care, general breastfeeding, she can care for you while you learn to care for your baby. She can take care of food for you and your family and other domestic activities you may feel compelled to do.
Have your “team,” partner, extended family, healthcare team, support you in breastfeeding. This means making sure they are informed about breastfeeding.
Make contact with an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.) http://www.ilca.org/why-ibclc/falc Most will talk to you before your baby is born to discuss when and if you may need to schedule an appointment.
Avoid Dr. Google! This is important. The internet is full of opinions, marketing and general misinformation. You are not one-size-fits-all and neither is your baby. You need to look at your baby, your situation and know when to seek help and to know what is normal.
Education is key! Here are some good books:
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West and Teresa Pitman
Breastfeeding Made Simple by Nancy Mohrbacher
The Nursing Mothers Companion by Kathleen Huggins
* more if there are multiple babies