Not to add another item (or five) to your to-do list, but there are things you can and should do during pregnancy to prepare for breastfeeding your little one. Increasing confidence and support for breastfeeding helps your breastfeeding relationship get off to a smoother start. First timers and seasoned parents might benefit from these suggestions.
1. Take a class.
It’s pretty straightforward: Increasing education about breastfeeding in the prenatal period increases confidence, which increases breastfeeding success. While knowing what to do doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be easy, taking a class before your baby arrives goes a long way toward preparing your family for what lies ahead.
The basics of getting breastfeeding off to a good start can be covered in a couple of hours of class time, and classes include a wealth of information on what to expect in the early days of breastfeeding, education on normal newborn behavior, answers to common questions and concerns, and connection to resources for help within your community.
The Twin Cities area holds a wide variety of class options in a wide variety of price ranges, offered by clinics, boutiques, and individuals. You can choose from generalized group classes; specialized group classes (breastfeeding multiples, adoptive breastfeeding); and custom, private classes. If you can’t find local classes in your area, there are online options as well. Check out Cindy & Jana’s online courses (one is free!).
2. Find your breastfeeding tribe.
Support can be crucial to breastfeeding success. La Leche League often comes to mind as the place to find other parents who breastfeed, and for good reason. The organization has been around for over 60 years and has helped preserve breastfeeding knowledge that may have been lost otherwise. Each group has its own vibe, so if the first one you try isn’t for you, give another a chance. You can visit before or after your baby is born, and older children are welcome at meetings.
Besides La Leche League, there are Breastfeeding USA groups that have popped up around the United States. Another organized group called Baby Café exists in the United Kingdom and United States, and you can find formal and informal breastfeeding or parenting groups pretty much anywhere. If meeting in person isn’t an option, Facebook is a particularly popular venue for finding support. A simple search of your locality plus “breastfeeding” might lead you to your new best friends.
And take heart, those who don’t identify as mothers. Increasingly, groups are taking pains to be inclusive, and there are also LGBTQ-specific chestfeeding/breastfeeding and parenting groups that meet in person and online.
If you’re in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, area, here’s a calendar of free breastfeeding support groups.
3. Scope out lactation consultants.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) are the experts in breastfeeding. Before being able to sit for the exam, an IBCLC has at least 300 hours of experience working with breastfeeding families; some have over 1,000 hours of experience! They also have advanced training in lactation and, more recently, have been required to fulfill certain college-level course requirements. Be careful: Not everyone who calls themselves a “lactation consultant” is an IBCLC, so you’ll want to check out credentials.
IBCLCs work in a wide variety of settings. Some you’ll only see in the hospital, and others spend time both in the hospital and at outpatient clinics. Others will be at your pediatrician or family doctor’s office, their own office, or can come to your home. Many are happy to meet with expecting parents to address any questions or concerns parents have. Prenatal appointments may be particularly helpful for those who had challenging previous breastfeeding experiences or special circumstances, such as expecting multiples or a history of breast surgery.
Not everyone needs to see an IBCLC. Some issues can be solved with help from peers or a breastfeeding groups, or the help of a CLC (Certified Lactation Counselor), CLEC (Certified Lactation Educator Counselor), or someone with a similar certification. These folks are the experts for “normal” breastfeeding problems, such as making positioning and latch more comfortable, learning different holds or how to pump, and so on. IBCLCs help with this as well as breastfeeding support when parents, babies, or both are having dealing with—for example—damaged nipples, milk supply, low weight gain, jaundice, or difficulty latching.
4. Get acquainted with your chest.
So we’re getting acquainted with peers and professionals. Now it’s time to get acquainted with your breasts. If you’ve never breastfed a baby before, it’s possible that you’ve never really examined or felt your breasts. Your milk ducts have been secreting colostrum since early in the second trimester of pregnancy; if you practice hand expressing (a very helpful skill to have once baby is born), you’ll probably see some droplets on your nipple. Gentle breast massage can help increase your familiarity with your breasts and handling them. If you have any questions or concerns about your breasts or nipples, talk with an IBCLC, La Leche League leader, or your OB or midwife to address them.
Note: It used to be common to suggest “roughing up” your nipples, applying lotions or creams, or doing exercises to stretch inverted nipples before giving birth. None of these help with nipple soreness. Gentle touching to increase your comfort level with and understanding what is normal with your breasts is the goal here.
5. Plan for postpartum.
Every parent should plan for postpartum—what would you like it to be like for you? How can you make this happen? What resources do you need in place? What resources do you know you won’t have—such as transportation or money—and how can you plan around that?
The postpartum time is meant for healing, feeding, and learning for yourself and your baby, regardless of how your little one is being fed. Give yourself and your newly expanded family time to ease into your new life. For breastfeeding parents, this means having people help with things other than feeding; they can support you by keeping you fed and watered, entertaining older children, running to the store for diapers or washing yours, or anything else that gives you the time and space to heal and feed.
DONA International has a planning document for the postpartum period (PDF). It gives a lot of food for thought even if you don’t put your pen to paper and fill it out.
What things worked for you? Do you have any other suggestions? Throw ’em in the comments!