There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding breastfeeding. The most common one I have experienced are parents who believe they do not need to prepare to breastfeed, as it is something they believe they will understand innately. As parents-to-be, I see many people who assume that because they can lactate, they will just know how to breastfeed their child, but for most of us, that’s not the case.
When multi-generational homes were more common, more people were exposed to breastfeeding throughout their lifetime. They may have been breastfed, they may have seen family members breastfeed. But in a society where so many of us were bottle fed and may have grown up with little to no exposure to young children or breastfeeding at all… why would we know anything about breastfeeding?
Most of us need help learning to breastfeed. Most of us need the support of our birth team to initiate breastfeeding immediately postpartum. Whether that be assistance from midwives, doulas, nurses or lactation consultants - most of us need to be shown the basics. And even then, what happens when your birth team is gone and you hit a bump in the road? What if baby starts struggling to latch, you become engorged, or develop mastitis?
This is where education and additional support come in.
If you know ahead of time that you plan to breastfeed, reading up on breastfeeding during your pregnancy is one of the best things you can do to prepare yourself. It can help you learn about what to expect, how to get started, what is normal, and what problems may require you to seek additional help.
If you are like me - you might not have considered reading about breastfeeding until you were in the thick of it. That is okay! As usual, it is never too late to educate yourself and to improve your breastfeeding relationship (if need be).
With my first child,I didn’t read at all; expected I would just figure it out, and struggled until I quit nursing around the age of 4 months. With my second child, I read a little and expected that as an older, more seasoned mom, I would be just fine. Well, my second child had a tongue tie and things were a bit more challenging than I initially imagined. I didn’t truly start to educate myself until the weeks following his birth, and I can honestly say that reading about the benefits of breastfeeding, the “how to’s,” what is normal, and troubleshooting saved our breastfeeding relationship. I am happy to say he is now approaching his first birthday and still breastfeeding (Thank you, Ina May!).
In addition to studying up, joining a breastfeeding support group can be a great way to normalize breastfeeding, learn helpful hints and tips to make your life easier - and to spend time in community with like minded individuals.
Postpartum doulas can be great help troubleshooting basic breastfeeding difficulties as well, but if you are truly struggling, a lactation consultant is your best bet. Many hospitals have lactation consultants on staff to assist new parents in the days following birth. In most areas, private lactation consultants are available to do home visits as well. Lactation consultants can help correct and diagnose problems related to bad latches, painful nursing, and milk production.
This all is to say that, the best preparation is education. Set yourself up for success and be patient with yourself and your newborn, breastfeeding is likely a new skill for you and is certainly new to your baby. Surround yourself with those who can support your breastfeeding goals. And if at the end of the day, you find that breastfeeding isn’t what works best for your family - that is okay, too. You are the only one who can make the best choices for your children.
For a list of resources regarding breastfeeding, please visit our resources page.