“Breastfeeding is best.” And then there’s the inevitable, “BUT…” Frankly, I’m not surprised by the recent backlash against breastfeeding. No wonder mothers have even begun to contest the huge body of research heralding the benefits of breastfeeding.
Why? Instead of making it easy for women to breastfeed, society does virtually nothing but tell mothers what’s best and immediately imply they will fail. Who wants to feel inadequate? What mother feels good doing only second best? I cannot think of a quicker way to spark protective denial than to attack the choices a mother has made for her offspring.
If we really want to improve breastfeeding rates, we need to hear: “Breast is best, here’s how to succeed.” I know that there are special cases where breast may not be possible at every feeding – preemies with health issues, multiples, working moms without supportive companies – but in most cases, we as a culture have a responsibility to help moms succeed. We should start our conversations with “Breast IS NORMAL.”
“Normal” not from the statistic norm in the United States (only 14% of mothers exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months), but rather “Normal” from the perspective of the behavior Mother Nature designed for the Mammalia (Mammal) class of which we are a part (the class Mammalia originates from mammary glands exclusively used by all other mammals to nourish offspring).Of course, unlike other mammals, many human mothers face the challenge of working separated from their offspring, and therefore need the aid of bottles, pumps, and other gear. Today, I simply want to help mothers successfully feed a baby at the breast.
I will preface my post with a disclaimer: I am not a lactation consultant, a doctor, or a nurse. I am simply a breastfeeding mother who’s nursed two children nearly 4 years of her life, and helped many friends struggling with breastfeeding issues. The fact is, breastfeeding is as much a social, learned art as it is a biological process. By openly discussing breastfeeding, the information I’ve gathered with other mothers, I hope to fill the void left by this “Breast is Best, BUT” mentality and help others refine this womanly art.
My Favorite Five Tips:1. Before giving birth, get informed.
My favorite website is Kellymom, run by a lactation consultant providing reams of studies supporting all elements of breastfeeding. This is her informative list of breastfeeding preparation tips. She also has a list of books to avoid because they could sabotage your breastfeeding relationship, and books to read because they provide excellent evidence-based information.
2. Nothing But Mother’s Breast – Write it In Your Birth Plan!
In addition to your plan for the actual birth of your baby, clearly state that your newborn receive NOTHING BUT MAMA! No pacifiers, no water, no sugar, no formula, nothing nothing, nothing but your breast to avoid potentially devastating nipple confusion.
Your partner or doula can act as a guard to make sure the baby is not exposed to anything but your breast in the hospital. Kellymom suggests making a sign for your baby’s bassinet that states, “I AM A BREASTFED BABY. No artificial nipples, formula or pacifiers please!!” I also refused to have any formula or bottles in my home until my babies were over a month old, just to make sure any temptation to give up in the face of difficulty wouldn’t be easily met.
I’ve known way too many mothers who’ve lost their ability to breastfeed because their babies were exposed to artificial nipples and subsequently refused the breast forever. It’s been heartwrenching to watch them choose between months of exclusive pumping or breast milk substitutes.
3. Get familiar with breastfeeding beforehand, make sure you know what a good latch looks like.
I attended one breastfeeding workshop prior to giving birth. Although not anything like the real thing, it planted seeds in my head. Things to look for, ideas to try, a person to contact if I needed help at the last minute. You could attend a La Leche League meeting before you give birth to begin to develop familiarity with the breastfeeding process. You could also check out Dr. Sears website for some images of successful latching.
4. Immediately after birth, nurse and nurse and nurse!
Place your baby on your chest (skin to skin contact best) shortly after birth and begin trying to breastfeed within 30 minutes. Babies who are breastfed quickly after birth have higher chances of success than babies fed later. Delay any medical procedures as long as possible and just keep offering the baby your breast. Let the baby nurse as long as they want – more time at the breast stimulates milk production even if the baby is not swallowing milk the entire time.
5. Trust yourself to succeed, but get help right away if you’re struggling.
Breastfeeding is a natural process, and for many women it goes fine. Many women, however, lack the cultural support and optimal birthing conditions that make success straightforward, so it helps to make sure you have the number for a lactation consultant with good references (or a midwife) before you give birth. They should watch you breastfeeding and make sure things look good in those first few days. If you have any concerns at all, seek a second opinion, or ask for more advice and help immediately. Waiting for help can create a situation where you feel pressured to use supplements or artificial nipples that can forever alter your chances of successful breastfeeding.
These are just my favorite tips. Feel free to add advice below that helped you, your friends, or family breastfeed successfully.