I want to be clear about breastfeeding…while it is certainly a natural bodily process, it is NOT like breathing. Women are not born knowing how to automatically do it. New mothers need kind, patient, knowledgeable and loving mentors or teachers to show them the ropes. In cultures other than the U.S., girls may grow up watching breastfeeding happen around them and so maybe have a few more clues about how the process works. But that’s not the case here in New Jersey.
As a postpartum doula who has spent many hours training to help new moms breastfeed I am constantly amazed and frankly, disappointed at some of the confusing and downright incorrect information my new mom clients seem to be getting about breastfeeding while they are in the hospital. I’m not sure why this happens, nor does it matter. But suffice it to say, that here in Northern New Jersey where I live and work, you can’t count on all the breastfeeding information you receive in the hospital to be the most up-to-date, or even correct.
So, given this discouraging information, how can a new mother insure that she will have success with breastfeeding?
1. Be proactive. If you plan to breastfeed, expect to need help with it. It really does take a village to get a new mom and her baby up to speed on how to breastfeed! So get your support lined up BEFORE your baby arrives. Look online, make some phone calls and line up an independent lactation consultant who is wiling to pay you a visit in the hospital if you run into problems. Make initial contact with your local La Leche League group leader. Find out when the meetings are in your area. And plan to attend (yes, even before your baby is born!) for free support.
2. Educate yourself on how to latch your baby. While there is nothing like actually breastfeeding your baby to improve your skills it still pays to watch a few online videos of what a good latch look likes. And learn how to break the latch by inserting your finger into the corner of the baby’s mouth and breaking the powerful suction. Painful nipples, which often drive new mothers to quit before they get started breastfeeding, are most often caused by improper latch, not by the fact that your baby eats frequently.
3. Buy at least one good breastfeeding book. Read it before your due date. And pack it in your hospital bag.
4. Find out there is a lactation consultant on staff where you will give birth. Specifically ask what hours and on what days she is available. I can’t tell you how many mothers believe that support exists only to find out that the lactation consultant on staff works Monday and Thursday from 10-2. If you give birth on a Friday night or Tuesday morning, you may never get to see her.
5. Stake out space and time for your bonding and breastfeeding. Set expectations early that you will not be having visitors in the hospital. Your time there will be short enough and you will have lots to learn. Your baby’s needs will come first. Nix all but the grandparents and siblings from visiting. Use technology and social media to introduce your baby to waiting friends, family and coworkers.
6. Hire a postpartum doula with experience coaching breastfeeding moms so she can be there with you when you get home to help you stay on track.
Yes, successful breastfeeding does require time, patience and practice. But the rewards for you and your baby are tremendous. And with the right support, you can and will successfully learn to breastfeed. So start now, before your baby arrives.
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