Breastfeeding, while completely natural, is not necessarily intuitive for mom or baby. Learning how to breastfeed before baby is born is a bit like learning how to ride a bike without actually sitting on the bicycle while you learn- you may understand in theory, but what you've learned won't have a lot of meaning until you actually do it. This "how to" gives you some tips on what to learn and think about while you're still pregnant rather than telling you exactly "how to breastfeed".
- Skim some good breastfeeding books. The details may not be all that helpful until your baby is born, but just get a few books and skim them so you're familiar with what's there. Some good books include:
- "Bestfeeding: How to Breastfeed Your Baby" by Mary Renfrew, Chloe Fisher, and Suzanne Arms
- "Nursing Your Baby" by Karen Pryor and Gayle Pryor
- "So That's What They're For!" by Janet Tamaro
- "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" by La Leche League International.
- Learn some of the basics. Find out how milk production works, how latch and positioning works, and about some of the common breastfeeding concerns and questions that new parents usually have. In addition to the books mentioned above, a great online resource is www.kellymom.com. A great in-person resource is your local La Leche League meetings, which you can find at www.lalecheleague.org.
- Establish your support network. Make sure that your partner understands that breastfeeding is important to you and you will need support. Tell your partner that support doesn't necessarily mean becoming a breastfeeding expert. Support means that, instead of saying or doing things that cast doubt on your ability to breastfeed or that interfere with breastfeeding, your partner says, "I can see you're having trouble, let me call an expert and make an appointment" or "I'm concerned that things aren't going well, let me call an expert and make an appointment."
Put together a list of who is available to help you. Include the telephone numbers for the following people:
- Lactation consultants. They may be at your local hospital or even your pediatrician's office. There are also independent consultants that you might find in the phone book.
Note: A lactation consultant's education and experience varies widely and anyone can call themselves a "lactation consultant". There is one body that currently certifies lactation consultants with extensive qualification requirements and a rigorous exam. That body is the International Board of Certified Lactation Consultants. A person with this certification has the initial "IBCLC" after her name.
- La Leche League Leader. While lactation consultants charge you a fee that your insurance may or may not cover, it's free to get help from a La Leche League leader. A La Leche leader has had extensive breastfeeding training and has herself breastfed a child. You don't need to be a member of the organization to get help.
In addition to one-on-one help, La Leche holds monthly meetings to support moms with breastfeeding. You may want to attend at least one meeting before baby is born so that you've met the leader before calling to talk about your breasts! (It's not a big deal to them but may feel awkward to you).
- Your friends. Your friends may not be experts but it can be a great help to talk to moms who've made it through rough times. Think of them as your "cheerleaders".
- Determine whether you have flat or inverted nipples. It's not uncommon for a woman to have flat or inverted nipples and not realize it. Neither of these circumstances will prevent you from breastfeeding, but they may present some additional challenges in the beginning. Surprisingly, your doctor or midwife may not automatically mention this to you, so if you have any question about it, you should specifically ask.
If you do have flat or inverted nipples, it will help to learn more about what breastfeeding challenges might come your way in advance.
Note: Don't rely too much on your health care provider or even your child's pediatrician for future breastfeeding support or advice because most of them have limited lactation education.
- Leave the free formula behind. Most doctor's offices and hospitals give you free formula. If you're having a rough time with breastfeeding, there may be a strong temptation to give your baby a bottle of formula if you've got it in the house. After learning more about milk production and nipple confusion, you'll know why giving even one bottle may not be such a good idea. Even if you come to an informed decision to use formula all or some of the time, you can always get it at any grocery or drug store and it's very likely that there's one near you that's open 24/7. If you're concerned about missing out on a freebie, consider this:
- Within weeks of your baby's birth, you'll likely start getting free formula or at least coupons for discounts on formula in the mail (I don't know how the formula companies know, but I assume they get news of your baby's birth through public birth records or from your big-store baby registries).
- You can likely get at least one free can from your doctor if you later decide you wish you'd taken it when it was offered.
- You can get formula free if you're on WIC ("Women, Infants, and Children"), a government program for low-income families that provides supplemental food and some services to pregnant women and children up to age five.