It's ironic that most pregnancy classes are geared toward preparing for labour and childbirth, but not much thought is given to breastfeeding. Yet those intense 24-48 hours spent delivering your baby are relatively short compared to the time you will spend breastfeeding your beautiful (but hungry!) bundle of joy. You know what the benefits of breastfeeding are, so here are some simple things that you can do to set yourself up for a successful breastfeeding experience.
Talk to mothers who have enjoyed breastfeeding success: ask mothers to share their own experiences and challenges with breastfeeding, and what they wish they had known about breastfeeding prior to giving birth. What helped them achieve success? If they had challenges, how did they resolve them? If you are planning on returning to work and continuing to breastfeed, speak with others who have taken that path before you.
Watch someone else breastfeed: The single best thing that you can do is to sit with a new mother while she breastfeeds. Observe how she holds the baby and how the baby latches. Ask questions, talk about her experiences, and discuss challenges that she has faced. Don't be embarrassed or hesitant to ask a friend or a relative if you can join her as she breastfeeds – you will find that the majority of new mothers are willing and eager to help others. If you don't know anyone who is currently breastfeeding, attend a local breastfeeding support group. To find a breastfeeding support group near you, ask your midwife, OB/GYN or pediatrician, or visit La Leche League.
Talk to your partner about breastfeeding: Your partner will probably be your greatest source of support and yet the majority of new dads are uninformed about breastfeeding and rely on you for their information. Have a candid discussion about not only what is involved, but how he can best support you – hint: it's not by suggesting that you throw in the towel when the going gets tough!
Spend some time researching breastfeeding: There are many resources available both online and in print. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the breastfeeding process, how to get a good latch, and what the first few weeks will be like. Explore bookstores and reliable online forums as sources of information so that you are better informed.
Talk to your employer if you plan to breastfeed when you return to work: Many new mothers continue to breastfeed once they return to work. If you are planning on doing so, speak to your employer prior to going on maternity leave. Identify a location where you can use a breast pump privately, and discuss the need for reasonable breaks so that you can continue to feed your child breastmilk. Remember: it is far easier to plan your return to work in advance, than it is to show up on your first day back and figure it out on the fly.
Set up a breastfeeding area prior to giving birth: A comfortable chair or rocker and a pillow are all you need to get started. While you may find a pillow designed for breastfeeding very useful, a regular pillow in your lap can be just as effective. As you become more comfortable with breastfeeding, you will find it easier to nurse in other locations both inside and outside of your home.
Establish your breastfeeding support network: In the first few weeks of sleepless nights and dealing with the reality of being a parent, having a good breastfeeding support network around you is critical. This means people who encourage you, lend a hand whenever you need help, and make you feel like you are not alone. People who keep you going when the going gets tough, as it may. For women who are First Generation Breastfeeders, i.e. their own mothers did not breastfeed, it is especially critical to have one or two strong breastfeeding supporters in your corner. They can make all the difference in those first few weeks.
Identify a resource in case you need help: In an ideal world, breastfeeding will come relatively easily to you and your newborn. Just in case it doesn't start as smoothly as you had hoped, knowing who to turn to if you need additional help can be a real lifesaver. Lactation Consultants specialize in helping new mothers establish breastfeeding and work through any issues they are facing. Your doctor, midwife, or doula might also be good choices for additional support. To find a support resource, ask other new mothers, your OB/GYN or paediatrician, midwife, or visit the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA). Getting help if you need it early on can make all the difference for breastfeeding success.
Take your baby out as soon as you feel up to it: Once you have healed from the birth, try to get out of the house for a short period of time each day: it can be very isolating sitting inside with a newborn, working on breastfeeding and learning how to be a parent. Start with a 15 minute walk, or do a minor errand, such as going to the drugstore. Many new mothers find it therapeutic to see that the world is still out there – a reminder that the early days will pass, and things will get better (we promise!). If you feel up to it and your pediatrician gives you the okay, take the baby for a walk with your partner between feedings or go to a low-key dinner at a kid-friendly establishment. Aim to do something outside the house---however brief---once a day. You will be surprised at how good it will make you feel!
Have patience: Remember that breastfeeding is a learned experience – both for you and your baby. While some women find breastfeeding easy right from the start, many women have ups and downs, especially in the early days. We speak from many years of experience when we say that things will get better!
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