By Catherine Fenner, IBCLC
Today, more, and more families are choosing to breastfeed. Washington has some of the highest breastfeeding initiation rates in the country. That is great news for babies, the nursing parent and the whole family.
There is so much evidence about the importance of breastfeeding. It impacts your life-long health, as well as your baby’s. Even if you don’t know the specifics, you have certainly picked up that breastfeeding is good. Even the best! Wow! Being the best is loaded with high expectations. It’s almost pre-guilt if it doesn’t work out as planned. What comes next is often the “What If Worries”: What if I can’t do it? What if my baby can’t do it? What if it hurts too much? What if I don’t like it? What if I don’t have enough milk?
There are steps you can take to minimize the What if Worries.
- Take a breastfeeding class. I didn’t take a class. I figured breastfeeding was normal and natural, my mom did it fine, so it will work fine for me too. And it did…eventually. In retrospect, it would have been helpful to know a few basics: the signs my baby is getting enough, how to latch my baby, how my spouse can be involved, and when it’s time to get some more help. Learning these basics will not answer every question but it will help you get breastfeeding started, and connect you with resources in your community. Having accurate information increases your confidence that you can do this.
- Set aside time to talk with your spouse about how you want to feed your baby. Here is an exercise you can do together. On your own sheet of paper answer these questions individually: 1. Was I breastfed? 2. When have I seen other people breastfeed, and how did I feel when I saw it? 4. How do I envision feeding our baby? 5. Why is that important to me? After you have each answered the questions come together and share what you wrote. Talk about why breastfeeding is important to you and what you need from your spouse. Listen to their thoughts and feelings and ask what they need. Knowing you and your spouse support each other strengthens your relationship.
- Organize your network of support. Call a close friend, or family member that you trust. Give them a list of your family and friends along with email addresses. Ask them to set up a meal train. People can sign up to bring a meal or arrange for take-out to be delivered to you. Say yes to food! Nursing takes energy and we often forget to eat enough in the first month. Families expecting their second baby do this all the time. Another idea is to start a list of all the people you could call for support when questions come up: a close friend or family member that breastfed, your doula, your postpartum doula, your childbirth educator, or lactation educator, your lactation consultant, La Leche League Leader, hospital breastfeeding hotline, your pediatrician. Planning ahead can reduce worry.
- Seek out friends, co-workers, and neighbors that breastfed. Ask them about their experiences. Ask if they had any challenges and how they overcame them. Ask if it was all worth it. Ask what was the one thing that they wished they had done differently. Notice people breastfeeding in public – steal an extra long glance. Attend a La Leche League meeting, or a breastfeeding drop-in group. These are great places to see parents nursing their babies. We learn so much by watching other people. Most of us don’t get to see breastfeeding very often so while you are pregnant look for opportunities to see parents and babies in action. Seeing how others do it increases your confidence and builds your support network.
- If you have specific health concerns that may affect your ability to breastfeed schedule a prenatal appointment with an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). Talking through your concerns with an expert can alleviate fears. There may be things you can do while pregnant to positively influence your breastfeeding experience. Having a plan to address, and prevent the affects of health issues improves your chances of meeting your breastfeeding goals.
I can’t predict how breastfeeding will go for you, but planning ahead and connecting with your support network certainly helps you and your spouse prepare for success. Ultimately, all parents just want to know that their baby is getting enough nourishment, enough nurturing and that we can enjoy the experience along the way. I guarantee it will not be perfect. But nothing ever is. You will find your way. And that will be what is best for you and your baby. Guilt-free.