Planning to breastfeed? Here’s what worked for me.

When I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I’d also heard all kinds of stories; some made it sound easy and others made it sound really difficult. Like parenting, breastfeeding was one thing I couldn’t practice beforehand. While breastfeeding is something each woman needs to figure out for herself, there were six steps that I followed that helped me feel confident and prepared (and so far successful). I share them in the hope that they can help you prepare too:

  1. Learn the facts
    • Why was I so sure that I even wanted to breastfeed? As part of my NCT course, there was a breastfeeding session, where I learned most of what I know. Although I’d definitely recommend learning about it in person from a professional, if you can’t find a class, there are lots of resources out there to support mothers who want to breastfeed. Three motivating facts I learned in that session were: breast milk contains antibodies to protect babies from infection, breast milk contains all the nutrients and water a baby needs in the first six months, and breast milk contributes to mental development. Not to mention there are some wonderful benefits for the mother too! The benefits of breastfeeding for my baby (and me) made this the best choice for us. The various facts I have learned give me strength to persevere and push through any discomforts.
  2. Speak with other women to hear their stories, especially women who have struggled
    • Women’s stories about breastfeeding helped me understand why it could be difficult. For me, it was talking with my sister’s friend who had a hard time breastfeeding that first raised my awareness to the fact that it is not as simple as just putting the baby to your nipple. After that conversation, I spoke with as many women as I could. These discussions also helped me build a reserve of strength to draw from when I hit some challenges. Not only that, but also these women suggested excellent, practical tips and resources (mentioned in 4 and 6), which I was able to have at hand for when I needed them. Most importantly, every woman spoke of the incredible emotional bond breastfeeding created, giving me something to look forward to. I had a sense that it would be worthwhile despite any bumps in the journey. *It’s a bonus if you’re able to watch someone breastfeed to build a picture of doing it yourself.
  3. Get your partner (or whoever your closest support is) on board
    • When you’re sleep deprived and your breasts are hurting, it helps if your partner encourages you to continue. When family or friends are probing or criticizing, it helps if your partner backs you up. When you are thirsty and hungry and “stuck” in one spot feeding your child, it helps if your partner brings you water, food, and a book. If your partner has learned the same facts about the benefits of breastfeeding and can understand the positives themselves, they are more likely to be there for you when you need their support. Breastfeeding is a choice the whole family makes, and like any decision in a relationship, it’s important to discuss. I know there have been times where my husband has felt on the periphery of feeding our son, but I cannot stress enough how vital his role has been in our successfully breastfeeding our child.  
  4. Get organized
    • In the weeks leading up to his birth, getting organized gave me something to focus on, things to check off a list. It also gave me a feeling of reassurance that I’d be ready when the time came. I’m sure this looks different for everyone, but here’s an idea of what I did: bought/borrowed the resource books recommended to me, learned (and practiced) how to hand express, packed an oral syringe in the hospital bag in case I needed to use it to gather colostrum, and researched and purchased bottles and pumps in case I was going to need them. It felt good to know I had the necessary tools at hand to be successful.
  5. Find a lactation consultant or drop-in center in your area
    • I was lucky because my NCT breastfeeding session was with our local lactation consultant, but your hospital or midwife should be able to help with this. A doula can also be very knowledgeable in this area. Why is this a step on the list? Because most of the women I know who breastfeed, including myself, needed professional help at least once (often more than once). Knowing where I’d go reassured me; I didn’t feel alone or helpless.
  6. Gather (trusted and limited) resources
    • Really, all the other steps boil down to this one. Collect and evaluate resources before your baby arrives so you have places to go when you are too tired and emotional to sort it out. Surprisingly, I’ve had friends who were given incorrect information about breastfeeding in the hospital, which is why you want to vet and trust your resources beforehand. This is another reason why it is important to learn the facts (like first you produce colostrum, which a baby needs minuscule amounts of, and your milk doesn’t come in for two to four days!). Also, my experience was that almost everyone has advice, and that advice is often contradictory, which is why it helps to limit those trusted resources. You are extremely vulnerable when you’ve just given birth; you’re running on adrenaline and all you want is for your baby to thrive. To be successful, it’s important to have just a few places you trust quickly available. My sources were one text, one friend who had recently gone through breastfeeding herself and was training to be a doctor, and a doula/lactation consultant.

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