How can I prepare to breastfeed before baby is born?

November 18th, 2013 by Dionna | Comments Off on How can I prepare to breastfeed before baby is born?
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Compassionate Advocacy, Feed with Love and Respect, natural parenting

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This article is part of the Building Blocks to a Healthy Breastfeeding Relationship series, a series I wrote to accompany a presentation I did for the Healthy Child Summit. Be sure to sign up for a free 22 day sneak preview at the Healthy Child Summit website. Beginning in February 2014, you’ll get access to presentations from over 50 natural health, wellness, and parenting professionals on topics like healthy pregnancy and birth, breastfeeding, natural medicines, toxin-free homes, and more. After the sneak peek, please use my a href=”″>affiliate link if you’d like to purchase access to the presentations.

How can I prepare to breastfeed before baby is born?

How can a woman prepare to breastfeed before baby arrives?

Just as all nipples are not created equally, neither are our breastfeeding journeys. The beginnings of breastfeeding vary from mother to mother and baby to baby. It’s true that breastfeeding is a natural biological process, but it is not always intuitive or “easy.”

Instead of being blindsided by breastfeeding when you have a newborn baby squalling in your arms, create a strong foundation for your healthy nursing relationship by preparing yourself ahead of time.

Below are 3 simple building blocks to a healthy breastfeeding relationship:

A – Ask for support.
B – Beat the booby traps by educating yourself.
C – Create an atmosphere where breastfeeding can flourish.

Be sure to check out the additional resources in each section to help you prepare to breastfeed before baby arrives.

Ask for support.

Ask any breastfeeding mother what is vital to a successful breastfeeding relationship, and probably after the basic physical stuff (milk coming in and a baby who latches), she’ll probably mention her support network – her village. Having a knowledgeable friend, an understanding partner, and an available Lactation Consultant or other breastfeeding “expert” who can offer emotional and practical help in the early weeks of breastfeeding is such a big help to making mom and baby comfortable (whether it is your first or your fifth baby). Here are four pieces of a typical support network, yours may look a little different.

  • Find Breastfeeding Friends and Family: Do you have any friends who nursed or are still nursing their children? Any family members or coworkers? Let them know that you would like to breastfeed, and ask them your burning questions (as with talking about labor and birth, it is often helpful to preface your questions with “I’m looking for positive feedback and helpful tips, please no horror stories!”). Start forming a circle of people who you can trust and who will support you. If you come across someone intent on snaring you in a Booby Trap, gracefully excuse yourself and move on. You may encounter people who have had negative experiences breastfeeding. While it is great to inform yourself, what you are looking for right now is a support system, not voices of dissent.
  • Enlist Your Partner to Help Safeguard Your Breastfeeding Relationship: If you have a parenting partner, breastfeeding will have a learning curve for both of you. Learn and create a support system together! Your partner needs to know that breastfeeding is normal, and he or she may need some ideas on how to best support you throughout your breastfeeding journey.
  • Create a Pumping-Friendly Environment at Work: While you are pregnant, educate yourself on – and share with your employer – the many benefits of establishing a lactation program at work. There are cost savings to the employer, fewer sick days (for both mom and baby), increased productivity – it is truly a win-win situation. Read 40 Ways to Support Pumping Moms for more information on benefits of lactation programs, how to prepare yourself to go back to work, and more.
  • Visit Breastfeeding Support Groups: If you are not ordinarily around breastfeeding mothers, if you are one of the first of your friends to become pregnant or if you don’t have many nursing friends, I’d encourage you to seek out your local chapter of La Leche League. Go to a few meetings. Yes, you may feel awkward. But you can also feel confident that some of the mothers in that meeting were in your shoes, and now they want to invite you into their circle. They want you to have a beautiful breastfeeding journey. If you don’t have a LLL in your area, look around for local attachment parenting groups, midwifery groups, chapter of Holistic Moms Network, local “green” or “natural” parenting stores, or similar parenting groups (such as through WIC).

    Face-to-face breastfeeding support groups are absolutely key in normalizing breastfeeding for new parents, but don’t forget the convenience of having online communities as well. When your newborn is crying and refusing to latch on in the middle of the night, mothers who are awake on the other side of the world will be available to help you. When you have a random question that no one in your local community can answer, turn to thousands of mothers online – someone will know what you’re talking about. There are several great communities online you can join, two of my favorites are Natural Parents Network (website, Facebook, Twitter) and The Leaky B@@b (website, Facebook, Twitter), and of course the Facebook page for Code Name: Mama is also full of supportive parents (and find me on Twitter). Some of my readers have had great experiences with Twitter, MOPS (mothers of preschoolers), and CafeMom.

  • It’s never too early to start finding your people – your breastfeeding peers – the ones who can normalize nursing, calm your fears, encourage you through the rough times, and give you a shoulder to cry on after your little one finally weans. So reach out to your friends, your coworkers, your family, and your local breastfeeding support groups to gather your village, before you ever begin breastfeeding.

    Further resources on asking for support.

    Beat the booby traps by educating yourself.

    Best for Babes has the most succinct way of describing all of the cultural and institutional ways that our breastfeeding relationships can be sabotaged: the booby traps. Whether it is pressure from your mother-in-law to nurse under a cover when that doesn’t work for you (because that’s what was done in her generation – a cultural booby trap), or getting a bag of formula “just in case” as you check out of the hospital (because hospitals allow formula companies to push their products – an institutional booby trap), it can be hard to feel confident about breastfeeding.

    But parents who take time to educate themselves about breastfeeding are more confident, and they can beat the booby traps. Just as you can prepare to become a parent by taking an infant CPR class and researching car seats, you can prepare to breastfeed your baby by educating yourself about what breastfeeding entails.

    Begin by learning about how human milk is the unequaled standard for human babies. Read up on the basic physical aspects of breastfeeding: getting the baby to latch being the primary goal. Figure out what to expect in the first few weeks (but have that support system ready, because you won’t remember everything!). Research your state laws on breastfeeding, pumping at work, maternity leave, and so on. Discover why nursing exclusively for six months, and then breastfeeding for at least two years is the healthiest choice you can make for both you and your baby.

    If you know better, you can do better, and you can feel more confident in responding to naysayers or in standing up for your breastfeeding rights.

    Further resources on beating the booby traps by educating yourself.

    Create an atmosphere where breastfeeding can flourish.

    While you are learning about breastfeeding, take time to research why having an unmedicated vaginal birth is also one of the best starts to a healthy breastfeeding relationship. Several of the interventions and procedures commonly used in hospitals during labor and delivery and after babies are born can hamper breastfeeding: epidurals, cesarean sections, circumcision, artificial nipples (binkies and bottles), and separation of mother and baby.

    Take steps to create an atmosphere ripe for breastfeeding success: prepare yourself for a natural, unmedicated birth if possible. Find a supportive care provider and birth team, and birth where you feel comfortable. Let your birth team and any subsequent care staff know that you are breastfeeding. Make signs, if you are in a hospital, that let care staff know not to give your baby artificial nipples or formula (or to perform a circumcision).

    Get skin to skin with your baby – both immediately after birth, whenever you nurse, and any time in between you so desire. Not only does skin to skin contact have incredible health benefits for baby (stabilizing temperature and heart rate, etc.), but research has shown that babies who spend more skin to skin time latch on well and without help than babies who do not.

    Talk to your partner and care provider ahead of time about how to control the flow of visitors and medical staff after baby arrives. Keep baby with you at all times. Nurse as soon as possible after birth, and fairly often thereafter, usually once every 1-2 hours (see this article from Mother 2 Mother on what is “normal” breastfeeding in newborns, and this article from Kellymom on Breastfeeding your Newborn – What to Expect in the Early Weeks). Create space for privacy and intimacy, give yourself time to learn, love, and lactate.

    Further resources on creating an atmosphere where breastfeeding can flourish.

    How did you prepare for a healthy breastfeeding relationship? Did you have a support system?

    Photo Credit: My friend Heather breastfeeding her then newborn, Naomi. Photo taken by Abby of Blessed Life Photography.

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