- Learn about breastmilk benefits – know that there’s a reason it’s called ‘Liquid Gold’
It is so crucial to learn the value of breastfeeding and what it provides for you and your baby. No other substance can perfectly nourish and protect your infant’s immune system like breastmilk can. The numerous cytokines, immunoglobulins and other bioactive factors and components of breastmilk make it the best liquid to nourish human babies with. Also, the way that breastmilk changes as your infants grows, creating a specifically tailored nutrient rich substance, makes it the ideal form of nourishment for infants. Studies have shown that colostrum and breastmilk protect the gut and create an environment where beneficial bacteria can thrive, setting the foundation for a healthy infant microbiome, one that can not be created with the use of formula.*
Studies have also shown that breastfeeding can also reduce a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer and reduce the number of ear infections a child gets.*
For more information, check out the documentary film Microbirth, which discusses the infant microbiome and how breastfeeding impacts it.*
Mentally prepare – It’s tough for a little bit, but hang in there it gets way easier
Knowing that there will be times especially in the first couple weeks that are tough, and preparing for them, can make things a bit easier and help you continue. There is a learning process involved for you and your baby, but once you’ve gotten past that rough patch, things get a whole lot easier. Knowing that a difficult period starting out is normal, but that once you’ve passed it breastfeeding becomes seamless, can help you push past the initial discomfort. Remember: “This phase will pass,” sooner than you expect.
(Note: Abnormal discomfort or pain should be addressed by a lactation consultant, IBCLCs can provide you with the information you need, even if it is just to ask whether what your feeling is normal in the initial phase of breastfeeding, or not.)
The postpartum period is a vulnerable one where rest and help is needed for both parent and baby. You can ask for help from a trusted relative, partner or friend for meals and household work. If you don’t have relatives in the area, invest in a trained and certified postpartum doula. Postpartum doulas can be of help with respect to breastfeeding advice and are there to care for you and your infant, so that you can best care for yourself and baby as well. You could also sign up for a meal train or request postpartum help and support instead of or along with baby shower gifts so you don’t have to worry about cooking and cleaning.
Join a breastfeeding group
Attend a breastfeeding drop-in group in your community. La Leche League meetings exist in many cities, there are also breastfeeding drop-in groups in many communities. Not only can you get great help, support and advice from other women experienced in breastfeeding, you will also meet others going through the same experiences and might make a few friends along the way.
Make sure to see or hire a lactation consultant
If you are unsure if some of the initial discomfort you’re facing is normal or due to another issue or if you are taking specific medications or just have general questions. Set up a time to have a lactation consultant visit or go to a free drop-in clinic attended by one, but make sure to see a trained lactation consultant who is specialized in the field. IBCLC, CLECs and CLCs are lactation consultants who are trained and experienced with helping others with breastfeeding questions. It can really help to hire one for the first week or two as you can get support from the hospital or home and on-call support over the phone or text on evenings and weekends.
Take an in-person or online breastfeeding class
Becoming knowledgeable about breastfeeding can really help you through the various stages, especially in the beginning. If you haven’t taken one prenatally, that’s okay, you can sign up for one online or request to attend one in-person. Also, it can help to make sure your partner is on board and understanding of your decisions. It would greatly help to have them attend or take the breastfeeding course with you.
Use, create or purchase breastfeeding support props
A supportive breastfeeding pillow can make a world of difference when breastfeeding. You can also use pillows and blankets you have at home by rolling them up, stacking or folding them to create supportive and comfortable props. This can help alleviate any shoulder or back pain from breastfeeding in an awkward position without support.
Practice Non-judgment and love for yourself and others
Though it gets much much easier, starting out breastfeeding takes a lot of time and commitment. However, not everyone has a choice. While most new mothers can breastfeed, there are conditions that make it near impossible for some to do so. Mammary hypoplasia, is a condition where there breast tissue does not produce enough milk to sustain an infant, due to insufficient glandular tissue.* However, note that this condition is rare and difficulty in the first few days or weeks does not mean you have it.
If you are concerned a lactation consultant can help you determine whether you do or not. Also, depending on a person’s condition or country they live in, some women don’t have adequate maternity leave or a supportive partner or family to help them and they may not have a work environment that is breastfeeding friendly, making it tough to do so.
So considering your situation or the situation of others, try to practice non-judgement and loving kindness towards yourself and them regardless of each others choices.
In the initial months, breastfeeding is a full time job (though it is not always respected or treated as such). It can start out with a bit of difficulty, but with preparation and understanding it can reach a point where it becomes super easy and second nature. So much so that you won’t need to carry along equipment or wash and sterilize bottles. It’s also extremely beneficial and lifesaving in emergency situations. Instead of a big heavy diaper bag, your load will be much lighter to carry and the long-term benefits you and your infant will receive are priceless.