Newborn immune systems are undeveloped and need antibodies from their mother’s milk to stay healthy. Studies have shown that artificially fed babies are up to 15 times more likely to be hospitalized in their first year. Breastfed babies receive a whole arsenal of immune components while formula fed babies receive none. So how to do make sure that you will be able to breastfeed? We commonly hear from mothers share that “I didn’t have enough milk” or “My baby liked the bottle better”, etc. Lacation experts say the one reason women have troubles breastfeeding is lack of support and education. Follow these steps to make sure you reach your breastfeeding goals:
- Get good information: Go to a breastfeeding class and bring your partner, family members and other care givers. It’s important they learn the basics so they can help you and won’t unintentionally sabotage your efforts. Read a breastfeeding book like “Breastfeeding Made Simple” or “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”. Check out www.breastfeeding.com for great articles and advice.
- Connect with nursing moms: Spend time and befriend women who successfully breastfed. Don’t take advice from people who didn’t. (I know it sounds obvious, but I made that mistake!) Look for a mother to mother support group or La Leche League meeting. Make these connections before you have your baby.
- Choose your birth location carefully: Deliver at a “Baby Friendly” hospital, birthing center or at home. Ask the hospital if they have lactation consultants to help you. Some staff nurses don’t have much lactation training and/or have never breastfed themselves. We were told by a mom recently that when she asked for help at an Anchorage hospital they gave her a bottle instead. Not good. And don’t keep any formula samples you get in the mail or from the hospital. It’s too tempting to have it in the house.
- Plan a drug free, normal birth: IVs, epidurals, c-sections and narcotic drugs in labor all make breastfeeding harder. The more drugs, fluids and painful incisions you have, the harder it will be for the baby to latch on and the longer it will take for you to produce milk. Choose midwife or obstetrician that supports natural birth. Learn about and practice mental and spiritual techniques like non-focused awareness, prayer, hypnobirthing, and visualization. Take a childbirth education class that focuses on natural birth. Find out if you will have access to a birthing tub, shower, birthing ball, food during labor, etc. Hire a doula. If you do need pain medications, ask for the lowest dosage.
- If you have concerns, get professional lactation support immediately: WIC offers free breastfeeding support for their clients. Some pediatric offices have lactation consultants on staff . You can call the hospital where you delivered and get phone help. Most home birth and birthing center midwives will visit you in your home. ANMC has a program where they will come to your house and help you as well. LLL leaders and members are another great resource. Don’t wait to get help if things aren’t going well. Pick up the phone instead of a bottle.
- Pediatrician or nurse practitioner: Find a provider that not only supports breastfeeding but that can give you specific help and advice. Some medical schools offer ZERO lactation education. Other pediatricians have done extensive training and have breastfed their own children. Ask about their training, experience and philosophy. Consider using a nurse practicioner or naturopathic physician.
- Plan for pumping at work: Delay returning to work as long as possible. Try to arrange for job sharing, part-time, work from home or creative scheduling. Nurse your baby at night to make up for lost nursing and cuddle time. Make sure to find a place to pump before you take maternity leave. We know women who have left their jobs to go to others that were more breastfeeding friendly.
Going back to work and maintaining milk supply is a major challenge for women. Remember that even a little breastmilk is valuable and better than none at all. With enough support, you can do it!