The mechanics of breastfeeding can seem pretty obvious. As someone said to me when I was pregnant and concerned about breastfeeding, “What’s to know? You just stick the kid on there.” Unfortunately it’s not that simple.
Everyone ends up with a unique breastfeeding experience, but there’s a lot you can do before labor even begins to prepare for and foster a positive breastfeeding relationship with your baby (or babies). This can be challenging because there is a lot of information out there, and it can be overwhelming to process and figure out what will be essential for you and your baby. For example the mom of premature baby will have different concerns and needs than the mom of a full-term baby. Plus, no matter how much you, as the parent, prepare, your baby doesn’t have that opportunity. For him, breastfeeding is facilitated by instinct, reflex and practice. Therefore your preparations should focus on allowing your newborn to nurse and practice his latch as often as possible.
To help you start your nursing journey on the right foot, we’ve highlighted five tips to get ready to nurse before labor even begins.
Take a prenatal breastfeeding class. In my experience (and the research confirms it), prenatal breastfeeding education is a primary factor for positive breastfeeding outcomes. Accurate information about breastfeeding, in a modern context, is essential for parents to reach their breastfeeding goals. So find a class that fits your philosophy, and bring a friend and/or partner (it’s hard to remember everything -- and anything -- after you’ve had a baby). During the class, you should go over topics like basic biology of how milk production in humans works; the nuts and bolts of obtaining a comfortable and effective latch; and how to know the baby is getting enough milk from the breast. The class should cover what families can expect in those early weeks after the baby is born, as well as give tools and resources to troubleshoot if you end up encountering complications.
Go watch some moms’ nurse their babies. Youtube videos just don’t cut it. You have to see the real thing, in 3D, to really understand what it takes to breastfeed. That said, many moms can be shy or private about breastfeeding. So you may need to search for a willing mom for a while. If you have a friend who is nursing, ask her if you can watch her. If you don’t know anyone who’s nursing, many support groups are happy to let moms- to-be observe. La Leche League is a great place to start. Also, many YMCA locations and maternity-oriented shops have support groups, so ask around. If you live in New York, The New York Lactation Consultants Association lists all the support groups in and around the city.
Find out what kind of support is available at the hospital. Many hospitals talk a good game about supporting breastfeeding but don’t deliver as much help as you might need or expect. So when you go visit the maternity floor, ask if they have lactation consultants and how often they are available (is it every day, every other day or just on Sundays?). Some hospitals also train nurses to double as lactation consultant, which can be very helpful. However, the maternity floor can be very busy. If the nurses are swamped with their many nursing duties, they may not have the time to focus on individual breastfeeding support.
Find your local resources. Whether it’s from the Internet or from friends who have recently had babies, you can find great resources for tips and advice on breastfeeding. The International Lactation Consultant Association lists board-certified lactation consultants in your area and around the world. La Leche League has local chapters that offer peer support. The New York Lactation Consultants Association also offer a directory of consultants in the area.
Call your insurance company about coverage for breastfeeding help and support. Insurance -- it’s complicated. The healthcare.gov webste says, “health insurance plans must provide breastfeeding support, counseling and equipment for the duration of breastfeeding.” These services may be provided before and after birth. This applies to Marketplace plans and all other health insurance plans, except for grandfathered plans. Though most insurance policies should cover prenatal breastfeeding classes and postpartum support, many breastfeeding families have a hard time getting reimbursed for out-of-network services. That’s why I recommend you talk to someone who knows your insurance’s policies (for more information, go here, here and here). Most importantly, don’t give up. The more knowledgeable a mother is about her rights and the more persistent she is, the harder it will be for the insurance companies to deny her compensations.
Patricia McGuire is International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, (IBCLC). She has worked in a hospital setting and in private practice for over 10 years. She serves NYC, Queens and Brooklyn. Patricia has a BA from City College in Public health and media studies.
Photography by Laura Vladimirova of Natural Birth Bebe.