Preparing for Successful Breastfeeding

Successful BreastfeedingA pregnancy brings a lot of anticipation and excitement.  There are many decisions and preparations to be made as you welcome your new baby. One of the most important decisions that you make will be how you will feed your little one. This choice can make a difference not just in the present, but also has a long-term impact on your child’s life. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization and the Surgeon General recommend exclusive breastfeeding for about six months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with a continuation of breastfeeding for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.

It is our goal to help you be prepared, hopeful and inspired about breastfeeding your baby.  There are many resources available to new moms, which can be overwhelming, so let’s keep it simple.  Let us reassure you, we are here to help.  We have compiled a short list of information and tips that can make a big difference in the outcome.  The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to meet your breastfeeding goals.

If you are delivering in Richmond or the surrounding areas, you are in luck!

Bon Secours Richmond Health System, with its three delivering hospitals (St. Mary’s Hospital, St. Francis Medical Center, and Memorial Regional Medical Center), follows the best practice model “The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding” and has a full staff of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) and skilled nurses ready to help you get off to a good start.  Bon Secours offers prenatal breastfeeding classes, and postpartum breastfeeding support groups, through Love and Learn. Many pediatric groups now employ IBCLCs, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has breastfeeding peer counselors.  (We highly recommend taking the Love and Learn breastfeeding class!)

Believe in yourself, believe in your baby.

We learn by doing and by instinct.  Breastfeeding is “natural,” “instinctual.”  It is what mammal babies do.  You and the baby know most of what you need to know instinctually. That being said, it is easy to doubt our own abilities with our highly evolved, analytical, big brains.  Of the more than 5,000 species of mammals on the planet, we are the only ones that think about breastfeeding. There are some amazing videos and websites devoted to breastfeeding strategies such as the infant breast crawl, instinct-based feeding, and biological nursing.

Natural is not the same thing as easy.

Labor is natural, but not easy.  Breastfeeding is a continuation of the labor process.  Whether you labor and deliver vaginally or by cesarean section, there is work involved.  Becoming a mother is a big job and learning to breastfeed is part of it.

A realistic word on breastfeeding trouble.

Prematurity, as well as maternal and infant health issues, sometimes interfere with our plans.  Like the famous movie character Forrest Gump says, “My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re gonna get.”  There is much to becoming a parent that you have no control over, so prepare to be flexible.  At some point, everyone faces parenting challenges, even when they are doing everything right.  There is no shame in it.  Moms today can face judgment and harsh criticism at every turn.  But every birth and breastfeeding story is unique and beautiful.  In our experience, mothers do the best they can with the knowledge and resources they have, and so will you.  If real trouble arises, seek help from qualified professionals.

You need a good coach and fan club.

We mentioned above how much formal support is available.  It is also a good idea to have a supportive base of family, friends, and a partner.  Do you know anyone who has a happy, successful, breastfeeding story?  Call that friend or a La Leche leader, doula, or lactation consultant when you need a cheerleader.  It is really hard to learn something new if someone is “booing.”  Bon Secours breastfeeding support groups are facilitated by a lactation consultant and allow you to learn from other moms on their own breastfeeding journeys.

Babies are honest.

For the most part, they sleep when sleepy, eat when hungry, and pee and poop when they need to. They vocalize their feelings, and they are born with their own temperament. They have built-in instinctual triggers, body positions, and behaviors that can enhance sleep and feeding behaviors. They are agile, strong, and far from helpless. Their behaviors are pretty straightforward. It will take a little time to learn your baby’s particular language. For advice, check out the books Happiest Baby on the Block and Biological Nurturing.

Sleep, sleep, sleep.

Ever heard a grandma say, “Sleep when the baby sleeps”? We need to adopt a new flexible sleep schedule for many weeks. Newborn babies sleep an average of 18 hours a day. In theory, so can you. Make sleeping when the baby sleeps a priority. When delivering in the hospital, there is much to be done, (i.e., examinations, screenings, procedures, photography, routine care, learning to nurse, etc.). And newborn babies feed more frequently at night in the beginning, which means less nighttime sleep for mom. So parents are busy and exhausted. As exciting as it is to receive visitors, consider limiting them to grandparents and siblings while in the hospital. Invite friends and extended family to the house instead, where they can help with meals, laundry, and dishes!

Above all, relax and enjoy your baby.

We don’t see this recommendation much anymore, and we can’t stress it enough.  Birth is the biggest, most thrilling, life-changing, emotional, physically exhausting, and spiritual experience in our lives. We rush to recover in our modern world, rush to reclaim the schedules we once had.  Babies need us to slow down, and our bodies need us to slow down.  We encourage you to relax and enjoy the ride.  Develop a toolkit of relaxation and coping techniques as part of your birth preparation.  No doubt they will come in handy throughout your parenting life.  Spend much of your day skin-to-skin with your baby.  Skin-to-skin contact significantly raises oxytocin levels in mother and baby.  This hormone not only plays a major role in breastfeeding but is also the key hormone for relaxation, love, and bonding.  Dads and other family members can also enjoy skin-to-skin contact.

Learning to breastfeed is at least as challenging as learning to ride a bike, swim, or dance the tango.  It will take the better part of two to three weeks to let go of the handlebars, execute a perfect backstroke, or not step on your partner’s toes.

Breastfeeding is most challenging in the first week, especially the first five days. You may feel new sensations, including some soreness as your baby masters a proper latch. Just as you may feel sore and tired after starting a new exercise routine, you will feel sore and tired from the birth and from learning to nurse. Practice, patience, and perseverance are what got you cycling, swimming, and dancing.

Once you find the balance point, stay afloat, and stay in step, they are joyful, rewarding experiences. It is the same with breastfeeding. We hope we have filled your hearts and minds with warm, hopeful, realistic expectations about breastfeeding your baby. We believe in you!

This article was provided by Bon Secours Richmond Health Systems and co-authored by Cary York, RN IBCLC and Sharon Filegar, RN, BSN, RNC-MNN, IBCLC of Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital. 

Bon Secours Richmond
Bon Secours Richmond is part of Bon Secours Virginia, which provides good help to thousands of Virginians through a network of hospitals, primary and specialty care practices, ambulatory care sites and continuing care facilities across the Commonwealth. The not-for-profit health system employs more than 8,400 people, including nearly 420 providers as part of the Bon Secours Medical Group.