I spent this summer working my way through the Healthy Children Project’s CLC Certification program. It has taken me roughly six months to work my way through all of the coursework. I have learned so much and I am so grateful for all of the knowledge that I have gained in this course. However, this course has opened my eyes to a harsh reality: there is just SO much to know about breastfeeding! Breastfeeding is simultaneously one of the most natural processes in the world and one of the most complex functions of the human body. From the stages of milk production, to the basics of latching, to the mechanics of pumping- there’s just so much to know. Breastfeeding can certainly be overwhelming if you aren’t prepared for it. Don’t worry though- you don’t need to take a college-level course on breastfeeding in order to successfully start your breastfeeding journey.
I have worked as a postpartum doula for several years now. One thing that I have noticed is that people who prepare for their breastfeeding journey generally have an easier start than those who don’t. Many people immerse themselves in planning for their birth- hiring a doula, making a birth plan, and investing in childbirth education classes. This is all great! However, as I have said before in previous posts, preparing for your postpartum period is just as important as preparing for your birth. Some women are able to start breastfeeding immediately with no complications, having done no preparation whatsoever. The majority of people, however, face some challenges in the beginning. With that being said, here are some recommendations to help you start your breastfeeding journey off on the right foot.
1. Educate yourself in advance
We are fortunate to live in an area where there are many accessible resources for breastfeeding parents. One of the best resources in the area is The Breastfeeding Center in Washington D.C. The Breastfeeding Center offers many online and in-person classes. It’s a good idea to take these classes before your baby comes along. It’s a lot easier to focus on classes when you’re not caring for a newborn.
There are also several books about breastfeeding that I would strongly recommend to anyone planning on breastfeeding. My personal favorite is Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin. Another solid option is The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, written by members of La Leche League.
Links to these books can be found at the end of this post.
2. Connect with people who have breastfed
If you have close friends or family members who have breastfed, it can be greatly beneficial to discuss breastfeeding with them. Ask them what they wish they knew before they started breastfeeding. Ask them what resources worked for them and how they handled the ups and downs of breastfeeding. Ask them who they turned to for support when necessary. I often hear women say, “No one told me how hard breastfeeding is!”. Breastfeeding can be tough, but it’s a lot tougher when we feel that we can’t discuss it. Also, if you ask, you’re likely to hear many positive stories about breastfeeding, which can help normalize the experience.
3. Ask for help when necessary
Once again, one of the benefits of living in the D.C. Metro Area is that there is no shortage of breastfeeding professionals. There are many amazing CLC’s and IBCLC’s in the area. Research has shown that people who struggle with breastfeeding in the first few weeks are less likely to continue to breastfeed. Common problems in the first few weeks include concerns about milk supply and latching issues. Engorgement can also flare up in the first couple of weeks. Lactation professionals are trained to help with these issues and more. It’s better to ask for help than it is to try and tough it out on your own. It’s a good idea to do some research in advance and gather the names of some lactation professionals so that you can easily access their services if necessary.
Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington
Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding