It is said that preparation is the key to success but how do you best prepare for breastfeeding? For something you have never experienced before? For learning a new skill that you cannot practice ahead of time? And how do set yourself up for success when there are so many potential roadblocks and variables, which you cannot predict?
Breastfeeding is a learned skill, that improves with practice and is empowered by knowledge. Many of today’s new mums do not have the benefit of having observed other women work through the learning process of early breastfeeding and seen how common issues can be resolved. In our society today, most women who give birth will have never held a newborn baby before, never changed a nappy or burped a baby. Never bathed or dressed a baby, settled a baby to sleep or seen a baby breastfeed up close and personal.
What we know from the data is that many women run into difficulties with breastfeeding in the early weeks. In Australia most women intend to try breastfeeding. Approximately 92% of mothers start out breastfeeding after birth, however by 6 months of age, the number of women exclusively breastfeeding has reduced to just 14%. Many mums report that early breastfeeding is much harder than they had expected. What are the factors that seperate those that go on to long term breastfeeding success and those that don’t?
Breastfeeding takes both practice and perseverance. Research clearly tells us is that women who report higher rates of self-efficacy have better breastfeeding outcomes, both in terms of initiation and duration. In other words, women who feel confident about their ability to face challenges with determination and who have a wider plan to overcome obstacles, are more likely to breastfeed and to stick at it for longer. They are prepared to work hard and are open to testing different ideas and suggestions as needed. And if things don’t work out, they are more likely to blame external circumstances rather than blame themselves.
Learning a new skill is not always easy, but approaching the task with positive expectation, rather than fear and self-doubt, is really important. So, in preparing to breastfeed, mums will benefit firstly by having a realistic and positive attitude towards it and a mindset to trust their body and to work at it, even if things aren’t as easy as she expected. She needs information to feel empowered. And she needs appropriate support from those around her.
Mothers want to be informed about what to expect. Attending breastfeeding education classes through the Australian Breastfeeding Association (available online) is an excellent way to gain information and knowledge. Classes both educate and empower mothers. They teach her important skills such as how to identify her baby’s feeding cues, how to latch and position her baby at the breast and how to know if her baby is getting enough milk. Learning as much as she can before the arrival of her baby will help her confidence.
Getting in touch with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is another great way to get informed. Even before the birth of her baby, it’s a good idea to make contact with her local lactation consultant so that she can build a connection and know exactly where to turn once her baby arrives. After her baby is born, she will benefit from having the sort of personalised, one-on-one, hands-on help that a lactation consultant can provide.
Mothers also need appropriate support, and lots of it. This can come from many sources; her health care professionals, her partner, her own mother and friends as well as her wider family, co-workers and society at large. Reading, discussing and asking questions will allow the expectant mother time to think about what it might be like, how she may respond to the challenges of breastfeeding and what sort of emotional and practical support she would prefer. She needs to be able to ask questions and to receive reassurance. In particular, mothers want their health care professionals to have good breastfeeding knowledge, to have an “authentic presence”, to listen well, to give positive reflection to their emotions and to provide practical suggestions and advice.
Being informed, supported and connected with a skilled lactation consultant can
be invaluable in getting mum and baby off to the best possible start and avoiding many of the pitfalls that are common in the early months and set them up for long term breastfeeding success.
Photo credit: Jonathan Borba (Unsplash)