Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tips: Preparing To Breastfeed

As a breastfeeding mother and breastfeeding supporter I often get asked how to prepare for breastfeeding. Over the years there has been quite a bit of conflicting advice about what can be done to prepare, everything from rubbing the nipples with a piece of terry cloth to toughen them to nude sunbathing. Really nothing fancy needs to be done but there are a few, maybe unexpected, ways to prepare.

Here are a few tips I've learned along the way.

Surround yourself with other breastfeeding mothers

Breastfeeding is natural but it is still a "learned skill". It helps to see breastfeeding before and during your own breastfeeding experiences. If you don't know any breastfeeding mothers, attend a local La Leche League meeting. There is a well-know story about a gorilla raised in captivity in an Ohio zoo who was unable to nurse her firstborn because she didn't know how. When she was pregnant with her 2nd baby some local La Leche League breastfeeding mothers took turns nursing outside of her cage. She went on to successfully nurse her 2nd baby. It seems even for gorillas breastfeeding is a learned skill.

Keep a positive attitude

Many mothers say "I'm going to try to breastfeed" while they are still pregnant. This attitude sets them up for failure because it implies that there is reason to fail. Our bodies are designed to make milk. The primary reasons for breastfeeding difficulties are things we do to sabotage breastfeeding, whether we mean to or not. While pregnant say "I'm going to breastfeed". There is no reason to assume breastfeeding won't work.

Look for healthcare providers who don't distribute formula samples

Studies show that mothers are highly influenced by formula sample give-aways in hospitals and doctors' offices. This is precisely why the formula companies give away free samples. Look for a doctor or midwife who does not have these samples in his or her office. Choose a birth setting, whether at home, a birth center, or hospital, that does not have formula samples or logo items (name tags, growth charts, medical information fliers, etc). A hospital or birth center with "Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative" status is a good bet because there won't be free formula samples and they will have clear-cut breastfeeding policies and credible breastfeeding support.

Research Information and Consider Your Sources

It seems everybody has an opinion and advice about breastfeeding. With all the conflicting advice out there no advice can be taken at face value. Doctors and other healthcare providers are well trained when it comes to recognizing diseases and illness, but often lack training and knowledge in lactation. Don't be afraid to ask for more information. Find out what sort of training in lactation your doctor has. Ask if there is research or other evidence to back-up the advice. If research is cited find out more about it, especially if it was done by a formula company or if the information looks different when breastfeeding is considered the "norm" instead of formula. If advice doesn't seem right to you, such as being told to wean in order to take a certain medication, ask about alternatives or if a delay in treatment is possible.

Get at least One Good Book on Breastfeeding

It helps to have a book to refer to for any breastfeeding difficulties that arise, and also to read about variations in normal breastfeeding. It can be hard to navigate the many choices but if the book is published or approved by La Leache League then that will always be a good choice. La Leche League is the world's foremost authority on breastfeeding. Most LLL Groups have lending libraries too so that you can review a number of books to find which is best for you.

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