Preparing for Breastfeeding Before Birth

It's easy to overlook the need for preparation around breastfeeding before giving birth. Breastfeeding is thought to be "natural" and "instinctive" — that the babies and moms just know what and how to do it. Parents might see other moms out in public feeding with ease only adding to the feeling that it will be easy and come naturally.

But in reality, breastfeeding is quite hard and the journey is often riddled with challenges and complications that impact mamas’ ability to breastfeed with ease. The breastfeeding that is witnessed in public is typically many weeks after the birth of the baby, with likely hundreds of hours of breastfeeding "practice" under their belt already. So, the breastfeeding they see is not the breastfeeding that they need to prepare for.

We no longer live in tribal communities and villages where the entire community participates in the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum stages helping facilitate these experiences. Modern day parents weren't raised in a world where they witnessed live birth as a routine event or watched those mamas learn to breastfeed their very new newborns. And specifically many in this new generation of moms were born into an era where formula was king. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, formula was THE way. Even moms who wanted to breastfeed were actively discouraged from doing so. So that means that this generation of moms has very little to absolutely no experience with or knowledge of breastfeeding.

When you set the stage with that information it highlights the importance of preparing for breastfeeding well before your baby is in your arms. So, how can parents prepare for the breastfeeding journey ahead?

Take a class (or two!)

Start with taking a breastfeeding class. If you are in a community where there are no in-person classes, seek out an online class. These classes are taught by breastfeeding experts: lactation consultants (LC), lactation educators (CLE), or board-certified lactation consultants (IBCLC).

This is where you will start to learn about breastfeeding. You'll learn about that initial breastfeeding phase after your baby is born, complications and challenges, and the evolution of breastfeeding as your baby grows. The teacher can also be a breastfeeding resource for you and maybe even the person you use for a consult after the baby is born.

Confirm your benefits with your insurance company

Under the Maternity Care Act, set in place under the Obama Administration, insurance companies must provide breastfeeding support services to their patients. This Act allows them to put limitations on it (i.e. limiting number of visits, providing a list of approved providers, etc.), but they must provide at least some services without a copay or coinsurance. 

You can contact your insurance to find out your specific benefits before you give birth. They are also required to supply you with a breast pump.

Meet with an IBCLC before giving birth

Find a lactation consultant in your community and meet with them prenatally. This first visit establishes you as a patient under their care so that they are ready to provide services to you immediately after the birth of your baby.

This meeting also gives you a chance to get any and all of your breastfeeding questions answered or address any concerns you have before the baby arrives.

Develop a postpartum plan

Breastfeeding, during the initial newborn phase, is a full time job. You'll spend an average of eight hours per day with the baby at the breast — and that does not include possible time pumping, preparing for breastfeeding, changing diapers during feeding, burping, etc. It's important that during this phase the breastfeeding mother is able to off-load as many other responsibilities as possible. Coming up with a plan for that before giving birth is essential for being able to focus on breastfeeding.

Start with outlining the maternity and paternity leave you'll have. And then create a list of any people you have in your circle who can help you in that initial postpartum period. Take into consideration domestic help, pet care, laundry service, cooking, and meal prep. You may need to enlist (or hire) some additional help. This will also give you an idea of when (or if) you'll need to introduce a bottle and start pumping, so you'll have a clear picture of how breastfeeding might evolve for you. And then that can become a dialog with your lactation consultant before birth.

Written by:

Emily Carden

  • E-RPYT
  • Birth and Postpartum Doula
  • LCCE Certified Childbirth Educator
Learn more about Emily. 
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