Building Your Breastfeeding Support System
Most women are eager to get everything ready for their baby while pregnant. Being prepared can be defined differently, depending on an individual’s style. For some, it involves a perfect nursery with beautiful décor and enough baby clothes for the first year. Others may spend more time preparing for the birth or researching the best pediatrician. Of course, many women will accomplish all of the above in great detail, but frequently, not enough time is spent preparing for breastfeeding.
A number of life’s pre-parenting problems can be solved by studying, reading, and working hard. Some have built successful careers and gained the respect of others by this ability to independently work through any surprise challenge. The answer is frequently in a book or on a website. In emergencies, priorities can be shifted to allow more time to solve the most pressing problem.
Perhaps not every answer is in a book. There might be times when you call a trusted member from one of your networks. This individual is the best tool when you need specific information in a hurry, and you lack the time to research it yourself. If you’re like me, you might find yourself surprised by the helpful details others are able to share with you when you finally give in to not being able to find every answer yourself. This is important to remember when you prepare to breastfeed. Though you may be able to find a plethora of facts in the books, the network, or your community, support is what will make the difference when you struggle through those early, sleepless weeks. When breastfeeding isn’t going well, every minute is a crisis, and you may find yourself wishing an expert on the topic would just move into your house for a week.
The first step in building your breastfeeding support system is to take inventory of who is already available to you. Who will be helping you in the first weeks after you deliver the baby? Frequently on the list are mothers, mother-in-laws, sisters, and sister-in-laws. Sometimes close friends are available, and of course, the father of the baby frequently plays a role in the support structure as well. Did any of the women breastfeed? If so, did they have positive experiences? If they did not breastfeed, do they now express full support for your plan? It is important to use the word “plan” because the word “goal” allows room for others to suggest that you change your plan. Of course you can change your mind any time you wish; however, the people who are supporting you will be most helpful if you’ve made them certain about the consistent message you want to hear.
If you are hearing only supportive comments about breastfeeding, this is a good start. Positive comments include, “I loved nursing my baby, I didn’t nurse my baby but I’m excited to support you with your choice, and I’m going to take care of you so you can take care of your baby.” Some red flag comments include, “We’ll buy some formula just-in-case, it’s important to get the baby on a feeding schedule, my babies slept well because I put cereal in the bottle, and I’ll hold the baby because you’ll need your rest.”
Why are those “red flag” comments considered negative? Having formula in the house makes it easier to supplement when you already have an adequate milk supply. Unnecessary supplementing frequently leads to a lower milk supply. If you find yourself in a situation where you truly need formula, it’s available at every grocery and drug store, and many of them are open 24 hours. Feeding schedules can negatively impact breastfeeding because a newborn really does need to nurse at a minimum of every two to three hours, sometimes more often. By following your baby’s nursing cues, your breasts will adjust to the exact amount of milk your baby needs. Encouraging your baby to wait too long for feedings can result in a lower milk supply and a baby who gives up on expressing the need to eat. Cereal should never be put in a bottle, whether you are feeding with breast milk or formula. Some experts believe that solid food at such a young age can lead to obesity. Finally, you may want someone to hold your baby while you sleep at some point, but most of the time it’s important that you and your baby sleep close by. Unless you reach a dangerous level of exhaustion, which does happen from time to time, you will likely not be able to get as much rest when someone else is caring for your baby. Ideally, those who are helping you will be taking care of you, and your only responsibility will be feeding and bonding with your baby.
Because breastfeeding success depends on frequent, almost constant nursing in the early days, find a comfortable chair in your den, and plan to stock it with snacks, water, remote controls, reading material, a phone, and a laptop. Having this “breastfeeding station” established will help your supporters understand that you and your baby will be together nearly all of the time. Put your to-do list on the refrigerator, and when people ask how they can help you, mention your list, and then you won’t have to feel like you’re giving orders. You might even have icky tasks like “clean the bathroom floor” on it. It doesn’t matter because you’ve presented the list as what you planned to eventually do. Let your helper decide if she wants to tackle the bathroom floor or cut up fruit and wash your towels.
You may already have many friends and relatives who currently breastfeed or breastfed in the past. If this network of people is large enough and you are comfortable asking for nearly daily help and information in the beginning, you may be in good shape.
What if your immediate family and friends are doubtful of your choice to breastfeed? What if you do have good support, but no one remembers or knows much about breastfeeding? What if you like socializing with others who are sharing your same experiences? This is when it becomes important to build a larger breastfeeding community before you give birth to your baby. This lack of a larger support group is the most common reason for why women end their nursing relationships with their babies before they are ready. Though there are women who truly can’t breastfeed, too many of the reasons I hear for having to switch to bottle-feeding are preventable. We make the best choices with the information we have at the time, and a larger support group will give you more information and help to successfully work through the early difficulties. Even if you discovered you were one of the few people who could not exclusively breastfeed, you may find a great deal of comfort in knowing that you truly had all the information you needed to make a decision to supplement or completely discontinue breastfeeding.
While you are pregnant and not yet in the sleep-deprived newborn stage when every moment is about survival, it is important for you to see breastfeeding in action. In Wake County, La Leche League and Nursing Mothers of Raleigh are great groups to visit to see nursing babies. Breastfeeding USA is also available in some areas. All of the groups are free of charge and have trained leaders to help with the more technical breastfeeding concerns. Go to the group that is most convenient for you, listen to the women, ask questions, and form friendships. Moms who are currently nursing are always more than happy to share their success stories. Witnessing struggles in action and suggestions by the members of the group will help you determine what is normal for breastfeeding and help you with feeling confident that most breastfeeding difficulties have relatively easy solutions. True, there are challenges that require more work, but it is inspiring to see women face those problems, eventually overcoming them.
If you are nervous about meeting new people or feel like going to a monthly or weekly breastfeeding group is too much to fit into your schedule, remember that you will feel 100 times more vulnerable and busy when you have a newborn. Get any anxiety out of the way and invest the time while you are pregnant. Then you will feel more comfortable seeking help from your extended support group when you haven’t showered in two days and you’re not sure if your baby will scream for the entire meeting. You will feel comfortable because you’ve seen mothers in all states of appearance and mental stability and know that you will be accepted as you are. You’ll remember another person’s baby crying or having a giant diaper blow-out in the middle of the meeting and know that everyone understands that babies act like babies. No matter where you are in your journey, there is support for you. All the group asks is that you do your best to meet the needs of your baby.
Despite this description that includes struggling mothers and crying babies, most meetings are positive and fun. The best part is that friendships are formed, and often playgroups develop. You can lean on your new friends for not only breastfeeding support, but every other issue related to adjusting to your new life status of being a mother!
If you are pregnant and planning to breastfeed, begin seeking out your support network today. It is never too early to attend meetings. More time spent with breastfeeding women results in more applicable knowledge that you can rely on from the moment your baby is born. And of course, if you don’t remember anything, you now have any entire group of people, including trained leaders, who you feel comfortable calling who will take you step-by-step through solving any challenges.