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In all the excitement of pregnancy tests, gender reveals, childbirth classes, nursery decorations, and baby showers, it is easy to forget that after your birth you will immediately have a completely helpless tiny newborn to care for. And immediate does not mean a day or a week later, it means within minutes of enduring possibly one of the most physically challenging experiences of your life, you will have another person to care for.
It is extremely important to be prepared for these first few moments, especially if you plan to breastfeed your baby. A good idea is to meet with a Lactation Consultant for a prenatal breastfeeding visit so that they can provide answers to questions, prep you for what you will need to know/do and be your support person for this journey especially if this is your first baby. Knowledge is power so here are some things that are important to discuss in that first meeting with a Lactation Consultant:
Your breastfeeding options
Your Lactation Consultant will be able to paint a realistic picture of what it means to exclusively breastfeed, and how this process will work over time. She will look at your breastfeeding goals and together you can decide what works best for your family. She may present you with options such as exclusively pumping, hybrid feeding, or the best formula brands. Every family and every breastfeeding journey are personal and unique.
Knowledge of the mechanics and hormones of breastfeeding
As Lactation Consultant’s we are always looking at the best practices. For example, putting the new baby to the breast within the first hour after birth significantly increases your milk supply. Early days of skin to skin contact helps to regulate the baby’s nervous system and “primes the pump” for a successful breastfeeding relationship.
Colostrum in the first 72 hours of life will provide immune support for your baby as s/he adjusts to life outside the womb. It is important to note that breastfeeding is hormonally driven in the beginning, but after several weeks will adjust to a more mechanical “supply and demand” driven system.
Understanding WHY breastfeeding is important for mom and baby
Since the beginning of time, moms and babies have bonded through breastfeeding. Mom’s milk is a unique specialty cocktail designed for your specific baby. Breastmilk is alive with nutrients, enzymes, and proteins that provide exactly what the baby needs, and it changes based on input from baby’s saliva and other environmental factors.
A baby’s muscles and bones will develop differently depending on how a baby feeds in the first year of life. Breastfeeding is so much more than just food for baby!
The Lactation Consultant can obtain a health history from the parents
Heath history can be useful knowledge to determine possible speed bumps in a family’s breastfeeding relationship. For example, a family history of tongue tie or lip tie, allergies, blood disorders, preterm labor, diabetes, etc. can be useful information when painting a breastfeeding picture and setting goals for the breastfeeding family.
The Lactation Consultant can discuss the immune system, the gut’s role in protecting the baby against outside allergens, and the importance of breastfeeding for optimal gut health. Diabetics can successfully breastfeed, but please know that insulin levels play an important role in milk production.
Certain medications can also influence prolactin and other breastfeeding hormones. It is important to discuss any medications with your Lactation Consultant before giving birth.
Setting breastfeeding goals
Any amount of breast milk the baby receives in the first year of life is beneficial. Some new moms may want to breastfeed until returning to work, others may want to breastfeed for a full year or two. Others might clearly want or need to start the baby on formula right away. Whatever your feeding goals might be, your Lactation Consultant is there to help you plan and meet those goals.
In addition, by knowing your health history and breastfeeding goals, the Lactation Consultant can adjust this quickly as needed, in the event of an unexpected change such as a NICU admission.
Help involve partners, siblings, and extended family
This one is important. No one should breastfeed in a vacuum without the help of loved ones. Partners can be supportive by cooking food, taking on sibling care or other household duties so the new mom can rest and feed. They can change diapers or do a night feed bottle so the mother can sleep.
It is important for mom to know she is not alone and important for the partner to feel like his/her support is vital to a successful breastfeeding relationship. Involving a partner can increase the longevity of the breastfeeding relationship, can encourage bonding with both partners allowing new parents to work as a team, and can help the baby form a secure attachment.
With all our best laid plans, there are simply a lot of factors beyond our control. Baby might come early or require a NICU visit. You might need a C-section after planning a home birth. The baby may be tongue tied or have low muscle tone which may require additional help with a Lactation Consultant after birth.
It is super important to understand some of these issues ahead of time and expect the unexpected. Your Lactation Consultant can help you have your pump ready if latching right away is not possible. You can always make a plan, but birth is complicated. It is important to set realistic expectations and be prepared to shift gears, if needed.
Note that there are all sorts of breastfeeding issues that can come up. Everything from sore nipples, to clogged milk ducts, trouble with baby’s latch, breast anatomy, low milk supply and many other breastfeeding challenges along the way.
While it is a natural process and can be a wonderful experience it can be a valuable resource to have a breastfeeding expert available to give you and your baby the best start and address your individual needs.
Products to have on hand
If a family chooses, pumping can be part of the breastfeeding experience, which allows milk storage, another family member to feed with a bottle, or another option if direct feeding is not possible. During this initial visit, the lactation specialist can help you set up your pump and know how to use it.
In addition to a good pump, other breastfeeding accessories may include breast pads, milk storage bags, bottles, nipples, and a nursing pillow. It is also important to set up a comfortable nursing space in the home such as a comfortable chair or extra pillows in the bed. These are especially important to a first-time mom. They could also be needed for a mom having a child with a different feeding plan to the previous child or children.
As with any new skill in life, the more knowledge you have the more control you can have in the outcome, and the easier the transition will be. There are hundreds of reasons in favor of breastfeeding, however, this is an extremely personal decision, and each family is entitled to make the best decision for their circumstances. The Lactation Consultant is simply there to support, educate, and empower.
Also check out this post Postpartum Essentials: Postpartum Must-Haves to Get Before Baby Arrives to make sure you are prepared with all the things you will need when baby arrives!
By: Sheila King, Lactation Consultant and Postpartum Doula