Why does anyone need breastfeeding support?
I remember this time last January telling my cousin that having completed all the requirements, I hoped to apply and sit the exam to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) by the end of the year. He looked at me blankly, and said ‘why would anyone need help with breastfeeding?’ The question took me by surprise, I spend many hours a week supporting mothers babies and families to reach their breastfeeding goals, and yet taking a step back, I could see how to someone not in ‘my world’, or expecting a baby, or finding breastfeeding challenging, or perhaps just adjusting to all that parenting brings, breastfeeding support must seem a bit arbitrary. Surely you just put the baby to your breast and off you go?
For some women that may be the case; breastfeeding just ‘happens’; but for many breastfeeding takes time to learn, it’s a new skill to develop, and you and your baby have to learn the ‘dance’ together, all in the sleep deprived foggy state that is new parenthood.
We don’t spend enough time routinely talking about feeding babies antenatally; surely the ideal time to do so when as expectant parents you are hungry for information and keen to learn. We put lots of time into considering the birth; rightly so, it’s an important point in this journey, but I would argue equally important is the ability for women and their partners to be able to recover and have the energy, confidence and knowledge to effectively establish breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the true definition of team work; by taking some time to learn about breastfeeding, how it looks, what it feels like, how we know it’s going well, will all be a really helpful time investment for the 3 of you.
Breastfeeding takes time and commitment to master. I love this quote from Art Williams; ‘I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it’. Your body expects to breastfeed as the last stage of the cycle of creating new life, your baby will most likely be born with the instincts to search for your breast and feed, and yet, sometimes it can take perseverance and determination to bring the 2 together. That said, breastfeeding support is not just for feeding dyads who are experiencing difficulties; it can be really useful to access these services simply to hear other women’s experiences, to help you find your ‘tribe’ as you adjust to motherhood, and to have the experience of having that regular contact with mothers going through a similar thing to you.
Having skilled support around can make all the difference to figuring out how breastfeeding works for you and your baby, and to give you the reassurance that all is well. That support can come in many ways and it can be really helpful to learn about local breastfeeding support available to you while you’re pregnant so you know where to go when your baby arrives;
*Family and friends who have breastfeeding experience themselves
*Supportive healthcare professional like your Midwife, Health Visitor or GP
*The amazing breastfeeding support charities like La Leche League, Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, The Breastfeeding Network or the NCT that we are lucky enough to have in the UK. As an LLL Leader myself (volunteer Breastfeeding Counsellor) I am really aware of how important these face to face groups, Facebook groups and national helplines are for both new and experienced mothers.
*A Peer Support group; a peer supporter is someone who has had experience of breastfeeding their own baby, and has had some training to voluntarily support and empower other women to breastfeed.
*Or maybe you may need some more specialist breastfeeding support. If this is the case you may seek out an IBCLC who has undertaken 1000 clinical hours of breastfeeding support, completed 90 hours breastfeeding education, studied 14 science subjects and then sat an international exam to earn the title. In the UK IBCLCs tend to work in Private Practice, in hospitals and also in Community groups and clinics.
In answer to the original question, we need breastfeeding support to help us as we set out on this new and exciting, and sometimes daunting, life stage of parenthood. To help us tune into our instincts, our babies and our bodies and understand and trust all that breastfeeding is, and all it offers us. The most important thing to remember? You’ve got this, and we’re all cheering you on!
Hannah Croft IBCLC 07732 090102