So much of what you learn about breastfeeding will be "on the job" training -- that is, you'll learn and grow as you go along. However, there are key steps you can take to better prepare and inform yourself before baby arrives -- and doing so will help you tremendously in the long run! Below are the Lamaze top five tips for getting ready for a great breastfeeding relationship.
1. Take a breastfeeding class. Somewhere between 32-38 weeks, take a class that teaches specifics about breastfeeding. Many quality childbirth classes (including Lamaze classes) will touch on breastfeeding basics, like a good latch and skin to skin care, but a class dedicated specifically to breastfeeding will drill down into key information and details needed to initiate breastfeeding and keep it going strong throughout your breastfeeding relationship. Consider bringing your partner, a good friend, and/or close family member to class with you. A second set of ears and eyes will be helpful in the early, bleary-eyed days of parenting and feeding. In-person classes are best, but if you're short on time, Lamaze has created an online breastfeeding class for parents.
2. Build your support network. Identify people within reach (either via phone or in person) who will be able to support you emotionally and with tips through breastfeeding. Ideally, these are folks who enthusiastically support breastfeeding and who have direct experience with breastfeeding their own children.
3. Identify a professional. If you end up encountering major breastfeeding problems, the last thing you want to do is scramble for a professional who can help. Search your area for a lactation consultant and keep their contact information handy. If you take a childbirth class, your teacher should be able to provide that information, as will a doula if you are linked up with one.
4. Hire a pediatrician who supports and encourages breastfeeding. Like all care providers, not all pediatricians are created equal. Some are more supportive than others when it comes to breastfeeding. Ideally, your child's pediatrician should be up-to-date on the most current information surrounding breastfeeding and a child's health. They should have a growth chart specifically geared toward breastfed children (in addition to the formula fed chart), and should maintain an encouraging pro-breastfeeding stance when you encounter stumbling blocks. Learn about specific breastfeeding questions to ask when interviewing your potential pediatrician.
5. Surround yourself with positive messages and people. Like you would do when preparing for your labor birth, the more you can surround yourself with positivity about breastfeeding, the more likely you will truly believe that you can breastfeed and you will be able to overcome any challenges in your path. This may look like printing out encouraging breastfeeding affirmations and pinning them to your refrigerator or bathroom mirror, or joining a supportive online breastfeeding forum, or speaking up in support of yourself when encountering negativity about breastfeeding from others.
The more you can do in advance of baby's arrival, the better prepared and confident you will feel, and the better equipped you will be to handle breastfeeding challenges if they come your way. Breastfeeding is, for many women, a wonderful and beautiful experience with their children, but that doesn't mean it's not without some measure of difficulty and a learning curve. You'll be thankful you prepared beforehand!