Breastfeeding is one of the most amazing things in the world. It's really quite something. Our bodies can adapt to produce the perfect food for our little ones - even so far as to sense what antibodies are needed by your babies, and adjusting your milk to include those in its composition! It's convenient and low cost. And it contains tons of amazing brain and body boosting nutrients, vitamins, and microbes to help our little ones thrive.
Yet so many mothers try to breastfeed and stop, very quickly. The CDC's 2014 Breastfeeding Report Card shows that by the age of six months, only 18.8% of babies in the United States are still exclusively breastfed.
These days, we are also seeing a lot of information on parents starting solid food much too early, which can have negative effects on a child's development and weight. Often, parents do this because the child is fussy, or because breast or bottle feeding is not going well, or is cumbersome.
Looking at all of this together, we can see that it is as important as ever to support women who hope to breastfeed BEFORE the birth of their child, so that they are as well equipped as possible with information and understanding, in order to have a positive breastfeeding relationship.
Yet we have a serious lack of prenatal breastfeeding education. Many moms I meet with have young babies and they desperately want to breastfeed but feel tricked, almost. Like they had no idea what they were getting into. No one told them that breastfeeding can be HARD. It can be painful. It can be confusing.
Somehow we see blissful pictures of women breastfeeding, or we hear our friends talk about how much they love it, and we think we just pop a baby on a breast and call it a day.
Our culture is slowly, wonderfully, making its comeback to the love of breastfeeding. More and more moms are opting in. More and more moms are fighting for it. So let's take the time to focus on preparing moms! I know a few lactation consultants and each of them that I have spoken to say that they would be happy to spend more time meeting with moms ahead of time, helping to educate and prepare so that less moms are in need of help after the fact, because that may just mean more mamas breastfeeding and less giving up. That makes more breastfed babies, and less mamas who feel grief or failure in a time where our emotions are so out of whack anyway!
So how can you help?
If you're a mama who has breastfed, and if you're a mama who has breastfed through some challenges and succeeded, spend some time talking to your friends who are expecting. Share that it can be difficult. Share that it can be strange. Bring them to breastfeeding support groups. Provide support. Then reach out to local lactation consultants, moms organizations, hospitals, birthing centers, etc, and ask about setting up a class. Do some research. Help them put them together. Sign up friends. Do whatever you can to help!
I was one of those moms. I had never even considered not breastfeeding. It was just what I was going to do. And when I had my first daughter everything was wonderful. Until something became very wrong, and when she lost so, so much weight, and was so, so sick, I realized I had no idea what I was doing or how to fix it. I met with lactation consultants for my second as well, because I had issues feeding her as well.
I wish I had had some preparation, some understanding that it wasn't going to be second nature.
In the end, I'm happy to say that my girls were both breastfed. My oldest was exclusively breastfed for about 6 weeks, and then I supplemented with formula and pumped milk until she was a year old. My youngest is still breastfeeding at 28 months! But I still regret the pain, confusion, guilt, fear, and sadness I felt over the issues my first had, and I celebrate that with my second, I was knowledgeable enough to seek help quickly before things got to a breaking point, and that I was mentally prepared for the work that would go into it.
Now, yes, I am so in love with breastfeeding my daughter. It is still hard sometimes. It can be SO hard. But I'm not giving it up anytime soon, and we've been going strong almost one year. It's a beautiful thing and I'm so grateful I have been able to do it. There's nothing quite so wonderful as it.
If you are expecting, go ahead and make it part of your regular prenatal preparations! And if breastfeeding doesn't work out for you after preparation and trying hard, that's ok. You will know that you did what you could to try! Support is paramount and we all need to help each other out - before AND after the baby has arrived.