There are very few secrets left about breastfeeding. We know it’s great for baby; most of us know the benefits to mom’s health, too. It’s always available, it’s always the right temperature, it’s a package of love if/when you return to work, blah, blah, blah… We know all that.
We also know the more challenging side of breastfeeding: the clogged ducts and teething and pumping and messiness of it all. Breastfeeding horror stories abound in new moms groups, right? But, it’s not exactly news. So, what’s the best-kept secret about breastfeeding? You shouldn’t do it alone.
No, I’m serious. Don’t even think for a second that breastfeeding is a do-it-yourself kind of thing. Whether you’re preparing to breastfeed or you’ve been breastfeeding for a while, it’s a good idea to have a couple of the following in your back pocket in case of emergency:
Phone a friend: Got a friend who breastfed her baby and had a good experience? Call her and call her often. She may not have all the answers, but she can support you emotionally, and breastfeeding is a LOT about emotion, especially in the early days.
Warning: Friends with breastfeeding baggage are not going to be helpful to you. If you want to breastfeed, you need someone who will cheer you on.
Hospital lactation staff: Most hospitals these days are working toward the World Health Organization’s Baby Friendly designation, a set of evidence-based practices designed to get breastfeeding off to a strong start. If your hospital isn’t pursuing this designation, consider birthing at a different hospital because you’re more likely to get booby trapped. After birth, ask for help from the lactation staff. Ask again if needed. Be persistent and ask questions.
Warning: If you feel like the help you’re getting in the hospital is not helpful, get different help (see IBCLCs below).
The BSG: Breastfeeding Support Group: Go! Go hang out with a group of other moms who are trying to do the same thing you are! Big plus: no one cares if you baby cries. Well-run groups are supportive, friendly, and informative – they can be a life-saver in those early days of new motherhood. Here is the Chicagoland breastfeeding support group map.
Bonus: Many breastfeeding support group leaders are available for phone call questions as well. La Leche League and Breastfeeding USA volunteers are trained in helping breastfeeding moms with common questions.
Warning: Did you attend a group and it wasn’t the right vibe for you? Try a different one! All groups are different. Better yet, bring a friend so if you have to, you can leave early and go get coffee with her.
The independent IBCLC: Lots of people call themselves lactation consultants, but the term means different things. If you’re having serious breastfeeding issues (ongoing pain, bad latch, cracking or bleeding nipples, slow or low weight gain, lack of poopy and wet diapers), you need help from the most educated ladies in the business: International Board Certified Lactation Consultants. Find a list of independent IBCLCs here. Some insurance plans will pay for visits with an IBCLC.
Warning: Just as you’d interview a doctor or a doula, you need to interview your IBCLC. Do you have twins, or do you think your baby has a tongue or lip tie? Ask her about her experience with your needs.
The drop-in clinic: Drop-in clinics are relatively new around Chicagoland, but they’re great for a breastfeeding tune-up! Want to make sure baby is getting enough milk? Is baby’s latch changing and you want to figure out how to fix it? Drop-in clinics are normally staffed by IBCLCs and are less expensive than an in-home IBCLC visit.
Warning: If you’re having severe breastfeeding issues, the drop-in clinic won’t give you the one-on-one time you need with a professional. You need a home visit.
Online support: I won’t lie, my favorite online breastfeeding support resource is Breastfeed Chicago. We’ve got a great website and we have mother-to-mother support on our Facebook group. Online resources are great for those middle-of-the night questions or to see what other breastfeeding moms are doing.
And don't forget, the NPN Discussion Forum is also a great place to communicate with other parents going through similar challenges.
Warning: Online support doesn’t replace in-person support. If you’re in real need of help, find a real person to help you.