Making breastfeeding a success: what you can already do during pregnancy
Breastfeeding has been recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the most natural form of feeding a baby. It has numerous health benefits, is free and is readily available. Breastmilk should be the standard nutrition offered to all new-borns, and in the rare case of breastfeeding not being possible due to complications in either mother or infant, formula is available. Many women also express a desire to breastfeed. However, Unicef’s latest numbers from 2018 report that only 41% of babies below 5 months worldwide are exclusively breastfed. Why is that? This article will not cover any medical reasons as to why some women cannot breastfeed, but will serve as a guide for healthy mothers and babies to prepare themselves optimally for their breastfeeding journey.
Lack of professional support
Most hospitals will have midwives or lactation consultants present, who will help with latching baby on after birth, and teaching breastfeeding latch and positioning. But when women go home after two to three days, this support is no longer readily available. Women who don’t already have a lactation consultant, midwife or doula on speed-dial, often don’t find the energy and time to go and look for help when breastfeeding becomes difficult. This way, women don’t find the right help and support on time, resulting in ceasing breastfeeding prematurely.
Lack of education
Breastfeeding is primal. Human beings have been feeding their young with mammal milk since the beginning of days. And still, there are many women not succeeding at breastfeeding. Why? Because nursing, however natural, is a learned skill.
Dyson, McCormick and Renfrew (2007) concluded in their review of 11 studies, that there was a significant rise in women initiating breastfeeding after receiving antenatal education and promotion regarding breastfeeding. McCormick, Wade et al (2012) concluded that less women would stop breastfeeding if they had received prenatal education. But the most significant result was achieved when prenatal education was combined with support 48h after birth (Ingram, 2013). This support was offered by the same, familiar healthcare professional who provided the antenatal education, which led to a sense of trust and continuity.
To go back to the subject of support; Ingram also concluded that women found it an added benefit if their partner had been included in the antenatal education. Breastfeeding became easier when their partner became a form of support as well.
Finally, antenatal education regarding breastfeeding had made participants feel strengthened in their choice regarding breastfeeding, they felt better informed regarding possible problems that may arise during the early days; and they felt better equipped to handle these possible problems.
Breastfeeding and self-esteem
Eidman (2011) researched what were reasons for women to initially start breastfeeding, and which factors contributed to prolonged exclusive breastfeeding. One of the major factors coming out of this research was a woman’s self-esteem: the more trust she had in her own abilities, the more chance she had at succeeding in breastfeeding. This is an extremely interesting notion, and should be covered more extensively by antenatal classes teaching about breastfeeding.
Where education regarding the technicalities about breastfeeding is very important when it comes to success rates, empowering women and helping them accomplish a positive mindset regarding the matter is just as important, if not more.
How can you implement these points into your breastfeeding journey:
Preparation is key: many antenatal classes cover breastfeeding. During your pregnancy, you still have some time and energy left to focus on these classes. Don’t wait until the last weeks, but try and engage in classes before 36 weeks of pregnancy. During the last weeks, most women just want to nest. Brain function also goes down during the last weeks, resulting in wooziness, trouble with concentration, and an agitated sensation. Not the best time to sit in class and pay attention!
If possible, find somebody who will be supporting your breastfeeding journey prenatally. You can find this support in the form of a doula, a midwife… You will feel more comfortable if you have already met before giving birth, and with knowing who to call when problems arise.
Try to include your partner as much as possible when it comes to education and preparation. Sure, you will be the one physically breastfeeding, but that doesn’t mean he can’t support you in other ways. From bringing your water, assisting in latching on and stuffing pillows under your elbow, to changing baby or burping him: your husband is an immense added bonus during this time!
Try to work with your fears and assumptions regarding breastfeeding. How was breastfeeding portrayed when you were growing up? Was it something to be proud of, something that happened in public? Or did you only hear the horror stories about how it went wrong? Changing the way you look at breastfeeding, and building your own self esteem, can have a tremendous impact on your success rate!
Dyson, L., McCormcik, F., & Renfrew, M. (2007). Interventions for promoting the initiation of breastfeeding.
Eidman, Cherste K.(2011). Enhancing Breastfeeding Self-Efficacy through Prenatal Education.
Infant and young child feeding-UNICEF DATA. (2018). Retrieved from https://data.unicef.org/topic/nutrition/infant-and-young-child-feeding/
Ingram, J. (2013). A mixed methods evaluation of peer support in Bristol, UK: mothers’, midwives’ and peer supporters’ views and the effects on breastfeeding.
Renfrew, M., McCorcmik, F., Wade, A., Quin, B., & Dowswell, T. (2012). Support for healthy breastfeeding mothers with healthy term babies.