The Best Time to Prepare for Breastfeeding? Pregnancy.
How a prenatal lactation consultation can set you up for success
Natural though it may be, lactation can entail a pretty steep learning curve. Confidently and comfortably latching, understanding your baby’s hunger cues, taking care of yourself and a tiny human in the midst of major life and body changes… it’s a skill set that many of us simply can’t be taught in one brief, post-delivery visit in the hospital. So we interviewed two TLN International Board Certified Lactation Consultants about why and how to prepare for breastfeeding during pregnancy. Here’s what we discovered:
Prenatal Lactation Education Should Be Part of Prenatal Preparation
Whether you seek out community lactation classes or a one-on-one prenatal lactation consultation, any prenatal support can increase your likelihood of meeting your feeding goals. The NIH reports that pregnant women who receive prenatal breastfeeding education have significantly higher breastfeeding rates at six months compared to those who don’t.
This correlation is even more positive when prenatal lactation care is personalized to each new parent during a one-on-one consultation with a lactation professional. The CDC states that different people have “different educational needs depending on their stage of pregnancy and past experience,” citing a 2005 Cochrane study that found “[lactation] education especially effective if it was personalized for each woman’s needs.” Plus, in a one-on-one setting, an IBCLC can pinpoint the physical breastfeeding challenges you may face—based on your individual medical history and anatomy—and offer proactive solutions. “It’s easier to connect with your local IBCLC beforehand than to be home with a newborn and trying to do all that research while you’re exhausted,” shared TLN IBCLC Demi Lucas. “Successful breastfeeding starts before the baby arrives.”
In a Romper interview, IBCLC Leah Segura agreed: “The vast majority of the issues I see in my practice could have been prevented with the right education and support before the birth of a baby.” In the same article, IBCLC and Registered Nurse Lori Atkins from Oh, Baby Lactation Care added, “I find that my families who have prenatal visits are more calm, and feel a lot more empowered about infant behavior and what to expect hour to hour in the hospital.” In this way, prenatal lactation consultations act as preventive care.
What a Prenatal Lactation Consultation Looks Like
Lucas shared that “during a prenatal session, an IBCLC will meet with the expecting parent (and their partner, if desired) and provide a comprehensive, personal consultation. They will discuss the expecting parent’s medical history, pregnancy, and the fetus’s health so far to determine if there are any risk factors that may impact supply or breastfeeding. Then they may do a breast exam (if medically necessary and with the patient’s consent) and begin to provide information on breastfeeding a newborn.”
Lucas further clarified that although many families do their own research—through conversations with loved ones who have breastfed their children, books and articles, and group breastfeeding education classes—“by taking the time to work with an IBCLC prenatally, families get the opportunity to fill in the gaps and get specific tailored information that takes into consideration the factors that may influence their experience.”
On the other hand, the intrapartum breastfeeding education (breastfeeding education during or immediately after birth) offered in most hospitals focuses on a parent and infant’s urgent needs. Per the CDC, those include “immediate issues such as correct latch and positioning… stability of the infant, and comfort of the mother.” Because hospital lactation consultations vary widely—with some visits as brief as 20 minutes—it’s not always possible for hospital lactation consultants to receive an in-depth understanding of each parent’s questions, fears, and health history. As a result, intrapartum lactation education can be more reactive than proactive, and it can sometimes leave new parents feeling overwhelmed and unprepared.
Remember: You Have Options
Today, expert, insurance-covered lactation care is available at the minimum out-of-pocket cost. TLN IBCLC Leah Tribus noted that “in the past, lactation support was seen as crisis care… in part because it was a costly out-of-pocket expense. For this reason, it wasn’t accessible or utilized unless issues arose in the postpartum period. This perpetuated the idea that lactation care was almost a last resort after seeking help from a pediatrician, family members, or friends.” But per the CDC, family and friends are not lactation experts and can’t necessarily be relied on “for consistent, accurate information and guidance about infant feeding.”
Fortunately, “with increased insurance coverage, more families are seeking information prenatally and establishing relationships with community lactation consultants ahead of any issues that may arise,” said Tribus. That means more and more parents are getting the proactive, prenatal lactation expertise they deserve.
If you’re expecting your baby’s arrival in the coming months and plan to breastfeed, it’s a good idea to contact both an IBCLC and a pediatrician now. The postpartum period can be a vulnerable, challenging time, and you may be more comfortable inviting an IBCLC into your space once you have already established a meaningful connection.
When it comes to parenthood, you can never be too prepared. And with expert, prenatal lactation education and support—plus enough time to learn the ropes—you’ll have the knowledge and confidence you need to face any lactation challenge that comes your way.