When a parent discovers that they’re pregnant, their life instantly shifts. There is typically such an excited shift in energy whenever a pregnancy is announced. Families get excited, friends start asking millions of questions, and parents start to ask themselves what the next steps are. While preparing for your baby, it’s also important to prepare for the physical, psychological, and mental changes of parenthood. When planning for parenthood, it can be helpful to divide each section into several segments. Examples include: planning for pregnancy, planning for labor, planning for the mental load, planning for postpartum, or planning for lactation. There’s no right or wrong example. The part of parenthood that will be covered in this post is going to be all about the lactation experience and how you can take charge of it, from pregnancy and beyond!
When most families plan for the postpartum experience, the act of nursing or breastfeeding isn’t given too much thought. Because a lot of people assume that since it’s a natural act, that the learning process will also be natural, they forgo lactation specific information and education. And as a parent, I can completely understand this mindset. I, too, believed that breastfeeding would be easy enough…I knew it would have its rollercoaster moments but overall, I assumed I’d just “figure it out”. Luckily, I did. But working as a lactation consultant for the past 5 years has taught me that it’s not that simple or easy to figure out for everyone.
Because of my personal experience and what I’ve seen on the professional side of things, I want to help families everywhere become more knowledgeable and confident with their feeding experiences and ultimately take control of it! This can be done in 3 simple steps.
Step one: Educate yourself BEFORE you start the feeding process
Again, a lot of families do not prepare themselves for breastfeeding or pumping beforehand. With sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and overall changes in the family structure and dynamic, the last thing anyone needs is a full expert level course on feedings. Yes, it’s possible to learn a lot about breastfeeding in the immediate postpartum period but it’s not always the most conducive timing. If possible, take a breastfeeding course PRIOR to doing it. I would recommend the end of the second trimester/beginning of the third trimester so the knowledge is fresh. There is also the option to read breastfeeding or pumping books in order to learn more. Of course, you’ll learn a lot once baby is born but it can be helpful to know at least 25 percent of the information beforehand.
Step two: Advocate for yourself and your baby
This is why prior knowledge and education is important! So you can make sure that your knowledge and your provider’s knowledge matches up to be what works best for you and your baby. In honor of Black Maternal Mental Health Week, I want to remind all Black mothers the importance of advocating in a hospital setting! The numbers for maternal and infant mortality and morbidity are the highest in the country for Black people. While I will always be an advocate for a well-nourished baby regardless of the type of milk, human milk has proven to be beneficial for the growth, development, and immune protection of babies. Expressing milk via feeding or pumping has also proven to be beneficial to the health of mothers. Because of these positive statistics and attributes of breastfeeding and breastmilk for babies, it’s such a great move for the Black community. This article discusses ways that the health care community can help Black families prolong their breastfeeding experience. It also has great information about breastfeeding rates within the Black community.
As we, as black parents, are becoming more aware of the disparities that can happen in the health care community, it’s important to be an advocate for your baby and for yourself. Because of health care providers in the past, the history regarding breastfeeding and the black parent experience is flawed. It’s important to have that education and knowledge and be able to have an open conversation with your provider. Because your provider isn’t your health boss but your health partner that is there to help guide and facilitate you along whatever health journey you’re taking.
Step three: Ask questions
To piggyback off of the topic of advocating, the next thing to do to take charge of your experience is to ask questions about what’s going on! When working with your pediatrician or lactation consultant, if you’re curious about the care plan they’ve given you, ask them follow up questions. If you’ve been asked to supplement with formula (and remember, there’s nothing wrong with formula), ask them why. Whenever supplementation is mentioned, there should be a bigger conversation to be had. At the end of the day, there is no negative in asking questions so do it!
There you have it! 3 tips for taking charge of your lactation experience! These tips can be helpful for everyone and help you figure out how to do what works best for not only your baby, but your entire family. When it comes to the feeding journey, there will be ups and downs. As long as you feel confident and secure, you can manage that rollercoaster with ease. But in order to be confident and secure, you must first follow the steps to get you there!