This will be the first in a series of posts celebrating World Breastfeeding Week 2012. World Breastfeeding Week kicked off on Wednesday, August 1 and continues through August 7. We are extending the celebration into this entire week though. Stay tuned for some great posts on breastfeeding, pumping, and other related topics!
The 2012 US Breastfeeding Report Card, released by the CDC, gives us a startling picture of the state of breastfeeding here in the US, and, while the numbers are going up, we’ve still got quite a lot of room for improvement:
Breastfeeding initiation increased from 74.6% in 2008 to 76.9% in 2009 births. This improvement in initiation represents the largest annual increase over the previous decade. Breastfeeding at 6 months increased from 44.3% to 47.2%; breastfeeding at 12 months increased from 23.8% to 25.5%.
One of the single biggest factors that can make a difference for moms and babies is ensuring that adequate support is available.
I know. I’ve lived through this both ways.
For both of my children, breastfeeding started out hard. Really, really hard. With my first baby, I had very little support and quite a few instances of (inadvertent?) sabotage. With my second baby, I was surrounded by a community willing to do just about anything to help us breastfeed. The difference support made in our lives was astounding, and today, I’m going to talk to you about how you can build your own supportive community to help you through those tough times.
This will be an interactive post. At several points, I will pose questions and invite you to respond below in the comments.
There are two aspects of support that you will want to consider:
- Medical/lactation professionals
- Mother-to-mother support
Finding good professional support can have a huge impact on how easy or hard breastfeeding is. Your doctors and lactation consultants should provide you with accurate, evidence-based information, and it’s important to find a provider that you trust and connect with.
Unfortunately, I learned that it’s not as simple as asking a pediatrician if they support breastfeeding. It’s important to ask specific, open-ended questions. Here are some that I asked our pediatrician:
- Do you use the CDC or WHO growth charts for breastfed babies and why? – Breastfed babies grow differently than formula fed babies. The WHO growth charts show the growth of a breastfed baby. Most pediatricians that I have found prefer to use the CDC growth charts, but will acknowledge that babies follow their own growth curve. Having some familiarity with this issue can show that they’ve done their homework and understand the reasoning behind the different growth charts. Here’s more info from Kellymom.com: Average Growth Patterns of Breastfed Babies.
- At what age do you recommend starting solids? – The correct answer to this question is 6 months. Here’s a link to the kellymom.com article on why solids should be delayed until 6 months.
- Are you or one of your staff a certified lactation consultant (IBCLC)? – Having someone there, in the office, to help with breastfeeding support can save you a trip later, and having a doctor who actually is an IBCLC means that they are up-to-date on the very latest breastfeeding-related information.
- If a mother is struggling with breastfeeding, what do you do to support her? – A doctor who truly supports breastfeeding will have information on how to contact IBCLCs or breastfeeding support groups.
- Do you recommend scheduling feedings or feeding for a specific time at each breast? – If the answer is yes, it’s time to find a new doctor. This may sound harsh, but rigid feeding schedules can inhibit a baby’s growth. Babies need adequate time to empty each breast. For some, this is 30 minutes each side, for others, 10 minutes, for still others, 45 minutes. And it can vary day-to-day. It’s important to allow a baby to feed until they stop before switching sides (if switching is necessary) because this means they’re able to get to the rich, fatty hind-milk. Additionally, babies are able to break-down and digest breastmilk quickly, so instructing a mother to only feed every 3 hours if baby is wanting to feed every hour can mean a very hungry and desperate baby. Here’s an article from Debbie Donovan, IBCLC: Should you schedule baby’s feeds?
There are many other questions to ask. What questions did you ask that told you whether or not a doctor was breastfeeding friendly?
When Gabi was born, I learned that not all lactation consultants are created equally. There was a hospital “lactation consultant” who told me my boobs were the wrong shape to breastfeed! Not true and not cool. The lesson from this is that anyone can call themselves “lactation consultants,” but it’s important to find a true, certified lactation professional.
There are a variety of different certifications and credentials surrounding lactation. The gold standard for lactation consultation is the Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant or IBCLC. To find an IBCLC near you, go to the search page of the ILCA website:
If there is more than one IBCLC in your area, call around, find one that clicks with you. If I had it to do over again, I would establish a relationship with a good IBCLC prior to the birth of my child. With Gabi, I didn’t have the advantage of an IBCLC until she was 5 weeks old. It would have made such a difference to have had that support built ahead of time. With Katie, I didn’t expect nursing to be hard. I mean, I’d already done it before, so it should have been easy. A difficult to diagnose tongue tie, though, threw us for a loop! I was able to see a few LCs, but when I finally found an IBCLC who was able to get us moving in the right direction, things took off! If I were to have another baby, which I’m not, I am certain that our breastfeeding start will be much easier because I now have an established relationship with several very talented LCs and IBCLCs.
How did you find your lactation consultant? Did you find him or her ahead of time? If so, how do you think that changed the breastfeeding relationship you were able to establish?
Parenthood is tough. There’s no way around that. Let’s face it: babies just do weird stuff. Right around the time you figure them out, they go and hit a growth spurt and change things up on you. To make matters more complicated, what popular culture tells us is normal baby behavior is pretty far from the biological norm. For example, while some babies do feed every 3 hours and sleep in long blocks, it’s far more normal for babies to nurse every hour. That’s normal. Not a sign of low milk supply.
It can help a mom so much to know that she’s not alone when her baby starts doing that biologically normal stuff that seems so weird to us: pooping every 3 days, nursing through a growth spurt, and wanting to be walked in a baby carrier during nap time. Mother-to-mother support can be in-person support or online. Here are some of my favorite places to find support.
La Leche League
LLL is a wonderful source of breastfeeding and parenting support. Because they’re an international group, many towns have LLL groups. The moms in my LLL group will certainly be my lifelong friends. The LLL USA website has a great search function that allows you to find a La Leche League group in your area!
LLL meetings are free to attend. Should you wish to become a member (and you don’t have to), a year of membership is $40. Generally, the meeting starts with the leader giving a brief history of the organization and saying, “Remember to take from this meeting what you need for your family. If you hear something that doesn’t fit for your family, you can just let that go in one ear and out the other.” That’s a far cry from the mythical militant LLL fanatics, amIright? After that, everyone goes around the circle, asks any questions they’ve got on their mind, and if there’s time, the leader leads a brief discussion of the monthly topic. Meetings are generally relaxed and dads and babies (of course!) are welcome. My local group meets in a church preschool, so we are able to bring older kids as well.
If you need emergency help in the middle of the night, LLL also has an 800 number hotline. This line will reach an on-call LLL leader who can talk you through many breastfeeding situations.
For online support, the gold standard are the Kellymom.com forums. This is hands down my favorite public online breastfeeding community. It is a heavily moderated group which means there is absolutely no trolling or spam. The moderators work hard to ensure that the boards stay on message. This means that they carefully read every thread and if they see any accidental sharing of incorrect information, they will lovingly correct things and steer the thread back on course.
The Kellymom forums absolutely saved my breastfeeding relationship with Gabi. I simply cannot overstate how valuable this community is. If you have a question and you need help, post on Kellymom.
Breastfeeding Support Groups
Many hospitals now host breastfeeding support groups. You might also be able to find breastfeeding support groups through local, independently owned baby stores. These are great ways to get to know other nursing moms. Ask around! Ask your pediatrician, your midwife or OB, or your lactation consultant. Call some local baby stores. They might have some great pointers on where to find groups like this.
The mommy groups are a little harder to track down. I am a member of several mommy groups on Facebook that are a combination of online and real-life support. These are local moms. We get together in various locations in real life (LLL meetings, breastfeeding support groups, informal meetups, etc), and we also communicate through private Facebook groups. I found my local mommy groups via the LLL meetings and I also heard about them from lactation consultants that I worked with and my midwives. Like with the breastfeeding support groups, just ask! See if you can track down some local mommy groups! Getting together with other moms outside of the formal meetings can be so much fun. If you can’t find one, start your own!
What have been your favorite places to find mother-to-mother breastfeeding support? How has being around other nursing moms helped you?
I hope this post gives you some ideas on how to build your own community of support. As a final question…
How has a supportive (or unsupportive) community made a difference for you in reaching your own breastfeeding goals?