Why I Don’t Encourage Pregnant Moms to Attend Breastfeeding Support Groups
Ok, the headline is a little misleading . . . I think it’s good for pregnant moms to attend breastfeeding support groups, but not as their only breastfeeding preparation.
As a leader of peer-to-peer breastfeeding support, I’ve seen a trend of childbirth educators assigning La Leche League or Breastfeeding USA meetings as homework for their students. Yes, those meetings are free and expecting moms (and sometimes partners) are welcome. Yes, those meeting leaders are knowledgeable. Yes, peer-to-peer support has been shown to increase breastfeeding duration and satisfaction (which is pretty cool). As wonderful as a peer-to-peer meeting can be, it is NOT a class and is not intended to be.
A prenatal breastfeeding class presents the information for expecting parents in an organized format with an emphasis on the most common challenges and best practices to set up the breastfeeding mother and baby for success. A support meeting addresses the issues in response to the moms who show up, which may not be typical.
Meetings tend to be focused on the mother baby dyad and, for the comfort of self-conscious new moms, may not even allow male partners to attend. Classes tend to be targeted to both parents as a team!
Meetings tend to be focused on supporting moms and babies from 2 weeks to 2 years postpartum. This is well after the critical first hours and days for establishing breastfeeding. A class can can lay out a set of landmarks for expecting parents as those first hazy days with a newborn and need to know if things are going well or if it’s time to get help.
A good class addresses the critical questions parents have in the early days: How much milk does your newborn actually need and how do you know if he is getting it? How often should your baby nurse and for how long? What is engorgement and what do you do if it happens? How do you know your milk has “come in”? What do you do if you aren’t sure if it has? Are the considerations (tips) different if you have a c-section birth? An early baby? A really large baby? What can your partner do to help? A peer-to-peer meeting might touch on all of these things, but it might not.
I don’t intend to start a firestorm since I strongly support mother-to-mother breastfeeding networks. I recommend attending even when everything seems to be going fine with nursing. Group leaders are usually experienced breastfeeding mothers, sometimes very skilled facilitators, and are extremely well educated on breastfeeding. Unlike a class, a meeting provides an valuable opportunity to hear first-hand about struggles and overcoming them and simply hanging out with other new moms is good for mental health during what can be an isolating postpartum period.
However meeting discussions are driven by the individual needs of the participants and can be very stream-of-consciousness. That can be hard for an expecting mom or dad to follow when breastfeeding and newborns are still very abstract.
I’d love to see expecting moms moms attend both organized breastfeeding education and peer-to-peer support before baby comes, but if they have to choose, I’d rather see them do a class designed especially for them.