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.
Peer support 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!
Peer support 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, peer support 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.
By Kimberly Hawley, MA, MPH, CLEC
So you are pregnant, and it seems like you have a million things to do to prepare for your baby. Between your prenatal appointments, preparing for birth, and preparing your house and life for the new addition, a prenatal breastfeeding class might just seem like one more “to do” that you would really like to shove way down on the priority list. But for those who plan to breastfeed, preparing prenatally can be the best way to ensure a good start to your breastfeeding relationship.
Although we live in a society that strongly promotes breastfeeding, there is still a lot of misinformation pervasive in both healthcare and the general public. Inaccurate information and structural barriers can make breastfeeding a more challenging experience than it otherwise would be. A breastfeeding class will give you the knowledge to navigate your breastfeeding journey.
So, how will this breastfeeding class accomplish this?
With all the information on the internet it is easy to feel like you only need Google to learn about breastfeeding. The internet, however, is full of incorrect and conflicting information. If you are relying on the internet for your breastfeeding information then you are responsible for sorting the bad articles from the good. When left to educate yourself it can be overwhelming to try and figure out what exactly you need to know about breastfeeding before your baby arrives. A prenatal breastfeeding class is designed to present the most relevant information in a clear and organized way, therefore taking the burden off of you.
A breastfeeding class teaches you what to expect from breastfeeding and how to troubleshoot the most common problems. With such knowledge already in your head, you will feel confident in your breastfeeding abilities. Confidence in the process will make the first post-partum weeks a little less stressful.
When you are confident and knowledgeable, you will feel empowered to breastfeed and to ignore the unhelpful comments you may encounter. Many women begin to doubt themselves when barraged by the well-meaning questions that tie all infant behavior back to breastfeeding. Empowered moms can better stand up for themselves and their baby.
Why a class and not a breastfeeding support group?
Support groups such as La Leche League and Breastfeeding USA are wonderful places to hear how other mom’s handled a situation. They are great for sharing experiences and finding a community, but their free flowing discussions can make it difficult for an expectant mom to learn what she needs to know to get her off to a good start with breastfeeding. Support groups usually focus on the questions brought by moms’ in attendance. This can lead to a discussion that doesn’t best represent the most common issues or leaves moms with a skewed perception of what to expect. They are great resources, but not set up for full out learning. A class is specifically designed to present the information in an easy to learn format.
So, I encourage you to make a prenatal breastfeeding class a high priority. Just like childbirth class’s best prepare you for birth, a prenatal breastfeeding class will best prepare you for breastfeeding. The better you prepare yourself to parent and feed your newborn, the more likely you will be able to relax and enjoy getting to know your baby.
Kimberly Hawley, MA, MPH, CLEC, is a certificated Lactation Educator Counselor and experienced breastfeeding mother. She has lived in Capitol Hill since 2008. Her work in breastfeeding support is informed by her background in public health and anthropology. Kimberly wants all parents to feel empowered and supported while breastfeeding their little ones.