I thought I'd post some coursework from the Childbirth Educator course I am currently studying through Birthworks. This is my essay on breastfeeding preparation, focusing on the La Leche League International meetings I regularly attend. Enjoy! :)
There are three main breastfeeding classes running in the Frederick MD area – two La Leche League (LLL) classes (one daytime monthly meeting and one evening monthly meeting) and a weekly class provided by Frederick Memorial Hospital. I attended all three classes on more than one occasion over the course of six months, both for personal reasons and for research purposes for this assignment. I would recommend the LLL meetings to all expectant mothers. The meetings are open to all - expectant women, nursing mothers, mothers who have finished nursing, mothers of nursing mothers, partners. In keeping with the BirthWorks philosophy, the group believes that breastmilk is the optimum nutrition for a newborn baby and it works hard to help and support women who want to breastfeed, through education, phone support, group meetings and one-on-one help. They also put a lot of emphasis on the birth and early postnatal period, again agreeing with the BirthWorks philosophy that birth is one of the greatest challenges life has to offer. They offer an understanding of how birth can affect breastfeeding and they help women who prenatally may be worrying, and postnatally may be suffering the effects of a bad birth experience.
Each meeting started with an overview of the philosophies of the LLL group, before introductions were made. This was a chance to bring up any problems that people wanted to discuss during the meeting. I enjoyed this way of introducing the group, as everyone got to speak, and the less vocal members of the group had an opportunity to speak out if they wanted to discuss a particular issue or wanted to request help. Sometimes it is difficult to ask for help, especially in a group situation, and I appreciated the way the leader allowed everyone to have a voice. These introductions always paved the way for the rest of the meeting. There was always an issue to discuss, from giving formula under duress in hospital, to low supply, to pumping when going back to work, to struggling with weight gain on a vegan diet. Every month I learnt something new. The advice and information given was always easy to understand and people came back to the meeting month after month, including me!
There are so many advantages of breastfeeding including mother-baby bonding; psychological recovery after a difficult birth; boosting the immune system of a newborn; feeding baby with the perfect balance of nutrients, especially made just for them; and ease of use. Breastfeeding also benefits both the mother and the baby, with rates of certain cancers being significantly reduced in mothers who breastfed their young. However, even though the ‘breast is best’ motto rings true in most cases, sometimes circumstances prove too difficult for breastfeeding to be established. Difficulty to establish breastfeeding may come from physical problems in the early days, pressure from doctors to supplement with formula in the hospital after birth, latching issues, and a general lack of education about the ‘norm’ of breastfeeding. Ailments such as mastitis, blocked ducts and thrush (on baby and/or mother) can deter the breastfeeding relationship and frequent growth spurts in the first six months can become wearing on the mother. Aside from physical issues, mothers may come across obstacles further down the breastfeeding path, when work beckons, or when partners start to put pressure on them.
According to recent statistics, in 2011 the percentage of babies initially breastfed was 74.6%. This percentage had dropped to just 44.3% continuing to breastfeed at six months and only 23.8% of babies were still breastfed at 12 months. I think the three main reasons why breastfeeding rates are so low are: 1. Women are nervous about public reaction, and in some states, probably rightly so. 2. Breastfeeding can be difficult to establish at the beginning. 3. Women go back to work and are unable to pump / have difficulty in pumping and keeping up supply.
During different meetings a common theme that has been explored as an obstacle to breastfeeding has been C-sections. The separation of mother and baby can have a significant impact on the early breastfeeding relationship and it is important to let women know that they can request to be kept close to their baby, even if they end up in surgery. Skin-to-skin contact is still possible and every opportunity should be provided to both the mother and baby to allow release of the hormones required for bonding to be established. The physiology of breastfeeding was also covered in detail. I learnt a lot about nipples (!) and how the different shapes can affect the latch of the baby, and how different positions can work better depending on your breast size and nipple shape; I also learnt about dietary intolerances, such as lactose intolerance and sensitivities to spices and caffeine; reflux was a common problem experienced by a lot of the mothers at the start of their breastfeeding journeys, some had resolved issues through diet, whilst others nursed their babies sitting upright, all were relieved to hear that reflux tends to diminish by six months and by attending the meetings over this period, I was happy to see this was true!
Another phenomenon, which I hadn’t heard of, was the fact that most breastfeeding latch issues will decrease when the baby’s head grows bigger than the mother’s breast. As a mother with larger breasts, I’m glad I didn’t have any unresolved issues!