Breastfeeding is one of those things that most mamas-to-be think will come easily and naturally but that can be surprisingly complicated. Latching on, milk supply, fast letdown are just a few of the concerns that a new mama can face – and often the more worried and stressed you get, the harder it all becomes. Amy Vogelaar heads up breastfeeding classes and answers a few questions on what these are all about and why it can be hugely helpful to take them.
Why would you want to take a breastfeeding class BEFORE your baby is born?
Generally it is recommended to take the class before giving birth so that you can get off to the best start possible right from the very first feed, which should happen within 30-60 minutes of the birth. You may even think differently about your birth plan once you know how medications and surgical interventions during labor can affect breastfeeding. Alternatively, if you do end up having interventions and/or complications during or after labor and birth, you will REALLY want to know how to get breastfeeding off to the best start possible and how to get any additional help which may be needed.
Most first time parents are focused only on the labor and birth during pregnancy, and they assume breastfeeding will come naturally (if they think about it at all.) The most common regret I hear from new mothers is that they didn’t learn more about breastfeeding before baby arrived. It is a natural process, but it tends to be trickier than you think it will be, at least in the early weeks. Some information and some handouts to refer back to, plus a phone number of someone who can help can make a huge difference in how much you struggle with breastfeeding and how successful you will be at achieving your breastfeeding goals.
Can one do them after giving birth?
After birth a class is less useful, but a consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced breastfeeding specialist can be very helpful. The other thing that makes a huge difference after a baby is born is a breastfeeding support group or a baby massage class or something similar where you can meet other breastfeeding mothers. Having someone to ask advice, share your worries and frustrations, run your embarrassing questions past and generally get some reassurance from is great, whether in a one-on-one session, a class or a social group.
What do the classes entail?
A breastfeeding class will help you understand the benefits of breastfeeding, or even better, the risks of NOT breastfeeding. You will learn the medical recommendations on breastfeeding (how much, for how long, etc) as well as get some tips for getting off to a good start right in the delivery suit at the hospital, how to position and attach your baby to the breast, how to know if your baby is getting enough milk, how to avoid common problems and what to do if they do occur (such as sore and damaged nipples, engorgement, breast infections, jaundice, etc.).
On top of that, you’ll be taught about how your body makes milk and how to ensure you make enough, as well as how long your baby will feed, what it should look and feel like, and how your partner can help. You will learn about the importance of support and will make a plan for breastfeeding both in the hospital and after you bring baby home. You will also receive lots of resources and phone numbers of people who can help if you have problems, and how to know WHEN to call them. You will also learn how to hand express milk and how to buy and use a breast pump, when to introduce bottles, what other gear and equipment you may need, how to manage going back to work or school, and more.
Who would they benefit?
In a perfect world, all first time parents would attend some kind of breastfeeding class before their baby is born. Research shows that attending an antenatal class on breastfeeding significantly increases the likelihood that a mother will breastfeed, and also increases the length of time that breastfeeding continues. Having the father attend an antenatal breastfeeding class has been found to have even more significant effects on the mother’s success with breastfeeding.
Because we no longer live in a society where we grow up seeing our mothers and our sisters breastfeed or see breastfeeding mothers and babies everywhere we go, we are rather like animals who are “born in captivity” and have lost touch with those “natural” instincts and abilities. Even gorillas in the zoo will not know how to nurse their young if they do not see other primates doing so. Until breastfeeding becomes as common and as visible as bottle-feeding is, new parents will need education and support both before and after their baby arrives.
Breastfeeding classes are also suitable for mothers who have already had a baby and struggled with breastfeeding the first time. Several mothers have taken my class during their second pregnancy and have been amazed to learn things they never knew the first time around. I can also sometimes help them identify medical issues or physical factors that made breastfeeding difficult the first time, which they can sometimes avoid the second time around by getting help during pregnancy or immediately after baby is born.
What are the biggest misconceptions about breastfeeding, in your opinion?
Mothers often think that because it is “natural”, it will come easy. Babies come with instincts and reflexes, but they do not come “knowing” how to breastfeed, especially if they received medications during labor and birth. It is important for women to know that if you undergo major surgery to have your baby, receive lots of IV fluids during labor, not to mention pain relief, stitches, etc., you shouldn’t be surprised if your milk is a little slow to increase in volume. Sometimes your baby will be a little sleepy or uncoordinated at the breast; you’ll both need a little more time and help to get breastfeeding going well.
I also see mothers who experience terrible pain and nipple damage but assume this is normal and just “soldier on”, determined to breastfeed at any cost. These mothers often end up “failing” to meet their breastfeeding goals because they persevered through the pain rather than seeking help right away. Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, and usually if it does hurt, that means your baby isn’t getting enough milk because the latch is incorrect. Determination alone is not enough if a mother doesn’t have the information and support that she requires.
Finally, I see so many misconceptions about breastfeeding in the medical community. Pediatricians often give terrible advice to breastfeeding mothers because their training on breastfeeding is insufficient; they don’t have the time or knowledge to help the mother fix the breastfeeding problems and think artificial baby milk is really just as good as breastmilk. Nurses in the hospitals also can have outdated or incorrect information, or can fail to communicate effectively with new mothers. Mothers receive conflicting advice and information from every medical person they meet, and if they don’t have the information themselves, they can easily get confused and discouraged. Pregnant women usually know they need to arm themselves with information and preparation for the birth, but the breastfeeding and baby care will be their job far longer and is far more within their control than birth is. Babies will come out, one way or the other, the birth will last a day or two at the most. Parenthood is for the rest of your life, and the learning curve is steep in the early days, weeks and months! Inform yourself in advance as much as possible to avoid the stress, pain and worry that too many mothers experience.
Where can we take classes?
I teach 3-hour antenatal Breastfeeding Basics workshops for pregnant couples that will cover all the information you need to get off to a good start. I show lots of pictures and videos, it is very interactive and practical, and also geared to help dad know how he can help the breastfeeding pair. We always meet evenings from 6:30-9:30 or weekends so working people can attend. The price is AED 350 per couple, or 300 if you refer a friend who registers. Each participant will get a huge packet of information and resources, and lots of internet links to follow up with more information and to have handy when baby arrives. You can take the class at any stage of pregnancy, but most mothers want to take it in the final trimester so the information is fresh when baby is born. Dads are strongly encouraged to attend as well. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register. The classes are held at Horizon Kids Nursery in Safa 2.
What should you look for in a breastfeeding class instructor?
The instructor’s training should be up-to-date, as lactation science has advanced considerably in the past decade. Even our understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the breast has changed in recent years due to high-resolution ultrasound images. We have a new understanding about structural problems (tongue ties and lip ties) in some baby’s mouths that can make breastfeeding painful and difficult, but can be easily fixed if identified properly. Breastfeeding specialists also have identified new and easier ways for mothers to position their babies (“laid back breastfeeding or biological nurturing”), which work with gravity and with baby’s natural reflexes, but which may not be familiar to hospital medical staff. Now it is more useful than ever for parents to arm themselves with the most current and evidence-based information available to help get themselves and their babies off to a great start.