Since I have become a Certified Lactation Educator, often when I have mentioned this to another mother, the response has been surprisingly consistent. Most commonly I hear something like, "It's so great that you are doing that…I never could have been successful breastfeeding if it wasn't for ________." (Fill in "my lactation consultant," "my support group," "my breastfeeding friends," etc. here.)
As I've mentioned in articles before, my story was the same. I was able to establish breastfeeding only with the help of my Lactation Consultants, and really embraced breastfeeding through attending the twice weekly support group they ran at their lactation center. As an added bonus, I made friends there that I still have (in fact, our family had lunch today with her oldest friend that she met at 8 months old in our support group).
Breastfeeding through the first year or longer is a commitment. There are numerous questions that arise along the way and numerous anxieties over milk supply, nursing habits, pumping, weaning and more. Some common concerns may not arise for weeks or even months after establishing breastfeeding. Women will be more likely to succeed if they found a support system of other nursing mothers. Ideally, this network will include access, when needed, to a trained lactation professional or volunteer.
I've always found it odd that as expectant mothers, we spend months and months preparing for the relatively short experience of birth (which is great, I'm certainly not downplaying the value of birth education), taking classes and reading books. But we spend little to no time preparing for breastfeeding, which is, essentially, our primary and most important job after the baby arrives.
The reality is that there is only so much preparation that can really go on. It is certainly helpful to learn about proper latch and positioning, as well as information on establishing breastfeeding in the first days and weeks. But none of this can truly prepare us for those first experiences putting baby to breast, and for our own unique physiology and influences that will impact that experience for mother and baby.
This is why it is important to have support available after the baby arrives. Knowing where to find a local support group, having the phone number of experienced nursing mothers and being aware of resources for professional lactation support just in case is so important. There are certainly mothers and babies out there who just latch on and nurse away. Others may need a little help.
But wherever a family is on the spectrum of breastfeeding ease at the start, a support network will help a mother to feel confident in her ability to nourish her baby and comfortable negotiating any challenges that may arise. I feel so lucky to have had that support when I needed it, that I felt the call to "pay it forward" by being of service to other mothers through this BellaOnline site, and ultimately receiving a formal education and certification. And I've feel so honored when I've received email from my readers letting me know how my support has positively influenced their breastfeeding experience.
Those who work or volunteer in lactation support do so to help other mothers, from those just starting out to those exploring extended nursing.
If you are reading this article, I'm proud to be a part of your breastfeeding support network. Please feel free to contact me or post your questions or comments, or offer support to other mothers in the BellaOnline Breastfeeding Forum, using the links to the right of this article.
Looking for great breastfeeding support books? Here are two of my favorites: