Here's what you should know about breastfeeding before your baby is born
The vast majority of pregnant women prepare in detail for the birth of their baby. They attend childbirth preparation courses, read appropriate books, think about where the birth will take place, who will be there and what they want for it. Some put more thought into it, others less.
But what about after the birth?
When expectant mothers are asked if they want to breastfeed their babies after birth, the vast majority say yes. However, only a few of them prepare for breastfeeding. In childbirth preparation courses or at preventive care appointments, the topic often finds little or no space.
In this article, I will therefore discuss what you should know about breastfeeding before the birth of your baby. Because in this area, too, knowledge creates confidence and security, which can prevent unnecessary problems and difficulties.
Things you can do during pregnancy
There are some things you can do or prepare during pregnancy. This will give you security after the birth and you will not have to think about what you can do or where you can get support when difficulties arise.
Book a breastfeeding preparation course
As I wrote at the beginning, knowledge builds confidence and security. Unfortunately, much knowledge about breastfeeding has been lost in recent decades. As a result, many women have never or very rarely seen breastfeeding moms and babies. Difficulties with breastfeeding are hardly ever talked about, unless you address others directly about it. Then it quickly becomes clear that for many the start was not as easy as they had hoped.
So it makes sense to start talking about breastfeeding during pregnancy. One sensible way to do this is to book a breastfeeding preparation course. There are in-person courses, live online courses and video-only courses here. Each format has its advantages and disadvantages. The important thing is that it's right for you.
Each course has a different focus. There are courses that focus purely on the early days or on the entire breastfeeding experience. Then there are courses that address solutions to common problems or also focus on the emotional side. I recommend courses that go beyond the initial period and give you a good overview.
Get fit for your breastfeeding start in my online course
Learn many important basics about breastfeeding in my online course Still Basics.
If you acquire all this knowledge before the birth, you will start breastfeeding with much more confidence and trust, you won't feel insecure so easily and you will be able to deal with some difficulties better.
Visit a breastfeeding group
Since we lack role models, as mentioned above, and breastfeeding is hardly in the spotlight before we have a baby, it makes sense to attend a breastfeeding group already during pregnancy.
In a breastfeeding group you will see other mamas breastfeeding, you will get a realistic picture and learn that problems and difficulties can be solved. You can exchange ideas with other moms and network with them. Since the breastfeeding groups are usually led by lactation consultants, you can also exchange ideas with them and ask them for advice.
Unfortunately, breastfeeding is no longer purely intuitive, as we sometimes think or are told. It makes perfect sense to deal with it specifically.
Know your options for support
Because even with attending a breastfeeding group and a breastfeeding preparation course, sometimes difficulties arise that cannot be solved on your own, it is important that you find out where you can get support. This could be a lactation consultant, your midwife or a doctor, although the level of knowledge in each case can vary greatly.
There are also many online groups where you can exchange information. However, these are no substitute for individual support and are sometimes not enough.
Choose a breastfeeding-friendly clinic for the birth
When you are thinking about where to have your baby, you can consider not only the birth aspects of the clinic, but also how they handle breastfeeding.
For example, you could ask if they have a lactation consultant on staff who is available to all women, what the breastfeeding rates are at discharge, and how they handle supplemental feeding if necessary. It can also help to ask if the WHO and UNICEF Ten Steps to Successful Bre astfeeding are implemented in the clinic. Baby-friendly certification can also help.
I am specifically referring to the clinic here because the vast majority of babies in Germany are born in a clinic. In home births and birth center births, breastfeeding is often more natural. At the same time, I am aware that in Germany there is not really always a choice as far as the place of birth is concerned, or often there is not even a choice between different clinics.
Prepare your breastfeeding place
During pregnancy, we prepare so many things for life with baby. We set up the changing place, maybe set up a crib and buy a baby carrier or stroller.
It is also useful to prepare a place for breastfeeding already during pregnancy. Have pillows ready so you can sit comfortably. Look for a stool or small table to put your feet on. Feel free to try different positions already with a stuffed animal and a doll.
This is important for the first time after birth
After I have described what you can prepare already during pregnancy, or how you can prepare yourself, it is now about knowledge about the first time after birth. Of course, it is also important to know this already during pregnancy.
Making the most of the first hour after birth
There is the so-called golden first hour after birth. Within this hour, your baby will probably look at you with big and alert eyes and establish intensive contact with you. However, a very long birth and many interventions can interfere with this hour.
Normally, right after birth, your baby will be lying on your belly and you will enjoy direct physical contact: bonding. This bonding is very important for the bond between you and should not be interrupted, even for the U1 examination or similar. Medical emergencies are an exception, of course.
If you are very exhausted from the birth, feel free to get help so that you can hold your baby well. After a while, your baby will start to move. It will move towards the breast and make the so-called breast crawl. It will move to your breast with the help of different reflexes and start sucking without you or anyone else having to do anything. The nipple atria, which have become darker and larger during pregnancy, play an important role in this, as does the smell. The linea negra, the dark line that runs from the navel to the pubic bone, is also sometimes mentioned in the literature in this context.
You may need to support your baby a bit during the Breast Crawl. This way you can guide it a bit and of course seek additional support from the accompanying midwife.
Even if the breast crawl is not possible, for whatever reason, it is important to have your baby on within the first hour and thus have the first drops of colostrum. This is especially important if you suffer from gestational diabetes. In this case, if necessary, an injection of colostrum can be given - either already obtained during pregnancy or in the period after birth.
By the way, mothers who do not want to breastfeed should also give their child colostrum first. This can be through the breast, but does not have to be. Babies benefit greatly from the first lining of the intestinal wall with breast milk.
If for some reason you are unable to get your baby to latch on within the first hour, you can do so as soon as it is possible. The reasons for this can be very different. If you know in advance that there might be such complications, it is a good idea to collect colostrum in advance, bring it with you to the birth so that it can be given to your baby.
Knowing the effects of medications during birth
I mentioned it briefly just now: interventions can affect a baby's behavior after birth. Common interventions in a hospital setting include the administration of a wide variety of medications such as opioids, antibiotics, or an epidural (epidural anesthesia).
These medications not only affect you, but also pass through the placenta to your baby. The dosage of the medications is, of course, chosen so that they do not harm your baby. Nevertheless, it is possible that your baby will be more exhausted or sleepy after birth.
I would therefore recommend that you carefully consider the various effects and weigh up whether it makes sense for you to take medication. Of course, there are moments and situations during birth when a certain intervention is unavoidable or important.
If you have a birth companion, it would be wise for them to take over the main communication so that you can focus primarily on the birth.
Rest after the birth
Childbirth is a very intense process and in most cases really exhausting. It doesn't matter how your baby was born. Therefore, give yourself time after the birth to recover and relax. It is important that you get enough rest so that you can take good care of your baby.
Also, the first few days are really important so you can get to know each other. Breastfeeding needs to settle in and doesn't always go completely smoothly right from the start. Allow yourselves time and rest so that you can really adjust to each other. That way it will work better and better.
Trust your baby
Your baby is finally born. You've probably been looking forward to the moment when you finally hold your baby in your arms for the first time. It is a very special moment that will change you forever.
But, as we've already written, everything doesn't always go smoothly and as expected right from the start. Maybe your baby is more restless and only sleeps in physical contact. Maybe you need a little help to make the latch-on work.
However, our babies are born very competent. They are equipped with everything they need to make their needs clear and meet them with our help. These abilities are not yet so sophisticated and yet everything is already there. The signals for hunger are different than when your baby is tired or needs to eliminate. You will become more attuned to each other over time.
However, it is important that you have confidence in your baby. That it shows when it is hungry. That it knows what to do to get milk. That it gets the milk it needs. Of course it needs support and of course there are situations in which something develops differently. But that is the exception and not the rule.
If you are unsure about certain behaviors or situations, please don't be afraid to ask about them. There really are no stupid questions. Once you ask your questions and get the answer, you will probably find that the situation relaxes all by itself.
Involve your partner
As we just described, childbirth is really stressful. The regression takes time, scars have to heal, the pelvic floor has to get more tension again. Also, the hormonal changes, as well as the now complete responsibility for another, very small new human being, are not to be neglected.
But the good news is, you don't have to go through it alone. Talk about your thoughts, about your fears. Accept support and help. This includes your partner first and foremost (I always mean partner or all other forms at the same time), but also friends, family and your midwife.
You don't have to take care of your baby alone. Especially in the first days, but just as much in the whole postpartum period and beyond, it is important that you and your body have time for rest.
By the way, I don't see it as support if your partner changes your baby or something similar. It is simply part of both of your responsibilities and should be a matter of course. Your partner can do everything except breastfeed. But even during breastfeeding, your partner can be there for you, get you something to drink, help you put your baby to the breast, massage you if necessary. There are many ways your partner can support you. However, the most important thing is that your partner really stands behind you and supports you.
There are a few mistakes that can happen to you in the first days and weeks after birth regarding breastfeeding. You can avoid these if you know about them, as the recommendations in clinics and from midwives are unfortunately not breastfeeding-friendly in some cases; for a variety of reasons.
Among the most common mistakes is when your baby is given a soother, colloquially pacifier, very early. Breastfeeding takes time and practice. You have to get to know each other and get used to each other first. It's like dancing: With a new dance partner, you don't always succeed in all the steps right from the start either; you may step on each other's toes at first, but over time you'll get to know each other and be able to adjust to each other better. It is the same with breastfeeding.
But if a pacifier is given very early on, this can have a lasting effect on the breastfeeding relationship - mind you, it can, not must. Sucking on a pacifier is different from sucking at the breast, and this can lead to so-called suction confusion. In case of breastfeeding difficulties, such as sore nipples or similar, the use of a pacifier is not a choice, it is better to seek support promptly for any breastfeeding difficulties.
In addition to the use of a pacifier, premature feeding can also be a classic mistake. Feeding is not always necessary. It is not necessary to prevent jaundice. It is not always necessary when your baby is sleepy. It's not always necessary when the baby has trouble latching on properly.
Yes, there are reasons when supplemental feeding is really necessary, but often, in my experience, it happens prematurely. If supplemental feeding is necessary, be sure to get advice on breastfeeding-friendly options. There is no bottle that can be used for breastfeeding. No matter what manufacturers promise.
Another mistake that can happen is to breastfeed by the clock. Breastfeeding every four hours is outdated and does not reflect current knowledge. Basically, breastfeeding should be done at least six times on the first day, at least ten times the days after, and eight to twelve times in 24 hours thereafter. However, there may always be phases when babies want to breastfeed more frequently, for example during a developmental spurt.
Frequent breastfeeding in the first few days is important so that milk production can get off to a good start and there is no downward spiral. So if your baby is sleepy, it's really important in the first days to wake him up, once for his weight development and also for your milk production.
Other knowledge for the first time
Now there is some more information for the first weeks, which I summarize for you here.
At the beginning, your baby has a very low milk requirement due to his really small stomach and is therefore exactly matched to the small amount of milk that you produce at the beginning. With the small amount of milk, your baby can get used to the food and digestion kicks in. Over time, your baby's stomach expands and, in parallel, the amount of milk you produce increases - a truly perfectly balanced system.
In terms of weight development, some parents do not know before birth that a decrease within a certain range is normal. A decrease up to 7% is considered inconspicuous, and up to 10% should be observed under certain conditions if breastfeeding management is optimized. After a short time, your baby will gain weight again under normal conditions and should have regained his birth weight by two weeks at the latest.
If you received infusions during birth, the fluid administration will distort the birth weight. Shortly after birth, the fluid is excreted again, so that there may be a supposedly high decrease. It makes more sense to measure the weight after twelve or better still 24 hours and define this as the birth weight. Unfortunately, this is not common practice everywhere and can thus lead to a lot of stress and uncertainty.
What you should know for the entire breastfeeding period
Now that the first weeks have passed and you are probably slowly getting into the daily routine as a family, there are still a few things that are significant in relation to breastfeeding. That's exactly what I would like to talk about briefly now.
Knowing the WHO breastfeeding recommendation
The duration of breastfeeding in Germany is rather short. Most pregnant women have the desire to breastfeed. Most mothers breastfeed exclusively at first. But already in the first months, the breastfeeding rate decreases rapidly. There are many reasons for this. If problems arise during breastfeeding, here is a reminder that it is best to seek good support promptly.
Some mothers simply do not know that it is normal to breastfeed for longer than six months. At this point, I would like to write down the breastfeeding recommendation of the WHO (World Health Organization). It should be exclusively breastfed for six months. After that, suitable complementary foods should be added and parallel breastfeeding should continue until the child is two years old and beyond, as long as the mother and child want this.
So it is by no means abnormal to breastfeed an infant. By the way, the natural age for weaning is between two and seven years. However, this does not mean that you have to breastfeed for that long or that you have to continue breastfeeding at all costs, regardless of the time. Weaning is always possible. Sometimes the price is just too high. But often there is simply a lack of knowledge and support.
Continue to inform yourself
There is a lot of misinformation, myths and old wives' tales circulating around breastfeeding. This affects all sorts of areas. It can concern your diet, the use of medications, or even your baby's breastfeeding behavior.
Therefore, continue to inform yourself well about what is really true about statements that you come across. There are always new findings and not all of them are up to date or really want to support breastfeeding.
I have summarized an overview of common myths that I encounter in my article Breastfeeding - 34 myths and old wives' tales. There are many more such myths. Therefore, inform yourself well and don't be put off by false statements.
I hope I was able to make it clear to you that it is important not only to think about the birth and prepare for it during pregnancy, but also to deal with breastfeeding.
Good preparation can make a really big difference.