Breastfeeding is a natural event following pregnancy and thus it’s a pretty simple task, right?
Well, yes, breastfeeding is natural. It’s our biological norm. However, it’s not a simple task. Especially in our modern culture.
For most of human evolution, nearly every young girl grew up seeing her mother or female relatives and women in her community breastfeeding.
They watched their mothers have support for tasks around the home from female friends and relatives. It took a whole village then, and it still takes a village today.
Why Do We Need A Whole Community To Breastfeed?
Today, most of us will never witness everyday breastfeeding in all the positive and all the challenging situations until we have our own baby.
We won’t see our cousin in bed for a week after birth with her midwife helping her baby latch over, and over and over again.
We won’t see breastfeeding help our nine month old baby sister to overcome diarrhea by nursing nearly around the clock and our mother knowing the constant feeds aren’t from a low milk supply.
We don’t see our sister’s shoulders relax after her fussing baby latches and the oxytocin begins to flow.
We don’t witness that little pay-off of the half-latched smiles when our aunt makes it passed six weeks of breastfeeding.
Most of us no longer live in villages. We no longer grow up witnessing many siblings, cousins, friends, etc. being cared for as breastfeeding newborns. We don’t know what our biological norm is supposed to look like.
What we see is post after post about warning signs of low milk supply. We see our friends struggle with a painful latch. We see posts on social media about feeling lonely. We see our neighbour heading back to work just weeks after having her baby.
We’ve always needed a village, a community. However, in today’s society, it absolutely takes a community to breastfeed. Here’s why:
#1: We Need Education And Breastfeeding Knowledge
Yes, breastfeeding is absolutely our biological norm. However, because we rarely witness it prior to having our own babies, we need evidenced based information.
We need to know what’s normal. We need to know how breastfeeding actually works. We need to know what a proper latch looks and feels like. We need to know how often a baby eats, and how it’s imperative to feed our newborns on demand.
#2: Our Partners Are A Key To Success
For many of us, at dinner time or 2am, our partners are the ones available. They’re there to help get dinner on the table and reassure us baby eating is a priority.
They’re available to remind us how wonderfully we’re doing at 11pm, 2am and 4am when baby needs more nutrition to keep growing.
They read our text messages filled with frustration, disappointment and of course joy when things happen while they’re at work. Sometimes all we need is a “good job,” “don’t worry about dinner,” or an emoticon to keep us going until they get home.
You can breastfeed without a supportive partner. But when you have one, it can make the journey that much easier. In fact, many studies show the importance of a supportive partner for meeting breastfeeding goals.
This is one reason it’s important to encourage your partner to be involved in prenatal education and working with your lactation consultant.
#3: Fellow Mothers’ Support Keeps Us Going
Sometimes all we need to hear to get through something challenging is “you’re not alone.”
Sometimes the only thing we need to hear to stop stressing over a new situation is “me too,” because it lets us know something is normal.
A supportive partner is amazing. However, only a fellow breastfeeder knows just how much effort it takes. Sometimes we need a peer to support us. We need someone who has had the lows and the highs. We need someone on a high, to help us see where we can go if we keep going.
We may not have a village outside our door with many women experiencing the same things we are, but we can find support if we seek it out. We can find a La Leche League or ABA support.
Be sure to read 6 Ways To Build Your Support Network After Having A Baby for ideas on building up your new mother support.
#4: A Supportive Employer Is Important
Unless you’re planning to be a stay at home mother, a supportive employer can have a big impact on whether or not you reach your breastfeeding goals.
Depending on where you live, you might have excellent maternity leave and have plenty of time to establish breastfeeding. Or you might need to return to work shortly after giving birth.
If you return while you’re still breastfeeding, you’ll need time to pump. Not having enough time to pump can be detrimental to your supply. Before taking maternity leave, look up any applicable laws, your company’s policies, and meet with human resources to plan your return.
You can learn more about returning to work by reading Returning To Work And Breastfeeding – 8 Tips To Help.
#5: Knowledgeable Care Providers Are A Must
You might be surprised to hear that many care providers have very little formal breastfeeding education during their typical training.
For this reason, it’s very important to choose care providers that have made breastfeeding training and keeping up with evidence based care a part of their professional development.
Breastfeeding preparation really starts during your prenatal care. Choosing a maternity care provider who can help you make informed decisions about pregnancy, labour and the immediate postpartum period can often be the difference between a very challenging start, and one that’s just a bit easier.
Even if your child’s doctor isn’t completely up to date, if they’re willing to refer to a lactation consultant and avoid giving non-evidenced based advice, their care will be very helpful as you establish breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is our biological norm. We’re designed to make milk and our babies are designed to root and latch. However, it doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges and it definitely doesn’t mean our modern culture makes it easy. It takes a community to help a mother nourish her baby.
“It takes a village” didn’t become a popular saying that stood the test of time for no reason.