The benefits of breastfeeding, or providing breastmilk to your baby, are well known. Most of my clients intend to breastfeed for some length of time.
What I try to impart in prenatal discussions with clients, however, is that intention is usually not enough to get off to a good start with breastfeeding. Maximizing the breastfeeding relationship also involves education, planning, and knowing where to turn if difficulties arise.
1. Take a prenatal breastfeeding class. There is so much more to breastfeeding than putting baby to the breast. While breastfeeding is a natural process, that doesn’t mean it is necessarily intuitive, easy, or without complications.
A good prenatal breastfeeding class should cover most of these topics:
While you may not retain or need all the information you learn in a prenatal breastfeeding class, you never know what important facts will be helpful as you learn to feed your baby. Misconceptions you may have had will be dispelled, enabling you to use the most accurate information to support your efforts.
Plus, it will be much easier to find the time and energy to learn about breastfeeding before your baby is born, rather than while you are recovering from birth and learning to feed your baby, all with limited sleep.
2. Get hands-on help with latch. A good, deep latch is one of the most important factors in establishing a good breastmilk supply.
When your baby suckles at the breast, it signals to your body to produce the hormone prolactin, which stimulates the production of breastmilk. Oxytocin is also released, triggering the let-down reflex which expels the breastmilk from the milk ducts.
When the latch is shallow, or there is a problem with latching, this hormonal interplay is interfered with and over time, your milk supply and/or baby’s ability to transfer milk from the breast can be negatively affected.
Most hospitals offer lactation support, sometimes immediately after birth and in postpartum recovery. Birth center and home birth midwives also help with breastfeeding and latch; during postpartum home visits, midwives assess baby’s weight gain and can make recommendations for additional lactation support if needed.
As a birth doula, I can help my clients with that initial breastfeeding right after baby is born, showing them the hallmarks of a good latch. Or, I can help them to facilitate baby latching on his or her own, either via a breast crawl or with a laid-back breastfeeding position. If there is separation from baby for a period of time, I can help them hand-express colostrum into a cup or syringe that can be given to their baby instead of formula, if that is their preference.
And when I visit my clients at home, either at the follow-up postpartum visit or as a postpartum doula, we can continue to work on latch after their milk has come in, trying out different positions. If there are signs of a complication beyond my scope as a doula, I can refer them to a local lactation specialist for professional support and problem solving.
Getting frequent, hands-on help with latch can ease anxiety and frustration in the birthing person, possibly avoid supply issues and injury to the nipples, ease pain or discomfort during nursing, and make the experience more enjoyable.
3. Turn to the experts for help. Breastfeeding problems and solutions can be complex and can involve several factors, including breast anatomy, baby’s anatomy, diet and nutrition, hormones, birth influences, emotional and cultural considerations, the need for supplementation, and more.
Sometimes, people get advice or help from family members or friends, or even professionals, including lactation consultants, pediatricians, and family doctors, that aren’t based on the latest research. Or the advice doesn’t take into account all of the factors mentioned above that can make breastfeeding issues challenging. They may not be familiar with alternatives or breastfeeding best practices. And they might not have the availability or resources to provide the frequent, hands-on help that nursing people often need.
When my clients need breastfeeding help beyond what I can provide, I refer them to the infant feeding experts: International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC’s). The requirement to become an IBCLC includes extensive education, over 1,000 hours of clinical experience, and passing a rigorous exam. IBCLC’s know breastfeeding and can help you work through a myriad of problems, with solutions tailored to your individual needs and preferences.
See my Parent Resources page for some local IBCLC’s I know and trust.
4. Support for breastfeeding goes beyond actual breastfeeding. Knowing how to support breastfeeding and actually having the support you need to breastfeed are two different things.
When you are recovering from birth and learning to care for your new baby, it becomes much more difficult to learn to breastfeed when you also have to worry about preparing meals, keeping your house in order, caring for older kids, entertaining visitors, or “bouncing back” to a preconceived notion of how your life should look.
Anything that adds stress instead of reducing it can interfere with breastfeeding. Making a postpartum plan while you are pregnant, reframing in your mind for what the postpartum period should look like, and enlisting help wherever possible— whether that be from your partner, family and friends, outsourcing tasks, or a hiring a postpartum doula— are all ways to support breastfeeding.
5. Be gentle with yourself in your journey. Breastfeeding doesn’t always go as you plan. Sometimes you find that supplementation, or exclusively pumping, or formula feeding, or sourcing donor milk, or weaning, or some combination of these, is the best choice for you at any point in time.
Know that what works for you now may not be what works for you down the road. Know that if you struggle now, that doesn’t mean you will be struggling later. Know that if you hit a snag, there are people in the community who can help.
And know that your mental and physical health matters. There is no “right” time to wean, except when you and/or your child are ready. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself the grace to find your own way.
I am a certified birth doula, postpartum doula, and childbirth educator serving clients in Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
What kind of breastfeeding help will you need when you have your new baby?
You can use water in labor, even if you don't plan on a having a water birth!
Water is one of my favorite pain management tools in labor. Whether you give birth at home or in the hospital, at some point my clients end up in the tub or in the shower.
Here’s why hydrotherapy can be a wonderful option in labor:
You can relax!
Even for those who aren’t pregnant, a nice, warm bath after a long day of work can make you feel more relaxed and calm. Immersion in water can lessen anxiety and promote relaxation. These same benefits apply when you are in labor.
The calming effects of water can actually help with labor progression. When you are feeling relaxed and calm, your body releases endorphins, which promote the production of another hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin plays an important role in labor, stimulating contractions. (Known as the "love hormone," oxytocin is also involved in attachment and breastfeeding).
When the oxytocin is flowing, your labor can progress. Conversely, when you are feeling stressed and anxious, adrenaline is produced, which can interfere with oxytocin production. So taking a warm bath, combined with other relaxation tools such as music, meditation, dim lighting, massage, and self-hypnosis, can help your labor keep a nice, active pattern.
Note: In early labor, taking a bath can slow down contractions. This is just fine-- early labor should be a time of rest, since it can take hours or even days to turn into active labor. If active labor is imminent, taking a bath won’t stop it!
It provides pain relief.
Water is sometimes referred to as a “liquid epidural.” While water doesn’t take away all sense of pain (although some clients report that at times it comes pretty close), it definitely helps to make the pain of labor more manageable.
The website Evidence Based Birth gives a review of the evidence behind water immersion as pain relief in labor. In a meta-analysis of several studies, it was reported that people who labored in water were less likely to use epidurals or spinal anesthesia for pain relief.
Submerging your body in water isn’t always necessary. Standing in the shower, with the hot water pointed at the part of your body where you are feeling the most pain or discomfort, is also very effective for pain relief.
You can move.
While submerged in water, it may be easier to move your body into positions that may be more difficult or uncomfortable "on land," like hands and knees, or in a squat. Being in water can help take pressure off of areas of your body that ache. You may feel more buoyant and lighter, contributing to feelings of relaxation.
If you are laboring at home, you can use your own bathtub or shower. (In early labor, I encourage my clients to take a bath and then try to sleep for a while, to reserve their energy for active labor.)
At the birth center, there are tubs and sometimes showers for your use. And more and more hospitals are offering tubs to labor in (although most hospitals still don’t allow pushing or giving birth in the water).
Fortunately for those in the Treasure Valley, both St. Lukes and St. Alphonsus offer labor tubs, either in each room or in a single-use shared space on the labor and floor. Some tubs sport jacuzzi-style vents for additional comfort.
For low-risk pregnancies, you can labor in the tub at just about any time, including after your bag of waters has broken, or if you have been induced. When laboring in the hospital tub, the nurses can monitor you intermittently without you having to get out of the water; if you consent to cervical exams, these can often be done in the water as well. (Note that with narcotic pain medications and epidurals, you won’t be allowed to labor in the tub for safety reasons.)
You can try it again.
At some point, if my clients aren’t planning a water birth, they decide to get out of the tub, either to push out their baby or to continue laboring on land. At this point, I can help them maneuver out of the water and wrap them up in a nice, warm towel so we can try some other comfort measures.
Sometimes, my clients decide to try the tub or shower again, and they easily can.
With some pain medications, you can have only a certain number of doses, and your mobility may be decreased for a while. With hydrotherapy, you can return to the tub or shower at just about any time during labor.
If you are worried about an accidental water birth, your doula and care providers can often get a sense of how close you may be to pushing based on your behavior and sensations you are reporting. We can recommend getting out of the tub to give you enough time to get to the place where you intend to birth your baby.
I am a certified labor (birth) doula and postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Do you have questions about using water in your upcoming birth?
If you are pregnant, sooner or later you will think about how to manage the pain of labor. Some clients know they want to get an epidural, and others would prefer to either forego pain medication entirely, or see how they feel in labor and make a decision in the moment.
Pain management and comfort measures are topics I discuss at length with my clients in our prenatal meetings. When clients want to avoid or delay pain medication, we talk about natural pain relief methods like counter pressure, hydrotherapy, heat therapy, and position changes.
When clients are open to pain medications, but want to avoid or delay an epidural or narcotic medication, nitrous oxide can be a great option.
Nitrous oxide has been used by laboring people in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada for decades. The ACNM (American College of Nurse-Midwives) supported its use in a 2011 position statement, affirming nitrous oxide as a pain relief option that fits into the midwifery model of care.
While nitrous oxide was once frequently used in United States, in the 1970’s its use declined as epidural analgesia surged in popularity. As of 2017, one report stated that nitrous oxide was available in only around 150 hospitals and 50 birth centers nationwide.
Fortunately for those in the Treasure Valley, both major hospital systems, St. Lukes and St. Alphonsus, offer nitrous oxide, also known simply as “nitrous,” in their labor and delivery rooms.
With all interventions, there are benefits and risks. Here’s what you need to know if you are considering using nitrous oxide in your upcoming birth:
The Benefits of Nitrous Oxide in Labor
The Risks, or Downsides of Nitrous Oxide in Labor
I am a certified labor doula (birth doula) and postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Are you considering using nitrous oxide in labor? Would you like more information about it?
These gorgeous photos are courtesy of Natalie Koziuk Photography. Clients of Elevated Birth get discounts on sessions with Natalie!
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I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.