Most parents want to breastfeed. According to the CDC, over 80% of parents initiate breastfeeding at birth, which shows that parents understand how important human milk is for babies, parents, and families. Still, many parents are intimidated by the whole process of breastfeeding/chestfeeding—once they leave the hospital (and the dedicated lactation support!), actually feeding a human with their body, can feel overwhelming.
One of the best ways to set yourself up for a successful breastfeeding experience is to plan for it! We can’t count the number of times we’ve heard parents say they’ll “see how it goes” with breastfeeding. Or, people think that because breastfeeding is a biological process, there’s not much they can do to optimize before birth. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Don’t just cross your fingers and wing it—set yourself up for success, starting before birth.
Of course, making a breastfeeding plan doesn’t guarantee that breastfeeding/chestfeeding/bodyfeeding will be easy for you or your baby. Birth complications, oral ties, physiology, lack of parental leave, and other factors outside of your control may make a big difference in your experience. But planning can only help you and your baby get off to the best start possible.
Here’s how to make a breastfeeding plan.
Take a breastfeeding class
Major Care doula and IBCLC-in-training Lana Mihaiyu put it best: “Knowledge is power! Attend a prenatal breast/chestfeeding class. It’s a wonderful opportunity for birthing people and their partners to understand the basics of latch and positioning, the importance of early initiation, recognize common issues, and establish realistic expectations. I think this proactive guidance and preparation really helps families to set themselves up for a successful breastfeeding relationship.”
Major care advisor, NICU nurse and IBCLC Johanna Macaulay agrees, “When you learn about the more common challenges for breastfeeding parents, like sore nipples, latch discomfort, or low milk supply, you know what issues may arise for you in the early days and how to troubleshoot them and where to reach out for help. This can keep your breastfeeding relationship going strong.”
Most hospitals, birth centers, doula groups, and local breastfeeding centers offer breastfeeding classes. If there isn’t one in your area, we recommend the online lactation class from Tinyhood.
Decide your goals
What are your goals for feeding your baby human milk? Do you want to feed with your body (at the breast or chest) most or all of the time or is pumping part of your plan? Is there a length of time you want to feed for—1 month, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years? Consider your ideal and think of what kind of supports you may need to achieve it.
Build your breastfeeding community
We are all connected—and that includes as lactating parents. What support do you have or want as someone who plans to breastfeed? Macaulay urges parents to consider: “Is your partner supportive of breastfeeding? How about your family and friends? How did they feed their babies? Are they supportive of breastfeeding? Having supportive people if you’re struggling is so important. If you don’t have knowledgeable support already, consider attending a lactation support group in your area during pregnancy.”
Reach out to friends or family who have fed their babies human milk and ask if you can lean on them for support. Research lactation support groups in your area, such as La Leche League, Chocolate Milk Cafe (for families of the African Diaspora), and those that may be available at hospitals, birth centers, community centers, and more. Follow lactation accounts on social media and join groups for lactating parents.
Professionals, like doulas, can also be a big part of your lactation community. Major Care postpartum doulas are all trained in lactation and are just a text away via our My Fourth app if you have questions or need support.
Plan for postpartum
Part of planning to lactate is also planning for your whole postpartum experience. We have a detailed blog post on just how to do that! That includes the first few days after birth, which can be important in an overall bodyfeeding experience. Major Care advisor, nurse practitioner and IBCLC Nikki Hunter-Greenaway advises, “The first few days are absolutely about healing and support. Healing entails nutrition, hydration, and rest.”
Breastfeeding experts also advise learning about normal baby behavior in the first few days after birth—and how it can affect feeding. For example, says Macaulay, “I always advise parents to prepare for the second night of life, when infants tend to cluster feed and don’t sleep for long stretches. If you aren’t anticipating this it can feel like something is wrong or that your body isn’t enough for your baby, when in fact it’s exactly what we expect—for babies to sleep a bunch the first day to recover from being born (it’s hard work for them too!) and then cluster feed to let your body know that there’s a hungry baby out here who needs milk.”
Plan for changes and think about challenges
Although breastfeeding is something many people’s bodies are designed to do, it doesn’t come naturally to every parent-baby dyad. Challenges may come up. You can’t problem-solve before you’re in the situation, of course, but you can identify support in your community and talk with your partner or other support people about your wishes, so if things do get difficult, you have an idea of how to troubleshoot.
Hunter-Greenaway emphasizes that your breastfeeding experience will change over time, too: “Expect to ride the wave of changes: when your infant sleeps longer, breastfeeding changes. When they start daycare, more changes, starting solids, yep more changes. When your period returns again, your milk-producing capacity can change.”
Feeding your child with human milk is a journey, not a destination. You will have good days and bad days, ups and downs, moments of joy and frustration. Having a plan will help you start off strong, but it’s normal for things to shift, grow, and change over the course of your feeding relationship. For example, you won’t be feeding your baby every 2 hours forever, or pumping forever, or redirecting your distracted baby forever. Lactation goes through stages, just as babies (and parents!) do.
As Hunter-Greenaway says, “Make a plan with realistic goals and incorporate a plan B and C—because your journey is fluid!”