This all sounds very nice, but why do you need to prepare for breastfeeding? It comes naturally, right?
So yes, lactation follows the birth of a baby, or strictly speaking, the birth of the placenta (the drop in placental progesterone following the birth of the placenta allows a rise in prolactin which triggers milk production in quantity) Following birth, the vast majority of term healthy babies will demonstrate a series of breastfeeding behaviours designed to help them find and latch onto their mother's breast, just like any little baby mammal...and their parents don't do antenatal classes to learn it, so why do humans need to?
The short answer to that is intrinsic in the difference between us and other mammals; namely, that large, overdeveloped neocortex, or 'new brain' of ours, the one that gets us into so much trouble, the one which enables us to be conscious of our own existence, and to think about things. Other mammalian mothers' brains and behaviour with regards to birth and breastfeeding is instinctive, and without the intrusion of hers or anyone else's 'thinking brain'. For humans, breastfeeding is both a learned and an instinctive behaviour, for babies as well as for mothers.
Did stone-age woman and her partner attend Saturday morning 'how-to' classes with other expectant parents for information, tea and cake?
They (probably) did not.
They absorbed the information of how breastfeeding works in much the same way as hearing people learn language; by growing up surrounded by it all the time, every day, and they had the huge advantage over us in that they lived in a breastfeeding culture. Before the invention of artificial feeding, everyone was breastfed as a baby and small child...maybe not all the time by their own mother, but exclusively breastfed just the same. Women would very probably have shared the feeding of their babies with other women, and the survival of our species, until a relatively very short time ago, depended and in fact, thrived upon this extremely successful biological function.
In an incredibly short space of time in the length of human history, our highly developed brain has taken us on a wild and crazy magic carpet ride resulting in the creation of art, civilisation, war, cities, technology, medicine, space travel, religion, cultural beliefs, money, patriarchal values, artificial milk, and advertising. Add to this the destruction of tribe, community, extended family, and the loss of female autonomy and traditional knowledge and wisdom in reproductive matters. Add in the loss of understanding of the basic needs of a mother and her baby to be together with a priority on their respective healthy physiological functioning.
We put our trust in the medical community, and in cleverly advertised life-styles and societal norms, rather than in our bodies, instincts, and biological norms. We have thoroughly, completely, subtly and blatantly assimilated artificial feeding of babies into our idea of what is culturally normal, and in doing so, we have lost much of what would support breastfeeding mothers and their babies. We have lost the idea that breastfeeding is normal. We have lost the knowledge about how a breastfed baby behaves, how breastfeeding works, how frequently babies want to feed, how to know that they're getting enough milk, about the fact that they absolutely expect to be in someone's arms, or worn on someone's body most of the time. More from me on our prevalent culture here
Advertisers, media, friends, family and the medical profession who connect with mothers can subtly or blatantly question her ability to feed the small human that she has just spent 9 months miraculously growing and maintaining inside her body. Breastfeeding as a biological function is far more successful than pregnancy, and why wouldn't it be...nature is not going to invest so much energy in growing a person, and safely birthing them, only to shrug her shoulders and say 'ah well, she couldn't feed her baby, she didn't make enough milk' or 'her milk wasn't good enough'. No. Nature in her wisdom is going to make sure that her milk is a living, dynamic, adaptable, tasty complete nutrition with immunological factors, cancer-killing cells and other remarkable properties, delivered in a way that in itself is nurturing and contributes to social and emotional health and brain development. And, Mother Nature has also ensured that milk can easily be produced by mums who are busy with other children, busy with life, maybe stressed, and who have neither the time nor inclination to worry about 'eating healthily'.
So how come everyone knows someone who couldn't make enough milk to feed their baby?
A tiny proportion of women will not make any or enough milk, and for specific reasons having to do with pathologies related to her breasts themselves, or the endocrine system which governs milk production. Retained placenta can inhibit the production of milk. A Caesarean section or a large blood loss can delay the milk coming in, but the milk will come. A lot of the women who didn't have enough milk probably did have enough to begin with, and probably could have made enough if they and the people around them had understood the way breastfeeding works, on a demand and supply basis. If they had known that the fact that their baby wanted to go to the breast frequently was normal new born behaviour, and not an indication that their baby wasn't thriving on the breastmilk. If they had known the importance of regular frequent feeding or pumping if not feeding in the first two weeks.
The reason that so many women give up breastfeeding because of a perceived lack of milk or doubted the quality of it and its ability to nourish their babies, is because these women were failed.
They were not properly supported. It's because of a lack of the basic understanding and knowledge of how breastfeeding works, and what has to happen and when, to ensure that it can do it's miraculous thing. Because breastfeeding is not bottle feeding only with breasts. Because babies need to learn to breastfeed too, and any interruption in the form of dummies, nipple shields or artificial teats in the first six weeks or so, can set some babies back really severely so they can't empty the breast properly next feed. Which, unless mum takes appropriate action, impacts the milk supply.
The learned part for the parents is a bit like learning to drive. You've sat there watching your mum drive when you were a kid...maybe she even let you drive her truck around the field a few times...you know what to do. So do you just book your test and wing it? Or do you take a few lessons to make sure that you know what you didn't know you needed to know when the time comes? So that you can concentrate on passing your driving test on the day, rather than trying to cram in new intellectual knowledge at a time when you want to be focussing your energy on doing what you need to do.
That's why you need to prepare before birth for breastfeeding your baby.
Check out my website BreastfeedingIntelligence.co.uk like the Facebook Page for course dates. Or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss one to one courses in your own home at a time and date that suits you.
Jil Wild Manning
Fertility & Maternity Reflexologist
Doula UK recognised Birth Doula