Why should you take a breastfeeding class?
Raise your hand if you are one of the first to breastfeed in your family. Or perhaps you were breastfed yourself, but you've never actually seen anyone else going through the motions and breastfeeding?
For many first time moms, this may resonate with you. A few generations back, women would learn how to breastfeed from the maternal role models surrounding them. However, as breastfeeding rates rapidly declined (around the middle of the 20th century), so did our opportunities to learn first-hand about breastfeeding, which led to a tremendous break in our knowledge and exposure to breastfeeding (1).
While many expecting parents receive breastfeeding information through various websites, these sources of information are not made equal and can be unreliable, misinformed and inaccurate, which can lead to dangerous advice passed onto families guiding their decisions and actions (1, 4). So what do we do about this information deficit, and where can we find evidence-based information?
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, created by the World Health Organization, emphasizes ten critical evidence-based steps to successfully breastfeed. Step 3 mandates that all pregnant women be informed "about the benefits and management of breastfeeding" (5). One of the best ways to obtain information about breastfeeding is in the form of a class! Classes are a great way to communicate the importance of breastfeeding, how to achieve proper latch and comfortable positioning, how to prepare, what to expect and the opportunity to ask questions (5). In fact, research shows that prenatal breastfeeding education contributes to higher rates of breastfeeding initiation, how long you breastfeed and the success of exclusively breastfeeding (6).
Why does education contribute to breastfeeding success?
Prenatal breastfeeding education allows mothers to make informed choices, reduce anxiety around breastfeeding, gain confidence, support and knowledge to reach their breastfeeding goals (1-3). So much so that breastfeeding education and support (one-on-one or group setting) can influence the rates of whether we breastfeed or not and whether we are exclusively breastfeeding in the first few months by 90% (7). That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that classes and/or support groups are realistic, simple steps to help us achieve our breastfeeding goals.
Prenatal education isn't just for the mother-to-be. A recent study in 2017 found that having your partner and even other family members attend a prenatal breastfeeding class can help you feel more supported and encourage you to exclusively breastfeed (8). If your partner cannot attend with you, share with them the information you learn about breastfeeding and make sure they're aware of (and on board with) your breastfeeding plans and goals. You're a team - and although we're the one with the breasts, successfully breastfeeding is a joint effort.
here are our top 5 reasons to take a breastfeeding class.
So now we know that taking a breastfeeding class can dramatically improve the your success in breastfeeding and reaching your breastfeeding goals. But why else is taking a prenatal breastfeeding class worth it?
1. Meet other moms-to-be.
The old adage 'it takes a village' couldn't be truer or more evident than in those first few weeks and months as a new mom. When you attend a prenatal breastfeeding class, you get an opportunity to meet other like-minded moms-to-be who plan to breastfeed and whose babies are due around the same time yours is. Having these connections made before baby's arrival can be instrumental in forming your support system early on. These may be the moms you turn to for guidance or a shoulder or a glass of wine, but they will also be the women who remind you that you're not alone in this often challenging time.
2. Connect with an expert before you need her.
We're big proponents of getting ahead of challenges before they become problems, so we highly recommend connecting with a lactation professional before baby arrives and scheduling an appointment for shortly after baby is born. During that appointment, the breastfeeding professional can assess latch and milk removal, answer any questions you have and troubleshoot any potential issues or concerns. And, if there's nothing to correct, they'll tell you everything is great (and that reassurance is incredibly valuable). By attending a breastfeeding class, you're forming that connection with an expert that you can use once baby arrives - consider it an important part of your new mom toolbox.
3. Get your questions answered.
It's true - we don't know what we don't know. And, as an expecting mom, sometimes it can feel like we can never know enough. During a breastfeeding class, the instructor(s) will cover topics ranging from anatomy and physiology to latch and positioning to common concerns and troubleshooting. You will likely learn much more than you ever thought was possible about breastfeeding. Through all of this information you will 1. gain a deeper insight into what you didn't know before, 2. begin to form additional questions (questions that you didn't know you had) and 3. actually get the answers to questions you've had all along.
4. Set realistic expectations.
We are firm believers that setting realistic expectations and understanding what is normal is a key to successful breastfeeding. When our expectations are misaligned with reality, we set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration, which can be extremely challenging to deal with as a new mom. Prenatal breastfeeding classes will dive into the nitty gritty of what's normal - with your body, with milk production, with newborn and infant needs - and help you readjust and reset your expectations so they're more aligned with the reality you'll experience.
5. Learn to trust your body.
This may seem like a strange one, but hear us out. Our bodies are ridiculously incredible things. They seem like magic, but rest assured - there is no magic at play. There is hard-wired, deeply evolved patterns and processes that allow our bodies to function the way they do - to create and grow and sustain and nourish our babies. In new motherhood (and in motherhood in general), self-doubt often creeps in and it is easy to allow it to stay. But learning how our bodies work - taking a peek under the hood, so to speak - allows us to trust what our bodies can do and, hopefully, allows us to dispel that self-doubt, which isn't doing anyone any good.
(1) Craig, H. J. & Dietsch, E. (2010). 'Too scary to think about': First time mothers' perceptions of the usefulness of antenatal breastfeeding education. Women and Birth, 23, 160-165.
(2) Chezem, J. et al. (2003). Breastfeeding knowledge, breastfeeding confidence, and infant feeding plans: Effects on actual feeding practices. JOGNN, 32, 40—7.
(3) Griese, M. (1996). Promoting breastfeeding success through prenatal education. Int J Childbirth Ed, 11(4), 30-32.
(4) Dorman, B. & Oermann, M. (2006). Evaluation of breastfeeding websites for patient education. MCN , 31, 18—23.
(5) World Health Organization. (1998). Evidence for the ten steps to successful breastfeeding. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/evidence_ten_step_eng.pdf
(6) Feldman-Winter, L. (2013). Evidence-based interventions to support breastfeeding.
(7) Haroon, S. (2013). Breastfeeding promotion interventions and breastfeeding practices: a systematic review. BMC Public Health, 13(Suppl 3), S20-S38
(8) Wan Lok, K.Y. (2017). Family members’ infant feeding preferences, maternal breastfeeding exposures and exclusive breastfeeding intentions. Midwifery, 53, 49-53