Although the vast majority of women intend to breastfeed their babies, many women aren’t meeting their breastfeeding goals. For example, the most recent CDC data found that although over 80% of new moms attempt to breastfeed their babies at birth, only 45.3% are exclusively breastfeeding at three months, and only 58% are still breastfeeding at six months.
There are many factors that influence a mother’s ability to meet her breastfeeding goals, but one of the most impactful ones is the support and education she gets. As a educator, you can have an impactful role to play in setting your clients up for success. After all, for many mothers, your class will be their first introduction to breastfeeding.
There are many areas to cover when teaching about breastfeeding. These are five key lessons that all expectant parents should learn to ensure success.
1. Teaching Latching
There are many important points to emphasize when it comes to teaching latching and recognizing when a baby has a good latch. The basic principles to cover include:
- You want to aim for a deep latch; baby shouldn’t be sucking only on the end of the nipple.
- When babies are deeply latched, their mouth and jaw are open wide and their lips are turned out.
- Don’t press on the back of your baby’s head; instead, gently support the back of their neck/upper back with your hand.
- To achieve a good latch, it’s important that baby is tummy to tummy with you.
- It can be helpful to have your baby tilt their head back as they latch on, and then have their chin gently rest on your breast as they suckle.
- It can also be helpful to cup or support your breast while your baby latches on.
- A good latch means that breastfeeding isn’t painful and nipple damage doesn’t occur.
Pictures and Videos are Key
When it comes to latching and positioning, a picture is truly worth a thousand words. Many women have not seen babies breastfeed. Showing them up close what a deep latch looks like and pointing out how the baby is positioned to achieve this can be extremely helpful. It can also be helpful to show pictures of what a poor latch looks like, to compare the two. Videos are also helpful, as they can depict the process of latching, and how babies look and act during the process of latching.
Additionally, teaching breastfeeding should be a tactile, sensory experience. Having each student practice with a doll can be valuable. You can practice different breastfeeding positions and holds. It’s important to emphasize that babies need to be snug and close to your body in order to latch well.
2. Teaching Students How to Recognize That Baby is Getting Enough
Besides latching and positioning, many mothers feel unsure about whether their babies are getting enough, and having the perception that their baby isn’t being properly fed is one of the main reasons why mothers offer their babies formula or end up giving up on breastfeeding. After all, when it comes to breastfeeding, a mother can’t see how many ounces her baby is taking, and feeding formula—and seeing the precise number of ounces consumed—may feel more reassuring to her.
This is why it’s so important to teach the basics of how to know if your baby is getting enough. This includes:
- Emphasizing that babies should be fed on demand, or about 8-12 times in 24 hours during the first few days and weeks of breastfeeding, or about every 1-3 hours.
- Sharing with parents that although their babies may lose a little weight in the days after birth (normal weight loss is about 7% of birthweight), after their milk “comes in” (about 3-5 days after birth) their baby should start gaining weight, rather than losing weight.
- Explaining that once milk comes in, your baby should have about 3-4 poopy diapers and about six wet diapers per day.
- Telling parents that if they are ever concerned with their baby’s intake, they can go to their pediatrician and get a weight check; if their baby is gaining weight appropriately, that’s a clear sign that their milk supply is where it needs to be and that baby is getting enough milk.
Providing a handout with this information can be useful so that parents have a reminder at their fingertips in those early, sleep-deprived days.
3. Teaching Normal Infant Feeding Behaviors
One other area that new breastfeeding mothers often struggle with is understanding newborn feeding behaviors and how they impact breastfeeding.
For example, it can be helpful to share with parents that:
- Babies need to breastfeed very often, especially in the early days, and it’s normal for them to seem hungry again, soon after they’ve eaten.
- Newborns tend to cluster their feedings together, especially in the evening; at times, feeding hourly—or even every 20 minutes—can be normal for some newborns.
- Newborns may be fussy for many reasons besides hunger, and having a fussy baby doesn’t mean that you don’t have enough milk.
- Fussy, crying babies don’t nurse well; if your baby seems hungry, but rejects the breast, try other ways of soothing them (like walking, shushing, singing), and then try offering the breast again.
- Babies give many cues that show they are hungry, including rooting, making suckling motions with their mouths, turning their heads left to right, and sucking on fingers and hands.
- Usually, crying or fussing is a later feeding cue, and it’s good to offer the breast to your baby before they are fussy or crying.
Again, visual aids are super useful here. Showing parents what normal baby behavior looks like and sounds like can help normalize it for them.
4. Teaching Students When To Get Breastfeeding Help
Maybe the most important thing you can teach expectant parents about breastfeeding is when and how to get help—and that it’s completely normal and expected that new parents need help with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is not something that always comes naturally, and throughout human history, it was customary for women to receive support from other women in their communities.
There’s a saying in the lactation community that goes like this: “Pick up the phone before you pick up a bottle.” Any mother who is having breastfeeding challenges of any kind shouldn’t hesitate to reach out for help. You can emphasize this to your students! We all need support when we first start out.
When to Reach Out for Help
Parents should be encouraged to reach out for help anytime they have breastfeeding questions. That said, there are certain breastfeeding issues that require immediate support and usually require in-person help. These are:
- When a baby isn’t latching or isn’t latching consistently.
- When breastfeeding is painful (it’s normal for a little pain to be experienced when a baby first latches on but the pain should be minimal and shouldn’t last for the entire session).
- Anytime the nipple or breast is cracked, bleeding, pinched, inflamed, itchy, etc..
- When a mother is experiencing severe engorgement, especially if it’s making her nipples so flat that baby can’t latch on.
- Experiencing breast engorgement or inflamed areas on the breast, along with fever or flu-like symptoms.
- Concerns about milk supply or worries that baby isn’t getting enough milk.
Where to Reach Out for Help
If possible, try to compile an up-to-date list of breastfeeding support in your local area. That may include:
- Volunteer breastfeeding support groups or breastfeeding support counselors who can answer basic breastfeeding questions and refer out to lactation professionals when needed.
- Local IBCLCs who are available and seeing new mothers (make sure to keep this list updated, as availability can change).
- Local pediatricians who are well-versed in breastfeeding.
- Local breastfeeding medicine physicians for more complex breastfeeding questions.
Leaving parents with a list like this can be a total lifesaver. Suggest that your students keep this list handy—and emphasize again that needing breastfeeding support is normal, and that doing so will help ensure breastfeeding success.
5. End With a Note of Empowerment
Breastfeeding education often focuses on what can go wrong with breastfeeding, but it’s important for mothers to leave the session feeling empowered. You can share how normal it is for new parents to feel uncertain about how breastfeeding will go, but simply showing up to a breastfeeding class and having the desire to breastfeed is a huge step in the right direction.
You can also emphasize that breastfeeding is something that you figure out as you go along—both you and your baby will be new at this! Finally, you can underscore again how vital it is that new mothers seek support if they run into any challenges, big or small.
Be sure to check out Plumtree Baby's breastfeeding resources for teaching guides and parent handouts to support your clients on their breastfeeding journeys.
Wendy Wisner, Freelance Writer and Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)
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