Breastfeeding is the biological norm for feeding babies; it is a natural and beautiful act of bonding. Babies have many inborn reflexes helping them to latch and start feeding. Milk production is largely a function of the mother’s endocrine system, which normally functions well in most women. Still, many new mothers find breastfeeding an uncomfortable, tiring, and confusing struggle, and it is not their fault.
For babies, breastfeeding is largely instinctual; for mothers, breastfeeding is a learned behavior. For all of human history, women have learned to breastfeed their babies by watching other women in their community breastfeeding their own babies. Today, breastfeeding is largely hidden behind closed doors or under blankets, so young women and expectant mothers do not often see other mothers breastfeeding their children. For expectant mothers who want to breastfeed their children, it is important to start out on the right foot.
The first step is to learn about breastfeeding. In the Ithaca area, breastfeeding classes are offered by Cayuga Medical Center, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and various independent professionals around the area. In addition to formal classes, reading articles and talking with experienced mothers is a great way to gain knowledge. Breastfeeding USA and La Leche League International are mother-to-mother lactation support groups, and both have chapters in the Ithaca area leading monthly support meetings. Group support meetings let women share the joys and struggles of being mothers while providing a safe place to practice comfortable and confident breastfeeding.
The next step is to become familiar with the professional network available to the community. A pediatrician or family physician that is supportive and knowledgeable of breastfeeding will be extremely helpful. When interviewing medical professionals, inquire about their training and experience in regards to breastfeeding. There are also several professional lactation consultants, or IBCLCs, in the area. "IBCLC" stands for International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and these are professionals who specialize in the clinical management of breastfeeding. Many IBCLCs can meet with you to provide support in the early days of breastfeeding or work with you to manage breastfeeding problems. Mothers who are eligible for the WIC program also have access to certified Lactation consults through the Tompkins County Health Department.
The final step is to find a personal support system; this can be your family, friends, or even online communities. In addition, mother-to-mother support and peer counseling can be the key to a successful breastfeeding journey. Both Breastfeeding USA and La Leche League International provide such mother-to-mother support and connect new mothers with experienced and educated breastfeeding mothers, known as Breastfeeding Counselors or La Leche League Leaders. The WIC program in Tompkins County also has WIC Peer Counselors available as a benefit of the WIC program. An advantage to all of these resources is that they are available without charge. New mothers have the opportunity to express their feelings about breastfeeding and any struggles they are having, and receive support and assistance from experienced mothers to help resolve their fears and problems.
A few steps taken while a mother is pregnant or in those early weeks after the baby arrives can open the door to a breastfeeding journey that is peaceful and fulfilling for both mother and baby.
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Brenda is a native of the Ithaca Area, a working mom of two, and an accredited volunteer counselor with Breastfeeding USA.