Put these two items on your To-Do List. You’re pregnant for 9 months. You can fit it in.
1) Learn about breastfeeding. Yes it is natural. Yes it is the biological norm for human feeding. Yes we are mammals and thus defined by our mammary glands. Here’s the problem: we’ve become disconnected from this function. We don’t witness it as part of normal life. My sister told me of a young girl who had no idea how babies were fed without a bottle. She even asked, “Do you drink the milk and then spit it in the baby’s mouth? How cool!”
And then you’re given this baby. It is all you, mama. And you are unfamiliar with the tangible signs that baby is “getting enough.” And maybe you don’t know that her little stomach begins the size of a marble. Did you know colostrum (the initial nourishment) is measured in tablespoons?
Oh, and then you realize that it takes 15 hands to get the baby properly latched, held in place, arms out of the way, breasts compressed?
I remember picking Norah up to nurse her in the middle of the night that first week postpartum. I was so tired. I tried to latch on her feet instead of her mouth. And then Scott was asleep and dreaming he was nursing the baby while he held a tiny pillow to his chest. Exhaustion.
Yes, it is natural. No, it does not come naturally for many women. So learn. Take a class. Don’t just read a book, buy it so you’ll have it to re-read at 3am. Know where to go online for help. My favorite resources are kellymom and Dr. Jack Newman. And please stay away from books that try to put newborns on a schedule. Every medical organization and breastfeeding organization says to feed baby on demand (when baby says it is time to eat).
2) Take an independent childbirth class. Even if you’re planning to birth with an epidural. Why? Because sometimes you are not able to get an epidural (moving too quickly, no anesthesiologist available, low platelet count, etc). And sometimes you get one and it doesn’t work. A childbirth class will give you other tools in case your primary tool doesn’t work out. You won’t panic. You’ll have plan B. Also, you probably won’t get an epidural before your first contraction. Wouldn’t you like to have some ways to cope with those?
A childbirth class will give you a realistic picture of birth. Did you know that active labor for a first time mama is around 12 hours and that most labors do not begin with your water breaking? You might decide to spend some time in the comfort of your home before rushing to the hospital. A childbirth class will give you confidence to identify where you are in your labor and what to expect next. It will give your birth partner confidence to support you. It will show you options you didn’t know you had.
Why independent? Because the hospital class spends more time teaching you procedures, pain medication options, what to expect as a patient and less time on alternative pain coping options, stages of labors, etc. Independent classes are usually longer and more in depth.
Don’t make excuses on this one! If you cannot find a group class, take a private class in your home. If you don’t have time, take a private class in your home around your schedule. It is important.
Things to consider when choosing a class.
I don’t normally go authoritarian on expectant couples but I’ve heard one too many terrible birth story and sabotaged breastfeeding story this week. Your birth experience matters because regardless of natural birth or medicated birth, knowing you are an active participant–making choices, getting informed consent–gives you confidence to do this difficult journey called parenting. Birth is a small window in time but it is a giant door to becoming an informed and mindful parent.