If you have decided to breastfeed your baby, you might have a lot of questions. When you’re pregnant, other mothers often tell you about the struggles that they had with breastfeeding. If you do research online, you probably read about everything that can go wrong, including a poor latch, nipple confusion, pain and infections.
But breastfeeding doesn’t have to be difficult. Still, in the U.S., only 57 percent of mothers breastfeed their newborns. By the time their infants are 6 months old, just 20 percent of mothers continue to nurse.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies consume only breast milk for the first six months of life. The group further suggests that mothers breastfeed their infants until children are 12 months old, while gradually introducing solid foods. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until a child is at least 2 years old.
If you want to have a successful breastfeeding relationship, it can help to have nursing goals. Without them, it’s easy to reach for a bottle of formula when things get chaotic, which they probably will at some point during the postpartum period.
Because some of the factors that influence successful nursing include support from the family, healthcare professionals and the workplace, some of your breastfeeding goals should involve those.
Why Should You Set Breastfeeding Goals?
Breastfeeding is instinctual for a baby. In our modern society, however, it’s not instinctual for mothers. Many new moms have never seen a woman breastfeed. They aren’t exposed to nursing infants, and they don’t often talk about breastfeeding unless there is a problem.
As the birth process has changed, breastfeeding rates have dropped. Unnecessary medical interventions during birth can make it harder to initiate breastfeeding.
Your body is naturally primed to be able to breastfeed. The hormonal changes that occur during an intervention-free birth allow your body to produce the nutrition that your baby needs. Some of the hormones that are abundant in the mother and baby during birth help both stay alert enough to follow instinctual cues for breastfeeding after the child is born.
Those hormones are influenced by interventions, such as Pitocin for starting or speeding up labor, an epidural for diminishing pain in labor and numerous examinations that overstimulate the baby in the first hour after birth.
Infants whose mothers receive an epidural during birth may have difficulty suckling and latching. The first hour after birth is significant for setting up breastfeeding success. If mother and baby are separated, as they often are in American hospitals, nursing can get off on the wrong foot.
Some of your breastfeeding goals allow you to influence the birthing process to improve the likelihood that nursing will be successful. Setting up these goals before you have your baby gives you a chance to make decisions during labor, delivery and recovery that will set you up for success after you leave the hospital.
Infants develop rapidly in the first three months following birth. Setting breastfeeding goals for this time can help you:
- Get through challenges and milestones
- Know where to turn for help
- Elicit support from your partner and/or family
- Follow your baby’s cues
From three to six months, you may find that breastfeeding becomes easier. You know your child better, and you have probably settled into a routine. However, nursing can become challenging if you go back to work. A baby who is sick or experiencing a sleep regression may have different breastfeeding patterns than they did before. Breastfeeding goals help you navigate these obstacles and continue nursing.
After your child is six months old, you don’t have to stop nursing. Even if you start solids, your child is only getting a small number of calories from those foods. Plus, many prepared baby foods don’t have the healthy fats that are necessary for development.
Some of the benefits of breastfeeding beyond six months include:
- Protection against certain childhood cancers
- Reduced chances of illness for the mother and child
- Faster recovery from sickness
- Improved bonding between the mother and child
- Fewer behavioral problems in school-aged children
- Improved mental health in kids and teens
Before you get into the goals that we describe below, think about your own breastfeeding desires. Some questions to ask that can help you produce specific goals include:
- How many months do I want to breastfeed for?
- Do I want to breastfeed exclusively?
- Will I pump if I’m going back to work?
Then, create a statement that’s phrased in the positive, such as, “I want to breastfeed exclusively for six months, and I will pump at work to help ensure that I give my baby breastmilk only during that time.”
Goal 1: Learn About Breastfeeding While You’re Pregnant
The breastfeeding relationship begins before birth. Learning what to expect before you’re presented with the pressures of new parenthood can help you be realistic when it comes to nursing.
Here are some examples of micro goals that you can set to learn about nursing before you give birth.
1. Talk to Other Mothers Who Have Breastfed
You likely have at least one friend or family member who is happy to share terrifying tales of breastfeeding. Don’t limit your knowledge to that source, however. Talk to as many mothers as possible who have breastfed.
People remember negative events more clearly than positive ones. And they’re more likely to talk about them.
If breastfeeding isn’t a problem for one mom, she isn’t likely to talk about it. How often do you hear someone sharing a story about their daily eating patterns? Even adults usually don’t talk about their meals unless they’ve had an especially positive or negative experience. If a mother is simply feeding her kid, it’s a non-event.
That means that the women who have had trouble breastfeeding are more likely to discuss those issues than women who have had an easy time of it. That’s why you should reach out to the ones who aren’t talking. Ask them about their experience. Find out what was amazing about breastfeeding.
These are the women who are likely to give you constructive information that can help you make the most of a breastfeeding relationship. They may have had challenges, but they may have chosen to look at those hurdles differently than the women who actively discuss their breastfeeding woes.
You’ll gain a great deal of perspective by talking to women who have breastfed. If you don’t know any nursing mothers personally, consider looking for a La Leche League group in your city. These groups bring women together to celebrate the joys and share in the struggles of breastfeeding.
2. Take a Breastfeeding Class
You can learn a lot by taking a breastfeeding class while you’re pregnant. If you’re already enrolled in a birth class, find out if it includes information about breastfeeding. If it doesn’t, try to find a course. You can always take a breastfeeding class online if necessary. Many hospitals and lactation professionals also offer classes.
In a breastfeeding class, you’ll often learn many of the myths that surround breastfeeding. Knowing what’s true and what’s not may soothe your nerves and debunk many of the worries that you have.
You’ll also get to learn and practice the main breastfeeding positions. When you’re dealing with a delicate newborn, you can feel like you need octopus tentacles to hold your child and nurse at the same time. Learning different positions in class can give you more confidence.
A breastfeeding class can also alert you to potential challenges that you may come across. You’ll learn when to seek help so that you don’t have to struggle in silence. If you take a local class, you’ll be set up with supportive resources that can help you after your baby comes.
3. Talk to Your Employer and Loved Ones
Before you give birth, talk to the people who are important in your life about your desire to breastfeed. At work, this might mean that you come up with a plan to pump during breaks so that you can keep up your milk supply. At home, it might mean explaining to your mother that she won’t be able to babysit your child for a while.
You may be surprised at the issues and concerns that come up when you talk to people about your breastfeeding goals. It’s probably easier to deal with them before the baby comes than while you’re getting used to being a new mom.
Goal 2: Stay With Your Baby After Birth
Breastfeeding starts as soon as your baby is born. Being held skin-to-skin with their mother helps infants regulate their respiration and temperature. It also delivers cues that help them breastfeed.
When newborns are placed on their mother’s chest immediately after birth, they act similar to kittens. They paw at the breast and bob their head around to locate the nipple. As they place their hands on the breasts, they’re leaving scent markers of amniotic fluid there. The mother’s nipple secretes a signature scent that helps the baby recognize where to find food.
The first hour after birth has been called the Sacred Hour. During this time, infants that have been born without medical intervention are more alert. They’re ready to follow breastfeeding cues.
Studies show that babies that stay with their mothers during the first hour after birth:
- Cry less
- Are calmer
- Establish bonding with their mother
- Are exposed to beneficial bacteria that support immunity
- Receive protective colostrum
- Are more likely to breastfeed exclusively and for a longer period of time
Baby-friendly hospitals support this practice. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative was launched in 1991 to give mothers better breastfeeding support. Baby-friendly hospitals must follow 10 steps to support successful breastfeeding. One of these steps is to help mothers initiate breastfeeding within 30 minutes of birth.
Ideally, all newborn examinations will be delayed for at least an hour after birth. That means that your baby doesn’t have to be weighed, measured or bathed immediately after he or she is born.
Instead, infants should be placed skin-to-skin on the mother’s chest and encouraged to follow their instincts when it comes to breastfeeding. This can even be done following a cesarean section as long as mother and baby are healthy.
Goal 3: Call a Lactation Professional
Are you the type of person who waits until there’s a problem before seeking help? When you’re breastfeeding, you should begin a relationship with a lactation professional right away. Lactation consultants and counselors are professionals who can help you with any breastfeeding issues.
In the early days, they can make sure that your baby is latching properly. But there are so many other factors that a lactation professional can help you with, including:
- Understanding baby’s hunger cues
- Helping you avoid pain while nursing
- Helping you manage engorgement
- Making sure that you’re emptying the breast properly
- Giving you nutrition advice
- Helping you figure out what works for you
- Giving you tips and tricks for pain, milk production issues or discomfort
Even if you know that everything is going well, it doesn’t hurt to have a trusted professional on call to give you peace of mind. If you are having issues with milk supply, developmental problems with your baby or slow weight gain in your infant, you should definitely reach out to a lactation professional. Although many mothers call the pediatrician first, many pediatricians don’t have extensive breastfeeding training.
Goal 4: Get Your Support People Involved
Although it may seem like the breastfeeding relationship includes only the mother and child, it extends to the rest of the family. If you have a partner, you need their support. You may also need help taking care of your other obligations, such as running the household, in the first few weeks of months of your child’s life.
Below, we describe some ways that your partner can support you on your breastfeeding journey. But first, we want to clarify a myth that is perpetuated in our culture.
Many people believe that feeding the baby is one of the only ways to bond with them. You may hear this from grandma, who complains that mom is always nursing and she doesn’t get time with the baby. You might even hear this from your partner, who feels a little left out because the baby is at the breast all day and night.
There are many ways for your support people to interact with the baby that have nothing to do with feeding. For example, they can:
- Change the baby’s diaper, which is a prime bonding time
- Read to the baby
- Sing to the baby
- Take the baby for walks in a carrier
- Take responsibility for bath time
Here are some other ways to ask your partner to help you so that you can achieve your breastfeeding goals.
1. Avoid Suggesting or Offering Formula
If you want to breastfeed exclusively, share that wish with your partner. Explain that it wouldn’t be helpful to offer formula even if you’re having a hard time. Doing so can undermine a mother’s confidence in her body.
When your partner is on board with your urge to breastfeed, they’ll take productive measures to support you instead of trying to encourage you to stop even when the going gets tough. We’ll talk more about how your partner can support you below.
2. Intervene When Guests Want to Visit
The first two weeks of the breastfeeding journey are crucial. Mothers need time to recuperate from birth, and rest is extremely important.
During this time, a mother’s supply is also getting established. She doesn’t just produce a fixed amount of milk. Every time that the baby suckles on the breast, it tells the body to make a certain amount of milk. To get this supply-and-demand relationship off on the right foot, mother and baby should be together around the clock.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t take breaks. If the baby has just fed, he or she can spend an hour going for a walk with dad or snuggling with grandma. However, when the baby gives cues that he or she is hungry, mom should be available to nurse.
Many well-intentioned guests come over and want to hold the baby. This interferes with mother-baby bonding. A partner can help by limiting the number of guests, especially in the first few weeks.
If you can’t say no when people come over, ask them to help you with other tasks while mom and baby are resting quietly in a private room. If your family really wants to help, they’ll be more than willing to do dishes, help with laundry, buy groceries or prepare meals.
3. Make Sure Mom is Fed and Hydrated
A nursing mother needs approximately 500 more calories than usual to maintain her nutritional needs. Eating a well-balanced diet is important. But it can be tough for new parents to eat well.
Your partner can make sure that you’re eating regularly. Some ideas for making sure that mom is getting enough nutrition are:
- Set up a basket of snacks within reach of a comfortable nursing area
- Organize a meal train so that friends can deliver food
- Cut up food so that mom can eat it with one hand while nursing
- Keep water bottles handy so that mom can sip when she needs to
4. Bring Baby to Mom at Night
Nights as new parents can be the hardest to deal with. Newborns need to eat every two hours or so. Therefore, you’ll be waking up frequently.
Many partners want to help out during this time by giving the baby a bottle. However, because breastfeeding happens on a supply-and-demand basis, any feeding that the mother misses (even if the baby is fed with a bottle during that time) tells the breasts that the infant doesn’t need food at that time. Avoiding nursing during the night can quickly cause your milk supply to drop.
One of the best ways that a partner can help is by bringing the child to the mother to feed. When baby wakes at night, the partner can get up and get the child, allowing the mother to remain in bed. Your partner can make sure that you’re comfortable, propping you up with pillows as necessary or making sure that your water bottle is filled. When baby has finished nursing, your partner can put the child back to bed.
5. Know Who to Call
New mothers can benefit from making a list of supportive friends who might be able to help them during the postpartum period. They should give this list to their partners. This list might include:
- Friends who have been through parenthood
- Breastfeeding proponents
- Lactation professionals
If women find themselves struggling with breastfeeding, their partners can reach out to their support people for them. Because a partner should also monitor mom for signs of postpartum depression, they can find help just a phone call away if they are prepared with this list.
Goal 5: Get Out of the House
You should not feel pressured to leave your bedroom for the first two to four weeks after giving birth. This period is sometimes referred to as the fourth trimester. Recuperating from birth is extremely important for both mom and baby.
But at some point, being stuck at home breastfeeding can feel isolating. You may want connection with your friends. You might simply wish to take a breath of fresh air. Getting out of the house is important for you and your baby.
Here are some goals that you can set to maintain your connection with your friends and community in the early days of motherhood.
1. Join a Group
Most communities have breastfeeding groups that mothers can join for free. La Leche League groups are available across the globe. Your hospital may have a breastfeeding group that meets regularly. Lactation professionals in your town might do the same.
If you can’t find a group that’s specific to breastfeeding, consider joining a meetup group for new moms. You’ll likely meet other women who are nursing their babies and can commiserate over the struggles and triumphs of breastfeeding and parenthood.
2. Learn to Breastfeed in Public
One of the biggest impediments to nursing in public is discomfort. Until your child can hold their head up on their own, you may find it hard to breastfeed unless you’re sitting in your glider with three pillows and your shirt off.
As the weeks go by, practice changing up your nursing positions so that you can become more comfortable breastfeeding in different scenarios. You may find it helpful to seek the advice of a lactation professional, who can counsel you on different nursing positions.
Wearing the right nursing gear can also help you breastfeed in public. Nursing shirts, bras and tanks can conceal most of your skin and allow access to the nipple. You can even purchase nursing covers that let you be more discreet if you’re feeling uncomfortable feeding your baby outside of the home.
Nursing in front of a mirror or having a friend take a photo or video of you nursing can help you get past this hurdle. When you see yourself from an outsider’s perspective, you will probably realize that you’re not as exposed as you think you are. Once the baby latches on, their heads cover most of your breast anyway.
3. Know Your Supporters
It helps to have one or two close friends who support your breastfeeding journey and don’t mind you crashing at their house when you need to get away. Keep these people close. Let them know that you’d like some time to connect with them because you’re feeling lonely. Chances are, they’ll give you an open invitation to their homes whenever you need to vent.
You also need to know who won’t be as supportive of breastfeeding. You may have some close friends who have never been through parenthood and don’t understand what you’re going through. Although they can still support you in other ways, these may not be the first people you call on to help you meet your breastfeeding goals.
Other Tips for Setting Breastfeeding Goals
Like most of the issues that come with parenting, you may have to take breastfeeding one day at a time. While it’s important to set goals, make sure that they’re realistic.
One way to set reasonable goals is to break down larger goals. For example, if you want to breastfeed exclusively for one year, you may want to set milestones that give you a chance to celebrate. This may look like:
- Breastfeed during the first hour after birth
- Spend two weeks at home with limited visitors after birth
- Call the lactation consultant the first week after birth to make sure everything looks good
- Don’t introduce a pacifier or artificial nipple until breastfeeding is going well
- Ask your partner or a friend to watch the baby with you so that you can learn how to use your breast pump
- Exclusively breastfeed for one month!
- Make it to two months of exclusive breastfeeding!
- Pump regularly for a few weeks before going back to work to stockpile some milk
- Make sure that your employer is on board with your pumping schedule at work
- Celebrate three months of exclusive breastfeeding!
Although deciding to breastfeed is personal, the experience of motherhood requires support. Many of the goals that we’ve described involve knowing where to turn when you need help and surrounding yourself with encouraging people. Even if things don’t go according to plan, getting the right support will help you adjust or reach your breastfeeding goals.