Our new scientific understanding of the microbiome and epigenetics is helping us to understand how babies who are fed human milk, and those who are fed formula, are inhabited by different microbes. Our comprehension of why babies who aren’t breastfed are more likely to have health issues is deepening. One reason is there is a difference in the way their genes are activated. I think it’s fascinating! Stream the documentary Microbirth for a better understanding of how we create our baby's gut health during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is what makes humans mammals, and in some ways is the most natural of acts. If you’ve ever seen a mom breastfeed her baby while she keeps up with her toddler at the playground, you know that. But breastfeeding is also learned. And for most of us, because we haven’t spent our lives surrounded by nursing moms, that learning curve can be steep in the first few weeks. It usually takes three to four weeks before the first time mom can talk on the phone, eat dinner, and nurse at the same time. Setting aside the first few weeks to learn to nurse and to recover from labor and birth makes sense. See my post on doulas and other tips for making postpartum easier.

"I believe, like with any journey, the preparation phase is the most important aspect of breastfeeding.” Christy Jo Hendricks, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) from Birthing and Breastfeeding told me. “When a mom receives evidence-based information prenatally, she is equipped with knowledge and power. Most moms make their feeding choice prenatally, so diving into the discussion early is very advantageous. Those who educate themselves rarely fall for scare tactics and are prepared for stages of lactation. Moms should have confidence in their bodies and understand the basic anatomy and physiology of lactation.”

Learning about breastfeeding while you’re pregnant will make it easier to do when your baby comes. Take a breastfeeding class and read the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Understanding breastfeeding position and latch before you start will help you from developing sore nipples postpartum. Include your partner in your educational process. When the other parent is on board with breastfeeding and understands how it works, mothers breastfeed longer and are less likely to supplement.

I asked Lucia Jenkins, RN, IBCLC, the Executive Director of Baby Café USA, what advice she offers pregnant women. She told me the “first thing to do is find a Baby Café, La Leche League group, or other breastfeeding support groups where you can watch women breastfeed. Being able to observe a newborn latch is particularly important. A photo or video pales in comparison to seeing it in front of you." Christy Jo says agrees. “Moms can find their support group before they deliver so if any issues arise, they have a built-in sounding board that will offer advice and support."

"Remember babies breastfeed, moms don’t." Lucia reminded me. "A baby on his or her side will be disorganized, but if he or she is on top of the mom in a laid back position, you’ll be amazed at how capable he or she is.”

“The best thing for pregnant moms to do to prepare for breastfeeding is to learn about the importance of skin to skin and laid back breastfeeding, “ Laurel Wilson, IBCLC, the owner of MotherJourney told me. “Skin to skin is not just for the first hour after birth. It is a way of being with your baby in those early days and weeks that helps you extend that connection you felt during pregnancy. It keeps baby close for breastfeeding, keeps them calm and nurtured, and regulates his or her temperature, breathing, and heart rate. It is the key to the best experience possible after the baby is born.” Lucia agrees, saying “Skin to skin is not an event, it’s a place for your baby to transition over the first few weeks. Plan on doing lots of babywearing with your baby just in a diaper.”

Next week I'll continue this blog post with more tips on how to prepare prenatally for breastfeeding.