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Do I need a class for breastfeeding?

You may wonder if you need a class for breastfeeding?

A breastfeeding class prepares parents for the fundamentals of breastfeeding.

In an ideal world, you would have breastfed, watched your siblings breastfeed and all your sisters, aunties, co-workers and friends would have taught you a bit about normal breastfeeding throughout your life.

In a traditional culture, your mother, or mother-in-law, would move in after your birth for a month or two, bringing her knowledge about breastfeeding, traditional foods to support lactation and plenty of elbow grease to keep your little household running smoothly during your recovery.

In lieu of that, a two-hour course will cover the following. It can help give you a good start whether or not your mother is coming to live with you.

Preparation during pregnancy

You will learn how to receive a breastpump through insurance and what you need to do, so it's ready to go if you need it.

Pregnancy is also the time to talk to your employer about your plans to return to work and what kind of accomodations you will need if you're pumping. In New York State, the law protects your right to pump at work until your child is three years old.

Somebody probably told you how to toughen your nipples by rubbing them with a washcloth. Rather than doing this, learn to massage your breasts to wake them up. You also learn about expressing your colostrum prenatally so you have supplemental food should your baby need it in the hospital. 

And you will hear about how wonderful (and how awful) breastfeeding can be.

Beginning breastfeeding

The first five days are challenging and many parents are overwhelmed by their new responsibilities. You will learn how to negotiate the first hour of your baby's life and why it's important to keep your baby on you skin-to-skin, even though not every hospital allows it. The law protects your rights to have this, and you will learn how to advocate for it.

In addition, you may not have access to a Lactation Consultant in the hospital because either your schedule and hers don't line up. You will watch and receive a short list of excellent videos that can help you through this time. 

Common problems

In the first five days, there are four common problems: sore nipples, engorgement, baby not latching well and feeling like you don't have enough milk. All of these problems have simple solutions that are not commonly taught by hospital staff but are covered in breastfeeding class. For instance, simply leaning back into a reclining position can make sore nipples vanish and cause babies to open their mouth wide. 

Solving breastfeeding problems in a hospital often takes breastfeeding away from mothers and substitutes it with pumping and formula. Breastfeeding classes not only offers you simple solutions that keep you breastfeeding but also teach how to advocate for your baby's needs.

How to know when you need help

There are four barriers that keep women from getting the help they need.

  1. Stubbornness and the belief that they can power through it.
  2. Not knowing where to get help, or what kind is needed.
  3. People or places to get help don't exist.
  4. Not knowing the warning signs and red flags


It may seem strange to talk about ending breastfeeding before it's even begun, but it's important.  Weaning always takes time -- weeks or months, not days. Sudden weaning can make you painfully miserable or even sick. You will learn strategies for every age when weaning might happen.

Support groups

A class gives you information on local and online support groups. The easiest way to prepare yourself for breastfeeding is to attend breastfeeding support groups while you are still pregnant. It's also important is to talk on the phone or meet with at least one International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC.)

If you are surrounded by women who breastfeed, they can cheer you on and model what's coming up in your future. When you don't have the perspective from shared experiences, its easy to magnify your problems in your head. And that leads to anxiety, stress, feeling discouraged and not meeting your breastfeeding goals.

How Partners and Grandparents fit into breastfeeding

While you might be the rebel of the family already, it's a lot easier if your significant-other and parents support your breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding involves some bare breasts in the beginning. You will probably feel self-conscious and the last thing you need is family members acting all self-righteous and shocked. Or making snarky comments about boobs. Or trying to be "helpful" by suggesting the baby needs a bottle.

A class prepares you to tell them and you can bring them to the breastfeeding class so you are all on the same page. 

Remember, this is your baby. You are the mom, and Gramma is not. She may have some feelings about this, but she had her baby and this is yours!

Selecting a breast pump and essentials if you are returning to work.

Call your insurance company to see what they offer in breast pumps and how to receive one. Insurance companies and pumps all work a little differently and it can take some time, so don't leave it to the last minute. If you need one in the hospital, a hospital grade pump will be provided for you.

The class gives you reviews about different pumps and how to select the right one for you.

Pacifiers, safe bottle feeding, & suckling

When a person of authority insists that you stop breastfeeding when you are learning how to breastfeed, and you aren't ready, you need a solution. There is a time and a place for pacifiers and bottle feeding and there is almost always a breastfeeding solution, if you want to do that.

Breast compressions can replace pumping and keep babies awake. A spoon can replace a bottle. Breastfeeding can replace a pacifier. 

These are all components of a good breastfeeding class. It gives you a good foundation for learning what to expect and how beginning breastfeeding can be a wonderful thing.

Why do women fail at breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding Infant

"I gave birth on Friday. There was no lactation help over the weekend. A pediatrician would only discharge us if we fed the baby 4 oz. of formula. I was anxious and I didn't know what to do, and ultimately, I failed at breastfeeding my baby."

Read more: Why do women fail at breastfeeding?

When Baby Stops Nursing, it's a Strike!

"Hey, so all of the sudden my three month won't eat. He won't take my breast and if he does, it's a very short feed. He screams if I even put him in the position. I have milk and it's leaking out-- even shooting out now--because I'm so full. I tried a bottle with a slow nipple -- he took some and then started crying. 

He has NEVER been like this before. He loves breastfeeding and his weight is great - 20 pounds at 3 months. He is an awesome eater and I'm worried. Should I call the pediatrician? He's arching his back, do you think he has reflux? I'm worried because he hasn't had many wet diapers. He needs to eat and I feel like I am going to burst!"

Read more: When Baby Stops Nursing, it's a Strike!

Why “Self-Soothing” is a Bad Idea

Long ago in the time of the sabertooth tiger, we developed a survival tool -- the “fight or flight” responses.

And we still use them today. Briefly, when faced with danger, humans get a burst of adrenaline that switches off less important body functions like digestion or lactation, and prepares them to fight an attacker, or flee dangerous situations with superhuman amounts of strength and energy. But just in case this doesn't work, we also developed a back-up response.

We learned how to freeze.

The “freeze” response shuts down the whole body so as to appear dead. This is an attempt to become less visible, or to fool a predator into thinking that the victim is inedible because they are already dead. It may also serve to make the victim numb in the event they are eaten.

Also way back when, mothers carried her baby all the time.

Humans did not always live in relatively safe shelters like houses and apartments. Babies are helpless for quite a period of time and dependent on their parents for food, safety and protection. If you set your baby down and walked away, there was a good chance your baby would not be there when you got back. So families kept babies close and responded to their signals quickly so as not to attract the attention of predators looking for an easy meal.

Baby has a need--mom responds--need is met--baby survives.

So first, they coo or whimper, if there is no response, they cry. Mothers are made to respond to their baby’s cry. You probably can’t stand to hear your baby cry and that’s how it's supposed to be. Babies also have no sense of time. When a baby is separated from his mother, he can’t know she is coming back “in just a minute”. 

If the mother doesn’t respond, the baby gets scared.

Feeling scared activates an adrenaline rush and escalates baby's response. Now they cry louder and harder. They are incapable of fighting or running without his mom. Baby is certain she is gone, because if she was near, she would have responded to their cries. When a baby reaches a certain level of stress, he gives up. He goes into the freeze response. By dramatically lowering his heartrate, breathing and digestion, he appears dead to predators and has a greater chance of surviving. It also conserves energy.

The freeze response is mistakenly called “self soothing.” 

When parents ignore their baby, what baby hears is this: “I am going to ignore your needs.” and “Stop asking for help.” And many babies do just this.

Some babies don’t give up. This is the fight response.

You may know a baby that will not stop crying if left alone. He eventually teaches you to respond to his needs because they are just that: Needs. They might not be hungry, but the need for survival and protection is hardwired and requires you to stay close. Whatever the underlying need, he relies on you until he can think and act for himself and meet his own needs. When baby is old enough to understand that they are safe, only then, can he ‘self soothe’.

Humans are hardwired to connect with other humans

Maybe you can remember a time as an adult when you were in pain, scared or lonely. Maybe you were even frustrated, tired or hungry. Maybe just bored. If you were alone, how did you sort it out? Were you able to self soothe? Or did you handle it in some other way, maybe eat chocolate, watch TV, smoke a joint or have a glass of wine?

A healthy way to deal with pain is to receive empathy through connection with other humans. This is why support groups and therapy work. If you have a healthy relationship with your parents, it's because they offer empathy when you are frustrated.

You can't undo what is hardwired.

One of the traps new parents fall into is thinking they have to teach their baby to self-soothe.  Infants are too young to consciously self-soothe.  You probably know some babies who do “self-soothe” and you may wonder why your baby does or does not. If your baby does, it's because they are easy-going and trusting by nature. If your baby does not, holding them and responding promptly to their needs will build that trust and feeling of safety. It may take a few years before they are comfortable being alone, but you can trust that time will come when your child feels safe enough.

The Seven Sorrows of Mary

My kids and I celebrated our yearly Road Trip.

We decided to spend quite a bit of time swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. If you never swam in the ocean, or if you are afraid, here is something you may know.: If you try to face waves standing up, they can easily knock you down.

Here is something you may not know: If you duck under the breakers, you pop out on the backside of the wave, easily. This works even with really big waves, like those that come with a hurricane. I am not suggesting you swim during a hurricane…but ducking waves and surrendering to being pulled around by the ocean are two good principles to use in everyday life, as well as ocean breakers.

We stayed with family in Florida.

They offered to take us to see The Fort and The Great Cross in St. Augustine. I wasn’t sure about it, but they were into it, and we agreed to go, to be polite. The Great Cross turned out to be at The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. The very same shrine that La Leche League is named after! It is a shrine dedicated to motherhood and all mothers.

The Shrine is simple and beautiful.

The shrine itself is in a one room chapel with some benches, an altar and an brilliant statue of Mary nursing Jesus.  Mary is sitting in an illuminated alcove nursing Jesus, and above the alcove is a crucifix with Jesus. There are reliefs around the chapel depicting The Stations of The Cross.

As a mother, I was struck by life and death right next to each other. 

Clearly, Mary was not an ordinary mother, but she was human. I would imagine she felt overwhelmed and daunted by her responsibilities, as most mothers do. And yet, she found faith within her connection and communication with God that gave her hope and patience. She was able to see and understand the larger picture of why she was raising her child. Most mothers don’t have that larger picture, and they lose patience and hope.

At the same time, she was told all that would happen.

I don’t think she could have believed it. There are always things to surprise us in our lives. These surprises challenge us, and force us to reexamine our thinking. They force us to consider what is important. They give us a choice to be either overwhelmed or to respond with grace. In a lot of ways, our troubles are like ocean waves.

Whether you call it centering yourself, praying, or being composed in the face of tragedy, it is a lot like ducking the wave.

You come into acceptance that you can’t fight it, you bow your head and wait for it to pass, swimming in that source of love and faith. The more time I spend in the divine qualities of patience and compassion, the better I feel. I can trust that I don’t have the full picture or understanding of the turmoil I am facing. It is enough to duck below the breaking wave and feel the churning pass overhead. I don’t have to take it full on.

Also at The Mission, is a meditation walk of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

I skipped the meditation walk for my kids’ sake. They were eager to see The Fort and I was satisfied with the time they had given to me for sitting in the chapel.

I think a lot about Mary as a mother.

I wasn’t raised Catholic, and because of the time period she lived, there isn’t that much written about her. I can only imagine, that, if being a mother of any child is hard work, being the mother of Jesus must have been especially overwhelming.

When I researched The Seven Sorrows, they were truly awful.

They were hurricane-sized problems that no mother should have to live through. When things are hard for me, (and I haven’t had any of these!) I do think about how much love, faith, compassion, patience and other divine qualities she must have been forced to learn. I say to myself: “If Mary could do it, then I can.”  Somehow, this gives me more strength to overcome my doubts about whether or not I am doing the right thing when I mother my children.

Mary learned to be a Saint through her mothering.

She may have started with more patience and faith than the rest of us, but surely her child helped her to grow spiritually into a more patient, loving and faithful person. And this is the lesson I hope to learn from my mothering experience.

If you are curious, these are The Seven Sorrows:
1. The Prophecy of Simeon over the Infant Jesus. (Gospel of Luke 2:34)
2. The Flight into Egypt of the Holy Family. (Gospel of Matthew 2:13)
3. The Loss of the Child Jesus for Three Days. (Luke 2:43)
4. The Meeting of Jesus and Mary along the Way of the Cross. (Luke 23:26)
5. The Crucifixion, where Mary stands at the foot of the cross. (Gospel of John 19:25)
6. The Descent from the Cross, where Mary receives the dead body of Jesus in her arms. (Matthew 27:57)
7. The Burial of Jesus. (John 19:40)

Here is the link for The Shrine:


The Bad Birth That Started it All

“We have to do a C-Section.”

The words shattered all my dreams and expectations of a natural childbirth.

I had tried so hard to relax and open up in the hospital and it had not worked. I was stuck at 6 or 7 cm and just not comfortable in the hospital. In hindsight, it was a typical progression for a hospital birth. At the time it was traumatic. And it set off a series of unfortunate events that culminated in the person I am today.

I came out of Labor and Delivery very sad.

When my baby and I were separated for 4 hours, I got very angry and rollercoasted between the two for the next year. Nursing got off to a bad start and took about two weeks to get comfortable. I spun into Postpartum Depression. I cried all the time. I lived in a half woken state. I thought about putting my baby in the oven. I hid the knives and then moved them again and again. I knew it was a bad idea to kill him, but the thoughts haunted me.

My family organized.

My mom got me breastfeeding help. She and my sister came over to help with the baby and take me out for lunch and shopping. My husband called La Leche League. He made me come back to work in our business, so I wouldn’t be unsupervised and tried to distract me. He called therapists and got me a physical. We started going to therapy as a family.

“Have you had thoughts of hurting your baby?”

“NO!” I lied. I thought they would separate me and my baby and probably hospitalize me. Whether or not this was true, it is what I believed. Separation would end our nursing relationship and THAT was the only thing going well. At that time, anti-depressants were untested on nursing mothers. I refused them, preferring to nurse. Over time, we now know that not only are they safe for breastfeeding, but exercising is shown equally as effective as drugs in studies of nursing mothers.

My baby was a fussy baby who didn’t sleep.

He was a 2.9 in the “Colic Rule of 3″ which was still enough to rattle anyone. And nursing was The Way To Soothe. I thought if I could just keep nursing and get some sleep, I would be OK.

Then, I did what turns out to be a key piece in overcoming depression.

I joined a playgroup. When my baby was six months old, I met 4 women at La Leche League and we (very shyly) agreed to meet weekly. This, more than anything, pulled me out of the hole. By one year, I still felt tired and angry, but only sad intermittantly.

It was at that time, I was invited to be a La Leche League Leader. I started the application process and the rest is another story.

Painful Breasts = Mastitis

"I had a c-section. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good during the first week, except for my nipples, which felt like hot coals. I thought that that was the worst thing that could happen until one morning, I woke up with incredible pain in my breasts as well."

Read more: Painful Breasts = Mastitis