Guest Author: Johanna Tomlinson, PhD, MCPCD, M​​BE, MCE, ISE

Guest Author: Johanna Tomlinson, PhD, MCPCD, M​​BE, MCE, ISE

Johanna Tomlinson is the doula and educator behind Nested Mama. She specializes in fertility doula support, postpartum doula support, breastfeeding and childbirth education, and infant and toddler sleep. When not supporting families, she can be found learning and exploring outside alongside her four kiddos.

In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week and Breastfeeding Awareness Month, we invited local doula and breastfeeding educator Johanna Tomlinson PhD, MCPCD, M​​BE, MCE, ISE of Nested Mama to share some words of advice to mothers and expectant mothers about the breastfeeding journey.

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.

But, for many, the journey to nourish their little one with their bodies’ milk comes with challenges. If you’ve heard that it takes a village to raise a child, know this — you deserve a village of support when it comes to bringing that little one into the world and making your way through the childbearing years. Knowing where to turn to for support can empower you to meet the challenges of life with your new baby.

Take a breastfeeding class.

Ideally, any breastfeeding journey begins with prenatal education that prepares you for what to expect. The physical, mental, and emotional experience of feeding your baby will present challenges. While the internet is full of information, I believe a breastfeeding class where a knowledgeable professional answers your questions in real time is worth the investment. There are two things to look for when considering class options — that the course is evidence-based AND nonjudgmental.

Evidence-based means that the information the class shares with you is based on best lactation practices as found in research — not opinion. This can be crucial in helping you to be able to approach your breastfeeding journey with the information you need to make informed choices.

Nonjudgmental means that the class is taught from the perspective that you, as the parent, ultimately know what is best for your family. A nonjudgmental class can be key to the hard work of shaking off external pressures when it comes to your feeding choices and tuning into what you know to be the right path for you.

Lean on your partner or support person.

When I teach breastfeeding classes in a group or one-on-one, I highly recommend that partners or key support people attend with the soon-to-be breastfeeding parent. One of the best tools for parenting in the days and weeks after a baby is born is to create a list of realistic expectations. Healing from birth and feeding a baby with a tiny tummy around the clock is no small task. By taking the class together, you and your partner can start off with a shared set of expectations. 

Beyond taking a class together, your partner is crucial in their ability to take over family responsibilities. This allows the breastfeeding parent to focus on the important and exhausting work of feeding a baby on demand. Milk production becomes a matter of supply and demand after the initial hormones of birth. The time that the baby spends on the breast is incredibly important in building up a milk supply. It isn’t uncommon to feel like your whole day is a cycle of feedings and diapers again and again. Feeling supported to focus your energy on this can be a game changer.

Reach out to a doula for support.

Having doula support during the postpartum time can give both you and your partner some much needed rest and reassurance. Postpartum doulas provide support that includes evidence-based information about birthing parent healing and infant care. They also offer emotional support in this crucial time of transition. Additionally, in-home postpartum doula support can include light housework, meal prep, infant-feeding support, and baby care. Having the ability to take a shower, eat a meal hands free, or get some sleep can make all the difference.

Your postpartum doula brings knowledge and experience about breastfeeding and biologically normal infant behavior. This can be so helpful in finding reassurance about your baby in the early days.

Consult a lactation professional.

If a question or concern falls outside your doula’s scope of practice, the next likely connection is with a lactation professional. There are several levels of lactation expertise. A lactation counselor brings training and knowledge specific to breastfeeding while an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is a healthcare professional that carries a clinical designation. Many breastfeeding professionals run free breastfeeding support groups. Creating connections with other breastfeeding parents through a support group can help you feel not alone.

Choose a medical provider who supports your breastfeeding journey.

When it comes to questions concerning your baby’s growth and development, a breastfeeding-friendly pediatrician should be your ‘go to’ resource. Knowledge about breastfeeding and biologically normal infant behavior can vary from provider to provider. It is a good idea to interview providers while you are expecting and ask breastfeeding friends for recommendations. This will help you find the provider who is the right fit for supporting your breastfeeding journey.

Take care of your mental health through therapy.

When I teach breastfeeding and postpartum classes, I encourage families to identify a mental health provider who specializes in supporting families in the perinatal period. It is especially helpful to do this before baby is born. The hormones of birth and breastfeeding alongside the challenges of life as a new family often bring a range of emotions.

If something feels ‘off’ with the emotional and mental load of parenting, reaching out for help from a trusted mental health professional is always a good idea. Breastfeeding and challenges related to infant feeding can bring with them big feelings for the breastfeeding parent. It is wise to gather support for your mental well-being as you negotiate these challenges. 

When it comes to the work of feeding and raising tiny humans, it should never be a one-person job. If you find you need more support, know this — you are strong and the choice to ask for and receive support is a sign of that strength. There is no single “right” or “wrong” feeding journey for you and your baby. There is only the path that works for your family.

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