You've outlined your birth plan and finally vetted a doula. Your registry features the latest Medela pump and that cool-looking tube top that frees your hands for easy milk expression. What's missing? A CLC (certified lactation consultant). Here's why you should find her early on in your pregnancy.
Nothing went right during my pregnancy. So when I was actually able to produce milk, I was both shocked and THRILLED. Finally, something my body got right with this whole maternal thing! As a dietitian, I'm well aware of the benefits for both mother and baby. But as a patient, I needed the help of a CLC to get the process going. When someone helps you collect DROPLETS of breast milk to deliver to your premature baby after you've undergone an emergency C-section, you can't help but be in awe of her. And when I pretty much took up permanent residence in the NICU, the support continued - with pumping, feeding, skin - to - skin contact, and eventually, latching. The many RNs who are also CLCs at Mt. Sinai West will forever hold a very, very special place in my heart. Early support was crucial, and this goes for moms of preemies and full-term babies alike. So if you're pregnant, be prepared and find one NOW.
Breastfeeding has become a divisive, politicized issue. I recently read this piece pleading women to choose between being a "lactivist" or a feminist. Seems a bit harsh, no? "Lactivist" is a derogatory term, and I've never met one of these offensive, shaming creatures in real life. (Sounds like one of the stereotypes from my previous Mommy Monday post.) What I HAVE met are respectful, sensitive, supportive CLCs who help make it possible for mothers to feed their babies.
One of these women is Fadhylla Saballos. A Brooklyn-based public health nutritionist and CLC, Fadhylla has worked to improve the health of New Yorkers through her positions with WIC, the Children's Aid Society, and the Stellar Farmers Market program (where we met!). When she's not working, she's directing her infectious energy toward various political causes and volunteer work. She's the REAL face of "lactivism" AND a feminist. Yes, one woman can be both, thank you very much! Here's our chat about who can utilize a CLC, breastfeeding myths, and how partners can support a mother's lactation efforts.
NR: Who can benefit most from enlisting the help of a CLC? Is there a particular time in the cycle of breastfeeding during which having some guidance is crucial? I was personally very, very grateful to give birth at a hospital that employed many RNs who were also CLCs, so I had help from day one!
FS: I would say any mom can benefit from the support of CLC! Like birthing, each breastfeeding experience is unique and can bring new and different challenges. New mothers often need help with latch position and reassurance they are and will be able to make enough milk for their baby. More experienced mothers can develop plugged ducts, mastitis and other issues that can be best resolved with the support of a CLC. Ultimately, the first six weeks postpartum are the most important in order to develop a good milk supply. Therefore, it’s important for anyone to seek help immediately if the encounter any difficulties within those first weeks in order to build that breastfeeding relationship between mom and baby.
NR: What is the biggest misconception you hear about breastfeeding?
FS: I would say that the biggest misconception about breastfeeding is that it is harder or more time consuming than formula feeding. In reality, breastfeeding mothers tend to sleep a little more than mothers who formula feed. If you think about it, when you have a newborn, whether you are breastfeeding or not, you still have to wake up and check on the baby very often. Breastfeeding mothers save time and money by putting the baby on the breast without having to prepare, measure, or clean anything. They also receive a boost of Oxytocin, the love hormone, which lets them sleep better.
NR: There are so many supplements on the market geared toward increasing lactation - pills, cookies, tonics - are any of them necessary? What's your nutrition advice for the concerned mother?
FS: I wish there was a magic supplement that I could recommend, but there is really no substitute for a healthy diet. In every culture, there are many wonderful traditional recipes to help mothers develop a good milk supply. What they really have is a boost of vitamins and minerals necessary for lactation, one of those minerals is iron. It is very common for mothers to have depleted iron stores, and this can make a difference in breastfeeding supply. Iron is necessary to transport oxygen to milk producing cells and often times, a boost of iron from the oats and molasses in the lactation cookies, can do the trick. Ultimately, our body is meant to produce milk even in the most dire of circumstances, the most important way to develop a good milk supply is to offer the breast on demand, for example while the baby is still semi-asleep (their eyelids are closed but their eyes are moving, as if dreaming) or awake yet quiet, maybe even looking side to side for the breast. This will help the breasts gauge how much to produce at their next feed. When in doubt, offer breast!
NR: How can partners best support a mother's breastfeeding efforts? I've heard of a mother being asked to pump in the bathroom - by her HUSBAND in her OWN HOME! Can you imagine!?
FS: How does he think human beings survived for centuries without formula?!?! I hope his wife set him straight. Anyways…
NR: Right?! That's a great point!
FS: I think the best way in which partners can support breastfeeding is by having an open conversation about it as early as possible and making an effort to read about it as much as they can. Once they are on the same page about the benefits for both mom and baby, I think they can really appreciate how much effort it can take and that is the best start. I think partners can definitely take on more of the other household responsibilities in order to free time for mom to feed the baby, give mom some time to herself and bond with the baby by taking him/her out on a walk, and support mom by not being weird about her pulling out her chichi in public. Oh! And putting people in their place if they say something demeaning about breastfeeding in public.
Ultimately, I’m a big believer in normalizing breastfeeding again. The more visible it is, the more women will see that it is just another part of motherhood, and it will open up the space for mothers to ask each other for help and support they need in order to have a good breastfeeding experience and dispel the myths around breastfeeding.
NR: I could't agree more! Thank you for your expert advice!