Booby Traps Series: Breastfeeding classes – essential or outdated?

This is the seventh in a series of posts on Booby Traps™ during pregnancy, made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

I taught breastfeeding classes at two local hospitals for about four years, and there certainly were some memorable moments.

I’ll never forget this exchange between me and one of the moms in my class:

Me: I wasn’t always a lactation consultant. This is a career change for me. See if you can guess what happened: I changed careers after I had a … (no response). Um, it starts with a ‘b’ . . . I had a ‘b____’
Expecting mom: A breakdown?

Or this one, with an expecting dad:

Me: Let’s say you’re engorged and it’s 4:00 am and the supermarket’s closed. What do you have in your house which you could use as a cold compress? (I was thinking frozen peas)
Expecting dad: Steak!
Me: Steak? Really?
Expecting dad: Don’t you remember that Brady Bunch episode where Bobby gets a black eye and they put a steak on it?

Breastfeeding classes can help you get off to the best start with breastfeeding in a number of ways. (And by breastfeeding class, we don’t mean 20 minutes tacked on to the end of your childbirth class!) A good breastfeeding class (and all classes are not created equal) will give you the basic, accurate information you need so you have it at your fingertips: How often does the baby need to eat? How soon after delivery should I feed the baby? What positions can I hold the baby in for nursing? How long am I supposed to do this? What do I say to my mother-in-law if she disapproves? What if I spill salsa on my baby while nursing? (Yes, I was once asked this in a class.)

But they also serve a couple of other important purposes which might not be as obvious.

1) Inspiring commitment and increasing your chances of success. One hospital parenting education director told me that, without fail, when moms called to register breastfeeding classes they would say, “Well, I’m going to try to breastfeed, but…”

Good breastfeeding classes leave you sold on breastfeeding, and committed to making it work. This isn’t hard to achieve; breastfeeding sells itself if you know what evidence to share, and how to share it. I always thought of the classes I taught as one part education and one part inspiration. My job was to move people move from “I’m going to try but it might not work out,” to “I’m going to do this.” I recently dug out the evaluations from my classes, and found comments like, “I actually feel like I can do it,” and “I knew very little and was fairly nervous. I feel much more confident and excited!” That’s the goal.

Moms who are firmly committed are more likely to be resourceful and empowered, and are motivated to navigate the Booby Traps™ and achieve their personal breastfeeding goals. Some will avoid the Booby Traps altogether!

2) Creating a support network. Are you in touch with moms who were in your childbirth class? Breastfeeding and childbirth classes are places where families connect, and these connections can form an important support network for breastfeeding. I’ve seen this happen and have even remained friends with families who took my classes.

3) Providing a pipeline. When I handed out my resource list I made people promise not to put it in their growing piles of “hospital stuff” but to post it on the refrigerator as soon as they got home. I didn’t want them digging through their papers or searching the internet at 3:00 am. Your breastfeeding class instructor should be able to refer you to an excellent breastfeeding support resources in the area. They will also be a gateway to the best breastfeeding-friendly birthing and pediatric resources in your area, such as midwives, labor or post-partum doulas, ob-gyns and pediatricians – even where you can get the best deal on a pump or nursing bra.

So what should you look for in a breastfeeding class? The instructor should have training in breastfeeding support, and you might look for the initials IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), CLC (Certified Lactation Counselor), or CLE (Certified Lactation Educator) behind their names. WIC breastfeeding peer counselors also teach breastfeeding classes and have received training to do so.

Equally as important is an instructor who knows how to teach. I’ve seen a lot of breastfeeding classes, and unfortunately some are led by lovely people who are passionate about breastfeeding but who don’t know how to teach. Your class should be led by someone who has a clear agenda, can communicate well, uses a variety of media (video, dolls, other props), leaves plenty of time to discuss your questions and concerns, and has a way of teaching that keeps you engaged and entertained, and very importantly, makes it easy for you to remember what is taught. You should leave with useful, well-designed handouts that you can refer to before and after the birth. Our best tip for finding a teacher is to contact the birth community in your area: whether or not you plan to use a doula or midwife, it is guaranteed that these professionals can steer you towards the best breastfeeding classes (and other resources) in your area. You can also try yoga studios, a natural health store, or a birth & baby boutique in your area, especially if they carry breastfeeding supplies. A word of caution: some hospitals have great breastfeeding classes, even if they have abysmal c-section and breastfeeding rates, some have terrible ones.

I’ll close with a few questions for you:

In spite of all these reasons why breastfeeding classes are important, parenting education directors at several hospitals tell me that enrollment in all of their classes–childbirth, breastfeeding, new baby care, safety–has been declining in recent years. They attribute this to the availability of information online, to how busy families are, and to a general sense that classes aren’t important.

So, I’m curious: Did you take a breastfeeding class? Was it helpful? Did it connect you to other moms? Why do you think that fewer women are taking classes these days?

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12 Comments | Last revised on 04/14/2011

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