Booby Traps Series: Breastfeeding classes – essential or outdated?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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12 Responses to Booby Traps Series: Breastfeeding classes – essential or outdated?

  1. Amber Mc. says:

    I wholeheartedly agree! I think that prenatal, FACE TO FACE education is really important. But I also agree that we have to rethink our models for teaching these classes. Let’s keep this conversation going…I think there are great new things on the horizon for breastfeeding education!

  2. Sarah says:

    I took a class, and to be honest, the theory went RIGHT over my head as it does for most first time mothers! We know that the practice is very different. But, that knowledge was so essential so when I did have a tender breast, I could remember from my notes, hmmm…this could be a plugged duct? Or I could look back and see what other holds to do to help my reflux baby. Or remember something vaguely about how to keep a sleepy baby awake, then go online to pad out my knowledge.
    Most important are the connections that are made through a class. I could call the class leader for help. Or my lactation consultant at the hospital, who taught me wonderfully, could give me phone numbers to get home visits. You have GOT to step into that help circle as a first time breastfeeder to make it work.

  3. alex says:

    Totally agree that the class should leave you feeling confident that you can actually do it. Our Bradley Method class instructor added a 13th class that was entirely focused on breastfeeding. She shared a ton of information and resources for support if we needed it. Not only was it very helpful for me, it was helpful for my husband. Thanks to him being as educated as I was, he was able to encourage me to keep going and offered suggestions when we were struggling. Since many OBs aren’t educated on breastfeeding, they should really be encouraging their patients to sign up for breastfeeding classes.

  4. Rita Miller says:

    I did not go to a class. Instead I read and went to LLL meetings before my baby was born. My doula was very involved with La Leche League and I had seen her and quite a few other mothers nurse during my pregnancy. When problems occurred, I had less than stellar advice from the LC on staff. In her defense, she was very overworked, but nipple shields when not explained can be a painful sort of crutch. The first couple weeks were very fuzzy and puctuated with crying, but I persevered and re-connected with the local LLL group. Seeing other mothers nurse and talking to those who have nursed, believe in nursing and are committed to giving up to date information is the best sort of class I could take.
    Today, I recommend that a pregnant lady attend at least 2 meetings, if not a complete series (4) before she welcomes her new child. Volunteer mommas are more likely to come and help a mom they have met before and the knowledge and familiarity with what nursing looks like is priceless.

  5. courtney says:

    I took one and loved it so much that I got trained to teach them and now have CLE after my name:)

  6. LOL at the comments and questions you got from students.

    I took a one-day prenatal class and then an hour-long-ish? breastfeeding class at our hospital (which was very breastfeeding-friendly). And they must have asked me six times if I was going to attend the class too. I’m not in touch with anyone from either of those classes because frankly, we weren’t there long enough together.

    I thought at the time that the prenatal class – one day: slam, bang, thank you ma’am – would be easier considering my husband worked shifts and the weekly classes were on weekday evenings, but looking back I think it would have been helpful to take classes week after week. I think the retention would have been better (as surely there would have been review here and there spurred by questions and comments) and that there would have been a better chance of connecting with some other soon-to-be parents.

    All in all, I think classes ARE indeed important, however I agree with Tanya that you need to find a *good* class as there are good teachers and not so great ones.

  7. Shena says:

    We paid for classes at our hospital, birthing and breastfeeding, with my first pregnancy (I believe it was 3 or 4 nights total) and with this last pregnancy I attended a short hour long breastfeeding class offered by the local WIC office (Health Dept) mostly as a refresher course and found all to be very helpful. The employees at the WIC office even gave me personal phone numbers to several employees in case I needed help with breastfeeding after office hours and they have a breastfeeding peers support group. Amazing ladies all around!! Classes are definitely a must have for information but I’ve also found that having one on one relationships with someone is extremely helpful!! I have a relative and a good friend who both have helped inform me beyond what the classes offered and I am truly grateful for them! (Right down to info like what are the best nursing bras/clothes, where to buy them, etc… they don’t teach that in class but it’s important to know!) Also, I think our little network of breastfeeding buddies is helping to sway another friend towards breastfeeding who wasn’t even considering it before! YAY!

  8. Debbie Page says:

    This is an excellent article. What I have found through leading support groups and having a private practice as an IBCLC, is that 95% of my moms say the class they attended was useless and/or they promoted pillows and gliders and pumps. They say they learned more online and from books, but even those had not really taught them the bare essentials. That’s why I started the free weekly breastfeeding webinar. This doesn’t substitute for an in-person class but really equips a women to know how breastfeeding works and what to do from the birth and when to call for help. I am sure there are great classes out there but not in our area according to hundreds of moms I’ve asked.

  9. Debbie Page says:

    Another thought about breastfeeding classes is that much of what is being taught is outdated– all about “latch” and positioning. Really? Who cares the name of positions? And babies don’t latch, they grasp the breast. And don’t peek at the lips! Really? A mother has to use pillows to breastfeed? Are the breastfeeding teachers staying on the cutting edge of the latest about babies and what they can do or are they stuck in the 90’s way of micromanaging everything a breastfeeding mother does.

  10. Debbie Page says:

    I agree that meeting with someone face to face is wonderful, if that person is teaching you how breastfeeding works and how to know whether it is or not. I like giving people a brief 30 minute intro via the web through my breastfeeding webinar. People then get the basics of breastfeeding before they attend a face to face class. In our area the moms tell me the breastfeeding classes didn’t help them at all- more focus on micromanaging the latch, names of positions, pillows and buying a glider.But I am sure there are excellent classes being taught somewhere.

  11. Debbie Page says:

    I hope I’m not double posting, but my posts from yesterday did not show up. I agree with Amber that face to face breastfeeding classes are important. What I am hearing from many moms is that the classes they took were useless and/or they just didn’t want to go out at night to take a class. That’s one of the reasons I started my online breastfeeding webinar that I offer every week. Plus too many classes focus on micromanaging the latch, using pillows and other products. I think very little, if any information is given about how competent babies are and how the booby traps interfere with the moms and babies having a satisfying breastfeeding relationship.

  12. Penny says:

    i took a class myself. it was helpful. i teach bradley and i encourage my students to take a class but i do devote almost 2 hours of instruction on nursing as part of my class, and i refer to nursing a lot in consecutive classes, i also encourage my students to look through my pinterest board about breastfeeding, and plus i am usually nursing a baby over half of the class also :)

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