Have You Noticed What’s Missing From Your Prenatal Care?

Most women in the western world have access to regular prenatal care.

Through these appointments, the overall health of the mother and baby are regularly checked and discussed.

But there is one vital issue that seems to fall through the cracks during prenatal visits – and giving women this information could make all the difference.

It seems ironic – if not completely ridiculous – that many obstetricians do not talk to their patients about what they can expect when breastfeeding their newborns.

Although it is the most natural way for new moms to feed and bond with their infants, many women don’t understand (especially with their first child) that beginning the breastfeeding process can be frustrating and scary, or that it involves an adjustment period.

A U.S. Surgeon General’s report in the Journal of Pediatrics stated that “qualitative research with mothers has revealed that information about breastfeeding and infant formula is rarely provided by women’s obstetricians during their prenatal visits.

Mothers are also uncertain about what to expect with breastfeeding and how to actually carry it out. Even though breastfeeding is often described as “natural,” it is also an art that has to be learned by both the mother and the newborn.”

The report notes that many new moms expect breastfeeding to come easily, and when it becomes frustrating, many stop breastfeeding within two weeks post-partum.

Skills like nursing positions, helping the baby to effectively latch on, and what to do about the sometimes extreme nipple pain in the first week or so would better prepare new moms to hang on through the adjustment period.

New moms are exhausted and scared, and when faced with breastfeeding for the first time, often give up.  The report states that the difference in expectations versus reality is most often due to a lack of discussion about breastfeeding during prenatal visits.

Although new moms meet with a lactation consultant in the hospital following delivery, the visits are often brief and information is often not absorbed in the haze of having just given birth.

The Surgeon General reports that “trends were found for improved summary scores for maternal affectionate love/touch during observed breastfeeding and maternal attachment behavior. [Breastfed] infants cried for a shorter length of time.

So why is lactation consultation not a regular part of prenatal visits?  After all, feeding and bonding with baby are the most important aspects of a newborn thriving.  Breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition, and the skin-to-skin contact it provides is irreplaceable.

Well, obstetricians recently discussed the issue with Romper.com.  Some said that obstetrics students in residency work so many hours (often over a hundred a week) on every aspect of pregnancy and delivery — including all risks, diseases, and conditions possible in mom and baby — that there is no time left for education on lactation.

Romper reported:

“Residents today are limited to how many hours they can work. They’re doing all these deliveries, but they spend very little time with postpartum patients. There isn’t an opportunity anymore for doctors to work with breastfeeding moms because typically, they only see them once postpartum.”

Physicians who wish to become lactation consultants in addition to their primary obstetrics residency period are looking at many more hours of training per week.

They also state that because there are lactation consultants in every hospital, it is not a “high priority” in the multitude of other issues that need to be addressed in a physician’s education.  Obstetricians take care of two patients each time they see a pregnant mom, so the training is extensive.

Another train of thought is that many obstetricians believe that modern formulas are equal in nutritional value to breast milk.  Although not everyone is able to breastfeed, this misconception should not keep new moms from trying.

Pregnant moms who tell their physicians they are struggling with breastfeeding are often left to get their information from books or pamphlets and once they leave the hospital, they must hire their own lactation consultant – which can be costly.

Some OB’s, particularly those who are mothers themselves, see the importance of making breastfeeding education a part of prenatal visits with their patients.

But they recommend that moms need to be their own advocates and ask questions about what to expect and who they can turn to for help if they struggle post-partum.

Never feel intimidated to insist on your physician taking time to answer your questions.  Ask for resources.  And reach out to friends or family members who have some nursing experience behind them.  They won’t mind if you call them crying in frustration, because they’ve been there before!

Above all, hang on through that tough adjustment period.  You and baby will get the hang of it, and you will never regret the special bond that breastfeeding provides.  In fact, over time, you will learn how easy and convenient it really is – no bottles and formula to lug around and prepare.

The health benefits to mom – like reduced cancer risk and 500 or so calories burned a day – are also a great incentive!

We mommies at Mommy Underground are here with support, encouragement, and the latest news on breastfeeding and want you to know that you can do it!

Are you a first-time mom who is concerned about learning to breastfeed?  Or are you a veteran who has advice for new moms about any challenges you faced?  Leave us your thoughts.

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