Both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months with continued breastfeeding while introducing appropriate complementary foods past 6 months. We know that the majority of moms begin breastfeeding their newborns, yet many do not continue exclusive breastfeeding in line with recommendations. The reasons behind this are complex and individual to each mom and baby. However, a supportive environment where mom and baby feel at ease can support breastfeeding and make the experience a more positive one. In this blog, we consider how the environment affects your breastfeeding and the steps you can take to ensure the optimal environment for you and your baby when it comes to breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding and the Hospital Environment
Let’s consider the statistics. Research shows that whilst more than 80% of newborns are breastfed, only 56% of US babies are still being breastfed at 6-months of age, and just 25% have been exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months. It’s worth considering what many moms have around them in those very early days as they begin breastfeeding. We know that, in the United States, over 98% of women give birth in hospitals. In such an environment, women have access to support as they give babies their first breast-feed. A lactation consultant is on hand to help mom hold their baby and introduce the breast to their little one. Support is available in terms of learning the basics of nursing getting the baby to latch on correctly, and both mom and baby can benefit from advice about positioning. Such an environment is supportive and can be extremely helpful in getting the breastfeeding journey off to a great start.
Kangaroo Care in the Hospital Environment
Many hospitals and birth centers are now attuned to the benefits of so-called Kangaroo Care for breastfeeding, lactation consultants and midwives are being trained and encouraged to use Kangaroo Care. Otherwise known as skin-to-skin contact, Kangaroo Care involves placing the newborn against Mom’s skin soon after birth. Research has shown Kangaroo Care can support the establishment and success of breastfeeding. Skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby in the first 30 minutes after birth can positively impact both the success rate and duration of the first breast, setting mom and baby up for a hopeful breastfeeding journey over the coming weeks. Even when your baby is just minutes old, being in an environment where the people around you are supporting and encouraging Kangaroo Care can make a big difference to breastfeeding.
Transitioning to the Home Environment
Eventually, the time comes for mom and baby to return home. At this point, they are faced with the challenge of breastfeeding without the support of a lactation consultant on hand 24/7. 65% of women experience common breastfeeding struggles within the first week postpartum such as engorgement, painful or cracked nipples, low milk supply, and clogged ducts. Many women do benefit from the support of a doula, lactation consultant, or even an experienced family member in these early days. There are also local breastfeeding support groups, the LaVie mom facebook group, and sources of information that can help manage the transition from breastfeeding at the hospital to feeding at home. If possible, seek out contact information for additional forms of support before coming home with your newborn. Knowing you can tap into wisdom and experience from the comfort of your home environment can help families to feel more at ease about breastfeeding at home. We’ve partnered with a few lactation consultants that you can book virtual online breastfeeding or pumping consultations here or try out one of our favorite lactation consultant networks, Simplifed.
A Comfortable Home Environment for Feeding
Consider the spaces and places within your home where you plan to feed your baby. In those early days and weeks, your baby will be feeding often. A comfortable environment, free from stress and distraction can be extremely helpful in establishing breastfeeding. You are looking to have a place to sit that has adequate back support. Ensure you have space to have a drink of fresh water close to hand – breastfeeding is thirsty work. If you have had a C-section, it may be challenging to move and carry items initially. Therefore, be prepared and have any essential items within easy reach: muslins, cushions, lactation massager, breastfeeding essentials, and healthy snacks to replenish your energy levels and any medication you need to take should be close to hand. Such a setup can help you to feel calm and more able to focus on feeding. Whilst it may feel tempting to watch TV whilst you feed, you might also consider feeding in a quiet space, free from distractions, at least initially, whilst you establish breastfeeding.
Coming Clean about a Clutter-Free, Stress-Free Space for Feeding
Hoovering and scrubbing floors are likely to be at the bottom of your list of priorities when you arrive home with your newborn. However, there is something to be said for a clean and tidy space in which to breastfeed. We know that feeling calm and at ease can help the breastfeeding let-down reflex. Also known as the milk ejection reflex (MER), breastfeeding let-down is an automatic natural reaction that occurs as your baby breastfeeds. Mom’s brain releases the hormones prolactin and oxytocin which support the production of breast milk. Feeling relaxed in both body and mind can help with the let-down reflex. Therefore, consider how you can prepare a welcoming and calming environment in the home. Avoid clutter by making use of wicker baskets to store baby-related items. Enlist willing friends and family members to lend a hand with the cooking and cleaning up afterward. If needs be, arrange a professional home-clean once a week to help you maintain a relaxing and tidy home whilst you concentrate on feeding.
Cleaning is also essential if you are planning on expressing milk for storage and use at a later date. Ensure you scrupulously follow advice around sterilizing bottles and storage containers and that you wash hands thoroughly before expressing. A clean and hygienic environment in which to store milk is essential.
Breastfeeding Out and About
Feeding when you are out and about allows you and your baby to benefit from socialization and activity. Before too long, you and your baby will likely want to venture out of the home environment. At which point, feeding in public environments becomes a consideration.
The good news is that legislation now makes breastfeeding in public easier than in previous decades. The Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019 requires that certain public buildings that contain a public restroom also provide a lactation room, other than a bathroom, that is hygienic and available for use by a member of the public. It’s becoming more and more common for women to breastfeed in cafes and other public spaces. Whether you choose to feed in public, and if so where and when, will be an individual decision. It may help, initially, to connect with other breastfeeding mothers to share a coffee and connection when you first begin to venture towards feeding in public. Having other moms on hand can help for a supportive experience and allow you and your baby to transition to feeding outside of the home environment. Ensure you are organized, with muslins, breast pads, and lactation massager in your bag so things go smoothly.
Breastfeeding in the Work Environment
Many moms continue to offer their baby breastmilk, even when they return to work and their baby goes to day-care. In this situation, expressing milk can be helpful: to both maintain a good breastmilk supply and also to store milk that can later be fed to the baby with a bottle. There are practical steps you can take to make this process successful too. Again, legislation is now in place that makes this process easier for working moms. Federal agencies must provide a designated, non-bathroom environment for returning employees to pump breast milk during the workday. The Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act (2019) extends this requirement to include not just employees, but visitors to federal facilities. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended in 2010 to require employers to provide basic accommodations, such as time and space, for breastfeeding mothers at work. As such, employers with more than 50 staff need to include time for women to express milk and a private space that is not a bathroom each time they need to pump. Such an environment can support breastfeeding beyond the early first few days. We’ve created an amazing pumping bundle featuring our hands-free pump strap and warming lactation massagers to increase your milk output, fully empty breasts, and reduce pumping time.
So, a clean, stress-free, and supportive environment can make a real difference to breastfeeding. Having items to hand and knowing where you can access additional support is likely to make a big difference to your breastfeeding journey.