Breastfeeding for the First Time During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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If you’re pregnant right now, or if you just had your baby, you are likely more isolated than you would have hoped to be. With most places under orders to stay at home to avoid spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, it might be difficult to get the breastfeeding support you need. Read on for ideas of how to prepare to breastfeed for the first time in a pandemic.

Educate yourself

While it’s true that breastfeeding is one of those things that you don’t know how it will go until you try it, you can give yourself a better chance of succeeding in meeting your feeding goals by learning about your options in advance. There are plenty of breastfeeding books available—many of them as electronic books that you can get for free from your library online. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the information that’s out there, so just pick a book or two and stick with it. My favorite is Breastfeeding: Keep It Simple by Amy Spangler, but you might prefer something else. It’s also a good idea to have a book on hand as a reference for after baby arrives. If you’d rather read online, The Pulse has many great blog posts about breastfeeding and other ways of feeding your baby that you can check out.

You also might be able to take an online breastfeeding class. Plenty of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) are offering virtual classes. You could start with YouTube, where videos are free to watch, and then if you like someone’s style, check out their website and paid offerings. If there is a local breastfeeding center or IBCLC practice, they might be offering group classes via Zoom through which you could learn and also connect with other expecting parents.

Get help

Hospital stays are being shortened and in-hospital lactation support is decreasing due to precautions around close contact, but it’s possible that you might still be able to get help when you give birth to your baby. If this is available to you, even if its non-contact, take advantage of it. Even if they are not IBCLCs, many nurses have some breastfeeding support experience and might be a good resource.

Many IBCLCs are also doing virtual support via video chat. In order to have a successful video chat, it is helpful if someone else is there to hold the phone or tablet in order to give the expert a good view of baby’s mouth and your breast as you feed them. This option is available to you in your birthplace soon after baby is born or when you get home.

If you are struggling at all with feeding and you have access to any type of support, connect with it sooner rather than later. Breastfeeding is hard work. It is intuitive for some people, but the majority of parents, especially first time parents, need some type of help to have a successful feeding relationship. Your pediatrician and your care provider (doctor or midwife) is a good place to start for support. They can refer you to someone more specialized if you need help.

It’s also a great idea to strategize with your partner or other at-home support people about your plans to breastfeed. This blog post has some good ideas about how partners can be supportive about breastfeeding. If you do run into challenges, it can be really nice to have another person around who can assure you that it’s not the end of the world, offer other ways to comfort baby so you can get a little break, and be available to bring things that you need while you are feeding.

Have supplies on hand

 It’s a good idea to have a few supplies available before baby arrives, so that you’re not scrambling to try to get things when stores have limited hours or shipping is taking longer. This blog post goes more in depth about the supplies you might need. It’s also a good idea to order your breast pump in advance. You might think that you won’t need a pump if you plan to breastfeed, but it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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