How Prenatal Care Impacts Breastfeeding SuccessOct 28, 2023
Prenatal care impacts your breastfeeding success.
Exclusive breastfeeding is a lofty goal to attain and there are many components that affect the outcome of your breastfeeding success. Prenatal care is one of those things that has the greatest impact. Studies have shown that mothers who receive prenatal breastfeeding education greatly increase their odds of achieving their goals.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby's life with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years and beyond. Human milk improves infant health outcomes, especially in the early days of life.
How Prenatal Care Impacts Breastfeeding Success
A few years ago, I took care of a baby born to a mother named Sarah. As a pediatrician, my job was to care for the baby. As a breastfeeding medicine expert, I was charged with helping Sarah to maintain her breastfeeding relationship with her new baby. Her newborn who was born with a cleft lip and palate.
Without prenatal care, Sarah would not have known that her new baby would be facing this challenge. With this knowledge, she was able to educate herself on the ins and outs of breastfeeding a newborn with a lip and palate anomaly. She went on to breastfeed her baby for the first year of his life.
Anticipating complications is only one reason why prenatal care is so important.
Additionally, it helps a woman to optimize her health, create a breastfeeding plan, learn about breastfeeding before her baby is born and find treatment for mental health challenges.
Optimizing Your Health
Optimizing your health during pregnancy and postpartum is vital for ensuring a successful breastfeeding journey. These are just some of the ways that prenatal care impacts your breastfeeding success.
Here are five reasons:
1. Milk production: Maintain a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy. This includes things such as exercising in moderation, eating a nutritious diet, and staying hydrated. These healthy habits set you up for optimal milk production once your baby is born. Regular exercise and a balanced diet supports the production of breast milk. A healthy diet also provides the necessary nutrients for yourself and your baby. You can read more about pregnancy and breastfeeding diets on our blog.
2. Manage medical conditions: Preexisting medical conditions, such as metabolic disease, diabetes, or thyroid problems, affect milk production and other aspects of breast feeding. However, proper prenatal care can help identify and manage these conditions. This will minimize their impact on breastfeeding outcomes. Healthy pregnancies lead to healthy moms and babies.
3. Hormonal challenges: Women with a history of infertility or conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome often find breastfeeding to be challenging. The hormonal challenges associated with these conditions potentially affect the way your body produces human milk for your baby. Prenatal care with a well informed health care provider can help you to anticipate these challenges. I also recommend lactation consultation with a breastfeeding medicine doctor during your pregnancy to come up with a plan.
4. Address potential challenges: Care during your pregnancy gives you the opportunity to discuss potential breast feeding challenges. You can seek guidance from healthcare professionals or lactation consultants on common difficulties. This includes latching issues, low milk supply, or sore nipples. Addressing these concerns before delivery can help you feel more confident and prepared for breastfeeding.
5. Nutritional intervention: Prenatal nutritional interventions such as taking a prenatal vitamin and supplementing your diet with extra folic acid will lead to better maternal & infant health outcomes. Vitamins and nutrition for pregnant women not only help them to have a healthy pregnancy, but infant outcomes are better as well. Folic acid is an important nutrient that is known to prevent neural tube defects. Obstetric care providers also manage nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy and can help you to optimize your nutrition during those first few weeks of pregnancy.
Pregnant women can enjoy healthy pregnancies by optimizing their health during pregnancy. Maternal health plays an important role in the postpartum period and breast milk production.
Prevent and Anticipate Complications
Pregnancy related complications can affect both mother and baby. Some conditions have the potential to change the trajectory of not only infant care, but a woman's ability to provide human milk for her child. Pregnant women have a risk for gestational diabetes, pregnancy induced high blood pressure, pregnancy-related deaths, and a variety of other complications. Early intervention and proper management of these conditions by a qualified health care provider decreases the impact of these diseases on breast milk production.
Pregnant women who desire healthy pregnancies should seek medical care during pregnancy. Through routine screenings and tests, gestational diabetes and elevated blood pressure can be identified early. Managing these conditions well will decrease your risk of complications. Exclusive breastfeeding is more attainable when maternal health conditions are managed well.
Similarly, prenatal care helps to monitor and manage conditions that can increase the risk of preterm birth. Preterm birth poses a challenge to exclusive breastfeeding. Premature infants may face difficulties latching or have low sucking ability. Additionally, preterm infants are often separated from their mothers in the early days of life, which also presents a challenge to exclusive breastfeeding. Not all preterm births are completely preventable, but you increase your odds of delivering a term baby with appropriate medical care during pregnancy.
Create a Birth and Breastfeeding Plan
While most physicians cringe a little bit inside when we hear that a woman has a birth plan, it is important for you to prepare for the birth of your baby. We express those feelings because often women will come in with the intention of sticking to their plans come hell or high water. Unfortunately, birth is very unpredictable. Your health care team may need to make certain decisions that go against your original wishes because it is best for you and the baby. As long as you stay open minded, a birth plan is a great way to mentally prepare for your delivery.
When creating a birth plan, it is important to include key components such as choosing a birth location, identifying support people, expressing your pain management preferences, and making decisions about breastfeeding. By outlining these details in your birth plan, you can ensure that your wishes are known and respected during labor and delivery.
In addition to a birth plan, it is also important to have a breastfeeding plan. This plan should clearly communicate your intention to breastfeed. Your obstetrician or midwife, nurses, and support team should all be aware of your desire to breastfeed. Additionally, it is important to choose a birthing center or hospital that has policies in place to support breastfeeding.
Learn About Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is a natural and beneficial way to nourish your baby. It improves infant health outcomes in the early days of life and beyond. Babies who eat human milk have decreased risk of ear infections, respiratory disease as well as decreased long term complications such as obesity. Breastfeeding also protects maternal health as well. Mothers who breastfeed have less risk of postpartum hemorrhage, high blood pressure and certain types of cancers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among infants born in 2019, most (83.2%) started out receiving some breast milk. At 6 months, 55.8% of infants received any breast milk and 24.9% received breast milk exclusively. Breastfeeding rates continue to be an important public health marker.
Additionally, recent studies show that breastfeeding outcomes are improved when a woman receives antenatal education.
There are various ways to learn about breastfeeding during pregnancy. In person education workshops at your birth hospital, education programs within your OB's office and online antenatal breastfeeding education. When choosing a class, you should make sure that it provides both practical skills education as well as education sessions. This formal BF education should focus on the benefits of breastfeeding, proper latch and positioning techniques, overcoming common challenges, and the importance of a supportive breastfeeding environment.
In addition to attending classes, I recommend talking with your friends who have breastfed their babies. You could also join a support group of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Both of these things will help you to mentally prepare for the expectations of successful breastfeeding.
By proactively learning about breastfeeding during pregnancy, you can increase your confidence and readiness for this important aspect of motherhood. With the right information and support, you can overcome challenges and give your baby the best start in life through the power of breastfeeding.
You can also follow our YouTube Channel to learn more about breastfeeding.
Screening for Mental Health
Newborn infants demand a lot from their mothers. Maternal health includes not only physical health, but mental health as well. Prenatal care provides the perfect setting for discussing your history of mental health conditions with your obstetric health care provider.
Screening for mental health during pregnancy plays a significant role in promoting overall maternal well-being and breastfeeding success. The emotional and psychological state of new mothers greatly influences their ability to establish and maintain a successful breastfeeding relationship.
Untreated mental health issues can have detrimental effects on both the mother and the baby. Conditions like anxiety, depression, and postpartum mood disorders can hinder a woman's ability to initiate or sustain breastfeeding. Negative feelings, low self-esteem, and lack of confidence may impact the mother's ability to bond with her baby and regulate her own emotions, making it challenging to establish a nurturing and supportive breastfeeding environment.
Implementing mental health screening tools within prenatal care allows healthcare providers to identify and address any potential mental health issues early on. The use of validated screening tools, such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) or the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), can help identify symptoms of anxiety or depression. Screening should ideally be conducted at various time points throughout pregnancy and during the postpartum period to ensure the continuous monitoring of the mother's mental well-being.
By integrating mental health screening into routine prenatal care, healthcare providers can identify and assist women in accessing the necessary support and resources. Addressing mental health concerns not only promotes breastfeeding success but also enhances the overall well-being of the mother, allowing her to better care for herself and her baby.
Breastfeeding seems like it should be something that is easy to do since it is a natural process. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult. There are a lot of components that contribute to your success with breastfeeding. Additionally, the definition of success is different for every one. If you would like to do everything that you can to successfully breastfeed, robust prenatal care is a great way to start.
© 127 Pediatrics; October 2023
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.
Dr. Andrea Wadley is the owner, pediatrician, and breastfeeding medicine specialist for 127 Pediatrics. She has an established house-calls only pediatric practice in Colleyville, TX. She is also the owner and operator of the 127 Pediatrics Online Breastfeeding Medicine and Education Center.