If you begin the journey toward breast-feeding by assuming it is a natural, and therefore, easy process, that might set the stage for disappointment.

Breast-feeding is indeed natural, but the advice and encouragement of someone who is experienced and trained to help can make all the difference.

Beth Van Beek, a nurse, lactation specialist and the manager of the Breastfeeding Center of Greenville, said learning as much as possible before baby’s birth sets the stage for an easier transition.

“Preparation is huge,” Van Beek said. “We often plan for what is going to happen with labor and I think how a baby is going to be fed is so important.”

The Breastfeeding Center of Greenville and local hospitals all offer prenatal breast-feeding classes.

Van Beek said the center’s classes are for both parents and cover the process of what happens from the time the baby is born.

Classes give parents knowledge about what to expect, but even with that information, Van Beek said parents should be prepared for the fact that what works for one baby – even a sibling – may not work for another.

“Each baby is an individual human,” she said.

One of the keys to successful breast-feeding is having a support system in place. That can include mom’s partner, obstetrician, lactation specialist and family members, as well as baby’s pediatrician.

“Picking a pediatrician that is breast-feeding supportive can be helpful,” Van Beek said. “Nowadays, most pediatricians are very, very supportive.”

Even with the best team in place, Van Beek said the start might be a little rocky.

“If you can make it the first two weeks, you are very likely to succeed at breast-feeding,” she said. “It’s a normal process. Is it really hard? Yes. Take advantage of support early.”

In those first two weeks, hormones are changing drastically, parents may be sleep deprived and feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for a new life.

“So many things are rapidly changing,” Van Beek said. “The workload on a mom and dad too often is more than people expect.”

For moms who tried to breast-feed in the past but found that it did not work, Van Beek said meeting with a lactation specialist can help determine what can be different the second time around.

“Treat every baby as the individual human that they are,” she said. “Give it a shot. We want to know what her goals are. Experiences in the past could have been related to that infant. I would encourage them to try again.”

Van Beek said feeling supported is half the battle.

“Sometimes moms just need to know that they are doing well,” she said. “A lot of times, a lactation consultant is the only cheerleader on the mom’s team.”

Van Beek said breast-feeding can be rewarding in so many ways.

“Overall, it has been proven that breast-feeding is the best,” she said. “We know that sometimes it isn’t best for the family as a whole. If mom wants to try it, it’s best to try it. There’s nothing man-made that comes anywhere close to replicating the benefits of breast milk.”

Van Beek cites a saying from the breast-feeding support organization La Leche League as one that she tells moms who find breast-feeding challenging.

Learn more

You’ll find a list of breast-feeding classes throughout the Upstate in our monthly calendar.

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