How to Prepare for Breastfeeding: 5 Ways the Hospital Might Sabotage your Breastfeeding Efforts

nursing mom in a hospital

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If you’re pregnant and planning to breastfeed, chances are you’re researching everything you can to help yourself prepare ahead of time. (Good for you for doing your research, mama! It’s so important!) You may be looking into:

  • How to prepare for breastfeeding
  • Common breastfeeding problems
  • How to prepare for breastfeeding while still pregnant
  • Or, common breastfeeding struggles most moms have

When I went to the hospital to have my first baby, I didn’t do any research on the facility itself. I had a regular OB/GYN that I had gone to for years, so I just stuck with that practice. They didn’t give me any choice for where I could deliver, they just said, “This hospital is where you will have your baby.” For some reason, I never questioned it, I just went along with the flow.

While pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I read several books and didn’t do much more than that. I didn’t take a class because, I mean how hard can it be, right?! (Haha, big mistake!)

pregnant woman holding her belly

After a long and difficult labor, ultimately ending in a c-section, my hospital did everything in their power to sabotage breastfeeding for me. After talking with tons of moms, I found that my experience was quite common. Unfortunately, many moms have had the exact same experience I did…which left the moms hurt, confused, and at a crossroads with breastfeeding.

Now, let me say this. My experience (and the experience of countless other moms I’ve talked to) is not unusual. BUT there are plenty of wonderful hospitals, doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants out there.

When my second baby was born, I had a wonderful experience with no difficulties. The good guys do exist! I simply want moms to know what to expect and educate themselves before they go in for delivery so they will be equipped with the information they need to advocate for themselves and their baby.

So let’s dive in!

UPDATE March 2018: I have received a lot of feedback from this post, both positive and negative. I’ve especially received some nasty comments (which I deleted) from hospital doctors and nurses who were apparently triggered by this post. Please, before you say something ugly, read the whole post. Notice that I am accepting responsibility for not being fully informed prior to my baby’s birth.

That is the point of this article. To empower and encourage expecting moms to do their research and be prepared to advocate for themselves in case they wind up in a not-so-breastfeeding-friendly hospital.

Also note that I’m not some “anti-breastfeeding quitter.” I’m very much pro-breastfeeding. I did not “quit” because of my negative hospital experience. I exclusively pumped for 13 months for my daughter. Okay, now that’s out of the way…let’s proceed! 🙂

Here are 5 things the hospital might do to sabotage breastfeeding

1. They separate mom and baby right after delivery

nurse with a baby

Sometimes if baby is unwell, it’s necessary to take him to the NICU for treatment or evaluation. But the vast majority of the time there is absolutely no need to take baby away from his mother. “Routine” stuff like weight checks and such can wait.

Immediate skin-to-skin and uninterrupted bonding for at least the first hour of life is crucial. Introducing baby to the breast within the first hour of birth has been shown to improve breastfeeding success rates.

Breastfeeding right away will also trigger hormones to help your milk come in sooner rather than later.

When my daughter was born, I was taken to recovery and my baby was taken to the newborn nursery. She wasn’t in distress, but we were separated for THREE hours. (Crazy, right?!) The hospital staff didn’t tell me anything about her, whether she was healthy or not, and it was incredibly stressful for me. I wasn’t able to initiate breastfeeding with her until she was about 6 hours old.

Related reading: 6 Tips for a Gentle Cesarean: Practical Advice for Achieving the Birth You Want

Tip to keep this from happening to you:

Talk with your doctor about your wishes for immediate skin to skin and breastfeeding within the first hour. Stand firm and tell him or her that you do not consent to have your baby taken away unless in case of an emergency.

If your doctor pushes back, it may be time to switch to someone who will be respectful of your wishes. You may also consider hiring a doula to be with you and advocate for you.

2. The lactation consultant may be rude or unhelpful

lactation consultant with a mom and a baby

There are some really amazing lactation consultants out there! However, there are some that may be having a bad day. The hospital where I delivered my daughter had several lactation consultants on staff. Some were helpful and others…not so much.

One of them literally yelled at me, “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!” She was so frustrated with how I was trying to get my baby to latch. I was a newbie and had no idea what I was doing. A little patience and compassion would have gone a long way, rather than a scolding.

I lost all confidence and was SO humiliated. In hindsight, I should have been way more prepared for breastfeeding. BUT, there was no need for her to be unprofessional about it.

Tip to keep this from happening to you:

If the lactation consultant is particularly unhelpful, don’t hesitate to ask for someone else. You may even consider researching lactation consultants in your area before birth and interviewing someone you feel would be a good fit for you. This way you know you have someone you can trust to help you navigate those first few days/weeks. 

3. The doctors freak out about normal newborn weight loss

When my daughter was 2 days old, the doctor came in and said she was losing too much weight and we needed to start giving her formula.

Since I didn’t do much any research on this ahead of time, I had no idea that it’s completely normal for babies to lose up to 10% of their birth weight. Since I had been on IV fluids for nearly 24 hours prior to her delivery, her birth weight was skewed since she was so swollen.

A healthy, average baby will be back to birth weight in 10-14 days. (Of course, there are a lot of variables to this, so we cover this topic in great detail inside my e-course, Pumping Mom Academy.)

Tip to keep this from happening to you:

Keep good records of how often your baby poops and pees. Keep a record of how your baby is acting. Is she alert when awake? Moving arms and legs around? Having this evidence will help you present a good case to your doctor that your baby doesn’t need formula.

If baby has lost too much weight and is dehydrated, consider using pumped milk or donor breast milk instead of formula. In fact, the World Health Organization does not recommend formula if baby can’t nurse directly.

According to WHO guidelines, if baby cannot nurse directly from the mother, the next best alternative is expressed (pumped) breast milk, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse of a human milk bank, or a breast-milk substitute fed with a cup. (Formula only used as a last resort.)

4. Doctors or nurses convince you that baby NEEDS formula

This goes hand-in-hand with the weight loss point. If hospital staff feel that your baby isn’t gaining weight “fast enough” or they feel baby is hungry and needs to be “topped off” after nursing, doctors can scare you into giving your baby formula unnecessarily.

I totally understand that sometimes supplementing is completely necessary but much of time it is not.

When you “top off” a baby with formula after they nurse, it can start a cascade effect causing your milk supply to suffer. (And no mama wants to be singin’ the low milk supply blues! Am I right?!)

the trouble with top off graphic

Tip to keep this from happening to you:

Consider choosing a hospital that has the “baby-friendly” designation. Hospitals that are “baby-friendly” are required to have policies in place related to breastfeeding. I lived over an hour away from the nearest baby-friendly hospital, but I made the drive when I had my second and third babies. Let me tell you, it was TOTALLY worth it. They never mentioned formula once and the support I received was outstanding. 

Related reading: 10 Little-Known Tricks to Pump More Breast Milk

5. They take the baby away for “routine” procedures

swaddled baby crying

When my oldest daughter was born, a nurse came in every morning at about 7 a.m. to take her to the newborn nursery for her routine exam and monitoring. When I questioned the reasoning for this, I was dismissed and given vague answers.

I was told she was just being weighed and having her temperature taken. The problem? She was gone for hours! I knew she had to be hungry. What were they doing to her? Was she crying? Sleeping? Missing her mama?

I’d beg the nurse to bring her back to me but they always made excuses and promised she’d come back as soon as possible. The nurses refused to let me go to the nursery to see her or get her. Looking back, this was extremely shady. Who knows what they were doing to her?!

Having my healthy baby taken away for hours at the time was NOT something that helped my milk supply. A baby needs to be with their mother so that they can nurse on demand and help get a good milk supply going.

Tip to keep this from happening to you:

Consider “rooming in” with your baby. (Not allowing baby to be taken to the nursery at night or at any other time unless absolutely necessary.) Don’t let that baby out of your sight!

Be sure to research all “routine” procedures ahead of time. Many of these are not necessary and you can skip them altogether.

If your baby needs to be separated from you because he is premature, sick, or some other medically necessary reason, ask the hospital to supply you with a breast pump and be sure to pump both sides every 2 hours around the clock.

Speaking of pumping…

If you’re pregnant and planning on breastfeeding, you’ll also want to learn about pumping! A recent study showed that 85% of breastfeeding moms have used a breast pump. Most breastfeeding books and classes skim right over pumping, so click here to learn more about Pumping Mom Academy!

Pumping Mom Academy - online course for pumping moms

There you have it! I hope this info was helpful for you! Please feel free to leave me a comment if you have any questions!

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How to prepare for breastfeeding - A must-read for any pregnant mom to help prepare for breastfeeding before birth! Breastfeeding tips and tricks to keep the hospital from sabotaging your breastfeeding experience. | How to prepare for breastfeeding while pregnant | #breastmilk #breastfeeding #pregnancy #lactation

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  1. I had a similar experience when I had my son. They kept him from me for at least 3 hours after he was born. I had to threaten to get out of my recovery bed of they didn’t bring me my baby. When I asked where he was they told me they didn’t know and I freaked out on them.

  2. This is all so true! It was a similar experience I had with my first son, luckily I learned from that experience and did a lot of research on breastfeeding for my next son and we are still going strong with breastfeeding! With my second son, I had great help from my doctor and the staff at the hospital and they advised against everything that you listed hospitals do. Thanks for the article!

  3. Wish you could have experienced my hospital- they do kangaroo care and are so wonderful! From the moment my baby was born she was placed on my chest and the nurse helped me with my first latch right in the delivery room. It is the hospital policy that they do all tests in the room and preferably skin to skin! The lactation consultant I had was sweet and helpful, I always had her come and talk to me even though things went well bf wise. I loved all my nurses, doctors, and LC ❤️ Looking forward to baby number two soon (NOT labor lol)

  4. You are right—-there is no reason for an IBCLC to be rude! These are professionals and they should treat you with respect—-that is how they are trained. They also should respect your wishes after giving you all the facts to make informed decisions. The vast majority are skilled and compassionate clinical experts. If one treats you rudely, you should report to their supervisor. IBCLCs have a scope of professional practice and a code of ethics they must abide by. As an IBCLC myself, I apologize if you have been treated unprofessionally by one of my colleagues.

    • Hi, Ginger! Thanks for stopping by! I agree, the vast majority of IBCLC’s are wonderful and I’ve had the privilege of being helped by several who were angels. I didn’t report her…I feel like everyone has a bad day now and then. 🙂 Take care and thank you for what you do! <3

  5. I completely disagree with this article. Often times, unless a mother is resolved to breastfeed and do everything possible to make that happen, it becomes something that women forego because of its difficultly. Breast feeding is hard! My first could never latch, so I pumped for a year. My second couldn’t latch, and we discovered he was tongue tied. But none of that stopped me from breast feeding. Take some responsibility moms and stop blaming it on the hospitals.

    • Hi, Sarah! Thanks for stopping by. I respect your opinion. I must not have communicated clearly my intention. None of these things stopped me from breastfeeding. Despite all the barriers, I pumped for my daughter for 13 months. (I’ve breastfed for 53 months total across the span of three kids.) I totally accept full responsibility for what happened at the hospital. As I said in my post, I should have been more prepared. That’s the whole point of this article. Thousands of other moms have had this exact same experience in hospitals. I’m trying to empower women to be fully prepared when they enter a hospital. To be informed on normal weight loss. To be prepared to stand your ground and advocate for yourself. To do the research so that the beginning of breastfeeding will start out much more smoothly. This is not an anti-breastfeeding article at all. Take care.

      • Hi, Brit! I think you must have interpreted the tone of my article incorrectly. As I have said several times, I accept full responsibility for what happened. The point of this article is to encourage and equip expecting moms to do their research ahead of time so that they will be prepared for what may come their way and they can advocate for themselves and their baby. To discount my experience is to discount the experience of thousands of other women who went through the same thing. I’m sorry that my article came off as hostile to you, but I assure you that wasn’t the intent. Have a great day!

  6. Wish I had read this earlier! Totally happened to me and I’m living in Singapore (asia)
    Guess this is a problem everywhere.. 🙁

  7. What hospital wete u at ? I am in canada and none of those things happened to me. I am sorry you had a bad experience.

  8. This basically happened with my first!
    I was a new mom and also young(just turned20). They constantly said I needed to give him formula and they also with out my permission gave him a binky which caused nipple confusion.
    The lactation consultant was also rude to me and gave me zero advice on what to do…
    Skin to skin for us was literally 5min tops and they took him. -_-
    My mom was so shocked when she came in the room and he wasn’t there.
    With my second that I just had I told the nurses and the Drs right away what I wanted and they laughed and said oh honey we do all of that anyways don’t worry. It was the best experience ever! Nurses were amazing and the doctors actually explained every little thing they were going to do! The first hour was more like 2 hours of her being with me. I only decided for her to go to the nursery at night because I didn’t trust my self to actually wake up but the nurses brought her in literally every 2 hours! The only reason I stopped breastfeeding(I pump now) is because I was so sore, raw and even bleeding from her latching incorrectly..

  9. Thanks for the heads up! It breaks my heart that it’s common for newborns to be taken away from their mama for several hours. A lot to consider when choosing my hospital.

    Thanks again!

  10. Reading this brought back so much from my first born’s hospital stay. The doctor was worried about his weight (which I later found out was totally within normal newborn weight loss limits), one nurse accused me of starving my baby because I insisted on nursing and they eventually pressured me into giving him formula. I gave it to him once and it felt so wrong I refused to do it again. My milk came in the day he was born so there was plenty for him, he was eating to the point of spitting up but they still tried to push formula. We pushed through and we had a wonderful nursing experience. Fast forward 2 years and we are still nursing! For my second baby I was much more prepared, and no one tried anything even though he lost more weight than his big brother!
    Thank you for writing this post, if I had read it before my first son was born I might have been better prepared for the battle.

  11. Hello there. Is it a normal thing to take baby away from mum? Here in New Zealand they would never let baby out of mums sight (or dads if mum is in surgery) unless baby goes to nicu. I am breast feeding and was told “breast is best” before having my little one. I was also told that if you don’t want to/ or try to breastfeed the midwives get nasty. I guess everyone is different in different parts of the world. I notice you refer to doctors and nurses. We have midwives which are people who solely deal with the pregnancy and birth right through to the after care. We only see the doctors if things are not going right. Sorry this is a random reply ✌️

    • Hi, Sheree! Yes, newborn baby care is different all over the world! We have midwives here in the states, too…they are just not as common. I hope someday midwives will be the norm here!

  12. Hi, I absolutely loved your article. And I have so much to say on this topic, I might as well write a post of my own some day!! 😛
    I live in India, and I have been noticing this increasing trend where pediatricians immediately recommend “topping off” – even in infants as young as two days old!! I know of so many women who have gone through this same experience and have almost given up breastfeeding thinking that they aren’t producing enough milk for their baby. Two of my very close friends went through this, but were lucky enough to have friends that convinced them that doctors don’t always have their (and their baby’s) best interests at heart. With the constant support of these friends throughout their breastfeeding journey, they managed to successful nurse their kids till beyond a year!
    But I find it scary the way doctors are misguiding women, because it could mean only one of 2 things 1) They are incompetent or 2) They have other interests in promoting formula!

  13. Hmmm… maybe this attitude from docs&nurses is “somehow” related to commercial interests of formula distributers?… you know, the brochures are there in the waiting room, they give hospitals free samples and other merchandise products..

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