Five Secrets of Teaching Better Breastfeeding Sessions

by Terriann Shell, BS, RN, IBCLC, CHES, ICCE, FILCA

I’ve always thought that once you know how to teach adults childbirth, you could teach any subject. While this may be true, I find that teaching breastfeeding is a sacred and special calling. We are preparing expectant parents for the first independent task we ask of their newborn infant. We are shaping that once-in-a-lifetime special period- the “golden hour” when they meet their new baby for the first time and help shape a life-long relationship and the parents don’t evenknow how special this is-yet! If we are giving our sweat and knowledge to expectant parents and their support people, we really want our information to be helpful! Here is where we can share what is working in our sessions and what we’ve tried that didn’t work.

1. Use catchy titles (but not too cutsie)

No one wants to go to hear “breastfeeding basics” or “breastfeeding 101.” Start with a catchy title because you have to get people in the seats before they can hear your good information. You want the people to attend to then go out and spread the word since word-of-mouth will be your best seller with their expectant friends. Give them a meme to share on their Facebook page or on Instagram. A catchy title says your class will not be boring and continue to carry the catchy titles out in your class information segments. You want to let them know you are professional, but fun. What ideas can you share that you found effective for increasing session attendance?

2. Make sure you are teaching the most up-to-date information.

If you are still teaching the same information and the same way as you were five years ago, you are probably coming off as stale and outdated to your parents and support people and word gets around. We can now talk about expressing colostrum prenatally, when appropriate, and the incredible value of skin-to-skin for at least the first hour birth. If you are teaching prenatal preparation of nipples before breastfeeding, taking baby off the breast after X number of minutes, encouraging drinking of a lot of fluid or avoiding specific types of food, using nipple ointments for prevention or treatment of nipple discomfort then you may need to update your information. What breastfeeding information have you updated recently? What “old” advice are you still hearing?

3. Be concise with your agenda.

How much can someone absorb at any one sitting? Now add pregnancy brain into the mix! Encouraging support people to attend with the expectant person would be wise because they will also be around mother, supporting her after they have the baby and they will most likely remember more than the pregnant brain will. We need to do our part by now giving every single fact we know about lactation. I suggest you think of your top 3 objectives and leave it at that. You will be more effective! Of course, each of these three objective may include several subtopics. For my sessions, my simple outline is something like this:

  • Why breastfeed?
  • How milk is made and how it is moved
    1. Simple anatomy
    2. Simple physiology (positioning, latch, moving milk)
    3. How to tell baby is getting enough
  • Resources for breastfeeding help

Notice what is missing? No discussion of sore nipples, engorgement, or mastitis. Who would want to breastfeed if the discussion focuses on everything that can possibly go wrong? Would they even remember the “fix” for any of these? Probably not and if they get off to a good start, they hopefully not need any of this information. If they do need help, then they have the resources to find it. I also suggest watching your spiel for telling your audience what we once though or taught since that is useless information now unless you are talking about poor advice they might hear from others. Also dig through your audio-visuals and getting rid of that VCR tapes (nothing says outdated as a VCR!). Watch the resources you recommend or have available. Are they from a company that sells a product? Are they from a source that is compliant with the World Health Organization’s Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes? What topics do you feel is important for expectant parents to know after your session? How long do you feel an introductory breastfeeding session should be? This leads into the next suggestion:

4. Use a variety of audio-visuals

This may include teaching in new styles like offering quizzes on an app or clips from excellent internet resources. For example, the short clip of Jane Morton teaching hand expression is priceless, yet freely available online and if you hand each attendee a “breast” stress ball, they can practice along with Jane’s, “press, compress, relax,” incorporating more interaction increasing retention. Use dolls, bunch of grapes (to illustrate the milk “factory”), model breasts, YouTube clips, DVDs or downloads, and examples from today’s actresses and pop stars. Let people try positioning with soft dolls or stuffed animals, give them resources to watch videos over and over, as needed, to reinforce what they’ve learned, and present the information in a few different modalities. What are your favorite resources for sessions? How do you make your classes interactive?

5. Leave ‘em wanting more!

Two of the topics that is most requested but not covered in my sessions is employment and pumping milk. I cover hand expression when talking about keeping a good milk production. How much do you think the audience will remember when the time comes, if you cover the differences between breast pumps, when and how to pump, storing and thawing milk, and or how to go back to work and express milk? That is a whole class in itself! Again, this goes back to giving them resources for when they need that information. You might want to have them come back for this class when the time gets close. What topics do you leave out of your sessions or think you don’t need to teach in an introductory session? Finally, one suggestion for a different, but effective breastfeeding education session is to ask the audience what they came to learn when opening the session and doing introductions. Write the topics down and then check them off as teach each topics on the list, throwing in essential information that is on your outline. This way everyone gets what they came for. What other suggestion do you have for a quick class or for an how-to class on breastfeeding?

Abut the Author

Terriann Shell has been teaching childbirth education as an ICCE through ICEA, since 2003 and has been an IBCLC since 1988. She holds a Bachelor in Health Science with a focus on health education and a minor in education. She is also a Certified Health Education Specialist and a Registered Nurse. Terriann moved from one of the smallest states, Delaware, to the largest, Alaska 20 years ago to run sled dogs and raise kids. She lives in Big Lake, Alaska with her family of 7 now-adult children and 11 grandchildren. She works at 2 hospitals doing lactation rounds and teaching childbirth and all the related classes. She served twice on the Board of the International Childbirth Education Association and also serve on the International Lactation Consultant Association. 

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