Ever feel like pregnancy is one long, never-ending “to-do” list? Maybe you’re working down the list and feeling pretty good until you come to breastfeeding. What do you need? What do you do to prepare? What should you buy? Where can you find help?
First, remember that all you really need for successful breastfeeding are your breasts and your baby—really! Everything else on the market is nice, and maybe helpful, but definitely not required! Feel better? Now, let’s talk about preparation.
The best preparation for breastfeeding is to become knowledgeable about the process. Just as it helps to understand what’s happening to your body in labor so you can work with rather than against your body, it also helps to know how breastfeeding works.
Our community offers many resources for breastfeeding information and support. Formal classes provide information on the basics of milk production, how to latch baby, what to expect in the first few days, how to manage engorgement and how to prevent complications like plugged ducts or mastitis. Many excellent books and websites cover these same topics.
Breastfeeding groups offer interaction with other breastfeeding mothers; you can see many different breastfeeding styles and get multiple perspectives to answer your questions. Find a list of meetings on From The Nest’s website.
So, now you’re feeling more confident about breastfeeding, but is there anything you need to do in advance to prepare your breasts?
Your body really has that under control. Your breasts have increased in size and weight since the early weeks of pregnancy and by the time you reach the week 16 of pregnancy, your breasts are already making milk.
Your nipples are growing in size and are probably more erect; this helps the nipple stretch easily to the back of baby’s mouth during feeding. Your mother or grandmother may tell you to “toughen up” you nipples by rubbing them with a dry washcloth or a small toothbrush. Ouch! We now know this is unnecessary—what a relief!
The best strategy to prevent sore nipples is to latch your baby correctly. Latch is the ideal placement of mother’s nipple in baby’s mouth. The number one cause for sore nipples in the first few weeks is poor latch, not lack of nipple toughening!
The other big question about nipples is: “Are mine ok for breastfeeding?” Despite the wide variation in nipple appearance, only about one-third of first time mothers experience difficulty with nipple protractility. The best strategy is to contact a lactation professional (IBCLC) if you’re concerned about your nipples. She can help you with latching-on techniques to minimize any challenges.
So, now we’re down to “what to buy?” Most mothers find bras designed for breastfeeding make the process a bit easier, especially when feeding baby outside the home. It’s best to wait to buy your nursing bra until at least week 36 of pregnancy, and plan to try on different styles and sizes to find the one that fits best.
Some mothers experience leaking of milk even during pregnancy and prefer to wear breast pads, whether disposable or washable, inside their bras.
Mothers planning to return to work or school may want a breastpump for milk expression. Several styles are available in a wide price range; consultation with a lactation professional can help you choose wisely. Mothers working or attending school full-time may benefit from a double-electric pump. For the mother who needs to express milk only infrequently, manual expression (hands-only) or a simple hand-pump may be adequate.
One last suggestion: Go to the hospital knowing what you can do to make breastfeeding easy for you and your baby. Talk to your nurse about skin-to-skin time with your baby (you’ll need lots of it!) and keep your baby with you all the time. Nurse often, ask for help, and know where to get help after you leave. Breastfeeding can be easy when you prepare and have plenty of support!