Most women have decided during pregnancy whether or not they plan to breastfeed. But for many women who have decided to breastfeed, they're not sure how to prepare for the task ahead. As you get the nursery ready for your baby and your mind ready for labour and childbirth, how can you get your breasts ready for breastfeeding
Start with getting to know your anatomy. While we're often told to do weekly breast exams, not all of us do. But now is the time to check out your breasts and your nipples, so you will know if you need to get support for a potential problem. This also gives you the chance to handle your breasts ” something many women have not done much before, but a task that is essential to breastfeeding.
During pregnancy, most women experience breast growth, a darkening of the areola, and even enlargement of the nipples. Breast tenderness from the changes going on inside is often one of the first symptoms of pregnancy. If your breasts haven't changed at all, ask your healthcare provider for a thorough breast exam. A knowledgeable lactation consultant (ideally an IBCLC), midwife or obstetrician can let you know if your glandular growth seems normal or not.
Should I Express Breastmilk Before The Birth?
Some mothers leak colostrum in the late months of pregnancy, but not all do. So don't be alarmed either way. You may have heard about expressing breastmilk before birth. This is sometimes recommended for mothers with certain conditions, but it's not necessary for all mothers. Before beginning any prenatal milk expression, do some research and learn the pros and cons.
Do I Need To Toughen Up My Nipples?
In the past, women were told that they should ‘toughen up' their nipples before birth so that they don't get sore once baby starts nursing. This isn't supported by any current research. But what you should do is figure out what type of nipples you have. Normally, the nipple protrudes from the areola – some women have larger nipples than others, some have short nipples, some have pierced nipples. Nobody's are the same. Keep in mind that it's BREASTfeeding, not NIPPLEfeeding, and that your baby will likely be able to adapt to your anatomy to feed. With that said, however, there are women with flat and inverted nipples, and these variations can make nursing more challenging.
What If I Have Flat Or Inverted Nipples?
Flat nipples stand out when exposed to cold or stimulation, but lay even with the areola otherwise. Truly flat nipples stay flat even when stimulated and may make latching baby more difficult. But once latched, these babies can get milk and nurse normally. Inverted nipples pull inward when cold or stimulated. They may look dimpled, creased or folded. Since they don't stand out and, in fact, move the other way with stimulation, latching and staying latched is often difficult for baby (but, in most cases, not impossible). If you know ahead of time that your nipples are inverted, you can begin treating them during pregnancy to make them more likely to stand out. With flat or inverted nipples, it's important to work with an experienced lactation consultant to learn latching techniques and to optimise milk intake by your baby.
Will Previous Breast Surgery Affect Breastfeeding?
If you've had breast surgery in the past, your ability to make milk can be compromised. If you have had breast augmentation, the type of surgery and the site of the incision can make a difference. These mothers will need to watch for blocked/plugged ducts and mastitis, since an implant may put pressure on the milk ducts (depending on whether it was placed above or below the chest muscles). A mother who has had breast reduction surgery may have had nerves or ducts severed, which can cause problems with her ability to maintain a full milk supply. Factors to consider include how long it has been since the surgery, whether the nipple was fully removed, if nerves were spared, and how much tissue was removed from the breast. Your breast surgeon should be able to inform you of the details of your procedure, and a lactation consultant can assist you in increasing your milk supply while keeping an eye on baby's growth.
What About Maternity Bras?
Now that you know more about your breasts, it's time for some fun … shopping for lingerie. So maybe nursing bras aren't that exciting, but you'll want something supportive when your milk comes in. You'll want something that gives you easy access to your breasts ” nursing bras have clasps to let the cup open without removing the whole thing ” with wide, comfortable straps. Some women like a stretchy bra for sleeping, and a more structured bra for the daytime. Most manufacturers suggest bra shopping in the last few weeks of pregnancy ” but keep in mind your breasts are probably going to grow a little when your milk comes in and you may need to buy another bra then. Having a professional bra fitting is the best bet, but you can also measure yourself at home if you're planning to order online. A nursing bra doesn't need to be frumpy … a quick internet search will show a number of companies who make stylish ” and sexy! ” nursing bras. Consider splurging on even just one out of the ordinary bra.
What To Expect In The First Days Of Breastfeeding
Last but not least, know what to expect from your breasts in the early hours and days of your baby's life. In the first couple of days, your body will be making colostrum ” the perfect first milk for your baby. It's thick, golden and delivered in small quantities. About two to five days after birth, your milk will come in and your breasts may be engorged (which can make latching difficult). Frequent feeding should help decrease engorgement after a couple of days, but it takes about four to six weeks for your milk supply to become well-established.
Your breasts were made for feeding your baby. Being prepared will help you feel confident that they're ready for the job. Recognising and treating any issues early will help you have a long and rewarding breastfeeding experience, so make sure to contact a breastfeeding support line or lactation consultant at the first sign of any troubles. Catching breastfeeding issues early are key to preventing a stressful journey.
Also see BellyBelly’s articles:
- BellyBelly’s 10 Top Breastfeeding Tips
- 7 Best Breastfeeding Books (make sure you own at least one of these for a quick and easy reference point).
- How Breastfeeding Is A Confidence Game
- Not Enough Milk: Concerned About Your Milk Supply? (many mothers worry about the amount of milk they produce – this is a must read to avoid a crash course into supplementing with formula).
- Is My Baby Hungry? Do I Have Enough Milk?
Mohrbacher, N. (2010). Breastfeeding answers made simple. Amarillo, TX; Hale Publishing.
Morland-Schultz, K., & Hill, P. D. (2005). Prevention of and therapies for nipple pain: a systematic review. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 34(4), 428-437.
Soper, DM. (n.d.). Expressing milk before birth: a tool for use in special circumstances. https://breastfeedingusa.org/content/article/expressing-milk-birth-tool-use-special-circumstances.
Walker, M. (2013). Are There Any Cures for Sore Nipples?. Clinical Lactation, 4(3), 106-115.