During pregnancy, many women decide whether or not they want to breastfeed their baby after birth.
Often, pregnant women who’ve decided to breastfeed, are often not sure how to prepare for the task ahead.
A common phrase during pregnancy is, “I plan to breastfeed, if I can”.
There’s an assumption that breastfeeding is something that might or might not be possible, even if you want it to happen.
As you get the nursery ready for your baby and finalize your birth plan, ready for labor and childbirth, how can you prepare for breastfeeding?
How do I prepare for breastfeeding while pregnant?
When you’re preparing to breastfeed, start by getting to know your body.
While we’re all given the advice to do weekly breast exams, not all of us actually do.
Now is the time to check out your breasts and your nipples and get to know what’s normal for you. If things change later, you’ll know whether you need to get support for a potential problem.
This also gives you the chance to handle your breasts – something many women haven’t done very often before pregnancy or birth.
Checking breasts and nipples is a task that’s essential to breastfeeding success.
Your breasts during pregnancy
In pregnancy, you will experience significant breast changes. This is a normal part of your body’s preparation for breastfeeding.
Some of these changes are:
- Breast growth
- Darkening of the areola (the pigmented skin around the nipple)
- Enlargement of the nipples.
Some women might notice these changes as early as the first few weeks of pregnancy.
Breast tenderness and sore nipples can be among the first symptoms of pregnancy.
If your breasts haven’t changed at all, ask your doctor or healthcare provider for a thorough breast exam.
Your doctor, a knowledgeable lactation consultant (ideally an IBCLC), a midwife, or an obstetrician can provide you with information about whether or not your glandular growth seems normal.
How do you know if your nipples are ready for breastfeeding?
Before you became pregnant, you might not have given much thought to the size and shape of your nipples.
Some women have larger nipples than others, some have short nipples, and some have pierced nipples.
Everyone is different.
Keep in mind it’s about breastfeeding, not nipple feeding; your baby will be able to adapt to your anatomy to feed.
Having said that, some women have flat or inverted nipples, and these variations can make nursing more challenging.
It’s also important to note, though, lots of these women also breastfeed their babies successfully.
There are certain breastfeeding positions that can help with the latch in these circumstances.
A breast pump can help draw out inverted nipples, and help babies to latch comfortably.
Attending a breastfeeding class before you give birth can help you get off to the best start right away. Your partner should be on board to provide breastfeeding support and to recognize when you might need extra help.
You can also read BellyBelly’s article on helpful breastfeeding tips for flat or inverted nipples.
Do you have to prepare your nipples for breastfeeding?
In the past, women were given the advice that they should ‘toughen up’ their nipples before birth, in preparation for breastfeeding.
This isn’t supported by any current research.
In fact, there are important reasons why you shouldn’t.
Pregnancy hormones can make your nipples very tender and sensitive. If you already have sore nipples during pregnancy, trying to toughen them up can make them more painful and even cause damage.
When your baby is born, having ‘tough’ nipples won’t help you breastfeed more easily than not having tough nipples.
Read more about this in Toughening Up Nipples For Nursing – 5 Reasons NOT To Do It.
Successful breastfeeding depends on many things, such as:
- Having a birth plan that promotes a positive birth and an undisturbed hour after birth
- Attending breastfeeding classes
- Having a breastfeeding plan that outlines, for care providers and support people, exactly what your needs and preferences are for breastfeeding
- Being prepared to ask for support and help if you need it – perhaps by joining your local breastfeeding group, or finding a lactation consultant in your area.
Doing these things is more likely to lead you to have a positive breastfeeding experience.
Does breast size affect breastfeeding?
Just like nipples, breasts come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
The size of your breasts doesn’t determine your breastfeeding experiences or success.
Your breast size might determine the amount of breast milk each of your breasts can hold. However, that’s simply your storage capacity and is not related to your milk supply or how much milk you make.
As breast milk supply becomes established, mothers with smaller breasts might find their babies need to nurse more often than mothers with larger breasts.
Read Breast Size And Breastfeeding – Does It Impact Milk Supply? for more information.
Does previous breast surgery affect breastfeeding?
If you’ve had breast surgery in the past, your ability to make breast milk can be compromised.
If you’ve had breast augmentation or enlargement, the type of surgery and the site of the incision can make a difference to your breastfeeding experience.
In these cases, mothers need to watch for blocked ducts and mastitis.
An implant can 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 might have had nerves or ducts severed. This can cause problems with her ability to maintain a full milk supply.
Things you need to consider about breast surgery:
- How long it has been since the surgery?
- Whether the nipple was fully removed
- If nerves were spared
- How much tissue was removed from the breast?
Your doctor or breast surgeon should be able to inform you of the details of your procedure, and a lactation consultant can help you to establish your breast milk supply while keeping an eye on your baby’s growth.
If you have undergone a double mastectomy, or other surgery, and can’t nurse your baby, you might consider using donor milk.
Although it doesn’t have all of the same benefits as breastfeeding, donor breast milk is the best alternative for feeding babies.
Depending on your location, some donor milk is available from milk banks. Donor milk is heat pasteurized, and a few of its protective factors may be lost during the process.
Some mothers use a peer-to-peer network to source donor milk.
You might be interested to read more in Donated Human Milk – Why It Should Be The First Alternative For All Babies.
Can I pump before baby is born?
Some mothers leak colostrum (the thick, yellowish ‘first breast milk’) in the late months of pregnancy, but not all do.
You might have heard about expressing colostrum during pregnancy. This is sometimes recommended by lactation consultants for mothers with certain conditions, but it’s not necessary for everybody.
When should you start wearing a nursing bra?
Now that you know more about your breasts, it’s time for some fun: shopping for lingerie!
Maternity and nursing bras might not be all that exciting, but you’ll need a supportive bra as your breasts change shape during pregnancy and when your milk comes in.
While you’re pregnant, a maternity bra will support your breasts as they grow and prepare for breastfeeding your baby.
Most experts suggest being fitted professionally, so you can get the right size for the stage of pregnancy you’re in now, and for the time after birth.
You’ll want a bra with wide, comfortable straps, which gives you easy access to your breasts. Some women like a stretchy bra for sleeping, and a more structured bra for the daytime. Because you’ll need to wash them often, it’s a good idea to have a few bras so you can rotate them.
A nursing bra doesn’t need to be frumpy. A quick google search will show you a number of companies that make stylish and sexy nursing bras for breastfeeding mothers.
Consider splurging on even just one out-of-the-ordinary bra.
Breastfeeding ‘essentials’ for success
There are several baby products on the market that claim to be breastfeeding essentials.
Some of them are:
- Gel packs
- Nursing pillow
- Breast pump
While these products support breastfeeding, it’s better to wait and see whether you really need them before adding them to your cart.
The best way you can prepare for breastfeeding is to have reliable information and support.
Instead of adding these items to your baby shower registry, consider asking for a donation towards a breastfeeding class instead.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association and La Leche League offer breastfeeding education classes for mothers and support people to help them to prepare for breastfeeding.
Organizations that don’t benefit from profit are often trustworthy and reliable sources of research and information.
Should I buy formula ‘just in case’?
Some families purchase formula as a backup or in case of an emergency scenario.
This is really not necessary. Mothers are more likely to persist with breastfeeding if they don’t have a tin of baby formula within reach – even if it’s hidden away in the back of a cupboard.
There’s a big difference between formula and breast milk. You’re more likely to succeed with breastfeeding if you prepare for success and have excellent support.
Leading health experts, such as The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognize there are risks to formula feeding, and that exclusive breastfeeding benefits both child and maternal health, as well as families and society.
What to expect in the first days of breastfeeding
Last, but not least, knowing what to expect in the early hours and days of your baby’s life will improve your chances of successful breastfeeding.
In the first couple of days, your body will be making colostrum – the perfect first milk, rich in antibodies for your baby.
It’s thick, golden, and delivered in small quantities – perfectly designed for your newborn.
Be sure to read 6 Reasons Why Breastfed Newborns Don’t Need Formula to find out more.
About two to five days after birth, your milk will come in and you might experience breast engorgement, which can make latching difficult.
Feeding your baby more frequently should help decrease engorgement after a couple of days.
You can find more information in Engorgement – Relief For Breast Engorgement.
Sore nipples are common in the early days, but any lasting pain should be investigated with a lactation consultant.
As time goes on…
It takes about four to six weeks for your milk supply to become well established for your baby.
It’s very common for new mothers to worry about their milk supply or be advised by others that supplementing with a bottle won’t hurt. Seek reassurance from a breastfeeding support line or lactation consultant if you’re worried about your supply.
Keep your baby close, and breastfeed on-demand. During this time, avoid bottles and pacifiers as they can cause nipple confusion.
And remember, your breasts were made for feeding your baby.
Being prepared with this information will help you feel confident that you’re ready for the breastfeeding job.
Make sure to contact a breastfeeding support line or lactation consultant at the first sign of any troubles. Recognizing and treating any problems as early as possible will help you have a long and rewarding breastfeeding experience.
Catching breastfeeding difficulties early is the key to preventing a stressful journey.
- 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?