First, it is important to understand that there is very little that you need to do to prepare for breastfeeding. Your body has already done most of the necessary preparation, and is producing colostrum (the first form of breastmilk) by week 26 of your pregnancy.
Therefore, this article covers: classes, optional supplies you may choose to obtain before baby is born, things you should not do to prepare for breastfeeding, and some things you may want to do.
Definitely seek out a breastfeeding class to take during your last trimester of pregnancy. And make sure you bring your partner to class with you! (It really helps when there’s two people in the house who can remember what you learned in class.)
Many hospitals offer breastfeeding classes – there may also be independent classes in your community. Look for a two hour long class, ideally taught by a lactation consultant.
You are also welcome to attend La Leche League meetings before your baby is born. Being around moms who are nursing is very helpful, and listening to their discussions and questions can help prepare you for what to expect. Go to www.llli.org to find a local support group.
Do you need to wear a bra? While breastfeeding, women’s breasts tend to be heavier and fuller than usual, and most women find they are more comfortable if they wear a supportive bra. The pressure of a bra on your nipples helps prevent leaking, and the bra can hold nursing pads that can catch the milk if you do leak. In the first week or so while you’re learning to nurse, you may find it easier to go bra-less because it’s one less complication to deal with, but after that, you’ll likely appreciate having a well-fitted, comfortable bra.
Do you need nursing bras? If you normally wear soft cup bras, you may find it works fine to use these: simply pull the cup down below your breast, exposing the nipple for nursing, but leaving breasts supported. Or, if you have small breasts, you may also be able to just pull it up and over your breast.
But many women choose to buy special nursing bras, which have flaps that open out from the center, or down from the top to expose the nipple.There’s a variety of fasteners – some are VERY tricky to manage while holding a squirmy baby, so when you try them on, be sure to test whether you can open it and close it with one hand.
It’s helpful to buy one or two inexpensive nursing bras in the final weeks of pregnancy – week 37 or so. These will get you through the first few weeks of nursing. After the first month, your breast size will be established, and that’s a good time to pick out more bras.
Sometimes nursing moms’ breasts leak milk. If your breasts leak, just use your hand or forearm to put a little pressure on the breast till leaking stops. If you leak often, you’ll want nursing pads: you tuck one in each side of your bra to prevent milk from leaking through your shirt. It’s important to change pads anytime they get wet: wearing wet pads can cause sore nipples. It is helpful to buy some pads (one box of disposables, or 6 – 8 re-usable pads) during pregnancy to have on hand for those early weeks.
You can breastfeed discreetly in almost any shirt you already own (t-shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, etc.): when you are holding baby in your arms, simply lift the shirt up from the waist, up over the lower part of your breast, then slip your bra down to expose the nipple and latch baby on. Baby will cover any skin you have just exposed.
If you prefer, there are special nursing clothes available with a variety of openings. These can be useful for moms who are learning to breastfeed, or moms who are especially worried about nursing in public. You can get nursing wear at maternity stores, online, or at consignment shops.
KellyMom has a helpful chart of other items that are sometimes recommended for purchase, which addresses whether you need them or not, what some inexpensive alternatives are, and how to shop for the ones you need.
Checking for Inverted Nipples
You may hear about “inverted nipples.”You can check yours by doing this test. Hold your breast with your thumb and index finger. Gently squeeze the areola (the dark circle) about an inch behind your nipple. If your nipple doesn’t protrude outward, it’s considered flat. If it sinks in or disappears, it is considered inverted. Also, inverted nipples do not become erect when cold or stimulated. About 1/3 of women have inverted nipples at some point in pregnancy, but only 10% remain inverted by the 9th month.
Babies may have a more difficult time latching on in the first few days, but typically, baby’s suckling helps the nipple to protrude over time. There are possible treatments for inverted nipples, but a clinical trial found that “no treatment” can be just as effective in the long run. Learn more about inverted nipples here: www.breastfeedingbasics.com/html/flat_inverted.htm or here.
If you have any other specific concerns about your nipples, your breast shape, previous breast surgeries, your health, or any other issues which may affect breastfeeding, ask your caregiver for a referral to a lactation consultant for a consultation before baby is born.
Toughening Up Your Nipples??
You may also hear a variety of advice about how to “toughen up” your nipples prior to birth. Here’s what not to do:
- Do NOT rub your nipples with a nail brush (or even a washcloth) to toughen them. This may irritate nipples, and may cause uterine contractions.
- Do NOT apply alcohol, witch hazel, tincture of benzoin, or Vaseline to harden / prepare the nipples. This may irritate the nipples and predispose them to pain and cracking.
- Do not use soap on your nipples. The glands on the nipples secrete a substance which helps keep them clean and moist, and soap can dry them out.
These things are not harmful, they may help toughen nipples, but they’re not necessary:
- For a few minutes every day, or longer if desired, expose your nipples to fresh air.
- You can go bra-less occasionally, or wear a nursing bra with the flaps down, which lets the nipples rub against your clothing. May prepare nipples for handling friction.
- Lovemaking with gentle oral or manual stimulation of the nipples.*
- You may hear that expressing colostrum or massaging breasts prior to birth helps avoid engorgement. These methods don’t appear to affect engorgement, but they’re generally not harmful.*
*A general caution: Nipple stimulation in pregnancy can cause uterine contractions and could induce labor. Minimal stimulation is not likely to cause any problems, but if any of your actions are causing contractions, you should stop and consult caregiver.
Some women attempt to induce labor, or increase the strength of contractions, by using nipple stimulation. This should only be done under the advice of a caregiver.
Before baby is born, surround yourself with people who know about breastfeeding, support breastfeeding, and believe that it will work for you and your baby. Especially important: make that your partner, other family members, your baby’s doctor, and any babysitters or childcare providers you work with are educated about breastfeeding, and prepared to support you with it.
If you have friends, family or co-workers who have breastfed successfully, reach out to them for advice and support. On the other hand, if you know women who have struggled with nursing, try not to let their stories concern you too much. Remember that every mom and baby dyad are different, and your experience may be very different from theirs.