Should I Prepare My Breasts for Breastfeeding?Oct 30, 2023
"Prepare your breasts for breastfeeding" is advice that I hear others give to pregnant mamas, but is it really necessary?
In medical school, I was known as a gunner. This is a label that we used for people who studied extra hard and had high expectations of themselves. We would do whatever it took (within reason) to get good grades and excel in our classes.
I confess. I was a gunner.
As I have gotten older, though, I realize that not everything needs to be done at the highest level. Especially at the expense of other important things in life.
However, I do regret not preparing better for my breastfeeding journey. Even though I am a physician, I was not exempt from the difficulties of breastfeeding my first baby.
You may know that preparation is important. But you may not know how to prepare.
In this article, we will look at how you can prepare your breasts for breastfeeding.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
If you are reading an article about breastfeeding, likely you know most of the benefits. However, let's look at a few of them before we move on.
Breastfeeding provides numerous benefits for both babies and mothers. Breast milk is a perfect source of nutrition for infants, containing vital nutrients that promote optimal growth and development. It is rich in antibodies and immune-boosting properties. They help build and protect a newborn's developing immune system. These antibodies also guard against illnesses and infections.
Breastfeeding has been linked to a reduced risk of allergies, asthma, and diabetes as a child grows. The unique composition and properties of breast milk support growing bodies in a multitude of ways.
Mothers also benefit from breastfeeding. It can help prevent postpartum depression by increasing the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes relaxation and emotional well-being. Additionally, breastfeeding can aid in weight loss by burning calories. Breastfeeding mothers also experience less postpartum bleeding as well as decreased long term health consequences.
When Should I Prepare My Breasts for Breastfeeding?
Preparation for breastfeeding is an important part of the prenatal journey. While it is not necessary to physically prepare the breasts, it is important to prepare mentally for the early days of breastfeeding. Your body does all of the hard work of preparing your breasts for breastfeeding.
During pregnancy, hormones cause an increase in blood flow to the breasts. Additionally, the hormones themselves act on the breast tissue to grow the "milk making" structures of the breast. Your breasts will have the ability to excrete a small amount of milk starting around 16 weeks gestation. Therefore, there is no specific physical preparation that you need to participate in. Your breasts and hormones do all of that work without your input.
However, you should shift your focus to preparing mentally and emotionally for breastfeeding. It may be one of the hardest and yet most fulfilling things that you will do in your life.
I recommend educating yourself by attending prenatal breastfeeding classes, joining support groups, and reading books on breastfeeding techniques and challenges. I also think that it is valuable to talk with other mothers who have successfully breastfed their own babies. They can give you different perspectives on their experiences with breastfeeding.
Prenatal Care Prepares Breasts for Breastfeeding
Prenatal care plays an important role in preparing your breasts for breastfeeding. Regular check-ups and discussions with your Obstetrician or midwife about your breastfeeding plans are important steps towards successful breastfeeding. Besides ultrasounds, exams and lab work your prenatal care provider can also examine your breasts to ensure that they are following the expected path.
Additionally, they can help identify, prevent, and treat any conditions that may affect your ability to breastfeed. Prenatal care certainly impacts breastfeeding success in many important ways.
Questions About Breastfeeding
As a breastfeeding medicine expert, my job is to answer your questions about breastfeeding. This list will get you started, but there are many more resources that you can access for breastfeeding information and education.
There are many conditions that can lead to low milk supply in breastfeeding mothers. We discuss the top 10 maternal health conditions that cause low milk supply in the days and weeks after birth.
To ensure a good milk supply, it is important to nurse your baby frequently, especially during the early days of breastfeeding. Skin-to-skin contact right after birth promotes milk production, and feeding on demand signals your body to produce more milk. Adequate rest, a healthy diet, and staying hydrated can also contribute to a healthy milk supply.
Sore nipples are a common concern for breastfeeding mothers. It is important to ensure a proper latch to avoid nipple pain. Applying nipple cream or using gel nursing pads can provide relief. You should also seek help from a lactation consultant if your pain doesn't resolve quickly.
Signs of a well-fed baby include regular weight gain, six or more wet diapers per day, soft bowel movements, and contentment between feedings. If you have concerns about your baby's milk intake, consult with your healthcare provider or a lactation counselor.
Plan Ahead to Prepare Your Breasts for Breastfeeding
It is extremely important to plan ahead for breastfeeding. Studies have shown that mothers who plan ahead are more successful and meet their breastfeeding goals more often.
1. Educate Yourself: Taking a breastfeeding class or reading books on breastfeeding during pregnancy can provide you with valuable information and tips on breastfeeding techniques, positioning, and common challenges.
2. Breastfeeding Positions: Familiarize yourself with different breastfeeding positions such as the cradle hold, cross-cradle hold, and football hold. Knowing and practicing these positions before your baby's arrival can help you feel more confident and comfortable when it's time to nurse.
3. Nursing Pads: It's a good idea to have nursing pads on hand before your baby arrives. These pads help absorb any leakage that may occur between feedings and can prevent your clothes from getting wet.
4. Breastfeeding Difficulties: Understand that breastfeeding may not be easy and problems arise. Educate yourself on the common early problems.
Breastfeeding Education by 127 Pediatrics is our YouTube Channel where we address these preparation items and so much more.
Purchase a Nursing and Pumping Bra
While I don't recommend buying several nursing bras or pumping bras before your baby arrives, it is important to have one or two on hand. Your breast size and shape will change throughout breastfeeding and you will desire other sizes later in your journey.
1. Nursing Bra: A supportive nursing bra is important for comfort during breastfeeding. Look for a bra that has adjustable straps and a flexible band to accommodate breast growth. It should offer easy, one-handed access for breastfeeding, with cups that can be opened or folded down.
2. Pumping Bra: It is really helpful to have a hands free pumping bra. This enables you to care for and handle the baby while pumping if needed. You don't need anything super specialized to accomplish this task. You can also take an old sports bra and cut holes in it to accommodate the flanges of the breast pump.
While I don't recommend pumping right away, sometimes you will need to pump in the early days of breastfeeding. Early pumping can be important if your baby loses too much weight from their birth weight.
Prepare Breasts for Breastfeeding After Birth
After giving birth, it's important to start using your breasts for breastfeeding as soon as possible. In the first few days after birth, your breasts will produce colostrum, a nutrient-rich substance that provides essential antibodies and nutrients for your newborn. If you want to breastfeed, you need to start doing so as soon as possible after the birth of your baby.
To encourage milk production and ensure a successful breastfeeding journey, here are some steps you can take to prepare your breasts:
1. Skin-to-Skin Contact: Immediately after birth, aim for skin-to-skin contact with your baby. This encourages the release of hormones that stimulate milk production and helps establish a strong bond between you and your baby.
2. Breastfeeding Positions: Familiarize yourself with different breastfeeding positions to find the most comfortable one for you and your baby. This will ensure that your baby latches properly and feeds efficiently.
3. Establishing a Routine: Try to breastfeed your baby whenever they show signs of hunger, such as rooting or sucking on their hands. In the early days, frequent feeding sessions are essential to establish and regulate your milk supply. Newborns need to nurse at least 8-12 times per 24 hours.
4. Seek Support: Don't hesitate to reach out to a lactation consultant or breastfeeding medicine expert if you have any questions or concerns.
Remember, every woman's breastfeeding journey is unique. It is imperative for you to be patient and flexible. With the right preparation and support, you can nurture a strong breastfeeding bond with your baby.
Skin-to-Skin Contact with Baby Immediately After Birth Prepares Breasts for Breastfeeding
Skin-to-skin contact with your baby immediately after birth is highly important for several reasons. Not only does it help create a bond between you and your newborn, but it also plays a vital role in signaling your body to start making milk.
When your baby is placed on your chest with direct skin-to-skin contact, it triggers the release of oxytocin, also known as the "love hormone." This hormone promotes feelings of bonding and helps establish a strong connection between you and your baby right from the start. Additionally, this contact stimulates your body to produce breast milk through a cascade of different hormones.
Skin-to-skin contact also offers numerous benefits for your baby. It helps keep them warm by utilizing your body heat, reducing the risk of hypothermia. This contact also helps regulate your baby's breathing, as they can feel the rise and fall of your chest, which mimics the womb environment. Being close to your skin provides a sense of security and comfort, helping to calm your baby and regulate their heart rate and blood sugar levels.
In addition to promoting bonding and milk production, skin-to-skin contact has shown to improve overall breastfeeding success rates. It allows for easier latching, encourages frequent feeding sessions, and helps your baby learn to recognize your unique scent and voice. This important contact initiates a nurturing environment that sets the stage for a successful breastfeeding journey.
Establishing Milk Supply Within Days of Life
Establishing a healthy milk supply is really important for successful breastfeeding. By following a few key steps, you can prepare your breasts for breastfeeding and have an abundant milk supply.
Feeding on demand is one of the most effective ways to establish milk supply. Let your baby set the pace and frequency of feedings, responding to their hunger cues. This means feeding whenever your baby shows signs of hunger, such as rooting, sucking motions, or hand-to-mouth movements. By feeding on demand, your body will receive signals to produce more milk, meeting your baby's growing needs.
Another important aspect of establishing milk supply is ensuring a deep latch. A deep latch helps your baby effectively remove milk from your breasts, preventing pain and maintaining a healthy milk supply. Make sure your baby's mouth covers a large portion of the areola, not just the nipple. This will help your baby access the milk ducts and stimulate optimal milk flow.
Learn to recognize the signs of a well-fed baby. It can also provide reassurance that your milk supply is sufficient. A well-fed baby should have at least six wet diapers and one bowel movement a day. A baby's poop should change from a black sticky substance to a yellow liquid stool with specks of white by day 3-4 of life. These are indicators that your baby is receiving enough milk and gaining weight appropriately.
If you are struggling with latching issues or experiencing pain while breastfeeding, don't hesitate to seek help from a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding expert. These professionals can provide guidance, support, and advice to overcome any challenges you may encounter on your breastfeeding journey.
Use a Breast Pump to Prepare Breasts for Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding moms may choose to use a breast pump to express and store breast milk for various reasons, including returning to work, increasing milk supply, or having a supply on hand for when they are away from their baby. Here are some guidelines for using a breast pump and properly storing breast milk.
First, it's important to choose the right breast pump for your needs. There are various types of breast pumps available. The types include manual pumps, electric pumps, and wearable pumps. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for assembly and usage.
To express milk, start by washing your hands and ensuring that the breast pump and all its components are clean. Find a comfortable and quiet spot where you can relax, as this can help with milk letdown.
If using a manual pump, position the breast shield over your nipple and areola, and use your hand to create a gentle suction. Alternatively, with an electric pump, fit the breast shield correctly and adjust the speed and suction settings as needed. Experiment with different settings to find what works best for you.
Meet with a Lactation Consultant
As a pregnant woman or as a new mother, you can consult with a breastfeeding expert. If your previous experience with breastfeeding was not what you wanted or if you are having your first baby, I recommend setting up a prenatal consult with a breastfeeding medicine physician. We can go through your history and help you come up with a plan to increase your ability to meet your breastfeeding goals.
If you have already had your baby and you are struggling with breastfeeding, you are not alone. A lactation consultant or breastfeeding medicine physician can perform a full evaluation of you and your baby to see where the problem might exist. We can help you to solve whatever is going on.
Breastfeeding is definitely not easy. Even as a physician, I found it to be very difficult. However, you can prepare yourself ahead of time. Preparation and support will help to make your journey less daunting.
© 127 Pediatrics; October 2023
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.
Dr. Andrea Wadley is the owner, pediatrician, and breastfeeding medicine specialist for 127 Pediatrics. She has an established house-calls only pediatric practice in Colleyville, TX. She is also the owner and operator of the 127 Pediatrics Online Breastfeeding Medicine and Education Center.