Preparing for Breastfeeding When Pregnant

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When I was pregnant with Hugh about 37 weeks, the thing I was most worried about was nursing. I didn't know what breastfeeding books were best,  what was it actually supposed to feel like, how was I supposed to nurse without flashing everyone?!, did I have to do anything special? would my boobs even work? The only thing I knew is that I wanted to breastfeed and I wanted to try it for a year (which I wouldn't have even thought of that if it hadn't been for my husband - Ethan has 7 older sisters who all breastfed their kids, and so breastfeeding was considered a normal part of having a child).

I was stressing out over this when I had two situations that happened quite closely together, and I am so glad that they did. I asked on my local birth forum, wanting to borrow a book about birth, and one of my friends commented and said she had it. I went over to her house and we had a nice chat and she also mentioned another book she had really enjoyed - it was a breastfeeding book by Jack Newman. I read it in a few days. The other event was a student midwife friend had posted on Facebook asking if someone would be interested in having a one-on-one breastfeeding class, she needed to do this for one of her final assignments before finishing school certifications. She came over to my house and we talked about the mechanics of breastfeeding, what local community resources were available to me, and she answered all of my questions. It was awesome. After she left, I felt so excited and confident about what my body was capable of that I tried hand expression and some colostrum leaked out! I totally shouted with amazement.

A few minutes after Hugh was born I tried latching him on. I was a little tired from all the work I had just done, and I was laying down and Ethan helped me get Hugh in the right position so he could latch on. It is one of the sweetest memories I have of that day. A few months after Hugh was born, I took a breastfeeding counselor certification class.

One of the main points I remember learning is that success in breastfeeding is most often accompanied by education during pregnancy and postpartum journey and adequate support (especially support from partner).

“The best time to learn all that you can about breastfeeding is before your baby is born. Planning ahead will help you reduce the risk of problems and find solutions quickly if problems do occur. The more knowledge you have about breastfeeding, the easier breastfeeding will be once your baby arrives.” (Breastfeeding: A Parent’s Guide p15)

I believe this post will be most helpful for reading when you are in the pregnancy stage, but consider it helpful to read regardless of whether or not you have given birth yet.

Here are some common questions new parents might have about breastfeeding:

Why Breastfeed?

It’s fairly common for parents to have at least some vague idea of the benefits of breastfeeding. Rather than spell it all out in this post, here are some links to articles that discuss the benefits:

What Makes Human Milk Special?

The More I Learn About Breastmilk, the More Amazed I Am

The Many Benefits to Breastfeeding

I also encourage you to read several of the recommended books listed at the bottom of this post. They will be helpful for the new parents as well as any other additional support person who is desiring more information on the benefits of breastfeeding.

Will it be Painful?

"When a mother cat feeds her kittens, she's not thinking about how much milk each kitty is getting or what the latch looks like. She just lies there (usually purring) and lets them nurse. If it hurts, though - if one kitten gets on at a bad angle or gets too aggressive - Mother Cat reacts. She moves her body a little, nudges the kitten off with her nose, or, if it's uncomfortable enough, gets up, shakes the kittens off, and starts over. " (Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, p15)

It's the same for humans. Nipple sensitivity is common in the early days, however if breastfeeding actually hurts, that's your body signaling that something needs to be changed. Something to keep in mind - "Nipple pain and damage are not normal. Not for cats, not for humans." (Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, p15)

One of the main things to prevent pain in breastfeeding is making sure you have a proper latch. This video, shows a proper latch as well as two inhibitors of breastfeeding success. I think it is helpful to have a visual of what is actually going on inside of a good latch, sometimes all we see for good latch is an outer view (what it looks like when mom is peering down at baby).

Making sure you have a proper latch is very important, and there are different ways you can position yourself to breastfeed comfortably. Here is an article that demonstrates various positions as well as what to look for in a good latch.

Do I Need to Buy Anything Special?

Shirts -

There are lots of fancy breastfeeding friendly shirts with hidden flaps, but these aren't essential. It can be easy enough to unbutton a shirt, or lift up the bottom of your shirt to have easy access. Of course, if you want to buy them, go ahead, just keep in mind that they aren’t essential for breastfeeding success.

Bras -

Nursing bras are helpful, especially at the beginning, since you might overproduce as your body figures how much milk your baby actually needs. You can put breast pads on and the bra can help hold those in. After some time, your body might not need a bra if you would rather not wear one. The only major thing to keep in mind when purchasing a bra is to avoid bras that have underwires, at least at first. "They can cut across milk-making tissue and increase the risk of clogged milk ducts or infections." (Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, p18)

All About Nursing Bras by Becky Flora, BSed, IBCLC

Breast Pump -

If you aren't planning on being separated consistently with your baby, you probably won't need a at pump at all. However, if you are still wanting to maybe have one for occasional night outs with your partner or be ready for unexpected situations, you could try hand expression or buy a good-quality manual pump. If you are planning on going back to work when your baby is still small, buying a high quality pump is worth it. If you are interested in a breast pump, know that many insurance companies will cover the cost of a breast pump.  

More information on Breastfeeding and Pumping:

Do I need a breastpump?

Buying a Breastpump

How Do I Choose a Breastpump?

Will my Breasts Work?
“As women, we all receive messages about our bodies and what they “ought” to look like. These messages affect our self-image, including our feelings about our breasts and how they look. . . . Even now you may wish that your breasts were smaller or larger, fuller or less droopy. . . .  Each woman’s breasts are different from all others, but the breast, regardless of size, is perfectly designed for its ultimate purpose -- to nourish and nurture our children. The breasts not only provide an infant with superb nutrients for growth and development but offer the warmth, comfort, and the security that every growing baby needs. In this respect, they are most beautiful.” (The Nursing Mother Companion, p14)

“Breasts, areolae, and nipples of all sizes and shapes are usually perfect for breastfeeding.” (Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn p402)

Your body has already been preparing itself, in fact, for years, starting with your first period, to breastfeed. With each passing period, your breasts developed milk ducts that would sprout “buds” and more milk-making tissue would grow. During pregnancy, more buds were added, and your areolae (dark area around your nipples) may be getting darker and possibly larger. The color and size change will make it so that there is an easier “target” for your baby. Small bumps will form on your areolae, called Montgomery glands, they secrete a small amount of oil which helps keep your nipples clean and moisturized. (So no need to worry about washing your nipples, your body is already on top of it!)

How Does Breastfeeding Work?

Breastfeeding - Khan Academy & Stanford School of Medicine
Breast Anatomy & Lactation - Khan Academy

How Much do Babies Actually Eat?

Feeding on Demand When Breastfeeding

How Much Should my Baby Eat? You Don’t Have to Pull Out Your Calculator

How Do I Build a Community?

“About half of American women who start out breastfeeding give up . . . within the first three months after birth. As Dana Raphael wrote more than 30 years ago, “The odds in our culture today are stacked heavily against successful breastfeeding, and the emotional price for failure is high.” Although more breastfeeding help is available now, those words still hold true. Mothers frequently give up breastfeeding in the learning stage because they have too little information, guidance, and support. When a nursing mother is encouraged and cared for by others, her motivation can carry her through almost any difficult situation.  . . . Develop a support system for yourself ahead of time. Let your partner and other family members know how much breastfeeding means to you and how important they will be to your success. . . . Be sure to identify sources of guidance.  . . . When you have gathered these supports, you will have stacked the odds in your favor.” (Nursing Mother’s Companion, p33-35)

“To prepare for breastfeeding, learn as much as you can about it before the birth. Read books on the subject, attend a breastfeeding class, and seek the support of groups. . . . Spend time around women who breastfeed so you can see how they nurse their babies and learn how they make breastfeeding part of their busy lives.” (Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn p404)

Aside from finding out friends or family members who are supportive and knowledgeable about breastfeeding, you can also join breastfeeding support groups. WIC and La Leche League have peer counselling groups that meet up, usually about once a month (although that would depend on the area you are in). You can also find other mom support through online forums or joining a local mom group (search for BabyWearing or Birth groups to find these). If you need help, feel free to message me as I might have knowledge about local groups you could look into.

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  • The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International

  • Breastfeeding: A Parent's Guide by Amy Spangler, MN, RN, IBCLC

  • Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin

  • The Nursing Mother's Companion by Kathleen Huggins, RN, MS

  • Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn by Penny Simkin et al

  • LLL Podcast episode: The Natural Laws of Breastfeeding featuring Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA

  • Fourth Trimester Podcast episode 43: Learn All About Breastfeeding from Lori Isenstadt, IBCLC


**This post is a work in progress as it is consistently updated to provide accurate and helpful suggestions. Last update: October 31, 2017. If you have any questions or concerns about this post, please contact me. Online information is NOT a substitute for an in-person evaluation by a qualified doctor, midwife or lactation consultant.


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