Once you’ve made the decision to breastfeed your baby, it’s natural that you want to do all you can to set yourself up for success. But it’s not always easy preparing for breastfeeding when you’re still pregnant and aren’t completely clear on what it’s going to be like. Here are some things you can do to prepare for breastfeeding that will actually be helpful when the time comes.
Leave your nipples alone
Somehow, rumors got started that you need to toughen up your nipples before the baby arrives. (I’m wincing in pain imagining all these women abusing their nipples while pregnant and desperate.)
Ladies, leave the nipples alone.
It’s true that when you start breastfeeding, your nipples will likely become blistered and cracked for the first few weeks, especially if your baby has a bad latch. This can be painful, and lanolin cream will be your best friend until you and your baby get the whole latch thing down.
But you can’t really do anything ahead of time to avoid this stage.
In fact, your breasts change on their own to prepare for breastfeeding. The areola grows bigger and darker to help the baby find it. And the bumps on the outer rim of your nipples, called Montgomery’s glands, are making oil to keep your nipples lubricated and free from bacteria.
If you have flat or inverted nipples, it is unlikely that anything you do is going to change their anatomy. Many women have found nursing using a nipple shield to be helpful in this case.
Arm yourself with knowledge
The absolute most effective way to ensure breastfeeding success is to learn as much as you can about breastfeeding ahead of time. This is not something you want to blindly stumble into.
I highly recommend taking a breastfeeding course. Sometimes the hospital you deliver at offers one. If not, Milkology has a very thorough online breastfeeding course that allows you to learn from home on your own time. I took the Ultimate Breastfeeding Class and found its coverage extensive, including:
- The biggest mistake women make that can sabotage breastfeeding
- The most effective breastfeeding position to get a deep latch
- 2 simple ways to ensure your baby is getting enough milk
- A powerful strategy to make more milk whenever you need to
- 7 places to seek out and find your super support tribe
- BONUS: The breastfeeding troubleshooting guide- perfect for getting quick answers when things go awry!
Milkology has since added two more online courses including the Back to Work Pumping Class and an Exclusive Pumping course. I have heard nothing but amazing feedback about these two! You can take one on its own or as an add-on to the Ultimate Breastfeeding course.
Get the right supplies
It seems like every time I turn around there are new breastfeeding products out there. I’m not one for overspending, which is why I wrote this post about the breastfeeding essentials you actually need.
You don’t need to drop all kinds of money on breastfeeding products (isn’t breastfeeding supposed to be cheaper than formula?) but you will need a few basics like a pump, nursing bras, and boppy pillow.
Have a realistic plan
There is something to be said for setting expectations. When it comes to life with a newborn, especially if this is your first, you might need to lower the bar. Like way, way down.
Don’t plan on accomplishing anything during your maternity leave other than bonding with your baby and recovering from birth. Those two tasks are not small, they are enormous. Throw in breastfeeding, and it’s almost too much.
If you expect it to be difficult and it turns out smooth, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. But if you jump on the “breastfeeding is natural, therefore this will be easy” train… reality is going to hit you hard.
Remember that maternity leave is not a vacation or a sabbatical. You won’t be doing pleasure reading in your free time. You’ll be tired and dirty and wishing for a shower and 3 uninterrupted hours of sleep. Now you can’t say nobody warned you!
Having a survival plan can help a lot. Is Grandma begging you for some baby time once the little one arrives? Schedule her for 2-4pm on Wednesdays and make sure you get a midweek nap and shower.
One plan I often hear is “I’m going to pump a bottle so my partner can do night feedings.” This is one plan that doesn’t often work out. For one, finding a time to pump when your newborn is attached to you 24/7 is a challenge. Another obstacle is getting the baby to accept a bottle. Lastly, your supply might require you to do all the night feedings. It’s a well-intentioned plan to have someone help with night feedings, but may not be realistic once the little one is actually here.
Take everything else off your plate
I know what you’re saying. “What? How?”
You are the mom, the entire household revolves around you and your infinite wisdom of how to run a household.
But if you are determined to breastfeed, it will help SO MUCH if you make that your number one priority in the weeks following birth. And that will require you to let a lot of other responsibilities go.
Newborns have tiny bellies and need to eat very frequently, sometimes every hour. They also aren’t super efficient at breastfeeding, so nursing sessions can last 20-30 minutes. If that sounds like that doesn’t leave you a lot of spare time, you’re right!
For the first couple weeks, delegate as much as possible. Get help with the cleaning. Set up a sitter for your older children if you have them. Remind your spouse how a washing machine works.
Prepare dinners ahead of time by making freezer meals during your pregnancy. Here are 21 freezer meal recipes to get you started!
Secure your support system
I spend a lot of time in breastfeeding mom groups, and one of things women say is the hardest thing about breastfeeding isn’t cracked nipples or night feedings.
It is the lack of support.
Emotionally, it is devastating when you are giving it your all and you hear comments like “why is he so small? I don’t think he’s getting enough from you” or “can’t you do that somewhere else?”
Having the support of family and friends can make the difference between quitting breastfeeding and reaching your goals. Talk to family members beforehand and let them know you need their support. Distance yourself from people you know will be toxic to your breastfeeding relationship (at least temporarily). Connect with people who are also breastfeeding or who you know are supportive of it. You don’t want to do this alone!
Join a group
Even if you have family and friends supporting you (but especially if you don’t), it’s a good idea to join a breastfeeding group.
Not only will these connections give you emotional support, they can also be a wealth of knowledge for when you have questions and concerns along the way.
Local groups in person are fantastic if you have one near you (check with your healthcare provider or lactation consultant). There are also tons of online groups too. I like the Milky Mamas Breastfeeding Support Facebook group because it’s large and active so you will get a quick response to anything you post. There are a lot of knowledgeable moms on there who can answer absolutely anything.
You can even join it during pregnancy just to read and learn from others’ questions. That would be a great way to prepare for breastfeeding.
Surrounding yourself with other nursing mothers (even if virtually) helps normalize what you’re going through and makes you feel less alone.
What are YOU doing to get prepared for breastfeeding?
Have you taken any of these steps? Or do you have a different plan? Let me know in the comments!