How to Prepare Yourself for Breastfeeding

Young mom breastfeeding

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There is a lot of focus on breastfeeding your baby these days due to the numerous physical benefits for the mother and baby or babies. What we know is that there are many women who would love to breastfeed but struggle. One of the reasons that many women struggle is the lack of preparation for breastfeeding.

This preparation falls into a couple of different categories:

Prenatal Education

Being ready for breastfeeding means that you understanding how breastfeeding works. This means that you need to learn some basic biology. You need to understand how milk is produced and delivered. You need to understand how your baby plays a part in the process. You need to know some basics about breastfeeding positions. You may even need to know about breast pumps and how they play a part in successful lactation for some women.

Support for Breastfeeding

You will want to know who to call should you have a problem. This is true for small problems and big problems. One thing I often tell pregnant women is that if you call about a small problem, you’re likely going to prevent a much larger problem. My motto is to call early and often. Support for breastfeeding goes way beyond just knowing to whom you should reach out to for help. You need to have daily support from your family and friends who are closest to you. This means that they may also benefit from breastfeeding education, but also a lesson in how to support a breastfeeding person. There are so many ways to bond with and help the baby that does not include breastfeeding. Be sure to have some ideas prepared to help your support persons feel close to the baby and not anxious about breastfeeding.

Here’s how to prepare your breasts for breastfeeding.

Get Your Nipples Checked

You may be concerned about how big or small your nipples are, this really has nothing to do with breastfeeding. What you do need to do is to have your nipples checked to see if they are flat or inverted. You can do a quick self-test for flat or inverted nipples.

Take your fingers and pinch just beyond the areola, the dark part of your breast. Does your nipple become erect and stand up? Does your nipple retract into your breast tissue? Or does your nipple stay flat? If your nipple does not become erect, you may have a problem with flat or inverted nipples. This is something that you can have your doctor or midwife help screen for at your next prenatal visit. This will not inhibit your ability to breastfeed but may require some special assistance as you and your baby learn to nurse those early days.

Get Screened for Hypoplastic Breasts

Hypoplasia or insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) is something that many people don’t notice until their baby is already born. When they try to breastfeed, they figure out there is a problem when the baby is not gaining weight. While this is a rare condition, there are some warning signs that you can look for before giving birth. If you have any of these symptoms, you may want to ask your doctor or midwife to screen your breasts for IGT: breasts that are significantly asymmetrical (one is larger than the other), your breasts are widely spaced, ​tube-shaped, or seem like empty sacs, you had no breast changes in early pregnancy, or you had no breast changes after birth.

This may not mean that you suffer from IGT, but if you do, this will give you a chance to make a breastfeeding plan to see how you can try to get as much of milk supply as possible or use alternatives like lactation aids, which may or may not include supplementation.

Talk to Your Plastic Surgeon 

If you have had a breast reduction or breast surgery, you may have insufficient glandular tissue as well, even if you did not have a pre-existing issue with hypoplastic breasts. Some of the newer techniques in breast reduction spare the tissue that produces milk. This means that not all breast reductions are created equally. If you happen to read this article prior to having a breast reduction, be sure to tell your plastic surgeon that you are interested in breastfeeding in the future and to do what they can to spare your breast tissue.

If you have had the surgery and don’t remember what type of procedure was done, you can request a copy of your medical records. Your doctor or midwife can help you sort through the records and figure out your best course of action.

Get to Know Your Breasts

While we used to have a long list of fairly painful things that you could do to your breasts, we have largely stopped recommending traditional nipple preparation. So, don’t listen if someone tells you to take a towel and toughen up your nipples. You actually remove some of the oils your body is producing to be more friendly to your breasts and nipples. However, breast massage can be helpful. Some women find that it relieves the pain from growing tissues in pregnancy. It can also help you feel more comfortable with your breasts once you are breastfeeding.

All of these are quick things to do in the prenatal phase of your breastfeeding life. Ask your doctor or midwife for other advice based on your health history. Build your team to start breastfeeding out on the right foot so that you can meet your personal breastfeeding goals.

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By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.