A common question during pregnancy is “Can I prepare for breastfeeding?” The simple answer is yes. In fact, your body is already preparing whether you are aware of it or not. Your nipples are becoming larger and maybe darker, your breasts are increasing in size, and your milk ducts are maturing and starting to produce early milk or colostrum. But there are also things that YOU can do to set yourself up for success.
Here is a list of ways to help you prepare:
Add breastfeeding to your birth plan.
Let your OB , midwife, pediatrician, and/or doula know that you are planning on breastfeeding and add this to your birth plan. In the plan ask for no feeding interventions (pacifiers, sugar water, formula, or bottles) unless medically necessary and approved by you. Don’t worry, if supplementation is needed there are delivery systems that support breastfeeding like cup feeding or syringe feeding, which licensed lactation consultants can help you with. Ask for baby to be placed on your belly or chest immediately after delivery. The first hour after birth should be spent bonding with baby and attempting the first breastfeed. This means no visitors during this special time. Make a sign for the hospital bassinet that reads “I am a breastfed baby. Please don’t give me pacifiers, bottles, or formula unless my parents say its ok.” Plan on lots of skin-to-skin and on-demand feeding.
Opt for a natural unmedicated birth.
Studies show that medical interventions during birth can negatively impact breastfeeding success. Babies tend to be less alert, are more sleepy, and have diminished early sucking when pain relieving drugs are used (Bell et al. 2013). In addition, epidurals tend to have a domino effect triggering events that may require birth interventions and have been associated with impaired sucking, supplementation, and early weaning (Dozier et al., 2012). C-sections have also been associated with difficulty in breastfeeding (mostly because of hospital protocol limiting skin-to -skin contact), and also with delayed onset of milk production due to the disruption in hormone shifting that normally occurs in natural birth (Rowe-Murray et al., 2002 & Dewey, 2001). Having a solid birth plan, preparing for a natural unmedicated birth by taking classes, and enlisting support during labor should be considered.
Form a positive support system.
It may seem obvious but having a partner that is on board and 100% supportive of breastfeeding will greatly increase your odds of success. Share your goals with your partner and discuss why you want to breastfeed. Its also important to find support outside the home. Talk to a friend or relative that has had a POSITIVE breastfeeding experience. If that friend or relative is still breastfeeding ask if you can observe. There are also plenty of community resources available. For example, La Leche League is a non-profit organization that offers local and free mother-to-mother support groups, which you can attend before and after birth (http://www.lllusa.org/).
Focus on evidence based information.
Arm yourself with information but make sure the information is from a reputable source (certified lactation educator or an IBCLC Lactation Consultant). There’s an overwhelming amount of information on the internet but not all of it supports a healthy and successful breastfeeding relationship. For example, avoid books or sites that discuss scheduled feedings as this will sabotage your milk supply. One great internet source is Kelly Mom, which has contributions from reputable lactation consultants and educators (www.kellymom.com). Your best bet is to take a breastfeeding class where you can learn the basics and ask questions at the same time. Nursling offers classes in southern Orange County twice a month (www.nurslinglactation.com).
Stock up on essentials.
Purchase at least two supportive but stretchy nursing bras. Nursing tank tops are also a nice option. You will want pajamas and lounge clothes that are comfortable but that also make your breasts easily accessible. So look for button down tops or stretchy tops. No need to buy expensive nursing clothing. Also, 100% pure lanolin nipple cream and nursing pads will be useful. Some other accessories to consider may be a breast pump, storage bags, nursing pillow, and a sling or wrap for babywearing.
- Bell AF, et al. Fetal exposure to synthetic oxytocin and the relationship with pre-feeding cues within one hour post birth. Early Hum Dev. 2013; 89 (3): 137-143.
- Dewey, K. Maternal and Fetal Stress Are Associated with Impaired Lactogenesis in Humans. Journal of Nutrition. 2001. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from http://jn.nutrition.org/content/131/11/3012S.abstract
- Dozier AM, et al. Labor epidural anesthesia, obstetric factors, and breastfeeding cessation. Matern Child Health J. 2013; 17(4): 689-698.
- Rowe-Murray, H. J. and Fisher, J. R.W., Baby Friendly Hospital Practices: Cesarean Section is a Persistent Barrier to Early Initiation of Breastfeeding. Birth, 2002; 29: 124–131.
By Jennifer Horne, MBA, Certified Lactation Educator
Want to learn about boosting your milk supply, check out our post on nutrition.