You’re probably wondering what you can do to prepare for those first magical moments of breastfeeding your baby. The simple answer is: nothing. That’s right, you don’t need to do anything before your baby arrives. Your breasts are doing all the work themselves.
However, breastfeeding is a new skill you’ll need to learn. It will also have a big impact on your life. Preparation will give you breastfeeding bliss rather than nursing nightmares. Keep reading to discover the things you should consider before your baby is born.
12 Ways of Preparing to Breastfeed
1. Learn How You Make Milk
You’ve probably already noticed a few changes to your breasts in pregnancy. They’ve very likely got bigger and your nipples darker. All these changes take place so you can begin to feed baby as soon as they are born. The birth of your baby causes a drop in hormone levels, which then kick starts your milk production.
The first milk you make is known as colostrum and changes to mature milk around 3-5 days after delivery. Your breast milk is made on a supply and demand basis. So the more your baby feeds the more milk you make. That’s why formula top ups can really affect your milk supply. Key hormones will control your milk making cycle. Oxytocin is the hormone which helps to release milk from your breast by a ‘Let Down Reflex’. Read our article all about your let down reflex here.
2. Assess Your Breasts
It’s important to assess your breasts before your begin breastfeeding. If you have any concerns, you can discuss these with your doctor or midwife before baby arrives. It’s unlikely any concern will prevent you from breastfeeding. However, you may need to make special adjustments to help you breastfeed. These are things you should consider:
Breast Trauma – Have you ever has an accident or injury which has caused nerve damage? Trauma may also come in the form of sexual abuse, consider seeking counseling for this before baby arrives.
Breast Surgery – Breast augmentation or reduction can result in nerve damage to the nipple. Discuss the likelihood of permanent damage with your surgeon, especially if your nipple was relocated during surgery.
Nipples – If your nipples stay flat or have a dimple when they are stimulated this can make it difficult for baby to latch. Read more about techniques to draw out your nipples here.
You don’t need to do anything to ‘toughen up’ your nipples for breastfeeding. Your body will do this when baby arrives. The best way to prepare is to become familiar with your breast. Seeking advice on the issues noted above will give you a great head start to any issues that may occur.
3. What’s Normal Baby Behavior?
It’s important to know that a breast-fed baby will act different to a formula-fed baby. First, let’s start with how often your baby will feed. In the first month, your baby will feed around 8-12 times per day. That means your baby will feed every 2 -3 hours. This is more often than a formula-fed baby. This is normal. Breast milk is much easier and quicker to digest, so your baby will eat little but often. Your baby may feed more often when they go through a growth spurt.
Expect a feed to last between 5-30 minutes per breast. Think of it like your own appetite, sometimes you may only want a drink or a snack, and other times you want a whole meal. Your baby will show signs of hunger way before they begin to cry. Knowing these ‘hunger cues’ will help you become responsive to your baby’s needs.
You should not expect your breastfed baby to feed through the night, especially as a new-born. Your milk production is highest during the night, and they will want to feed. Baby will also be hungry and want comfort from nursing.
4. What To Expect
In the early days, breastfeeding is exhausting and very time consuming. Your baby will want to feed often, and then be comforted in between. If you’re not used to someone being so dependent on you, it can be a shock to the system. I promise it does get better, and your baby will fall into a predictable schedule.
The biggest shock to new moms who breastfeed is the weird and wonderful things their breasts start to do including:
Discomfort – Breastfeeding is uncomfortable at first, but should ease over time as the ‘toughen’ up. You may experience problems like blister or cracks which you should discuss with a professional.
Engorgement – This is when your nipples are so full of milk they are hard to the touch. This happens often before your milk regulates itself. You may need to express a bit off to make it easier to feed baby. Click here for our tips on dealing with engorgement.
Leaking – Yes, your milk will leak out your breast at the most inconvenient times. Get yourself a pack of great nursing pads. If you want to prevent your milk leaking check out our top tips here.
Pain – This is not normal and should be investigated by a professional. Infections such as mastitis and thrush are fairly common, but easy to treat. If you feel unwell, with red, hot or sore breasts seek help immediately.
5. Gather Your Support
Breastfeeding is natural, but it is a skill you and baby need to learn. No matter how much you read, always be open minded that babies tend not to be text book. It’s important to have someone around you who can steer you in the right direction. Early help is the best way to avoid running into breastfeeding issues. Sometimes all you need is a slight change in position or advice on a nursing accessory.
Find out what help is available in your area. Nurses and Midwives will be able to help when you are in the hospital. What support will you have when you’re at home? Look up lactation consultant or breastfeeding support groups, such as La leche League, in your area. Even having a supportive family member or friend who has successfully breastfeed can be a life-saver.
6. Learn To Hand Express
Hand expression is a skill all breastfeeding moms should know. It can be quick tricky to get the hang of and takes a bit of practice. Learning the technique in pregnancy will come in really handy in the early days of feeding. Your baby may be very sleepy from birth and not interested in feeding. Hand expression will help you express the colostrum to feed directly to baby. The colostrum is thick and made in very small volumes, which are easily if using a breast pump.
Once your mature milk ‘comes in’ you can use hand expression as your supply regulates. When your breasts are engorged it can be difficult for baby to attach. Hand expressing a few drops off will help your let down reflex and baby will attach to the nipple better. Check out our article on methods of expression with a hand expression demo.
7. Discover Different Positions
There are lots of different ways you can hold your baby as they breastfeed. The most common is known as the cradle hold, with baby held across the tummy. Each hold has its benefits and with time, you’ll find the ones which suit you and baby best. You may even use different positions for each breast. Using a variety of positions can help empty your breast at different angles and prevent plugged ducts. The most important thing is having at least one ‘go to’ position that you feel comfortable with. These are our tips for each position:
Cradle hold – The most common position; however, may be uncomfortable for moms who had C-section.
Football hold – Ideal position is you had a C-section, large breast or a premature baby. It can help you feel more in control you have more room by your side rather than over your tummy.
Side Lying – Perfect for feeding baby during the night or soon after C-section.
Sitting hold – Best for older babies who are easily distracted when feeding.
Laid back breastfeeding – A lesser known position but great for women with large breasts or a fast let down reflex.
8. Gather Breastfeeding Essentials
When you start to buy things for baby don’t forget about some handy breastfeeding essentials. Make sure you gather these in the third trimester so you have them to hand for baby arriving. You may even want to add them to your baby registry to have a good selection. If you need the bare minimum don’t go without these:
- Good Quality Nursing Bra – Read our guide to buying one.
- Nipple Cream – Check out our top picks and buying guide.
- Breast Pads – disposable or reusable? Read our guide on which ones you should buy.
Other breastfeeding accessories are not essential, but will make things a lot easier for you. And let’s face it convenience is worth its weight in gold when you’re a sleep-deprived new mom. Read our handy breastfeeding and pumping checklist here.
9. Consider Co-Sleeping
Co-sleeping is a natural way parents should sleep with babies. The invention of cribs put a stop to the practice at the turn of the century. Co-sleeping and breastfeeding go hand in hand. It’s ideal for keeping baby close during the night as they can feed whilst you doze. When you are feeding 2-3 hourly during the night, this will save your sanity.
The worry with co-sleeping is that the modern adult bed is not safe for babies. If you are concerned about bed sharing consider a bed sharing co-sleeper or a side crib as an alternative. These cribs give you easy access to baby as well as giving them their own safe space to sleep. The Arms Reach Range and First Years Co-sleeper and popular choices. It is important to make an informed decision regarding co-sleeping. Check out this co-sleeping guide which gives you all the information you need to know.
10. Check Out Baby Wearing
We’ve already discussed that your baby will be feeding every 2-3 hours in the early days. Trying to get things done can be tricky when your hands are full with baby. If you want the freedom to nurse whenever you need to consider baby wearing. That means using a sling or carrier to hold baby and keep your hands free. This is a great solution if you are breastfeeding when you have other children.
One great advantage about breastfeeding in a sling is that it’s super discreet. It’s the perfect solution if you don’t feel too confident with breastfeeding in public places. Having your baby so close has many other benefits for your baby, such as baby crying less and gaining weight better. The contact you have with baby will also help you to recognize hunger cues and skin to skin can help improve your milk supply. Check out our guide to buying a breastfeeding baby carrier here.
11. Consider your lifestyle
It’s important to consider the impact that breastfeeding will have on your life. By the time you are in your third trimester you’ll have a plan for what you’ll do after baby arrives. How long are you planning to take off work or school? Or are you planning to be a stay at home mom? If you are planning to breastfeed when you return to working or school you’ll need to express milk for when you are away from baby. That means getting a good portable breast pump. Check out our top breast pump picks for working moms.
You should also look into your rights as an employee who is breastfeeding. Do your work or school have facilities for you to express in private, or will this need to be arranged? If your baby is going into child care, do they have breastfeeding friendly policies or provisions for handling expressed breast milk? Scoping out these issues before baby arrives will give you time to tackle them and iron out any issues.
12. Be Mindful Of Pain Relief
In your third trimester, you’ll be focusing on the birth of your baby. You’ll more than likely have made a birth plan and considered pain relief. You’ll be thinking of pain relief in regard to how it will help you cope. It’s important to remember that any drugs you take during labor may affect breastfeeding. We are not insisting you go drug-free, but to be mindful of the long-term side effects they cause. This is what we already know about common labor drugs:
- Pitocin – Used to speed up labor. Known to cause fluid retention making is difficult for baby to latch on.
- Morphine – Help you to relax. Crosses the placenta into baby and can make them very sleepy and reluctant to feed.
- Demerol – Similar results to morphine.
- Epidural or spinal – Complete block of pain or required for surgery. Make it difficult to establish feeding as make baby very sleepy. The anesthetic is also known to delay the let-down reflex.