Prenatal planning for breastfeeding is an important step for expectant moms. Learn the steps you can take before birth to help breastfeeding go smoothly for you and your baby.
By Amanda Gorman, Founder of Nest Collaborative and Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Knowing what to expect and that there are resources available to help you along the way can give you incredible peace of mind, so you can enjoy those precious bonding moments with your newborn baby. After all, it should be a happy day when you and your newborn baby get to go home from the hospital for the first time and begin your new family life together.
How can I prepare for breastfeeding success while pregnant?
While you are pregnant, you have a lot of time to think about everything, including your personal feelings about how you are going to breastfeed your baby. Take time to sit down and answer these questions:
- How important is it to you to breastfeed?
- What thoughts do you have about breastfeeding?
- What appeals to you about breastfeeding?
- What concerns do you have about your ability to breastfeed?
- What might increase your confidence level?
- How confident are you about meeting your breastfeeding goals?
- In what ways do you feel most supported to breastfeed? Least supported?
- Is there anyone who will discourage you from breastfeeding? Do you understand the reasons why?
When choosing to breastfeed your baby, it is extremely important for the people around you to support you in your decision. This includes your doctor, nurses, employer, partner, other family members, and friends. If you are experiencing any discouragement from your support system, talk to a lactation consultant about it and how you can work through the problem.
Sometimes just talking about these concerns with someone else can help provide the clarity you are seeking.
What is prenatal breastfeeding education?
A 2008 review by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) found that interactive breastfeeding education, provided both prenatally and postnatally, had the most positive effect on short-term exclusive breastfeeding and the duration of any breastfeeding.
Evidence also shows that women who receive comprehensive prenatal education breastfeed longer and more successfully. In fact, addressing personal concerns, including any perceived or actual potential barriers to nursing successfully ahead of baby’s arrival can make the difference. These barriers can range from mom’s own personal thoughts and feelings, friends/family members with strong opinions, physiological concerns (breast size, nipple shape, previous breast procedures or traumas), medical concerns (thyroid medication use), situational concerns (early return to work or other children to attend to), and potential baby-related barriers.
Every baby and every breastfeeding experience is different. Variables that can affect successful breastfeeding include gestational age (e.g., baby’s born <37 weeks may need extra time to learn), birthing course, the timing of milk arrival, baby’s oral anatomy, and most importantly, and the availability of timely support once concerns arise. The best support is early, preventive, and proactive. Get your questions answered early. Don’t wait until they become problems.
Prenatal breastfeeding education includes the following:
- Guidance for mothers about anticipated situations and signs of effective breastfeeding or breastfeeding problems.
- The benefits of breastfeeding to mother, baby, and society.
- Correct positioning to help the infant latch on to the breast effectively.
- Specific needs in the early days of breastfeeding.
- Resources that are available to help with problems.
- Common fears, concerns, problems, and myths.
Will I be able to breastfeed my baby?
To dispel any concerns you may have about being able to breastfeed your baby, know that mothers can breastfeed even if they have a cesarean section, have had certain breast surgeries, have pierced nipples, or have an occasional drink (even though it’s not recommended). It is best for the mother and baby’s health for mothers to not smoke, but it is not a reason to avoid breastfeeding. And women who have had breast surgery and asymmetrical breasts can breastfeed with good information and support.
What steps can I take to prepare for breastfeeding?
There are several things you can do to prepare for breastfeeding that shouldn’t wait until after the birth of your baby. Prenatal planning for breastfeeding can alleviate so much stress and build confidence for success.
- Get early and routine prenatal care.
- Tell your doctor about your plans to breastfeed.
- Take a breastfeeding class. These classes teach you how to breastfeed and give you and your partner a chance to ask questions.
- Read books about breastfeeding, such as The Breastfeeding Class Your Never Had: Getting Started with Nursing Your Baby, by Ann Bennett, IBCLC, RLC. Learn as much about breastfeeding as you can before the birth of your baby.
- Consider contacting a group like Nest Collaborative to make an appointment with a board-certified lactation consultant.
- Check to see if you have a La Leche League in your area, and if so, attend a couple of meetings prior to the birth of your baby.
- Talk to your friends who have breastfed.
- Identify your personal breastfeeding goals and keep an open mind. You and your baby are learning about each other during those first six weeks.
- Buy the items you will need for breastfeeding, such as nursing bras, covers, and nursing pillows.
- Check with your insurance provider for any breast pump benefits.
Actually, you should stock up on breastfeeding essentials while pregnant to make your experience as a nursing mom much easier and more comfortable:
- Nursing bras: a must-have for convenient nursing
- Nursing tops: or a loose shirt that can be pulled up or a blouse with buttons
- Nursing pads: absorb leaking breast milk and help protect sore nipples.
- Nipple cream: helps to relieve sore nipples during the first few weeks.
- Nursing pillow: helps to keep your newborn positioned properly
- Breast pump: convenient if you are planning to go back to work; you can pump your milk so that others can give it to your baby in a bottle
Finally, partners and family members can do a lot to help support your efforts to breastfeed your baby. Sometimes they may not be sure what to do to help, so don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need.
Check our more pregnancy tips and resources from doctors and experts.