Seeing this headline, it would be understandable if women brushed it off. How can an expectant mom possibly get ready for breastfeeding – before her baby is ever even born? Isn’t it sort of a learn-by-doing thing?
That’s sort of what I would have thought, anyway.
Then, I had two babies in the span of the last few years.
I’ve only had a very short break in breastfeeding during the time after my older toddler had stopped feeding in this mode and before my second was born. Then it was right back at it again.
Breastfeeding is, and has been for quite some time now, a huge part of my life.
Actually doing it is the only way to really and truly learn how, but believe it or not, there are certainly quite a few wonderful ways in which you (and your partner) can prepare for this important task.
From making a few simple purchases to educating yourself to feeling physically and mentally prepared, it can all be so important.
Even though breastfeeding is indeed a completely natural thing for a mother and baby to do, many women struggle in some way at some point, so it can only help to have realistic expectations and have the knowledge to get through any challenges.
Check out these 15 ways moms can prepare for breastfeeding before the baby’s even born.
15 Buy The Right Support
I have a lot of nursing bra experience, and if you have read a little bit of anything I’ve written, well then you know that I am glad to write about it in detail.
First of all, before I was a wordsmith for a living, I had a job sizing people for and then helping them find the perfect bra. Then there’s the fact that I simply love a good bra myself, and that I’ve come to depend on having comfortable and functional ones during my two pregnancies and breastfeeding experiences over the last handful of years.
I made the mistake of buying nursing bras a bit too early into my first pregnancy. They were quickly too small, and the ones I chose were not the most practical or comfortable anyway.
Then I learned to skip the department store and look at specialty maternity stores and online to try out a few and go from there.
The nursing bras I ended up favoring, personally (and then wearing continuously into my second pregnancy and thereafter, after purchasing many of them), are stretchy, soft, wireless, and have a clip-down function. They are snug enough to be supportive but not so tight that they become uncomfortable or problematic when I’m rather full of milk.
14 Purchase The Pads
Just as you will likely need new bras before your baby is ever actually born (and might as well purchase your nursing bras at that point, to give them a try and have them at the ready), you may very well need to have nursing pads to insert into the cups of said bras, as well.
I would for sure recommend experimenting with which types, exactly, you might find comfortable and practical for your own lifestyle.
I, for example, at first purchased a huge bulk pack of the popular brand of disposable nursing pads online, while I was still pregnant. I had this idea that those were the “normal” ones to use or something, I think, as I recall.
Well although I didn’t end up leaking colostrum noticeably before my baby was actually born (some women indeed do, and that’s why they may need the pads prior to the actual birth), I sure needed them as soon as the birth had occurred and my milk was coming in.
Unexpected leaks and sprays are common, and pads can prevent a mom and baby from winding up wet, stained, and cold.
My new-mom nipples hated those scratchy disposable ones, and a soft, washable variety became my go-to.
13 Prepare To Pump
Do not make the same mistake that I did. Be sure to order your electric breast pump in plenty of time so that it will arrive and be ready to go in your home before your baby is born.
I had absolutely no clue that this would be so important. Let me tell you my sad story…
I tried to follow my nifty pregnancy checklist and get my breast pump ordered like a good little mommy, but I waited and waited, and though the doctor sent in the prescription to the medical supply company, there was some blunder,
some form that still needed to be filled out that the correct parties were never notified of, and so it never came.
I spend the first few weeks after my baby was born, when I really, REALLY needed an electric pump to both stimulate milk production and relieve engorgement, having to make due with a hand pump that was painstaking to use. My husband and I had to work the thing in shifts, and it was exhausting (and we were already so, so tired!).
I eventually borrowed one from a family member, before at last getting my own delivered.
Don’t forget to get this sorted so your own pump is ready to go!
12 Pop A Prenatal
Pregnant women are usually advised by their doctors to take that all-important prenatal vitamin during their pregnancies (and beforehand, too, if there is any chance of them becoming pregnant). These help mom and baby both to receive the vitamins they need, and can also help to prevent birth defects.
MayoClinic.org says the following of these wonderful pills: “Prenatal vitamins typically contain more folic acid and iron than do standard adult multivitamins. Here's why: Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects. These defects are serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord.”
So yeah, they are kind of big deal.
And on top of all of this, in taking your prenatal vitamin during pregnancy, you are also establishing a good practice for after the baby is born, during your breastfeeding journey. According to the popular parenting website BabyCenter.com, “Continuing to take prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding is a good idea to make sure you're getting essential vitamins and minerals. Most women can get all necessary vitamins and minerals from food if they're eating a well-balanced diet.”
I figure, too, that in taking a prenatal vitamin throughout breastfeeding, I’m preparing my body should I become pregnant again.
With varieties available for free through insurance and quite affordably over the counter at the store, why not?
11 Do Right With The Diet
To me, this next point is about a couple important things: having a healthy and capable body currently, as well as establishing healthy and helpful eating habits for the breastfeeding journey that is still to come.
Dude, breastfeeding takes energy. It takes strength. It literally takes muscle to hold your baby in the correct position much of the time.
Something like a couple hundred extra calories are said to be required in a breastfeeding mom’s diet. After the birth of my first baby, I found that I needed to add quite a bit more than this in order to maintain my own weight and keep up with the nutritional demands being placed on my body. I added the calories through healthy foods like nuts, milk, fruits, whole grains, and vegetables.
After the birth of my second, therefore (and being a few years older at that point), I was, I’ll admit, a bit surprised that I felt like I did need to sort of watch carefully what I ate, even while expending all those extra calories while breastfeeding.
That’s why I’m glad I had practice in eating a healthy and well-balanced diet – in giving my body healthy foods spaced throughout the entire day.
It gives me the fortitude to do everything I do, including feed another human from my own body every couple of hours!
10 Bring On The Water Bottles
During my first pregnancy, I began to think seriously for the first time about the whole BPA thing. I wanted to rethink that old plastic cup that I was constantly sipping water from throughout each and every day. I chose to eat my favorite canned beans only when they came from cans with BPA-free liners.
And happily, this whole situation led me to invest in a couple nice, adequately sized water bottles.
Boy, am I glad that I had these around by the time my baby was actually born.
Sure, hydrating is important all of the time, and particularly during pregnancy (and labor!), as I can tell you from my own experiences with my own two babies so far, but it is so, so crucial when you are breastfeeding.
I tend to feel warmer during nursing, for one, so having cool water on hand helps me to feel relaxed, patient, and comfortable.
Plus, keeping myself adequately hydrated ensures that my body can produce the milk that my baby needs.
BabyAndCompany.com puts it this way: “Staying hydrated is important for everyone, but even more so if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. Water is essential for general health and functioning of the body, especially during these times. When your body loses more fluid than it takes in, dehydration occurs.”
I happily chose a spill-proof variety of bottle, which is great to have all around my house, including on carpeted areas and with a toddler running around nearby.
9 Choose A Comfy Chair
I have just learned so, so much, in the last three years of my life. Before this time, I had quite limited experience with babies.
Sure, there were a few in my extended family, but when it came to super real topics like breastfeeding, diaper blowouts, behavior, and discipline, I was destined to sort of just learn as I went along, as so many of us parents must do.
Well, let’s start with the fact that I did realize that I would need a chair to sit in while I breastfed. Plus, you know, it’s sort of the “normal” or cliché thing to do, right? Put a rocking chair or glider in the nursery.
It’s where you can breastfeed or feed with a bottle, snuggle and rock, sing a song, and read a book together.
And I came to learn that having a comfortable one that fit me JUST right was really, really important.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I gladly accepted a hand-me-down wooden chair and made due with it.
When I became pregnant with my second (and needed a second place to sit anyway), I made it a focus at around the midway point (20 weeks or so) to get seriously shopping for the chair of my nursing dreams, one with cushioning, a matching (and gliding) ottoman, and arm rests at just the right height and spacing.
Having this comfortable place to spend so much of your time can make all the difference.
8 A Plush Tool
Nursing a baby can be so much about having the determination to do so. It can also be about feeling supported (by your family, your employer, society at large, and so on). Believe me: I know from more than three years of experience.
When it comes down to it, in fact, it can be quite important to have actual physical support, as in a nursing pillow designed to help mothers hold their babies comfortably while breastfeeding.
I even made sure to bring one to the hospital with me when my second baby was born.
There’s the Boppy, which is commonly sold in large chain baby-goods stores. I have a couple of those in my home at the various “stations” where I tend to nurse. It’s shaped like a “C” and rests around your midsection, helping you to bring your baby up to the level of the breasts. It can be shoved up or down somewhat and angled slightly so that you have one more way of fighting fatigue when learning and sticking with it as the hours and hours of nursing pass.
There are other brands and options out there, as well. Heck, I bet you could sew some fabric together and stuff it yourself if you’re feeling crafty and thrifty!
7 Get Comfy Getting Handsy
In my experience, as you get older and have more need and opportunity to do so, it just becomes easier to both talk about and deal with all things, well, bodily.
While as a young woman it might at first feel odd to even do something like perform a frequent self-check on your own breasts for lumps (start early!), as the years pass, what once seemed foreign probably has a way of turning into regular old run-of-the-mill.
And so with the various holds and massaging and hand-expression and so forth that will likely be required during breastfeeding once the baby is born, I’d say it’s a good idea to go ahead and get comfortable with the idea and / or practice of handling the breasts.
They are about to take on a whole new (and fascinating!) function, after all, and this will require you to, well, use them in a whole new way.
On any given day, I have to be ready to pull them out, position them just so, attach plastic pump parts to them, and more.
I’d say that being prepared to do this and familiar with your own body is just another nice way of being mentally prepared to breastfeed.
6 Lovely Lanolin
Breastfeeding is certainly not entirely about the products or the associated purchases.
If someone could do it quite successfully with no modern clothing or contraptions in a teepee or cave, and if mammals of so many types do it in nature every day, surely it’s quite possible to breastfeed with nothing present but one willing mother and one hungry baby.
But this little article is about various important ways that you can sort of give yourself a boost toward breastfeeding success – ways that you can prepare and learn from the knowledge and common practices of so many modern women before you.
When I was in the hospital, nurses and lactation consultants explained to me what a little product called “lanolin” was for.
The all-natural ointment-like product comes in a little tube, sort of like toothpaste usually does (or in a little foil packet, if it’s a sample provided in the first few days at the hospital), and is applied to the nipple area to help care for sore, dry, or cracked nipples.
If you have a tube around waiting for you in case you need it, it can only help with making you more comfortable as you begin to breastfeed.
The beauty of it is that it’s considered safe because when used in moderation, it isn’t problematic for a baby to then latch on to the area. (I was cautioned not to apply too much at once because it can make for a slippery situation and a harder time getting baby to latch.)
5 Get Schooled
Let’s not forget about the value of education. While some classes are taken simply to try to get credits toward getting a degree, in order to then get a certain job and earn a certain salary, perhaps it’s good to remember, also, that some classes can be taken just because one has the need or desire to learn!
I became aware of a breastfeeding class, which could be completed in one short evening session, offered at the local hospital, and you bet your booty I signed right up for it.
Expectant mothers and fathers attended together, and the whole thing was somewhat informative, with lactation consultants and nurses speaking, but largely, to me, felt like sort of an extended pep talk for breastfeeding.
The benefits for mother and baby were covered, as well as practical tips about pumping, positioning, and more.
If something like this is offered in your neck of the woods, why not go for it?
The one I attended was rather affordable, as it was offered at the hospital. You could check with your OB’s office or local hospital to inquire about a similar class or resource.
You may not get a diploma at the end, but something you hear there may just prove helpful once the baby is born, or keep you going when you feel like you might otherwise want to quit.
4 Talk It Out
Classes can be great, but it can be hard to get that one-on-one experience and feel comfortable asking any real questions that you have. Plus, in my experience, the experts up at the front of the class, although they offered some helpful information, I found sort of presented it with a bit of a disconnect, delivering their lecture as if we already knew a tad more than we really did in some portions and sort of oversimplifying things too much at other moments.
So while a class can be good, like so many real-deal topics in life, perhaps nothing quite beats actually talking about something face-to-face with someone you know and trust.
Maybe it’s a friend, neighbor, or sister-in-law, or heck, even a friendly coworker.
Breastfeeding moms are everywhere! And my bet is that they will be willing to talk about their experiences with you in order to help you feel knowledgeable and prepared.
I know I’m always more than happy to talk to new or expecting moms about nursing!
It’s such a unique experience in life, and just knowing more what to expect can be a great comfort.
Just keep in mind that everyone has a unique experience, so yours will not be just like that of whomever you are talking to.
3 Watch And Learn
Let’s see, what is the go-to for learning how to do something these days…?
I have heard of women — a single mom of four kids, in fact — building entire houses based on watching YouTube videos (you can read the full story at Today.com or CBSNews.com). That’s how I figured out where a certain switch I needed to use was when I was driving an unfamiliar car just yesterday.
Yep, while googling or YouTube-ing something will not give you one expert and completely correct way of doing something, it certainly will offer you a great variety of perspectives from people willing to share their opinions about and experiences with how to do a certain thing.
If you haven’t exactly had the chance to (comfortably) stare down a mom as she helps her baby latch on and breastfeeds, checking out some YouTube or other videos might be a great step to take.
I went on there many times to check out tips for how to nurse in bed, various different breastfeeding holds, and more.
It’s information at your fingertips! And seeing is believing. I know it felt more understandable and real to me once I’d watched a few other new moms do it onscreen.
2 Round Up The Resources
If you live somewhere that has a particularly awesome hospital or some great OB offices or clinics, they may sort of do some of the work for you, handing out lists of helpful resources to you at the start of and throughout your pregnancy and reminding you of these various helpful groups and people as needed.
So if that’s you, then I’d say, based on my experience, pay attention. Keep lists of breastfeeding resources in an accessible and memorable place. This might mean La Leche League, a mother’s circle, or a certain time and place at the hospital where you can go for free to connect with lactation consultants and other new moms.
It might mean the phone numbers and websites of a few lactation consultants (who are pretty much breastfeeding professionals) who are covered by your current medical insurance.
It’s great to have confidence that everything will be easy and you won’t necessarily need to reach out, but it’s also great to know that you can if you need to.
Particularly during those early weeks, having someone experienced to help you get that latch just right or get your pumping schedule figured out can mean the difference between happily keeping at it or wanting to throw in the towel.
1 Hone The Holding Skills
If you read my stuff at all, you’ll find that I’m a big proponent of the whole “knowledge is power” thing.
I know from experience that breastfeeding is, on one hand, all about learning as you go, from that moment (or within an hour or so, in most cases, anyway) that your sweet little bundle is finally placed in your loving arms.
However, being prepared by knowing what it can really be like and learning how you might approach it in various scenarios can be crucial studying for the big test of when it’s actually time to really do it.
Either by reading a pregnancy / parenting book, checking out some reputable websites, or reviewing materials provided at your OB’s office, your child’s pediatrician’s office, the hospital, or a clinic,
become familiar with various breastfeeding holds you might want to try.
In my experience as a mother to two very young’uns, it can all seem a bit foreign and confusing until you’ve actually tried it, and yet having seen the images of the various holds is also quite crucial.
When you’re too exhausted to get up, maybe you’ll be able to try side-lying in bed. When cross-body is too much for your wrist to bear, maybe you can switch to cradle.
You’ve got this, mama! And there are so many people out there ready to help you.