Whilst breastfeeding comes to naturally to some, for many (like myself) it takes some hard work. I had a challenging time breastfeeding (which you can read about here) but with perseverance I succeeded in the end. You too can prepare for breastfeeding and you can do it while you are pregnant.
Preparing to breastfeed while pregnant can make a huge difference to your breastfeeding experience. In many cases, it can make the difference between successfully breastfeeding or not. What follows are my top 5 tips to prepare for breastfeeding while pregnant.
1. Do your research while pregnant
There is so much you can do while you are pregnant to prepare to breastfeed. Knowledge really is power. Prior to having your baby I would thoroughly recommend reading up on breastfeeding and watching lots of videos to learn what a good/bad latch looks like.
Personally, I learned way more from links and videos online than I did from the NHS breastfeeding classes. There are so many of them, that it’s helpful to have some recommended ones. Here are some places you can go to find out more:
Kellymom is great for initial information and for troubleshooting information later on. I like how it breaks breastfeeding down into stages. See their ‘getting started’ section for a bunch of great links to help you prepare to breastfeed. The site is easy to navigate and is evidence based. Its helped me several times and is one of my go to areas for breastfeeding information.
International Breastfeeding Centre
The International Breastfeeding Centre is the home of world-renowned breastfeeding expert, Dr Jack Newman. I love Dr Jack Newman, he’s got great information on breastfeeding and doesn’t mince his words. The centre has helped me personally via email in the past when I have had difficulties. If you are having difficulties I would recommend dropping them an email via the site.
I would also thoroughly recommend his book, Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding (affiliate link). What this book doesn’t tell you about breastfeeding isn’t worth knowing.
Lots of the time doctors/dentists will tell you to stop breastfeeding unnecessarily when they are giving you certain treatments/drugs. The site also has solid information on drugs and breastfeeding so you can look up what is safe when breastfeeding.
La Leche League
Last but certainly not least, I want to highlight La Leche League. An amazing international organisation that provides both physical and online support for breastfeeders. The main strength of this group is support – especially from local groups. Here you can find where you nearest physical support group is held where you can get advice from La Leche Group Leaders and meet other mothers etc. Personally, I found it hard to physically get to real life support groups but found the ones online so helpful.
There are some tools that I think are really helpful for helping create realistic expectations when it comes to nursing:
- Timeline of a breastfed baby – what to expect broken down by stages.
- National Breastfeeding Helpline – you can call this 9.30am-9.30pm every single day of the year for support. They also have live web chat.
- Breastfeeding Network – Drugs factsheets – another site with great information on safe medications for breastfeeding.
When I was pregnant I found the NHS breastfeeding classes pretty pointless. We practised with dolls, which is utterly futile because the doll isn’t a wriggling crying baby doing kangaroo boxing as you are trying to get them to latch! Personally I found it much more helpful to watch a host of instructional videos to learn what good breastfeeding should look like, different holds etc.
The ‘flipple technique’ was a life saver for me. You can see how to do the flipple technique for a good latch in these videos:
Again, the International Breastfeeding Centre has some great videos showing both good and bad latches to help you learn what breastfeeding should look like.
Learn how to hand express – this is one of the best tools you can have for your breastfeeding career. You can check to see if your milk has come in. If you are too engorged you can ease some milk off . You can express without a breast pump (although its more time-consuming this way). Every breastfeeding mam should know how to hand express.
There are lots of great apps that can help with breastfeeding. On these apps you can record wet/dirty nappies, weights, feeds and a whole host of other helpful things. Download one ready – my favourite is BabyConnect. It has great functionality, you can tailor it per child, have multiple children on it. Its entirely adaptable and you can have it sync across multiple devices so you and any other care givers can see the information in real time.
2. Join online support groups
There are so many support groups online that are incredibly helpful. I would join when pregnant and planning to breastfeed as you can observe discussions to see what kind of questions are asked, what issues people have and observe the advice given. This will help you gain more of an understanding about what breastfeeding is really like and help you become more informed. It can also direct you in the research you should undertake – highlight any gaps in your knowledge so you can go look up more information.
- La Leche League (Tyne and Wear is my local but you can search for yours) – local breastfeeding online support, can make local friends, get info on local places and groups to get support
- Can I breastfeed in it UK – this group is full of women sharing their favourite breastfeeding friendly clothes finds in shops, especially ‘regular’ clothes that are nursing friendly when they aren’t marketed as such. Prepare to say good-bye to some money if you join this group, there are always such lovely clothes in it.
- Breastfeeding support and information UK
- UK Breastfeeding Support
- Equality for Breastfeeding Mums UK
There are so many groups out there – just search breastfeeding support on Facebook and join a few and see which you prefer.
3. Get an IBCLC on call
Even with a decent latch there can be some discomfort when you start to breastfeed a newborn as your breasts adjust to their new role. Think of it like breaking in a new pair of shoes until they get comfortable, just you are breaking in your boobs. BUT if it is excruciating, if you feel like you are gritting your teeth or curling your toes then get help IMMEDIATELY, ideally from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). I remember I gave this advice to a friend of mine and she followed my advice. She text me to tell me that she couldn’t believe the difference that the visit from the IBCLC made – she just tweaked her positioning and then no more pain. Don’t continue on suffering. There may be simple solutions to your problems. As an example, breastfeeding my first baby was painful for 6 months because I didn’t know I was getting poor support, I was really asking for help. Second time around an IBCLC had me sorted in a week. That’s the difference proper support can make!
Some support on the NHS can be excellent but other times it can be so poor or outdated it can actually sabotage breastfeeding. It’s a bit of a postcode lottery unfortunately. Personally, I received many contradictory pieces of advice from different midwives, health visitors and breastfeeding counsellors. I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. This is an experience I know many women have. The worst of it all is, often, women think they are getting good support when what they are actually getting is lots of contact time but bad information. This means they end up feeling like they failed, when really it was they who were failed by a society that doesn’t invest enough into breastfeeding support.
I wish we would invest more in to breastfeeding NHS support. I firmly believe that every woman should have access to an IBCLC when breastfeeding. The difference in knowledge and skill levels between a regular breastfeeding counsellor and an IBCLC is huge. An IBCLC qualification is the PHD of the breastfeeding world. Some NHS areas do have IBCLCs on their books. In the North East there are two IBCLCs and one works for the NHS (she helped me and is amazing, thank you Amanda). I wish we lived in a world where every hospital had several IBCLCs and every town had a couple for post-natal support. That’s my dream. Breastfeeding rates would sore, as would women’s self belief and confidence.
So my first piece of advice would be to find your nearest IBCLC and make contact with them to see if they will be able to support you when your baby is born in the event of you needing extra support. IBCLCs can often diagnose and make referrals for tongue and lip tie too which is so important. You can search for your nearest IBCLC here.
You may not need help, or your NHS support may be first class which is ideal, but if it isn’t, it pays to be prepared. I’ve breastfed two children for (a combined) five years now (and still going) and I would always contact an IBCLC if having problems. If you can’t access an IBCLC then contact your local La Leche League who also do superb work. They will know your local area inside out and be able to tell you where you can get the best support.
4. Practical purchases
I disagree with the advice that you should buy baby bottles/formula etc ‘just in case’ you need them. I think that undermines women’s confidence and belief in their own abilities to breastfeed successfully (it’s an often used formula company marketing strategy because of this very reason). With all the advice in this article, I hope you can see that you wouldn’t be turning to formula just in case, you would be contacting an IBCLC or seeking other support to get to the root cause of the issues at hand. The formula wouldn’t be addressing the core issue. Plus, if you do need bottles/formula, they are available everywhere. They aren’t hard to pop out and buy. You don’t need to get them in before hand.
But there are a few things you can buy that will make your life easier in those early days:
- Bras (affiliate link) – my best advice to you when pregnant is don’t buy maternity bras. Buy nursing bras. Then you have bras that are suitable when pregnant and for breastfeeding. The only difference is the clips and that’s really no difference at all. Sure, your boobs are likely to change shape several times over your nursing career but if you buy nursing ones then they are likely to fit you at some of the nursing stages if not all. Where as if you buy maternity bras then you won’t be able to use them at all for breastfeeding. Initially, I would just get yourself the comfiest bras that you can. That’s all you will want to wear until breastfeeding is established. I would recommend that you measure yourself using the bra calculator or go to somewhere like Bravissimo to get fitted properly. Most the high street stores are notorious for measuring women into the wrong bra size. For example, Mothercare measured me as a 34DD when in fact I am a 30G. Can I breastfeed in it has great information in choosing/ measuring for bras. The nursing bra I’m wearing in the image below is from Lucky Sew and Sew on etsy.
- Nursing vests/tops – Investing in a few pieces of clothing that you will be comfortable breastfeeding in will really help you in those first weeks. Personally, I felt most comfortable nursing in items that kept my newly postpartum tummy covered up and gave me some coverage above the boob too. This meant that I didn’t feel totally exposed in front of visitors etc. For this reason, and many others, my favourite way to breastfeed is not with lots of specialist clothing but with ‘one up, one down’. You might see this referred to as OUOD in breastfeeding groups. What is means is you wear a nursing vest (with or without bra) and a baggier normal top over it. When you need to nurse your child you simply pull up the top layer and pull down the vest (and bra) to feed the baby. You can then cover your exposed upper breast with your top and your stomach remains covered with the vest. Unless you wear very tight clothes it means that much of your old wardrobe becomes suitable for breastfeeding. My absolute favourite vests for doing this are H&M’s as they have built-in support so if you are just around the house you can get away without wearing a bra too and its much more comfortable. In the early days as your supply is regulating you will leak milk a lot, especially at night so you will need a something to hold your breast-pads in place at night. These vests can do that so you can wear them to sleep in and they are more comfortable than most sleep bras. I have half a dozen of them and I’m 2 years postpartum and I’m still wearing them daily. Again, if you buy maternity vests that have nursing clips instead of those without, you will have more that you can use for both pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Lansinoh lanolin (affiliate link) – this is a lifesaver for sore nipples, or for keeping them from cracking. The smallest amount goes a long way so the tube lasts forever. You don’t need to wipe it off before nursing your child like many nipple creams. It also makes an awesome lip balm. I use it for all sorts now, dry patches etc. It’s a wonder cream. I’m never without it.
- Breast pads – in the early weeks and months your breasts will leak as your supply regulates. You will need breast-pads. You can invest in reusable ones (affiliate link), which I have heard are more comfortable. I wish I had used reusable now. I used disposable ones which can be quite scratchy on your breasts. They annoyed me and felt itchy. Try a few types, brands to see which you like best.
- You do not need breast shields just in case. Every one I know who used them hated them and ended up with milk supply issues from using them. Get proper breastfeeding support if you are having issues and only use breast shields on their advice.
- Breast pump – I personally don’t think this is something you NEED to get in while pregnant. You shouldn’t express until your milk supply is established anyway, not for the first few weeks. I would see how you get on before you invest. I’ve tried several breast pumps (I have reviewed the Haakaa and Omani Tronkon). Personally, I like the Medela breast pumps. I think the (affiliate link) Medela Swing is a great little breastpump. I’ve been using mine for 5.5 years now and it’s still going. If you plan to express a lot and can afford it, then a double pump is the way forward. The (affiliate link) Medela freestyle is what I use and I love it. I’m personally not a fan of a manual breast pump. Electric is way quicker and easier but its personal preference I guess.
- Nursing pillow – some people like to use nursing pillows when their babies are little. It can help you to be more comfortable and help your back. I loved this (affiliate link) my brest friend nursing pillow – despite the awful name. It’s really supportive and was great for helping to keep the weight off my stomach after I had a c-section.
- Kindle (affiliate link) – I love to read when I do my night feeds. My kindle has an internal light so I don’t need to switch the lights on and I won’t wake my baby turning pages. If you don’t have a kindle or people are asking what they can get you for the baby then amazon vouchers are a great call. The vouchers will also come in really handy for middle of the night shopping when you are doing night feeds too. I used to love being productive during my night feeds – I would order birthday presents or even do my whole grocery shop on my Tesco app.
- Snacks/water for night feeds – get some healthy snacks in for eating in the night. If you are anything like me you will be ravenous. I also used to drink pints and pints of water in the night in the early days of nursing so a few big bottles of water would be good too.
5. Get those close to you ‘on board’ with your plans
Nothing is more important than those close to you supporting you – both physically and emotionally during the early days of breastfeeding. Papa Ginge helped me immeasurably. From doing all the other baby stuff, like changing nappies, bathing the baby, wearing the baby in a baby carrier and pacing around etc. This meant I could just focus on feeding the baby when they needed feeding and resting when they didn’t (rarely). Emotionally, there were lots of times that I was in tears because I was finding it hard and times that I wanted to quit. Having people who are close to you be there for you in those times is important. Talk to them before hand about how you want them to support you – things they should and shouldn’t say. Nothing is worse than them saying ‘why don’t you just give them some formula’ or ‘they mustn’t be getting anything, they are still hungry’.
Equally, don’t let your partner cop-out and just say ‘they want feeding again’ whenever the baby grissles (this will infuriate you, trust me) without them really trying to find soothing methods that work for them.
Be careful with who you choose to take advice from. Double check the information you get. I had a few well-meaning people who gave me advice that they felt worked for them (usually around top ups/expressing) but actually could have been quite damaging to my breastfeeding attempts. If you do have friends and family who have successfully breastfed though, talk to them and ask them if they can support you. I’m sure they would be happy to and their support will be invaluable.
So that’s a bit of a monster blog post for you but I hope you found it helpful. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments and I promise I’ll reply. Good luck – you’ve got this, you were made to do it!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. These are always clearly marked. If you buy one of these items you will not pay any more but the retailer will give me a tiny amount of the sale as a thanks for sending you their way.
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