Twenty years ago, pregnant women were told to “toughen up” their nipples to prevent soreness when they started breastfeeding. Research shows that wasn’t actually helpful—so no more rubbing your chest with a rough towel.
New mom Rachel Palmer of Barrie, Ont., says better advice is to get good breastfeeding info before you give birth. “I wish I’d known more about what was normal and when I should seek help,” she says. “I had pain but didn’t want to complain.” Palmer’s grin-and-bear-it approach is common among new moms—but rarely necessary. Here’s what you need to know to prepare for breastfeeding during pregnancy.
Read more: The first weeks with your baby>
Learn about the process: Leah Mae Johnston of Whitby, Ont., watched videos on Dr. Jack Newman’s website when she was pregnant, and observed friends nursing, so she’d know what a good latch looked like. Halifax lactation consultant Cassie Kent says that early feedings may go more smoothly if you get in a comfy, semi-reclined position and snuggle your baby against your chest, letting him latch on by himself, with support. “Doing this early and often helps the baby get a good latch and primes milk production,” she says. Lactation consultant Sue Arsenault of Elmfield, NS, adds that it’s useful to read up on the process of breastfeeding, including how to recognize and manage the engorgement that often happens around the third or fourth day when your milk “comes in.”
Know Your body: Some physical or medical factors might cause breastfeeding challenges, so it’s worth discussing them with an expert ahead of time. Kent mentions previous breast surgery, hormonal imbalances or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), difficulty getting or staying pregnant, lack of breast growth during pregnancy, late or uneven breast growth during puberty, having very different-sized or widely spaced breasts, or having diabetes or thyroid issues. “None of these mean a woman can’t breastfeed, but discussing any issues with an expert prenatally can help you develop a plan.” Ask about learning to hand-express colostrum while you’re still pregnant so you can store some in case the baby needs supplementation.
Read more: Skin to skin with your baby>
Set up support: Connecting with community resources before the birth means that if problems crop up, you’re not scrambling for a phone number or discussing your breasts with a stranger. Edwina Hoffmann, of Fredericton, had just moved to Canada from the United Kingdom when she became pregnant, and had no family to turn to for help. “My midwife suggested I go to a La Leche League meeting while I was pregnant. I felt at home right away,” she says. “When I needed help breastfeeding, I felt comfortable asking for it.”
Johnston asked her friends and family to offer support, not suggest formula, if she was struggling, and mentioned things she thought would be most valuable postpartum, like cooking and cleaning, so she could focus on nursing.
Free up time: Kent thinks Johnston was on the right track. “I tell women they shouldn’t expect to do anything in the first two weeks except breastfeed,” she says. “If you’ll feel awkward asking for help, create a list of jobs that can be done by visitors and post it on the fridge.” She also suggests the “frozen food baby shower” where each guest brings a meal to stock your freezer. Hiring a postpartum doula or cleaning service for the first few weeks can also help.
Once Palmer called a lactation consultant, she was able to improve her baby’s latch and she got a doctor’s prescription for a cream to treat her sore nipples. “I always tell pregnant women to speak up when they have questions and use the resources available to them,” she says.
A huge learning curve arrives alongside your bundle of joy, and breastfeeding is one of the things that can be tricky at first. A little advance knowledge can reduce some stress in those hectic early days.
TIP: Lactation consultant Sue Arsenault recommends setting up nursing stations around the house with snacks, diapers, water and pillows to support you in a comfortable position anywhere your baby gets hungry.
A version of this article appeared in our August 2014 issue with the headline “Nursing know-how,” p. 43