These days, we know that nipples don't require "hardening", and that washing them with soap before nursing is nonsense. Still, you may ask yourself if there is anything you need to do to prepare for breastfeeding while you are pregnant.
Clothes for breastfeeding
Starting with the most practical of all things, you will have to make sure that you have clothes that allow you to breastfeed relatively easily, if at all possible. Most breastfeeding mothers equip themselves with a few good-quality nursing bras. With a nursing bra, the part of the fabric that normally covers your nipples and the rest of your breast opens up, usually using a clasp.
There are some women who actually much prefer pulling their ordinary bra or sports bra down to expose their nipple. In terms of clothing options, you will have two basic choices. Some moms prefer to pull their top down, while others prefer to lift it up. Different kinds of tops lend themselves to different ways to nurse. If you plan to pull your top down, a camisole with a shirt or jacket over it, or a more low-cut t-shirt are good options. If you want to lift your shirt up, a t-shirt with a higher neckline will do just fine.
Of course, it is also possible to combine the two methods if you wear a camisole and a t-shirt, you can lift your t-shirt up and pull the camisole down. What are the pros and cons of these techniques? The pull-down way of nursing exposes least of the breast, in my experience. It does mean you have more skin uncovered while not nursing, and some women are not comfortable with that. You can overcome this by wearing a shirt over your camisole or tank top.
The lift-up method exposes your whole abdomen and a large part of your breast. If you need to pull your shirt up, you can't nurse while wearing your baby in a baby carrier. The pull-down and lift-up combination keeps your skin covered up... so much you may be boiling hot, depending on the season! With a bit of experimenting, you will soon find what you personally feel most comfortable with.
Preparing your nipples?
So, what's the deal with preparing your nipples? Do you need to make your nipples tougher in any way? Does massaging your breasts during pregnancy prevent mastitis? When it comes to breastfeeding preparations, there is still a lot of misinformation out there. There are different views on how to get your breastfeeding off on the best start. Generally, breastfeeding your newborn on demand (when your baby fusses, or when you feel your breasts getting heavier) will give your baby all the nutrition she needs, while preventing engorged breasts. If your breasts still feel heavy and painful, massaging them gently in the shower, or putting some cold cabbage leaves in your bra, may help.
Inform yourself about breastfeeding
Many articles about breastfeeding will tell you to attend childbirth education classes, get to a La Leche League meeting, or at least read books about breastfeeding before you give birth. Personally, I did not do any of those things. Instead, I started breastfeeding with the attitude that everything would be fine, and that we'd figure it all out.
Everything was fine, and we did figure it all out. Most of the time, breastfeeding mothers will notice nothing special about nursing their baby breastfeeding is a supply and demand system, so you will make more milk if your baby nurses more and more frequently. Breastfeeding is beautifully simple, most of the time.
Do you need to inform yourself about breastfeeding before you start? It depends on what type of person you are. If you like to feel you are in control, reading books and seeing a lactation consultant preemptively may add to your confidence. If you are not sure if you'll have enough milk, or have other worries about breastfeeding, clarifying those beforehand may help as well. If you want to read up about possible breastfeeding problems and their remedies, these are the most common complications:
- Engorged breasts
- A poor latch
- Inverted nipples
The other thing you may want to do to set your baby and yourself up for a successful breastfeeding relationship is to select a breastfeeding friendly and breastfeeding knowledgeable pediatrician for your baby, as well as to ensure that your hospital (if you are having a hospital birth) has good lactation consultants on staff. For recommendations, contact your local La Leche League or other breastfeeding advocacy organization. Do you have a question about breastfeeding, or would you like to share your experience? Please leave a comment here, or on our breastfeeding and weaning forum.