Six ways to prepare for breastfeeding

“I wish I’d prepared in advance for breastfeeding.” I’ve lost track of how many times I have said this over the past year. People usually respond: “You can’t really get it until the baby comes.”

To an extent, they’re right. It’s one thing to familiarise yourself with an NCT diagram and another to actually introduce your newborn to your breast. Yet I disagree. You can prepare for breastfeeding. In fact, I think you should if you want to give yourself the best chance of meeting your breastfeeding goals.

My own breastfeeding success is a mixed story. I would rather not have introduced formula supplements from two months until six months but I’m grateful for being able to continue to breastfeed. I don’t beat myself up about this but being completely realistic, I could have benefited from some preparation.

In a perfect world, we would not have to prepare for breastfeeding. It would just happen. For many women it does. It probably could be that simple for more of us if we saw more women breastfeeding, preferably – dare I say it – with breasts exposed.

We’re certainly not helped by the fact that we no longer trust our bodies, or our babies, to do what they’re designed to do. I thank a number of things for that but off the top of my head, thank you, formula advertising and misogyny.

Here are a few suggestions for what pregnant mothers can do to prepare, in no particular order. Please add yours in the comments.

1. Find a breastfeeding support group
I go to a breastfeeding support group in my area on Wednesdays. I’m also a La Leche League member and go to the Bristol meetings once a month.

When I tell people this, they ask: “But what do you DO in a breastfeeding group?” They say it as if they’re wondering whether we spend the whole time flashing each other. Perhaps we start meets by introducing ourselves: “My name is Adele and I’m a lactivist.”

Actually, people usually think breastfeeding support groups are only for when you have a specific breastfeeding problem, and even then, only in the newborn stage. They’re not wrong but they haven’t got the whole picture.

Breastfeeding is better in community. It can, especially in the beginning, be an isolating thing. I know I found this when I was stuck on the sofa for hours. I imagine it’s even more so if you’re not feeling confident about doing it in public yet or if your child grows past an age when people expect her to stop.

I started going to our breastfeeding group when Talitha was four or five weeks old. She’s twelve months now. I went mainly because I needed to get out of the house and wanted to go somewhere where I felt totally comfortable with breastfeeding.

I kept going because it kept reminding me that I wanted to breastfeed. I’m now a peer supporter who helps with the group (CRB pending). This past year I’ve really seen the value of breastfeeding mothers getting together.

2. Consider seeing a lactation consultant
I’m cautious about stating this as a necessity. The majority of breastfeeding problems seem to be solved by working on the latch. Another mum, maybe a peer supporter maybe not, will likely be able to help with that. However, IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) are trained to assist women with complex issues.

It’s worth at least making contact with an IBCLC in your area so that if you do run into difficulties you know who to call in a hurry. Breastfeeding helplines are brilliant but there’s nothing like having someone come to your home. I know that NCT breastfeeding counselors do this too but my own experience has been with an IBCLC who knowledgably and compassionately helped me to pinpoint why Talitha wasn’t gaining weight and work through the minefield of low milk supply and supplementing using an SNS.

If you’ve had breastfeeding difficulties in the past or specific challenges ahead (like multiples, POCS or a breast reduction) an antenatal session with an IBCLC may help put your mind at ease and form a plan of action.

3. Talk about breastfeeding
Whether it’s your partner, your mum or your closest friend, talk to whoever’s going to support you the most when the baby’s here about breastfeeding. Chat about why it’s important to you, why it’s important for the baby and what you think you’ll need in the early days.

Fathers, parents and friends can hugely impact on your decision to continue breastfeeding. Without Laurence, there’s no way I would have managed to keep going. I’ve blogged about ways fathers (and others) can help mothers breastfeed.

If possible, attend an antenatal breastfeeding session together. The NCT offers them as part of their antenatal classes. An IBCLC in your area probably offers a private one. It will just help you think through the situation together.

4. Read about breastfeeding
I know this probably sounds unduly academic. Admittedly, I’m a researcher at heart so that naturally appeals to me. But seriously. Read. Pregnant women spend so much time reading about what to expect each week of pregnancy or what options are available for the birth. I know I did. And yet I found Talitha’s birth difficult. Breastfeeding is what helped me recover from it so I’d rather have spent more time thinking about that.

I could do a whole post recommending reading for breastfeeding. I will at some point. For now I’ll just suggest The Food of Love: Your Formula for Successful Breastfeeding by Kate Evans. It’s a hilarious, easy read but thoroughly researched. If I’d read it before or soon after having my baby, I’m convinced our early breastfeeding experience would have been a lot more positive. If you’re looking for a website then have a look at Kellymom.com. It’s written by IBCLC Kelly Bonyata.

5. Sort out a few practicalities
Newborn babies breastfeed A LOT. This was such a surprise to me. I mean, mine breastfed more than was normal because of her tongue-tie but even when all the bits and pieces are working marvelously, you can find yourself marooned beneath a tiny human for so much of the day.

My response to this was just not to eat. At all. I only had supper when Laurence got home and nothing else because I just could not get my act together. Be ye not so stupid. Looking back, actually, I was probably a bit depressed but I can think of a few things that would have made it all a bit easier.

Get food ready in advance. Passionate Homemaking has a good list of snacks you can eat one-handed.

Invest in a high-quality stretchy wrap or a ring sling. You may or may not end up breastfeeding in it but at least it gives you more mobility generally by not having the stress of screaming in the background of your loo visits. Yes, I became one of those mothers who hardly ever put their newborn down. It’s the only way I have any marbles left because I could not stand to hear her cry.

Prepare a breastfeeding nest. Choose a comfortable spot where you can recline a bit. I had three: my sofa, my bed and a rocking chair. I still mainly breastfeed in bed. I seriously don’t know how anyone manages to keep breastfeeding without lying down, especially since the hormones make you sleepy in the early days.

What they also do is make you thirsty so you might want to get a big BPA-free water bottle that you’ll be setting next your breastfeeding spot, along with your phone, television remote control and a magazine, ready for the long haul.

6. Choose to be flexible
I had so many plans for when Talitha arrived and she smooshed them all. She was supposed to sleep in her Moses basket. And she did until I got so desperate for sleep that we brought her into bed with us.

She is still there. She still feeds a lot at night. Our feelings on this do sway back and forth but the night feeds were brilliant for boosting my supply when I had problems and as she doesn’t breastfeed much during the day (and still doesn’t eat masses yet) I’m not keen to night wean. I’m even less keen on getting up in the night to feed her. I’m glad we were both willing to be flexible with our sleeping arrangements.

Perhaps you don’t plan to co-sleep. That’s fine. But be aware that many parents do it at some point so take a look at ways to co-sleep safely (Muddling Along Mummy and PhD in Parenting have some tips) and making sure your bed is reasonably firm.

Think about leaving yourself open other areas too like when you should be out and about or when you’ll start getting on top of the housework again. Take it slow and see how it goes – one breastfeed at a time.


47 Comments

  1. June 14, 2012 / 8:52 am

    I agree with you on so many aspects of this post, e.g. getting your partner involved and letting him know why breastfeeding is so important for you or knowing where you can get help, if things get tough, but I am sitting a bit between chairs when it comes to all the theoretical background knowledge, because I think knowing what you ‘should be able to do’ or ‘how it should be like’ can be quite damaging when you are in a fragile new mummy state of mind in terms of growing insecurity and self-doubt.
    Carolin recently posted..What’s the perfect age gap between siblings?

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 15, 2012 / 9:03 am

      When I say “read”, I don’t mean going to into really technical detail or even prescriptive description. The book I recommended actually says that everyone’s experience is different because every baby and mother is different. But I do firmly believe that it is a good idea to read so you have something to stand on when other people are trying to push ideas on you which are often not based in any research, eg a GP telling you to eat butter to make your breast milk fattier. But I agree, I think I huge part of why I almost gave up a number of times was that my experience simply wasn’t matching the model of breastfeeding I’d built up in my head.

  2. June 14, 2012 / 10:10 am

    Great suggestions! I had one of those shaped cushions which I found really helpful for feeding when baby was very tiny and I was sitting up, I’d recommend having one of those in the house ready. It’s always good to have options for different positions when you’re working it all out at the beginning.

    I really wish that I had bought some nice breastfeeding tops. They seemed expensive and I didn’t know how long I would be feeding for, and second time round it didn’t seem worth it as I’m not planning any more. But it would have made such a difference to my confidence, both out and about and at home too. I just used to wear baggy tops which I could lift up at home, and it felt a bit undignified (and draughty!), as well as showing off a bit too much of that mummy tummy.
    Jennifer recently posted..Dear Dad…

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 15, 2012 / 9:05 am

      Oh yes yes yes to the cushion. Mine didn’t get me from quite the right angle though. Still it was helpful when I was figuring it all out during those marathons.

    • fumblina
      June 18, 2012 / 9:42 am

      Wearing a stretchy vest top under your clothes helps with this and is cheaper than buying nursing tops. You pull the front of the vest top down and your main top up and your tummy stays covered. (Or a boob tube as I just saw someone else has suggested, or even use your pregnancy bump bands for a while longer!)

      Also worth getting properly fitted for some comfortable nursing bras before the baby is born (from 36 weeks onwards). Mothercare and most department stores do this, but the NCT also offer free bra fitting in many areas too.

      • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
        June 18, 2012 / 12:32 pm

        Oh yes, I’m all about the stretchy vests! People don’t realise how important a properly fitted nursing bra is!

  3. Sarah
    June 14, 2012 / 1:28 pm

    My lovely mother in law kept making me smoothies when my daughter was born. She kept putting a large glass of it in front of me when I was feeding (with a straw) which meant I was gettIng good stuff easily! My husband then made then for me when she left and when he went back to work he always made sure there were ingredients for smoothies in the fridge so I could make more. They were a fab way of staying hydrated and having some sustenance!

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 15, 2012 / 9:06 am

      Wow, what a great idea! I wish we’d thought of that!

  4. June 14, 2012 / 1:33 pm

    Great suggestions Adele. I was nodding along while reading. I would add one more – load up on boxsets so that you have something to watch for those marathon feeding sessions during growth spurts.

    And maybe, if you’re so inclined, start a blog so that you have a record and and outlet… πŸ˜‰
    Lisa | Mama.ie recently posted..Wednesday Window: Robots!

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 15, 2012 / 9:07 am

      Oh definitely to the boxsets. And when the going gets tough, the tough, umm, get blogging? πŸ™‚

  5. Helen (and Bethany)
    June 14, 2012 / 4:47 pm

    Lansinoh after every feed, especially in the beginning when yr nipples don’t know what’s hit them!

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 15, 2012 / 9:08 am

      I actually didn’t need it but I know lots of women do find it helps them get more comfy when they’re adjusting to powerful sucks.

  6. Helen
    June 14, 2012 / 5:59 pm

    Fab post!! I really struggled to breastfeeding at the beginning for various reasons, i was one feed away from switching to formula, but I’m so glad I persevered and although I haven’t joined a breastfeeding group yet they are starting a new one here so I’m hoping to go along to give support and advice. I always wear a boob tube top underneath my clothes when I go out (Β£3.99 from h&m) so I don’t flash my tummy!

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 15, 2012 / 9:10 am

      Oh you definitely should go along. It sounds like your experience will make you an empathetic listener too.

  7. Candise Moore
    June 14, 2012 / 7:50 pm

    Ignore all the well-meaning but unhelpful comments from people who were unsuccessful with breastfeeding – this is your journey and you can do it!

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 15, 2012 / 9:11 am

      I love that. It’s great that you’ve also mentioned that people are well-meaning because I think they usually are.

  8. esther james
    June 14, 2012 / 8:47 pm

    I totally agree in that you should prepare for breastfeeding. Make sure you attend an antenatal class that is about breastfeeding. It will come in handy!

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 15, 2012 / 9:12 am

      Yes, and take whoever’ll be supporting you along.

  9. Donna McP
    June 14, 2012 / 9:10 pm

    My top tip would be to find your local support/peer supporters/breastfeeding group before baby is born so you can get to know them, this makes it much easier to contact them after baby is born; faces to names and voices. Its good to know you have support from people who you know and are familiar with and that you trust.

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 15, 2012 / 9:13 am

      I wish I’d done this, actually, as I found it really difficult to make myself go after Talitha was born.

  10. Bod for tea
    June 15, 2012 / 5:51 am

    Just wanted to add a *high five* for this post. I just posted over at The Fool’s site about the difficulty we had starting breast feeding and having the support of a retired health visitor to watch DD feed and give me advice about her position and latching was invaluable. I’m definitely going to try again with Peanut, although this time around with a toddler in the house I don’t expect so much peace and quiet! πŸ˜€
    Bod for tea recently posted..Read this and make a difference #ShareNiger

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 15, 2012 / 9:15 am

      High fiving you back. It’s wonderful to hear about someone who’s worked in the NHS being really helpful with breastfeeding. We often hear the horror stories about bottle-pushing and guilt-tripping instead of actual support so thanks for sharing your experience.

  11. Kristal
    June 15, 2012 / 10:35 am

    Brilliant suggestions, especially about keeping an open mind. Bed sharing has saved my sanity!

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 18, 2012 / 12:33 pm

      It’s saved mine too!

  12. Hannah Moody
    June 15, 2012 / 8:06 pm

    Persevering is the key! Never give up (no matter how much you want to), tell your husband/partner to not let you give up when you scream that you’ve had enough – you’ll need all the support you can get!! But one day, one day,… It’ll just click, it almost always works out in the end! πŸ™‚

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 18, 2012 / 12:38 pm

      I want to say yes because perseverance has got us where we are but I’m just so conscious that each woman knows her own limits and perseverance if you’ve not got the support or didn’t get it early enough may not be realistically achievable for everyone. That said, I heartily agree with the bones of what you’re saying. It’s so often hard work in the early days but most mothers do get there. So I’d say, persevere and get the right support, which is kind of what you’ve said.

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      June 18, 2012 / 12:38 pm

      Oh yes. Good one.

  13. Hannah
    June 15, 2012 / 10:02 pm

    My top tip would be when you first start feeding before latching pull your nipple out to make it easier for your baby to latch, I found it really helped and I got a baby that fed better!

  14. June 16, 2012 / 5:43 pm

    I love this post! Our plans for sleeping were ‘smooshed’ too and we ended up co-sleeping with our oldest until 7 months and still co-sleep with the youngest for most of the night at 14 mths.
    When I think back to the weekly emails I received from various online baby websites, I don’t remember any of them offering any breastfeeding advice. *trots off to email BabyCentre to suggest this*
    I was lucky in the early days to only have cracked nipples due to my complete ignorance on the subject but had I come up against anything more severe which I did at 7 months, I would and did have to stop feeding as I just didn’t have a clue how everything worked and didn’t find the right advice. If I’d have been better prepared, I might be tandem feeding both boys now.

  15. Kate
    June 16, 2012 / 8:08 pm

    I think it is so important to trust yourself and your body. Yes get help when things go wrong, but pick and choose what advice to follow.
    I got so much conflicting information, but in the end I worked out what worked for me and my baby
    Kate recently posted..Reading eBooks and "Hooking Up" book review

  16. Shoshana
    June 17, 2012 / 11:04 pm

    Another great book is “So That’s What They’re For” by Janet Tamaro. A great quick read, and funny as well. Terrific post! I am 32 weeks pregnant with my second, and looking forward to breastfeeding again. I nursed my daughter for 28 months, and it was a very special experience, despite early difficulties. (Thrush for the first three months, and her milk allergy for which I had to restrict my diet for the first year, which thankfully, she outgrew.) Despite the rough start, I’m so glad that I kept going, and I hope to have as positive experience the second time around!

  17. Brittany
    June 18, 2012 / 5:47 am

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful information to help mums to be, like myself, become a bit more familiar with what we can do to prepare ourselves for such a big job! I’m so excited to breastfeed my first baby. He is due to be born in only 3 weeks!

  18. Carol
    June 18, 2012 / 8:46 am

    “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” is my favourite breastfeeding book. Don’t be put off by the title! It’s great to read whilst still pregnant, and also has a problem-solver section if you run into difficulties.

  19. June 18, 2012 / 10:08 am

    I definitely think you can prepare in advance, but no=one tells pregnant mamas that! I blogged about the same thing in fact. Well done!
    Attachment Mummy recently posted..Breastfeeding Top Tips

  20. Shelley
    June 18, 2012 / 5:04 pm

    Love this Adele!!
    My advice would be do not compare your breast feeding to other Mums you know who formula feed. Its beyond comparison, its not just the difference between boobie & bottle, its a lifestyle change! Kellymom.com esp. the forums was a great source of support during non-working hours. Soooooo many times I chatted to other b/f Mums and realised how normal things were with my baby when she was constantly needing feeding.
    I found older family members found my determination to b/f quite odd and I have had some comments (still do) Kellymom’s pass the bean dip has helped me loads πŸ™‚
    Oh and the 2 books I read (while she was feeding) are: The womanly Art of Breastfeeding LLLI and Infant Massage by Vimala Mclure – both beautiful books.
    Thank you.

  21. Fenella
    June 19, 2012 / 12:49 am

    I found it helpful to get a tray to put on the couch. That way I had a stable surface within reach where I could put food or drinks when the baby passed out on me. Also, if you’re pumping, I recommend you test your milk before you build up a big freezer supply. It turned out I had high lipase levels and have to scald all my pumped milk before storage or it tastes soapy, but I didn’t find this out until I’d already built up a stock. Had to dump it and start over. Also, if you get clogged ducts, keep in mind supplements – lechitin and evening primrose oil. I had a month where I had them constantly and all anyone told me to do was to use a heating pad and pump out well. And it wasn’t working. The supplements have stopped me from being in constant pain!

  22. June 19, 2012 / 12:08 pm

    I would like to add to Find a Breastfeeding Support Group, find it even before baby is born if you can! Jolly and al say in Milk, Money and Madness that women don’t know how to bf anymore because they don’t see their mothers, sisters or neighbours bf (sorry, very short shortcut, it’s much more complex but it’s part of the idea), well, go and see ! Can be a good idea too to a lactation consultant or breastfeeding counsellor, or LLLI leader before birh as well and ask any question you may have (maybe through a drop-in), in addition to antenatal class where time might be more limited.
    Mother Goutte recently posted..The tale of the magic milk

  23. Samantha Holloway
    June 21, 2012 / 10:17 pm

    In the past when i’ve breast feed I always end up with really sore cracked nipples, do you have a nipple cream that you would recomend for this?

    Thanks

  24. Steph
    June 22, 2012 / 8:46 am

    I struggled at the beginning with breastfeeding as it was excruciating. I knew from all the classes I had been to it wasn’t supposed to be so naturally I thought I was doing it wrong. Fortunately, one of my midwives sorted me out and told me that sometimes it can be painful to start off with, and gave me some lanisoh cream (my top recommendation…) and suggested nipple shields, which gave me time to heal up.
    I also hadn’t planned to cosleep but it happened naturally and I now love it. My DD is now nearly 8 months and we are still breastfeeding happily. It helped me to have a supportive husband to bring me drinks, food and the tv remote! I also had a nest of cushions with a table next to me. Wish I’d joined a support group early on but I was scared to go out in the first month or so cos I found feeding so painful and didn’t want to do it in public if it would make me cry! Now we feed almost anywhere!
    Thanks for great post, it’s so helpful to read other peoples experiences, especially when they are similar!

  25. Jay Buchan
    June 24, 2012 / 6:37 am

    Ok my top tips are read womanly art of breastfeeding la leche league. Get a calypso to go breast pump by Ardo by far the gentlest pump on the market, with variable suction levels & cycles ideal for when breasts are tender and you still need to express. I love my one and also Ardo hold cream for nipples they healed me up when I got a few sucking blisters on my nipples in the early days.. Get a sling a wrap one I have 3 moby wraps already and their Fab easy to tie after a couple of goes and for me has been a god send as was able to sling wee man and feed while walking about! For tummy cover a vest top or belly band is ideal under a t-shirt or other top. Also a good feeding pillow I bought a Boppy pillow and it’s great for posture when feeding him and I can eat at the same time if I have to πŸ™‚
    Get good support and ask lots of questions my wee one Had a tounge tie but as I had the info I needed and knew about encouraging a good latch our journey has been easyer in the fact I worked through all the challenges presented to me.

  26. Claire Willmer
    June 26, 2012 / 8:40 pm

    my top tip is to set yourself up somewere comfy with all of te things you are likely to need whilst feeding such as muslin, drink, snack remote lol as you never know how long you will be there especially in the early days πŸ™‚

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