Breastfeeding myths and how they compare to reality
We've compiled some key breastfeeding preparation facts below to help you wade your way through the murky waters of advice.
As with a lot of parenting advice, breastfeeding advice has changed and evolved over time. We used to think there was a lot of "breast preparation" that had to be done to get ready for breastfeeding, but now we've largely moved on from this mindset. Most women will not need to do anything special in that regard – however, getting your head ready for breastfeeding is another thing.
In terms of personal hygiene, your usual hygiene practices of showering daily should be sufficient, as should moisturisers you used to using. Just remember that your breasts and nipples will be a little sensitive so you might need to look more at sensitive products during this time.
Although you may be told lots of interesting information about what you should and shouldn’t do to your breasts, the truth is that you don’t need to do anything specific at all. Essentially, breastfeeding preparation is more about your mental mindset rather than anything physical you need to do. Your breasts will know exactly what’s required of them because of the effects of pregnancy hormones and the drop in these after your baby is born.
You may have already been aware or been advised by your maternity care provider that you have flat or inverted nipples. This can cause problems with attachment when the nipple does not extend far enough into the baby’s mouth for them to suck effectively.
Check attachment for more information about attaching your baby to the breast. If you do have flat or inverted nipples you could benefit from buying nipple shields. These are worn inside the bra during pregnancy and help to ‘stretch’ the nipple so its shape changes. The Hoffman technique can also help to make the nipples longer. This involves placing your two thumbs on either side of your nipple whilst pressing into the breast and pulling your thumbs apart. Doing this (gently) a couple of times a day may be helpful.
Note: There are also products designed to help evert flat or inverted nipples.
Create a deliberate mindset
- Have a positive attitude to breastfeeding. Only a very small minority of women are unable to breastfeed. Unless you’ve been advised by your maternity care provider not to breastfeed for some health related or other reason, assume that all will be fine. Tell people (if they’re interested) that you’re planning on breastfeeding your baby. Hearing this will also help you to become accustomed to the fact yourself.
- Understand that although breastfeeding is entirely natural, it can take some time to get used to. Breastfeeding is based on a set of learned skills and behaviours so give yourself time to get used to it. Most women have some initial problems but are almost always able to work through them with a bit of support and guidance.
- Speak with your partner about how important it is for you to breastfeed your baby. Their emotional and practical support will significantly contribute to your success.
- Talk also with your mother, mother-in-law and family about the fact that you plan to breastfeed. Again, their support will make a big difference.
- Write up a list of contact names and agencies that can help you with breastfeeding. This could include details about your local Plunket Centre or a Lactation Consultant.
Information and reading
- Read everything you can about breastfeeding – how it works and what it involves.
- Speak with breastfeeding mothers and ask them what it is like. Most women are more than happy to share their experiences of what breastfeeding means for them.
- With their permission of course, watch breastfeeding mothers and see how they attach their baby.
- Go to a breastfeeding class or support group and listen to the stories. This will help to normalise your experience so it becomes more familiar to you.
- Go to one of the larger department stores and get properly fitted for a maternity bra. Speak with the consultant and pick their brains about sizing and what bra is right for you. You may find you need to change your bra sizing as your pregnancy advances; most women go up at least one cup size if not more. Four months into pregnancy is often the ideal time to get fitted for maternity bras as generally the increase in breast size stabilises by then.
- Be aware that most pregnant women prefer to wear a bra during the day. However this is really about personal choice and comfort. Small breasted women with less risk of sagging may prefer not to wear one.
- Go to a couple of the larger baby stores and pharmacies and check out the breast pump options. You may not need one of these, but it may help for you to at least have an idea of the choices available, how they work and what they cost.
- Expect change. Pregnancy hormones prepare the breasts for lactating and breastfeeding, so don't freak out – it’s completely normal.
- Stand in front of a mirror and compare your breasts, their size and their appearance with each other. Get used to the look of them.
- Feel the weight and heaviness of each breast in your cupped hand. This is a good strategy for when you’re breastfeeding and want to get an idea of how much milk your baby has had.
- Don’t be concerned if you notice the veins in your breasts are more prominent and the temperature of your breasts is warmer. This is because of increased blood flow and is normal. However, if you feel any lumps or detect a change in the texture or appearance of your breasts, speak with your doctor. It’s not uncommon for lumps to develop as a result of hormonal influence, but these still need to be checked out.
Personal care, hygiene and comfort
- Avoid using harsh, drying soaps and washes on your nipples. The oil which is secreted by the Montgomery’s Tubercles will help to keep your nipples supple and avoid tenderness when you start breastfeeding.
- Pat your breasts dry after showering rather than being vigorous. Breast and nipple tenderness during pregnancy is common.
- You may find you need to change your sleeping position just to be more comfortable.
- Think you need to prepare your nipples by ‘toughening them up’? The days of believing this are well and truly behind us.
- Use wool fat/lanolin or any other lotions or creams. Nipples secrete sufficient oil to avoid them drying out.
- Use a nail brush, rough washer, towels, hairbrush or anything else other than your hands to wash your breasts.
- Run alternating hot/warm/cold water on your breasts in the belief that this will help your circulation. Just a comfortable shower or bath temperature is fine.
- Have a breast X-ray or mammogram, or any type of X-ray for that matter. If your doctor orders an X-ray make sure they know you are pregnant. This is especially important in the first trimester when the foetus is still forming.
This really depends on the individual woman but generally, from around 16 weeks of gestation the breasts start to produce colostrum. This is a thick, yellow liquid which is very high in kilojoules and antibodies. It is uniquely designed to suit a newborn baby’s digestion; and as well as providing high level nutrition, colostrum also contains a laxative which helps the baby’s gut to expel meconium – the first bowel motion.
- Have diabetes. This includes types 1 and 2 as well as gestational diabetes.
- May not be able to attach their baby to the breast after birth. Sometimes there are complications which mean a mother and her baby are separated or the baby needs special care treatment so breastfeeding is not possible.
- Have had a low milk supply previously. If the volume of colostrum produced in the early postpartum period is unlikely to meet the baby’s nutritional needs.
- If there is a risk of premature labour. This may apply with the present or previous pregnancies.
- If a mother is pregnant with twins or multiples.
- In a high risk pregnancy.
- If there is cervical incompetence or a mother has had a cervical suture inserted.
- If expressing colostrum causes the uterus to contract.
- For mothers who are not planning to breastfeed.
Important note: Check with your maternity care provider if you are thinking about expressing your breast milk. Breast expression can stimulate the production of oxytocin, a hormone causes uterine contractions.
This is a term which is given to maternity hospitals, which show they support breastfeeding. To attain Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) status, a hospital needs to follow 10 steps as set out by UNICEF and WHO.
Essentially these relate to rooming in, the baby not being offered any fluid other than breast milk, breastfeeding as soon as possible, skin-to-skin contact and general support and assistance with breastfeeding. Some pregnant mothers fill out a breastfeeding plan which clarifies their intention to breastfeed. However, most maternity hospitals are very familiar with the processes which support successful lactation and do all that they can to ensure there are no issues.
If you are interested in writing up a plan, then speak with your maternity care provider. Check this Kidspot link for more information about the early days of breastfeeding. Most importantly, have a positive mental attitude about breastfeeding.
- Your Maternity Care Provider
- Your Child Health Nurse
- Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand
What was your first experience of breastfeeding like? How did you prepare?
This article was written by child heath nurse Jane Barry and adapted for Kidspot, New Zealand's favourite resource for parenting and pregnancy information.
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast milk. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby. This post is part of the Early Life Nutrition story.