How to Prepare for Breastfeeding

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How to Prepare for Breastfeeding

Embarking on the journey of motherhood is an exciting and transformative experience. As you eagerly await the arrival of your little one, it’s essential to prepare for the beautiful and intimate connection that breastfeeding can offer. Proper preparation during pregnancy can pave the way for a successful breastfeeding journey. In this blog, we’ll explore practical tips and insights on how to prepare for breastfeeding while still pregnant.

Breastfeeding is the biological norm for feeding our babies. It provides essential nutrients for growth, immune components as well, and love and bonding like no other. This scientific, yet natural act can be the greatest investment in both you and your baby’s health. Here are just a few benefits (CDC, 2023) for both mother and baby to help you prepare for breastfeeding:

“WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life (meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water.)…”

– World Health Organisation

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

For the baby:

  • Perfectly tailored to meet nutritional needs to support growth & development.
  • Provides immune protection.
  • Promotes gut maturation.
  • Supports self-regulation of food intake.
  • Lower risk of infection & illness.
  • Found to develop a higher IQ.
  • Decreased risk for developing Diabetes & high blood pressure in adulthood.

For the mother:

  • Assists with postpartum weight loss.
  • Promotes bonding.
  • Can be a natural birth control method.
  • Decreased risk of developing metabolic conditions (Diabetes & Cardiovascular disease).
  • Decreased risk of developing reproductive cancers (Breast & ovarian).

What is the World Standard for Breastfeeding recommendations?

“WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life (meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water.)

Infants should be breastfed on demand, that is as often as the child wants, day and night. No bottles, teats or pacifiers should be used.

From the age of 6 months, children should begin eating safe and appropriate complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years of age or beyond.” (WHO, 2023)

It is well known that breastfeeding can be difficult at first, causing early cessation. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that early breastfeeding support can greatly improve the comfort and duration of breastfeeding. So, if you are convinced, then allow me to take you through a few steps to prepare for your breastfeeding journey.

Steps on How to Prepare for Breastfeeding:

1. Familiarize yourself with your breasts and any changes during pregnancy

Breastfeeding is a time of change and new beginnings. Not only will your belly change in size, but your breasts will too. But how much will it change, and why?

Leading up to the birth, you can expect to see some or all the following changes:

Increase in size – as the milk glands proliferate.

Increase in veins – for increased blood flow to supply the nutrients from the blood to make breast milk.

Increase in nipple size – to help facilitate the baby’s latch.

Darkening of the Areola – to help the baby find the breast.

Small amounts of colostrum (first nutrient-dense milk) – can be produced anything from 16 weeks of pregnancy.

You might experience a combination of these breast changes, or none at all. Mothers who have little to no breast proliferation & growth during puberty might need a little extra support, early on to help stimulate the milk supply, to determine if it is sufficient to meet the needs of their baby.

Go through your toiletries to get rid of harsh soaps and chemicals, as you want to keep the breasts as natural as possible. Harsh soaps and chemicals can strip the skin of natural oils and cause dryness, irritation, and even dermatitis. Did you know you have Montgomery glands situated right in the areola (darker area around the nipple), with the function of excreting a liquid to help lubricate the nipple and emit a unique scent to help attract the baby to the nipple? So, this is definitely not something we want to wash away or purposefully wipe off.

You may want to discuss the option of colostrum expression/harvesting after 36 weeks gestation with your provider or just learn the skill to have “on hand” for the first few days after birth.

2. Establish your support system.

One of the best and simplest tips I can give when you prepare for breastfeeding, is building a strong support system is crucial for a positive breastfeeding experience. We have all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Whether you are breastfeeding, exclusively pumping, mixed feeding or formula feeding, your support structure should be involved in your decision-making process, as well as the execution thereof.

  • Engage with other expectant mothers.
  • Join breastfeeding support groups.
  • Discuss your concerns and share experiences with those who have walked a similar path, while keeping an open mind that every experience can be unique.
  • Familiarize yourself with your key breastfeeding-friendly supporters in your area such as a qualified lactation consultant.

3. Educate yourself

Education can be your most valuable tool to aid in helping you prepare for breastfeeding and gain success. Mothers are often bombarded with misinformation leading them astray and causing a lot of self-doubt.

How to educate yourself:

  • Attend an antenatal class about breastfeeding.
  • Involve your support structure in your breastfeeding goals and education.
  • Visit reputable sources of information provided by qualified professionals.
  • Learning about basic latching techniques, positioning, and common breastfeeding concerns, can be helpful to improve skill and reduce anxiety.

4. Gather some useful tools

There is not much you need to breastfeed comfortably. Most mothers can manage with just their baby and their breasts, however, there are special scenarios where we might need some extra tools to help get things going. Things like breast pumps and nipple shields should be assessed and recommended by your lactation consultant to prevent damaged nipples, breast conditions, and diminished milk production. No two breasts are the same, therefore we cannot expect these things to be a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Pumps and nipple shields should ideally be measured and tested for proper fit and prescribed only when needed. We don’t expect a lot of milk initially and therefore we do not need a selection of pumps and teats. Delaying your electric pump purchase after breastfeeding has been established (6 to 8 weeks) can be helpful to allow the nipples time to stretch and settle and the milk supply to fully calibrate without risking mastitis. Consider visiting a breast pump demo center to help you test and select a pump suitable for your unique needs.

The following might be handy during the first few days:

  • A medicine spoon or any small plastic spoon – to collect and feed extra colostrum if needed.
  • An extra pillow or feeding pillow – for added support and comfort.
  • Botton-up pajamas can allow easy access to the breast and chest for lots of skin-to-skin time and quicker latching without having to bare it all.
  • A well-fitted nursing bra can be helpful to provide some added support when the breasts start to feel heavy or to keep breast pads in place for leaking while allowing easy access for feeding.
  • Gel breast ice pads or a cold face towel can be so helpful in relieving pain and swelling when the breasts become engorged or with breast oedema.

There is no evidence to suggest that nipple cream aids in reducing nipple pain or damage. Research indicated that upon interviewing mothers on the use, some just preferred to use it as they felt that they were doing something to help with the pain. There are no medicinal purposes for most over-the-counter nipple creams (other than APNO which is prescribed and mixed by a pharmacist), and some even contain petroleum and other chemicals which is not considered safe for infant ingestion. Remember, we don’t want to be wiping off the nipple, especially not if there is valuable colostrum and baby saliva on it, not to mention an open wound. If you do choose to have nipple cream on hand, opt for pure lanolin, as it is considered a pure and safe intervention without preservatives, additives, water, chemicals, or perfume. Protective cups and shells are proving to help provide continuous healing, physical protection, and comfort.

Some products can be extremely helpful, but can do harm if used incorrectly.”

– Christine Kleynhans, Midwife, SACLC, Owner All Things Breastfeeding.

5. Focus on your health and nutrition

Maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy not only supports your overall well-being but also contributes to optimal breastfeeding success. Ensure you are getting the necessary nutrients, including calcium, iron, folate, choline, iodine, B-vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. Staying hydrated is equally important, as breastfeeding can increase your fluid requirements.

  • Prepare food in bulk and stock up on freezer meals to have on hand during the first few weeks after birth. Finding time to cook balanced meals can be challenging.
  • Get into a routine of eating small frequent meals – you may experience rapid drops in energy levels as your blood glucose levels can fluctuate dramatically during breastfeeding if you do not fuel your body with complex carbohydrates (oats, barley, brown rice, etc.) during breastfeeding.
  • Invest in a trusty water bottle to keep close by while breastfeeding – you may get thirsty very quickly and find yourself stuck in a breastfeeding position.
  • You do not need fancy teas, tonics, and bars to be able to breastfeed – whole foods and a balanced diet are still preferred for all of us. If you feel like you are struggling with your appetite, and energy levels or if you are excluding several foods from your diet, please seek support from a registered dietitian. There are a lot of myths about diet and breastfeeding, with most diets being a recipe for constipation and depression (in my opinion). It is worth getting sound advice to avoid unnecessary anxiety around food.
  • There is no good evidence to support the avoidance of allergenic foods during pregnancy and lactation to prevent food allergy development in the infant. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, only two or three out of one hundred babies who are exclusively breastfed have an allergy to it and this is often linked to cow’s milk in the diet of the person who is breastfeeding. We have one good review study that linked a benefit with a maternal diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and vitamin D with a lower risk of infant allergies.

Let’s take a look at the nutritional table below to help you adequately prepare for breastfeeding.

Here’s a Table With Some Specifics to help you Prepare for Breastfeeding:

Additional Energy+ 350-450 kcal+ 450-500 kcal
Important Food Groups– Wholegrains & high fiber starches for sustained energy and gut health

-Fruits and vegetables for fiber, vitamins and minerals

-Animal products. Chicken, fish, meats, eggs for B vitamins, iron

-Unsaturated essentials fats – nuts, seeds, avo’s, oily fish, olives for brain and eye development

– Dairy. Milk, yogurt, cheese for calcium and vitamin D

– Water. Aim for 2L or more if exercising, vomiting or on a warm day
– Wholegrains & high fiber starches or legumes for sustained energy and gut health

– Fruits and vegetables for fiber, vitamins and minerals

– Animal products – chicken, fish, meats, eggs for B vitamins, iron

– Unsaturated essentials fats – nuts, seeds, avo’s, oily fish, olives for brain and eye development

– Dairy – milk, yogurt, cheese for calcium and vitamin D

– Water – aim for 2L or more if exercising or on a warm day
Foods to avoid– Raw / undercooked proteins

– Unpasteurised dairy

– Raw sprouts

– Fish high in Mercury

– Alcohol

– Herbal supplements or shakes

– Any foods you yourself are allergic to
– Unpasteurised dairy

– Fish high in Mercury

– Dairy and soy only in the case of diagnosed CMPA or intolerance

– Herbal supplements or shakes

– Any foods you yourself are allergic to  
Items to limit– Caffeine
– Sugar
– Caffeine
– Alcohol
– Sugar
Important supplements– Folic acid

– Iron

– Vitamin B12 and iron for vegan or vegetarian mothers
– Choline

– Iodine

– Vitamin B12 and iron for vegan or vegetarian mothers

– Vitamin D3

Final Thoughts

Preparing for breastfeeding while still pregnant is a proactive step towards a successful and rewarding experience for both you and your baby. By educating yourself, building a support system, focusing on nutrition, and establishing healthy routines, you can approach breastfeeding with confidence and joy. Embrace the journey, be patient with yourself, and savor the precious moments of connection that breastfeeding can bring.

Thanks for learning how to prepare for breastfeeding with me!

25 January 2023

By C. Joubert

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