How to Prepare for Breastfeeding While Pregnant
Are you wondering how to prepare for breastfeeding while pregnant? Or if it’s even possible to prepare before your baby is here?
There’s good news! Preparing for breastfeeding while pregnant can make things SO much easier when your baby arrives.
But if you’ve already had your baby and think you missed your chance… think again! You can still prepare for breastfeeding with a new baby. And having some help in the early days makes a big difference.
Keep reading for my top tips about preparing to breastfeed your baby.
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Think About your Birth/Breastfeeding Plan
Believe it or not, your labor and delivery experience can affect breastfeeding. Unmedicated births tend to result in better breastfeeding outcomes.
Receiving IV fluids during labor can bake breastfeeding hard initially – it may cause your breasts to be engorged which makes them harder to latch on to.
That being said… Plenty of women have medicated births and go on to breastfeed just fine. But if you’re interested in natural birth, it might be worth checking out.
A lot of preparation goes into a birthing plan, but just as important is how to prepare after birth. In the first hours and days after birth, what you do can make a big difference in breastfeeding success.
Most hospitals now are baby-friendly which means they encourage breastfeeding. But not all are. To encourage breastfeeding after birth:
- Do lots of skin-to-skin contact.
- Breastfeed in the first hour after birth if possible.
- Avoid (or at least limit) pacifier use.
- Avoid (or limit as much as possible) formulas and bottles.
- Pump instead of formula if you need to supplement.
If you do need to supplement, in the first few days you can use a syringe, spoon, or cup. These things make breastfeeding easier because they don’t cause nipple confusion. Babies’ stomachs are small the first few days after birth so they won’t need large amounts and feeding with a syringe or cup is a good option.
Educate Yourself About Breastfeeding
One of the best ways to prepare yourself for breastfeeding while you’re pregnant is to educate yourself! Before your baby is here, education can prepare you for things you may encounter on your breastfeeding journey.
Take a Breastfeeding Class
A breastfeeding class is an extremely helpful preparation for breastfeeding. There are many options for breastfeeding classes including:
- Hospital-based classes
- Private classes
- Online classes
Call your hospital before giving birth, they may offer group classes or online classes. Some of them even have a support group, so calling ahead may be helpful.
Private classes are popular, many birthing centers offset breastfeeding classes for new and expecting moms.
And in the last couple of years, online breastfeeding classes have gotten more popular. I offer an online class here – it’s a series of short videos that tell you all about breastfeeding: what to expect, how to establish your milk supply, how to latch your baby, and more!
Join a Support Group
Sometimes a support group is all you need! When you’re preparing to breastfeed, do some research on breastfeeding support groups in your area.
La Leche League is a popular organization that has groups all over the world. Look here to find a support group near you. La Leche League is made up of moms that have breastfed and are happy to help other moms on their breastfeeding journey.
And believe it or not, there are online support groups! They can be convenient if you need to hop on the computer (or your phone) and ask a question.
I have a support group on Facebook – it’s full of moms that have breastfed or are currently breastfeeding. And I’m always hopping on to answer questions and give advice – so you have help from a Registered Nurse and Certified Lactation Counselor at your fingertips!
Find a Lactation Professional
Another fantastic way to prepare for breastfeeding is to research lactation professionals.
Look for the following terms:
- IBCLC: International Board Certified Lactation Consultant
- CLE: Certified Lactation Educator
- CLC: Certified Lactation Counselor
These are all certifications that lactation support professionals hold. Many lactation consultants are also Registered Nurses (like me!).
You can click here to find an IBCLC near you. Otherwise, just do a little Google search to find some in your area. Don’t be afraid to call ahead and ask a few questions to figure out if you’d want to work with them or not. Questions you could ask include:
- How do you support moms with breastfeeding?
- How can you help me achieve my feeding goals? (Then explain your goals!)
- What is your availability like?
- Are you available for calls or texts when I need help?
- Do you offer support outside of consultations?
Before I became a CLC, I had a hard time finding a Lactation Consultant that would help me when I needed it. Many were booked out extremely far or didn’t take quick phone calls. They required a 1-2 hour appointment so I found myself lost for answers.
That’s why I decided to become a CLC and give moms a better option. I offer consultations over the phone, video, and e-mail or messaging for when moms need more support.
If you’re interested in working with me virtually, contact me here:
I’d be honored to be the person you turn to if you have breastfeeding troubles! And if you find another professional during your breastfeeding preparation, just keep their contact information handy for when you need to reach out. Doing some research to find the right person can make a big difference when you need help.
Trusted Books and Websites
Breastfeeding is hard- just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sometimes a Google search doesn’t quite cut it when you’re looking for answers.
So, try to remember some trusted websites and books to turn to when you need breastfeeding help.
Some helpful websites when you’re preparing to breastfeed include:
And books can be helpful for breastfeeding preparation too. My favorites are:
Learn What To Expect
Part of preparing for breastfeeding includes learning what to expect. Learning what is normal and expected can help you avoid problems and stress down the road.
I’ll briefly talk about things to expect with breastfeeding and if you want more in-depth information, consider a breastfeeding class.
Breast milk is one of the most unique substances created. It contains antibodies, nutrients, and everything a baby needs. There are a few helpful things to know about breast milk when you’re preparing to breastfeed:
- Your milk will be colostrum at first.
- During pregnancy and immediately after birth, breast milk is yellow and small in quantity.
- Perfect for a baby’s tiny tummy, colostrum is nutrient-dense and everything your baby needs for the first days.
- Mature milk comes in between days 2 and 5.
- When your mature milk comes in, your breasts might become swollen and painful.
- The best way to treat engorgement is to breastfeed your baby frequently.
- Establishing your milk supply is important.
- Establish your milk supply by feeding your baby every 2-3 hours.
- Milk supply depends on demand so feeding more = better supply.
- Even if your baby is sleeping, wake them. They need to eat often during the first 6 weeks.
- If you supplement, pump the amount of milk that your baby eats. This will keep your supply up.
How to Latch Baby
Latching your baby is important to avoid nipple pain and ensure your baby transfers milk well. One of the most important things to learn about while preparing to breastfeed is how to latch your baby. Here are the steps:
- Get in a good position!
- Be comfortable. Use different pillows, find what works for you.
- Line up baby’s ear, shoulder, and hips.
- Make sure the baby’s head isn’t tucked or extended.
- Let baby’s head be free to move – support them at the base of their neck.
- Line up your baby’s nose with your nipple.
- Wait for them to open their mouth wide.
- Latch your baby by aiming your nipple at the roof of their mouth.
- It will look asymmetrical, but that’s how you want it!
- Baby needs more breast tissue beneath your nipple in your mouth to transfer milk.
Latching and positioning your baby can be tough. It seems simple but it’s one of the hardest things to get right.
At first, moms have to do most of the work. With time, babies grow and become better at latching themselves.
Make sure you and your baby are comfortable! This is the biggest challenge in latching problems I see. You could use a boppy, or just a pillow from your bed. Or you might have a short torso and not need a pillow at all. Everyone is different, so don’t be afraid to try out different things to see what works for you.
How to Tell if Your Baby is Getting Enough
When you’re learning how to prepare for breastfeeding, don’t forget to think about how to tell if your baby is getting enough.
Bottle feeding is easy to see how much your baby is getting.
But breastfeeding can’t be measured in ounces. The best ways to tell if your baby is getting enough are:
- Weight gain (5-7% weight loss after birth, back to birth weight by 2 weeks).
- Dirty diapers (1 per day of life until day 4, then 4+ poopy diapers per day).
Dirty diaper numbers can change around 6 weeks when your baby’s digestion starts to change, but in the first 6 weeks, your baby should have 4 or more poopy diapers per day. The only exception is the first days. Expect 1 diaper on day 1, 2 on day 2, and 3 on day 3.
Another sign your baby is getting enough is contentedness. Babies will clench their hands when they’re hungry. When they’re full, they relax and unclench their fists.
Signs your baby is not getting enough breast milk are:
- Losing weight (or not gaining enough).
- Not back to birth weight by 2 weeks.
- Not having enough poopy diapers.
- Acting lethargic and VERY sleepy.
- A shrunken fontanel (a dip in the front of their little head).
- Very short (less than 5 minutes) or very long (more than 45 minutes) feedings.
As you prepare to breastfeed, keep these signs and symptoms in mind so you know if you need to reach out to someone for help.
How Often and Long to Breastfeed
Another thing to think about when preparing for breastfeeding is the amount of time it takes! Did you know that a full year of breastfeeding, when added up, equals almost the number of hours as a full-time job?
Feeding frequently is important for milk supply, and making sure your baby gets enough milk.
Expect to feed your newborn:
- 8-12 times per day.
- Every 2-3 hours.
- For 10-20 minutes per breast.
More than just learning things as you prepare to breastfeed, you’ll also need to think about breastfeeding essentials. I mean the physical things that you’ll need for breastfeeding.
Some of the things you’ll need to buy when preparing to breastfeed are:
More than 90% of breastfeeding moms will pump at least once during their breastfeeding journey. That means a breast pump is a great thing to have on hand.
There are different kinds of breast pumps, manual, electric, single-breast or double-breast. Some breast pumps you can put into your bra and let it do the work.
Think about which kind of breast pump will work for you. Many insurance companies will cover more expensive options.
As you prepare to breastfeed, storage bags are important – especially if you want to build up a breast milk stash. The bags can be laid flat in the freezer for easy storage. Then, when you want to feed your baby just thaw it out and pour the milk into a bottle.
Storage bags are inexpensive and good to have around. If you decide to pump a little bit, save that extra milk!
Bottles and Nipples
Another thing to think about as you’re getting ready to breastfeed is bottles and bottle nipples. There are a whole bunch of different types out there.
My favorite bottles are the Avent Natural ones, but there are plenty of options. Dr. Browns are commonly used in hospitals because they help prevent air from getting in the milk.
When thinking about bottles, also think about the nipple that goes with them. Start with a preemie, newborn, or slow-flow nipple until your baby gets used to their suck-swallow-breathe pattern.
And consider paced bottle feeding (read about it here) if you think you’ll give your breastfed baby a bottle. These are all important things to consider as you prepare to breastfeed and bottle feed.
Some people never use bottles or pump and that’s okay too! I pumped and bottle fed often with my first baby but my second never took a bottle and I exclusively breastfed. So it’s totally up to you!
A nursing pillow is a handy addition to your breastfeeding ensemble. They can help prop your baby up so you don’t hurt your back by leaning forward.
While you prepare to breastfeed, think about how much money you want to spend and whether or not you’ll need a nursing pillow. Sometimes a pillow from your bed will work just as good – or even better!
While you’ve been thinking about breastfeeding, maybe you’ve heard about leaking. Some moms leak milk when they hear their baby cry – or even if they think about their baby for a second!
They look down and…
Their shirt is soaked.
As you can imagine, that can be a little embarrassing (but don’t worry, it’s common!).
To avoid that, consider buying some bra pads. They’re extra absorbent and stick to the inside of your bra.
Bra pads are one of the most important things to stash up on while you prapare for breastfeeding – you’ll be happy you have them if you end up needing them.
Nursing Bras and Clothes
These aren’t totally necessary, but they can make breastfeeding a LOT easier!
Nursing bras and clothes are a pretty common purchase moms make while they prepare for breastfeeding. Nursing bras can be pulled down for quick access to the breast and nursing clothes have gotten very stylish recently. Having easy access to the breast – while keeping cute – makes the breastfeeding journey a lot easier.
Have you ever heard of a breastfeeding pop-up? It’s a frame that allows you to see your baby while you breastfeed – without having to pull the cover over your head.
You can attach any blanket or breastfeeding cover to breastfeed comfortably in public.
It might help to set up some breastfeeding stations around your house while you prepare for breastfeeding.
Place a small basket in any area you think you’ll breastfeed your baby.
Include things like:
- Some wipes.
- A few diapers.
- Nipple cream.
- Burp cloths.
- Bra pads.
- A water bottle.
Having these things within arms reach makes breastfeeding so much easier.
Items You Might Need
The next items are useful if you have any pain or struggles with breastfeeding:
Breast shells are useful if you have sore nipples or flat/inverted nipples. They keep your nipples from rubbing against your clothes.
Nipple shields are useful if your nipples start to hurt, but be careful about using them. They can make milk transfer more difficult and may decrease your supply. That’s why I only recommend them if you have problems, otherwise don’t purchase them.
Gel pads can be helpful when dealing with clogged ducts, engorgement or mastitis. They can be warmed or cooled depending on what problems you’re facing. They certainly can make you more comfortable if you come across breast pain while breastfeeding.
Know Yourself and Your Baby
Here’s something that I wish I knew while I was preparing for breastfeeding: know yourself! And get to know your baby.
Everybody is different.
That’s obvious… but remembering is can make a HUGE difference.
Here are some things to think about when it comes to you and your baby as you prepare to breastfeed:
- Your nipples: Are they flat or inverted? Are they dense or large? Knowing these things can help you determine how to breastfeed your baby.
- Inverted/flat nipples: you may need to compress your breast while latching your baby (kind of like a sandwich) so they have more tissue to latch on to.
- Dense/large nipples: it’s extremely important to get a deep latch – make sure your baby opens WIDE! You want them to breastfeed, not nipplefeed.
- Previous breastfeeding experience: what things did you struggle with last time? Try to remember things you learned and how you overcame them.
- If you have concerns, talk to a breastfeeding professional. They can help a lot while you prepare for breastfeeding.
- Don’t worry too much – each experience is different. One baby might be difficult while the next one breastfeeds easily.
- Baby’s mouth and individuality: babies are all unique little humans. They might have small mouth, short jaws, be premature or sleepy, and have many other possible qualities.
- Breastfeeding isn’t always easy. The combination of your breast anatomy and your baby’s individual characteristics may cause initial problems.
- The GOOD news is that you will both get better with time! Babies aren’t a lot of help at first but as they grow and become more aware, they get better at breastfeeding.
- Most problems occur in the first 3 months. If you make it past then, you have an incredible likelihood of breastfeeding until 1 year (or longer if you’d like).
- Breastfeeding positions for YOU: this is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when preparing for breastfeeding. Think about you, are you big chested? Small chested? Do you have a long or short torso?
- Breast size: everyone’s breasts are different. Some are bigger or smaller, some more elastic. Some people can lay their papy right on their lap and breastfeed while others need a pretty tall pillow.
- Torso length: moms with a short torso might need some more pillows than moms with long torsos. Remember that everyone is different so try many things when positioning you and baby for breastfeeding.
Think About What Comes Next
Once you’ve gone through and thought about all the things you need to consider as you prepare for breastfeeding… think about what comes next!
The first months are the hardest but after that it’s important to think about your long term goals.
Consider things like:
- Building up a breast milk stash.
- Returning to work.
- Will childcare be breastfeeding friendly?
- Will you need to pump?
- Your rights and the law.
- You have the right to take pumping breaks throughout your work day.
- You have the right to feed your baby in public.
- How long will you breastfeed your baby?
- The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months.
- The AAP then recommends breastfeeding until 1 year.
- How and when will you start solid foods?
- Learn when your baby is developmentally ready to start solids.
- Think about what types of solids you’ll start them on.
- How will you handle teething?
- Sometimes babies bite while they’re teething – there are ways to handle this!
- When and how will you wean?
- Weaning before 1 year you will have to replace breast milk with formula.
- Weaning after 1 year, babies can transition to milk or milk substitutes.
Preparing to Breastfeed: A Summary
As you prepare to breastfeed, there are many things to think about. From the physical items you’ll need for breastfeeding to learning about how to breastfeed.
Preparing for breastfeeding isn’t an easy task – but you’ll be glad you did! It makes the breastfeeding journey much easier when you have some preparation to get ready.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.
Online Baby Feeding Courses
Everything You Need to Know
Are you a mommy that:
- Desires to start breastfeeding right?
- Wants to know more about breastfeeding?
- Needs answers about keeping your milk supply up?
- Has questions about starting solids and teething?
- Wonders how to wean when you’re done breastfeeding?
This class is for you! This evidence-based class was made by a Registered Nurse and mommy who wants moms to have all they need for breastfeeding success.
This class will teach you:
- The most important ingredients in formula.
- How to choose the right formula for your baby.
- To prevent tummy issues (hint: paced feeding).
- How to keep your baby safe.
- The best way to switch to a new formula.
Taught by a Registered Nurse and mommy who struggled feeding her first baby – this class will set you up for success! Be confident you’re making the best choices for your baby.