Let’s Talk: Preparing Your Nipples for Breastfeeding

Mother holding her newborn child. Mom nursing baby

We’re sure you’ve all scrolled through a moms group on social media, so we’re certain that you’ve read some pretty sketchy breastfeeding preparation advice.

One of the most common things clients asks us at our prenatals is: How can I prepare for nursing? Do I need to “toughen up” my nipples? Short answer: No, please don’t,
Recently, a client sent us a screen shot of a post she saw on Facebook and was in a complete panic because she hadn’t been doing this to prepare for nursing. The post was a mom talking about how easy her breastfeeding journey had been so far with her 3 week old and she credited the fact that she scrubbed her nipples with a toothbrush (no, we’re not kidding) daily and pumped from 32 weeks until birth “to help her milk come in”…

First of all, please never pump before you are full term (read: 39 weeks) and please discuss this with your provider BEFORE you do it. Nipple stimulation can cause preterm labor and that’s just not a risk anyone wants to take. Also, pumping to help your milk come in before you birth your baby isn’t a thing. When the placenta releases, it signals your body to begin the switch form colostrum to mature milk. While your body starts producing milk, your baby is getting plenty of colostrum and that colostrum is doing magical things for your sweet little one. Nursing your baby helps your milk come in, not pumping before your baby is born.

Now, let’s talk about scrubbing your nipples.
Surprise, it doesn’t work like that. You’re just damaging your nipples. While you are gestating, your nipples create protective substances to help protect your nipples once you start nursing. Scrubbing your nipples could remove that protective barrier, and could also cause an infection because you’re damaging your nipple. Not my idea of a good time.
Also, with a correct latch, there is minimal contact with your nipple while baby nurses. If you are seeing nipple damage after nursing, contact a lactation professional immediately for troubleshooting and latch correction. Some discomfort can be expected in the early days because you’re both learning and your body is adjusting to feeding a tiny human now. Any visible damage or excruciating pain is indicative of an issue and should be assessed immediately.
So… how CAN you prepare for breastfeeding your baby?

  1.  Find support BEFORE your baby is born. Find people who will support you. Breastfeeding isn’t always easy. You may have to put in some serious work before it becomes easy. Find other moms who breastfeed, find breastfeeding peer support groups like LLL and Breastfeeding USA. Most hospitals offer a lactation counseling group. Find your people, because when nursing is hard you need people.
  2. Kellymom.com We know that Google is not our friend in most cases. You can find a ton of crappy advice online, including in breastfeeding specific support groups on social media. We can almost promise you that if you are our client, you will get at least one link from Kellymom. Also, we’re available at any time for anything if you need help and you aren’t sure where to begin.
  3. The Golden Hour. If there is ONE thing that we think makes the most difference for moms and babies who are planning to breastfeed, it’s this. 1-2 hours skin to skin without separation. This gives both of you time to bond and smell each other, gives baby time to find the breast and explore it, and it gives us adequate time to get baby latched on and suckling before anyone touches baby for exams and other stuff. Discuss this with your care provider and with the nurses before your birth so everyone knows what to expect.
  4. Convenience and Expectations. In our society, we have done a serious disadvantage to mothers and nurslings. For some reason, we’ve expected women to birth a baby, then go home and do laundry for a family of 5 while she also makes dinner and keeps everyone alive. NO. Don’t do it. Set up a meal train, ask people to pitch in when they come to visit, and set up a nursing station. Have a basket of shelf stable snacks, a journal, coconut water/water/whatever you like to drink, and a Netflix subscription ready to go for the early days. All you need to plan on doing is showering, eating, sleeping, and nursing for the first few weeks. Around 3 weeks, nursing gets easier and you’ll discover that you can multi-task once again. For now, ignore the dishes and don’t sweep the floor. It’ll be there when you’re ready.
  5. Side-lying. This is a skill you want to master as soon as possible. If you can lay down and nurse your baby, you’ll get extra rest. It’s wonderful and it’s on our to do list for our postpartum visit if you haven’t figured it out before then.

What made your nursing journey easier? Have you received sketchy breastfeeding advice? What are your favorite resources?

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