Moms from all over the world get breastfeeding advice that derives from old-wives’ tales or misinformation, but in fact your breasts don’t need preparation! Your body is doing the work for you already.
Changes during pregnancy, usually midway through, known as Lactogenesis 1, is the process that prepares your breasts for lactation. Colostrum will be produced during this time. Once the baby and placenta have been delivered, Lactogenesis 2 (when volume increases) will occur naturally due to hormonal changes, and constant skin to skin contact/stimulation and removal of milk. Finally, Lactogenesis 3 is the process of maintaining lactation until you decide to wean.
Now that we know there is no physical preparation you need to do during pregnancy in order to successfully feed your baby, let’s take a moment to “Bust Some Myths”!
1. Tanning nipples! Yes, you heard that right! Some doctors around the world tell mommas to tan. The reason behind this is the thought that tanning will cause the nipples to toughen up in preparation for the pain you are to endure during breastfeeding. Let’s just say that breastfeeding should NOT hurt to begin with. You also want to consider that you have to be extra careful with sun exposure as mom’s skin may be more sensitive and likely to burn.
2. Brushing nipples with a comb/brush/wash cloths. Ouch! This little trick was thought to help make nipples tough enough for breastfeeding or desensitize them. I would worry about nipple trauma and possible risk of infection with this trick. Please don’t try!
3. Drinking or eating something to ensure you will have milk. Eating and drinking are important during and after pregnancy, but we have no evidenced based data that states we need to be eating or drinking something in particular (Galactagogues… more on that for another post!) to help encourage milk supply. Eating a good healthy balanced diet and drinking enough water to keep momma hydrated are important for her to feel well. Breastfeeding is exercise! Imagine how you would feel going out and running a mile or 2 and not getting enough calories and water to feel well!
4. Pumping milk before the baby arrives. This is a tricky one! The truth is we have limited data on this. Some moms will hand express colostrum during pregnancy to help with initiating lactation, feeling comfortable with breast stimulation, or to have colostrum handy just in case supplementation is medically needed when the baby is born. There have been some concerns that the release of oxytocin (the hormone responsible for milk let down AND making the uterus contract) may place mothers in preterm labor. Some other evidence shows that the benefit outweighs the risk, but is certainly not a needed step. This is something that should absolutely be discussed with your medical team before being considered, where benefit vs risk should be discussed.
5. Using any creams or ointments on the breast or nipples before the baby arrives. This is thought to be helpful in lubricating the area to prevent stretch marks on breasts, cracking and nipple trauma. Did I already address that our bodies are amazing in preparing for breastfeeding? Well, Montgomery glands (those bumps you see around your nipple) secrete natural oils, providing the only lubrication you need. Fun fact – when you deliver, this natural lubrication smells like amniotic fluid to help the baby find the breast and latch on for the first time!
Now that we have busted some myths, hang tight, because there is one thing you should do to prepare! It’s probably the best advice out there to prepare for breastfeeding:
Meeting with a knowledgeable Board Certified Lactation Consultant or Certified Lactation Counselor!
You can take the time before the baby arrives to discuss what your feeding goals are and what is the best way to meet them. Every pregnancy, mom and baby dyad look different. A specialist is there to walk you through what to expect those early days and weeks to come, as well as address all the funny and not funny myths about breastfeeding or pumping milk for your baby.