Prenatal Planning for Breastfeeding

Pregnant woman with her hands around her belly.

Prenatal planning for breastfeeding is an important step for expectant moms–learning steps you can take before birth to help breastfeeding go smoothly for you and your baby. Knowing what to expect and that there are resources available to help you along the way can give you such incredible peace of mind, so you can enjoy those precious bonding moments with your newborn baby. After all, it should be a happy day when you and your newborn baby get to go home from the hospital for the first time and begin your new family life together.

Evidence of Effectiveness

A 2008 review by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) found that interactive breastfeeding education, provided both prenatally and postnatally, had the most positive effect on short-term exclusive breastfeeding and the duration of any breastfeeding.

Evidence shows that women who receive comprehensive prenatal education breastfeed longer and more successfully. In fact, addressing personal concerns, including any perceived or actual potential barriers to nursing successfully ahead of baby’s arrival can make the difference. These barriers can range from mom’s own personal thoughts and feelings, friends/family members with strong opinions, physiological concerns (breast size, nipple shape, previous breast procedures or traumas), medical concerns (thyroid medication use), situational concerns (early return to work or other children to attend to), and potential baby-related barriers.

Every baby is different, variables that can affect successful breastfeeding include gestational age (e.g., baby’s born <37 weeks may need extra time to learn), birthing course, the timing of milk arrival, baby’s oral anatomy, and most importantly, the availability of timely support once concerns arise. The best support is early, preventive and proactive. Get your questions answered early. Don’t wait until they become problems.

Who would benefit from prenatal education for breastfeeding?

Prenatal education for breastfeeding would be most beneficial to 1) the mom who may be unsure or uneasy about breastfeeding and has questions or concerns; and 2) the first-time or repeat mom who is confident that she’ll do well but may not have thought about some of the things we discuss below.

What does prenatal breastfeeding education include?

Prenatal breastfeeding education includes the following:

  • Guidance for mothers about anticipated situations and signs of effective breastfeeding or breastfeeding problems.
  • The benefits of breastfeeding to mother, baby, and society.
  • Correct positioning to help the infant latch on to the breast effectively.
  • Specific needs in the early days of breastfeeding.
  • Resources that are available to help with problems.
  • Common fears, concerns, problems, and myths.

From the time period spanning childbirth to the onset of labor through the delivery of the placenta, intrapartum breastfeeding education includes the following:

  • Immediate issues such as correct latch and positioning.
  • Adequate milk removal.
  • Stability of the infant.
  • Comfort of the mother.
  • Concerns of mothers and family members.
  • Referrals for postpartum support.
  • Signs of success or potential problems in the first few days after hospital discharge.

Will you be able to breastfeed your baby?

To dispel any concerns you may have about being able to breastfeed your baby, know that mothers can breastfeed if they: 

  • Have a cesarean section.
  • Take medications for illnesses; many are permitted, but always check with your provider.
  • Have had certain breast surgeries, often with support from a breastfeeding counselor.
  • Have hepatitis A or B, once the baby is given protective shots in the hospital.
  • Have hepatitis C, unless nipples are cracked or bleeding.
  • Have pierced nipples.
  • Have inverted nipples, as the nipple may “pop-out” during pregnancy.
  • Have an occasional alcoholic drink–with spacing between drink and next feeding.
  • Smoke tobacco; it is best for the mother’s health and baby’s health for mothers not to smoke, but it is not a reason to avoid breastfeeding.

Women who have had breast surgery and asymmetrical breasts can breastfeed with good information and support. If you have any concerns about breastfeeding, one of our board-certified lactation consultants can talk to you about them.

What steps can you take to prepare for breastfeeding?

There are several things you can do to prepare for breastfeeding that shouldn’t wait until after the birth of your baby. Prenatal planning for breastfeeding can alleviate so much stress and build confidence for success.

Before Baby’s Birth

  • Get early and routine prenatal care.
  • Tell your doctor about your plans to breastfeed.
  • Take a breastfeeding class. These classes teach you how to breastfeed and give you and your partner a chance to ask questions.
  • Read books about breastfeeding, such as The Breastfeeding Class Your Never Had: Getting Started with Nursing Your Baby, by Ann Bennett, IBCLC, RLC. Learn as much about breastfeeding as you can before the birth of your baby.
  • Contact Nest Collaborative to make an appointment with an IBCLC. Our board-certified lactation consultants will be available to you online before (prenatal visits) and after you have your baby, during your hospital stay and in those early days and weeks at home.
  • Check to see if you have a La Leche League in your area, and if so, attend a couple of meetings prior to the birth of your baby.
  • Talk to your friends who have breastfed.
  • Identify your personal breastfeeding goals and keep an open mind. You and your baby are learning about each other during those first 6 weeks. 
  • Buy the items you will need for breastfeedings, such as nursing bras, covers, and nursing pillows.
  • Check with your insurance provider for any breast pump benefits.

Actually, you should stock up on breastfeeding essentials while pregnant to make your experience as a nursing mom much easier and more comfortable:

  • Nursing Bras – a must-have for convenient nursing
  • Nursing Tops – or a loose shirt that can be pulled up or a blouse with buttons
  • Nursing Pads  – absorb leaking breast milk and help protect sore nipples.
  • Nipple Cream – helps to relieve sore nipples during the first few weeks.
  • Nursing Pillow – helps to keep your newborn positioned properly 
  • Breast Pump – convenient if you are planning to go back to work; you can pump your milk so that others can give it to your baby in a bottle

How can you prepare for breastfeeding success?

While you are pregnant, you have a lot of time to think about everything, including your personal feelings about how you are going to breastfeed your baby.

Here are some common concerns we have addressed with other expectant moms. Look them over and think about them. You may even want to discuss your particular concerns with one of our board-certified lactation consultants who can help provide guidance and reassurance. 

  • How important is it to you to breastfeed?
  • What thoughts do you have about breastfeeding?
  • What appeals to you about breastfeeding?
  • What concerns do you have about your ability to breastfeed?
  • What might increase your confidence level?
  • Can you produce enough milk? What if your breasts are small?
  • How confident are you about meeting your breastfeeding goals?
  • If breastfeeding didn’t go well with your first baby, what can you do to ensure a better experience with your next baby. 
  • In what ways do you feel most supported to breastfeed? Least supported?
  • Is there anyone who will discourage you from breastfeeding? Do you understand the reasons why?

When choosing to breastfeed your baby, it is extremely important for the people around you to support you in your decision. This includes your doctor, nurses, employer, partner, other family members, and friends. If you are experiencing any discouragement from your support system, talk to a lactation consultant about it and how you can work through the problem.

Sometimes just talking about these concerns with someone else can help provide the clarity you are seeking.

After Baby’s Birth

Research has shown that there are several steps you can take right after the birth of your baby to get a great start breastfeeding:

  • Cuddle with your baby, skin-to-skin for the first 2 hours
  • Breastfeed as soon as possible
  • Ask for a lactation consultant to help you
  • Ask the hospital staff not to give your baby pacifiers, sugar water, or formula, unless it is medically necessary. If medically indicated, supplement with mom’s own milk or donor milk.
  • Let your baby stay in your hospital room all day and night so that you can breastfeed often.
  • Avoid giving your baby any pacifiers or artificial nipples until he or she is good at latching on to your breast (usually around 6 weeks old).

What steps can your partner take to help support your breastfeeding?

Partners and family members can do a lot to help support your efforts to breastfeed your baby. Sometimes they may not be sure what to do to help, so don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need. Don’t assume they know what you need.

As you transition from the hospital to home, your loved ones can provide support in the following ways:

  • Being kind and encouraging about your decision to breastfeed.
  • Be good listeners if you need to talk about your breastfeeding concerns.
  • Help make sure you have enough to eat and drink and get enough rest.
  • Help with household chores.
  • Take care of any other children at home.
  • Take the time to play, talk, and cuddle with the newborn baby.

Prenatal Planning for Breastfeeding from Nest Collaborative

If you are looking for prenatal planning support for breastfeeding, our board-certified lactation consultants at Nest Collaborative can help. Most commercial health insurance plans will cover a prenatal visit with our team. We’ll confirm this prior to your visit. Our expert team provides lactation support for prenatal and postpartum moms, during any stage from beginning to end. Book an appointment today with one of our consultants.