Breasts naturally prepare for breast-feeding throughout pregnancy, but breast-feeding itself is a learned skill just like caring for a baby. During pregnancy, many couples spend a lot of time preparing for the birth, but few prepare for breast-feeding, even though better preparation could make breast-feeding a lot easier.
How the breasts get ready
All through your pregnancy your breasts will slowly begin to produce milk. Some women even notice milk leaking from their breasts during the third trimester.
Breast shape, size, and color vary from one woman to the next. Breast appearance and texture are largely hereditary. Like the rest of the body, breasts change throughout life.
Breasts also change during pregnancy. The areolas usually darken, and the breasts increase in size. Whether you have small or large breasts and nipples, they are designed to produce milk and feed your baby. There is nothing you need to do to prepare your breasts for breast-feeding. They prepare themselves naturally throughout pregnancy. Whether your baby arrives early or on time, you will have milk for her.
Breast-feeding does not change the appearance of your breasts, but carrying a baby and producing breast milk does.
How women get ready
To prepare to breast-feed for the first time, try talking with women who have had a positive breast-feeding experience. You probably know some already. Ask them what it was like and use them as resources.
If you don’t know anyone who can help, you can contact a breast-feeding support group in your community. These groups are run by women who have breast-fed and want to support other women. If you don’t know of any breast-feeding support groups, your CLSC can give you the names of the organizations in your area. Most of these groups offer
- Group information meetings or breast-feeding workshops
- Mentoring by experienced breast-feeding mothers
- Information and support over the phone
Though they are aware of the benefits of breast-feeding, some women are still hesitant to nurse their baby. Common fears include being unable to breast-feed, not having enough milk, having sore nipples, not being able to eat everything they want, excluding the father from feeding the baby, and having their breasts deformed from breast-feeding. Most of these fears are based on popular misconceptions or myths. Talk to a person trained in breast-feeding to get a better understanding of how breast-feeding works and how to prevent any problems.
How partners get ready
As a future father, you play a key role in the decision to breast-feed and continue breast-feeding. Even though you aren’t the one giving baby the breast, you need to know how breast-feeding works. Oftentimes it is easier to remember important information when two people know it.
At the beginning, especially with the first baby, the mother often needs help getting the baby latched on to the breast. You can help by lending a hand bringing the baby to the breast, shifting a pillow, or giving a word of encouragement. Little things like bringing the mother something to drink or making a snack are always appreciated.
You can help in other ways, too. You can reassure your partner when she’s unsure of herself, shield her from negative pressure from friends and family, or stress the importance of breast-feeding. This daily support means a lot, especially during the adaptation period.
You will find many different ways of caring for your baby. Babies need to be held, cuddled, dressed, bathed, and changed. Some fathers like to hold their baby against their chest (skin to skin) at the hospital or at home. Your baby needs to hear your voice and forge an emotional bond with you. Babies feel safe and warm in their father’s arms.
How family and friends get ready
Some families have an established breast-feeding tradition in which all mothers nurse their babies. If your family is like this, the people around you will know all about breast-feeding and probably know how to help you if needed.
But you might also be the first in your family or your partner’s family to breast-feed. In this case, you may need to let them know that you intend to breast-feed. They don’t have to have breast-fed themselves to support a woman who is nursing; they just need to be well informed.
There is an ever-expanding array of breast-feeding accessories on the market—everything from breast pumps and nursing pillows to nursing pads and more. None of them are essential, and there is usually no need to buy these accessories during pregnancy. Community groups are good sources of information when the time comes to choose a pump or other breast-feeding accessories. If you decide to wear a nursing bra, it is best to get it toward the end of your pregnancy.
Areola: Darker area of the breast around the nipple.