Preparing to Breastfeed: What You Should Do Before Baby Arrives

Breastfeeding is a daunting task, especially for new moms. Our Expert & Family Medicine Physician,

Dr. Rebecca Berens, gives her tips for preparing to breastfeed before you welcome baby!

In the early days, the most important things to establishing a good breastfeeding relationship are 1) lots of contact between parents and baby, and 2) access for feeding whenever the baby is ready to feed. This is an extremely important time for parents to learn to pick up on feeding cues, since once baby is crying with hunger and agitated it is much harder to start a feed and get a good latch. Skin to skin contact between the breastfeeding parent and baby is also extremely important for supporting a good breast milk supply.

But remember, you need help and support to breastfeed! Here are some important things to do before you give birth.

1. Talk to Your Family

Well-meaning family and friends want to help, but will often come over and insist on holding the baby -- this is not helpful to you. One thing you don't need is other people's opinions! There are many other ways that they can help support you as a new parent, such as:

•Do chores

•Watch other kids

•Cook/bring you food

•Change diapers

•Bathe baby

•Play/tummy time

•Read stories

•Soothe to sleep

It is much easier to set boundaries and expectations about how you want your family and friends to support you BEFORE you give birth -- in the postpartum period you will be tired and hormonal and possibly overwhelmed. At that stage, it is very hard to have an honest conversation with people about behaviors you would like them to change. You should also talk to your partner about your goals and expectations so that they can intervene and navigate any conflicts for you, especially if their side of the family is involved.

2. Talk to Your Doctor/Midwife

This is incredibly important because there are certain conditions that can put you at risk of difficulties with breastfeeding. It is important to discuss with your doctor or midwife during prenatal care whether you have any of these risk factors and what you can do to give yourself the best chance of success. Often there are several things you can do to help. Additionally, it is also mentally helpful to know in advance that you may have difficulty. A lot of women put pressure and blame on themselves when they experience breastfeeding difficulties.

If you are having trouble, it is not your fault! We have significantly less societal support for new parents than we did in the past, and there are medical conditions that can contribute to problems as well. Arm yourself with as much information as possible, and then if you do encounter struggles, you will know who to go to and how to address them without self-blame.

Possible risk factors for difficulty breastfeeding include:

•Diabetes/insulin resistance

•Thyroid disease

•Lack of breast growth in pregnancy

•Tubular breasts

•Inverted nipples

•History of certain breast surgeries

•Older age

3. Talk to Your Employer

Talking to your employer (whether that be your supervisor and/or HR department) while you are still pregnant about your plans to breastfeed is important to make sure that they give you the accommodations you are entitled to. Sometimes they will need some time to prepare for these accommodations, and they will appreciate the notice from you to make sure things are done correctly.

Before talking to them, it is important that YOU know what your rights are. There are both federal and state protections for breastfeeding women in the workplace. Keep in mind that you are not asking permission for these accommodations, you are already entitled to them. You are simply notifying them that you have a condition that will require workplace accommodations, and telling them what the accommodations are that you will need. It is difficult to do this on short notice in the postpartum period, and many women feel pressure/guilt upon returning to work to return to their previous work schedule. Please do not feel any guilt about asking for accommodations! If you encounter retaliation or discrimination in the workplace due to these accommodations, please know that this is illegal and notify your HR department.

Here's what you'll need to pump at work:

•Private space with outlet and locking door