Decorate the nursery; check. Select an infant car seat; check. Prepare for breastfeeding before baby arrives; check?
When you’re pregnant, you’ve got more to do than ever to prep for the world’s most important job. But here’s one more thing to add to the list: Learning as much as you can about breastfeeding before your baby is born.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies 6 months or younger and nonexclusive breastfeeding after that until your baby is 1 or 2 years old. That’s the goal. Roughly 58 percent of women hit the sixth-month mark and just 35 percent are still at it at one year, according to the CDC [*]. But don’t let the stats deter you.
While you’re crossing things off your new-baby list, your breasts are on autopilot, getting ready to feed your baby. So, there’s not much to do. Yet, with the right equipment, strategies, and mindset, you can hit your own personal breastfeeding targets — or come as close to them as possible.
About 30 days before your due date, taking these breastfeeding prep steps can help make sure the process goes smoothly.
Step 1: Take an Online Breastfeeding Course
For some new moms, breastfeeding is easy. For others, there can be challenges that are as individual as their baby. An online breastfeeding course taught by a lactation consultant can help you prepare for what to expect and help you feel more confident as you learn this new skill.
This reliable and convenient source of information and support goes beyond your OB/GYN and other new moms' advice. When you know what to expect, you’ll be more likely to get past month one. You might even be able to reach out to the teacher if you have questions once your baby is born.
How to prepare for breastfeeding means brushing up on the basics. Take an online prenatal breastfeeding class that covers the benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby as well as advice, tips, and tricks for breastfeeding positions, techniques, and strategies to help you manage common breastfeeding issues. These issues include having a baby that won’t latch, uncertainty about whether your baby is getting enough milk, or managing a blocked milk duct, so you know what to expect and how to troubleshoot if issues arise.
Step 2: Check if Your Hospital is “Baby-Friendly”
Preparing for breastfeeding before baby arrives can involve a tour of the hospital or birthing center. An online or in-person tour of the birthing unit, nursery, newborn intensive care unit and postpartum unit can help you feel less overwhelmed on the big day because you know where to go and the hospital’s processes.
A hospital preview can also help get breastfeeding off to the best possible start. Some hospitals have taken extra steps to create an environment to support breastfeeding. These hospitals can be designated “Baby-Friendly” hospitals and birthing centers. They have instituted specific policies, culture, and workflow protocols for supporting breastfeeding, such as encouraging breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth and avoiding giving your baby infant formula unless it’s medically necessary.
To find out if your hospital or birthing center is baby-friendly, visit BabyfriendlyUSA [*].
If the hospital or birthing center where you’ll be giving birth isn’t officially “Baby-friendly,” it may still have procedures or educational classes in place to foster breastfeeding. Take a tour of the maternity suite and ask the nurses about typically postpartum breastfeeding procedures, such as whether you can expect your baby to room-in with you, which promotes earlier and longer breastfeeding, compared to staying in the hospital nursery.
Step 3: Get a Breast Pump
Especially when you first start breastfeeding, a breast pump is a must to help with letdown and to help your baby latch. If your breasts are too full, getting your baby to latch can be frustrating or nearly impossible.
How to prepare for breastfeeding before baby arrives involves choosing the best style breast pump for your situation. Breast pump features to consider include: suction power, noise level, size of the pump, battery option, and whether the pump can be used “hands-free.”
In general, if you’re going to be pumping every day, get a double electric breast pump. It’s the gold standard for working moms everywhere because it’s fast and efficient. However, the price tag — $200 on up for a double pump — can be a budget buster, especially when you’re busy stocking up on other big-ticket baby items, like a crib, car seat, and stroller.
Thankfully, because of the Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies must cover breastfeeding support and supplies, which includes the cost of a breast pump. That benefit can potentially save you hundreds of dollars.
To get your free pump:
- Call your health insurance company to find out which type of pump you can get and the brand options they offer because it may not be listed on their website.
- If the selection doesn’t include the brand/model you have in mind, ask whether you must get the “recommended” pump or if you can choose to purchase one that’s “out of network.”
- Then, you’ll need to get a prescription for the pump from your OB/GYN, submit the breast pump receipt for reimbursement, and wait for a check.
- Make sure your pump ships right to your door as soon as possible. Some insurance companies limit when a breast pump can ship (for example 30 days before your due date).
Alternatively, Aeroflow Breastpumps is a user-friendly free online service that specializes in helping pregnant and nursing women get their breast pumps through insurance [*]. An Aeroflow breast pump specialist will check your insurance benefits, contact your insurance company to verify your coverage, handle all the billings with your insurance company and coordinate with your doctor to get your prescription to your insurance company.
If you want to lighten up your commute to work, you might even want to get two — a freebie pump from the insurance company to keep at the office and another breast pump that you pay for (or put on your baby registry), for home.
Step 4: Stock up on Nursing Essentials
How to prepare for breastfeeding before baby arrives means stocking up. Here’s a rundown of the nursing necessities to have on hand.
- Nursing bras: You’ll need nursing bras, which come with extra support and flaps that open at feeding time. Because your breasts will change in size, growing a size or two in the postpartum period, be sure to choose nursing bras in stretchy fabric; buy at least three for starters.
- Nursing tops: Nursing tops, which have convenient flaps for breastfeeding discreetly, are also convenient. But they’re not absolutely necessary. Loose t-shirts will do.
- Breast pads: You will need countless breast pads, which you’ll put in your nursing bra to soak up leaks between feedings, which is completely normal. But a mix of disposable and washable nursing pads at first, to see which you prefer.
- Nursing pillow: A nursing pillow can also help position your baby during breastfeeding to avoid straining your neck and shoulders. The Boppy, the classic breastfeeding pillow, offers a little less structure than My Brest Friend, a leading competitor, but both can get the job done, as can a regular pillow.
- Nursing cover: A nursing cover offers discreet nursing in public. Get two or three.
- Nipple cream: Nipple cream can help relieve sore nipples, just in case.
Step 5: Talk to Your Partner About Breastfeeding
Successful breastfeeding is a family affair. Talk to your partner and family members about how they can support your breastfeeding journey. You’ll be spending lots of time with your baby. Ask for help by having them take over household chores, making sure you have enough to eat and drink (breastfeeding burns extra calories), and just being a good listener/support system.
Step 6: Prep Your Bedroom or Nursery
During your baby’s first six months to a year, your bedroom should double as a nursery. Rooming in with your baby in a crib or bassinet at home not only makes nightly feedings easier, it reduces your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to the American Academy of Pediatrics [*]. Put a crib with a firm mattress or a bassinet right next to your side of the bed, ideally for the first six months.
More safe-sleep practices to add to your routine include:
- Avoid bedsharing; be sure to return your baby to the crib or bassinet after every feeding.
- Use a firm, non-inclined sleep surface, to reduce the risk of suffocation or entrapment.
- Put your baby in their crib or bassinet on their back every single time.
- Bare is best: keep soft objects, such as pillows, pillow-like toys, quilts, comforters, mattress toppers, fur-like materials, and loose bedding, such as blankets and nonfitted sheets, away from the infant’s sleep area to reduce the risk of SIDS, suffocation, entrapment/wedging, and strangulation.
- Tell grandparents and other caregivers about these safe-sleep practices.
Preparing for Breastfeeding FAQ
Can I pump before my baby is born?
No. Even though your breasts may be larger than usual while you’re pregnant, they’re not ready for breast pumping until after your baby is born, when the natural hormonal changes kick in that get the ball rolling.
How many breast pumps do I need?
One breast pump is likely all you’ll need, but if you’ll be returning to work on-site and want to lighten up your commute, you might even want to get two, such as a freebie pump from the insurance company to keep at the office and another breast pump that you pay for, for home.
Can I breastfeed if I have a medical condition?
It depends. Talk to your doctor if you have a medical challenge that might make breastfeeding harder, such as past breast surgery or inverted nipples, and talk to your OB/GYN about what you might do if breastfeeding challenges arise. Questions to ask your doctor include:
- Can I continue to breastfeed and still take my current medications?
- Should I continue to breastfeed if I come down with COVID-19?
- Are there certain foods I should avoid eating while breastfeeding?
- Is an occasional glass of wine ok during breastfeeding?
How do I toughen my nipples to prepare for breastfeeding?
You don’t need to toughen your nipples. There’s nothing you need to do to prepare your nipples for breastfeeding.
Is breastfeeding painful at first?
Not necessarily, but if breastfeeding is painful, it may be because of sore, tender nipples. If that’s the case, check your baby’s latch; there should be a large portion of the areola in her mouth when they feed. If the problem continues, try different positions, such as lying down while breastfeeding or propping your baby on a breastfeeding pillow, or talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant.
Preparation Pays Off
Breastfeeding is completely natural. Still, it’s not something you do until your baby is born, which is a transformative experience. With so much change on the big day and the days after, learning as much as you can about breastfeeding and getting ready can help you feel confident and prepared for this major life milestone.
Keep in mind, however, that breastfeeding is a hands-on experience. Once your baby is born, you’ll learn by doing. But preparing ahead of time can give you the knowledge and confidence you need to be successful and keep up the good work for hopefully six months–or longer!