Preparing to Breastfeed
Read time: 5 minutes
What to know about getting ready to breastfeed
Breastfeeding has many benefits for both mom and baby
Your body prepares to breastfeed even before your baby is born
Tips to help prepare you to breastfeed for both before and after delivery
Because breastmilk is the optimal source of nutrition for your baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding along with the introduction of solid foods for one year or longer.1,2,3,4
There is a myriad of benefits to giving your baby breastmilk. As an infant grows, breast milk changes to meet the infant’s nutritional needs.5 Breastfeeding can help protect the infant against certain illnesses and diseases such as asthma, obesity, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).6 Breastmilk also provides growth-promoting and immune strengthening properties, as well as prebiotics and all the nutrition your baby needs for the 6 months of life.2,7
It’s important to know that even if you are not able to breastfeed fully, any amount of breastmilk is beneficial to your little one.25
While your body starts getting ready to produce breastmilk early in pregnancy, there are a few things you can do to help you prepare to breastfeed your baby.8
Read more: What Are the Benefits of Breastmilk?
How is my body getting ready to breastfeed?
Some women start to notice breast changes early on in pregnancy. Sometime in the first trimester, your breasts may become fuller and more tender, and you may notice nipple and areola changes.8 By the end of your second trimester, your body is able to produce breastmilk should your little one be born early.8
Around the third month of pregnancy, there is a rapid increase of milk ducts and other cells in your breasts as your body prepares for birth.9 Note that your breast size does not affect your ability to breastfeed or the amount of milk your body can make.9
Have questions about preparing to breastfeed? Come chat with our team of registered dietitians, fellow moms, and lactation specialists, available from Monday – Friday 8 am – 6 pm (ET) and Saturday – Sunday 8 am – 2 pm (ET). Chat now!
Colostrum is the first milk your body will produce
Some women even notice their breasts leaking a thick, yellow-ish liquid. This is colostrum, the first milk the body produces. Even though it may not seem like it, colostrum provides your baby with all the nutrients and fluid they need during the first few days after birth.10 It is also packed with many substances that help protect your little one as well as stimulate their own immune system.11
Your body will produce colostrum for several days after delivery until your mature milk starts to come in.10 This mix of colostrum and mature milk is called Transitional Milk.12 Your milk will begin to turn more white (sometimes with a slight blue tint) and will be produced in a much higher volume. In fact, you may become quite engorged when this happens; usually starting between 2 to 5 days after delivery.12
Not to worry though, the uncomfortable engorgement should only last a few days!
Read more: How and When to Hand Express
What can I do to prepare to breastfeed before my baby is born?
Take a breastfeeding class
Your local hospital or healthcare provider’s office may offer breastfeeding classes that
can help you prepare to nurse your baby.21 Understanding what to expect may help you feel a bit calmer and more prepared before your little one arrives.
Read about: Foods and Ingredients to Avoid While Pregnant
Meet with a Lactation Consultant
A prenatal appointment with a lactation consultant may allow them to identify any potential medical or anatomical issues that could interfere with successful breastfeeding.
If you have any thyroid issues, PCOS, or other hormone or endocrine disorders, you may benefit from meeting with a lactation consultant.13,14,15 Also be sure to chat with your doctor about these health concerns as they relate to breastfeeding.
A lactation consultant will also be able to help guide you on which breastfeeding supplies may be useful to have on hand, such as support pillows and pumps.
Learn about: Which Nutrients do I Need During Pregnancy?
Get your birthing team and support system on board
Make sure your doctors, nurses, family, friends, and other support systems understand your plan to breastfeed.21 Having support from those around you will help to ensure breastfeeding success.
If possible, ask that your baby ‘room in’ with you after delivery.19 Having your baby close to you at all times allows you to feed on demand, which is best to stimulate your milk production.16
Read about: How Much Should I Eat While Pregnant?
Order a breast pump
Even if you don’t plan on exclusively pumping for your baby, it is very helpful to have an electric breast pump on hand. A pump may be helpful should you need to bottle feed, pump to manage supply, or be apart from your baby for any reason.
Most health insurances cover the cost of a breast pump, so contact them in advance to learn what pumps are available to you and the process to receive one. If you don’t have insurance, you may be able to get a pump through your local WIC clinic or may be able to rent one from the hospital.17
Read more: Top Tips for Breast Pumping
How can I encourage breastfeeding after my baby is born?
Lie skin-to-skin with your baby as soon as possible after birth – and as much as you’re able to in the days, weeks, and months following birth. This helps to promote successful breastfeeding by giving baby easy, frequent access to the breast as well as stimulating the milk production hormones.18,19
Babies held skin-to-skin with their mothers cry less often, breathe easier, and stay warmer than babies who are separated from their mothers.20 They also instinctively attach to the breast and begin breastfeeding, usually within one hour of birth.19
Even after a Cesarean Section birth, breastfeeding and skin-to-skin is possible and encouraged.19 Chat with a lactation consultant to understand how.
Read more: Breastfeeding On Demand Vs on a Schedule
Meet with a Lactation Consultant
Most hospitals and birthing centers have a lactation consultant on staff available to meet with all new moms and babies soon after birth.21 Some hospitals even offer daily breastfeeding classes for you to attend prior to being discharged to go home.
Find breastfeeding support groups
Your hospital or birthing center may offer breastfeeding support groups led by lactation consultants. There are also many virtual or online breastfeeding support groups. This is a great way to ask questions about breastfeeding and feel more comfortable nursing outside of the home if you’re able to meet in person.
Read about: Top Breastfeeding Latching Tips
In the first few days and weeks, your baby will need to eat often; about 8 to 12 times per 24 hours.22 During the first couple weeks you may even need to wake baby up to feed enough times. This will help stimulate your mature milk to come in.18,
Watch baby’s diapers to let you know that they are getting enough. Look for 1 wet diaper per day of life along with 3 or more dirty diapers. Then once your mature milk comes in (by at least day 5), look for 5+ wet and 3+ dirty per 24 hours.23
Ultimately, adequate weight gain is the best indicator that your little one is getting enough milk.24
Learn about: Breastfeeding: How to Support a Good Milk Supply
Read about: Understanding Your Baby’s Hunger and Fullness Cues
These are the first steps! It can feel overwhelming preparing to breastfeed before your baby is even born, but by learning about the process and feeling empowered before baby arrives, you can increase the likelihood to successfully nurse your baby according to your goals.
We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.
Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am-2pm (ET). Chat Now!
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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:
Dealing with a Low Breastmilk Supply
Top Breastfeeding Latching Tips
What Foods Should I Avoid While Breastfeeding?