Even though breastfeeding is something your body can do naturally, it can be challenging, and there is certainly a learning curve. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do in advance to set yourself up for breastfeeding success before your baby is born and even when you’re in the thick of it.
1. Take care of yourself and your baby during pregnancy
Taking good care of your own health and your baby’s health by getting proper prenatal care will set you up for success and may help avoid having a baby preterm. Preterm babies can have more problems breastfeeding than full-term babies — that definitely doesn’t mean it’s not possible to breastfeed a preemie, just that it can sometimes be more challenging! Prenatal care also gives you the opportunity to regularly talk about preparing to breastfeed and the questions you may have!
2. Take a breastfeeding class
Breastfeeding classes, available in person and increasingly online, can do so much to help you learn more about all the ins and outs of breastfeeding — including basics like how to hold your baby and get a good latch, how to care for your breasts, how often your baby needs to eat and how these needs will change over time, how to recognize signs of hunger, and how to work through and get help with any challenges that you face along the way. Being taught by an expert can help you feel confident and prepared to begin breastfeeding.
3. Make sure you have breastfeeding support from your care team
Talk with your healthcare provider about your plans to breastfeed, and learn more about if the place you’ll deliver your child, whether at a hospital or a birth center, is prepared to help support you. Many hospitals have special designations and certifications that confirm their commitment to support breastfeeding families. This means that the hospital will encourage lots of skin-to-skin time, will keep you and your baby together in your room, and won’t offer anything to your baby other than breastmilk unless you request it or if it’s medically necessary. They may also be able to offer suggestions of breastfeeding friendly pediatric providers.
4. Talk to friends and family who have experience breastfeeding
Ask your friends and family about their breastfeeding experiences. Keep in mind that everyone’s experience is different, so try not to compare yourself to anyone else or expect that you’ll have the exact same experience. But it can be incredibly valuable to talk with loved ones who have gone through it before, and to know that you can reach out to them if you have questions or need moral support. That midnight text to reassure you that you’re doing a great job or what you’re experiencing in normal can be such a win on your breastfeeding journey.
5. Seek out a supportive community
If you don’t have friends and family who’ve had the experience of breastfeeding, or if you find that they’re not being particularly supportive of your goals or choices, it can be hugely helpful to find a supportive community. Most cities and communities, and often even hospitals or community health centers, have breastfeeding groups in which new parents share their experiences and offer support along the way. You can find many supportive communities online too.
6. Get breastfeeding essentials
Breastfeeding doesn’t require much to get started, just a few staple items, most of which are widely available in stores or online. Three good quality nursing bras are a must, since you’ll find they need frequent washing! They come in a handful of styles, so you may want to experiment with a couple and see which style you’re most comfortable in. A nursing pillow may also be helpful depending on where you’ll nurse most frequently and the size of your breasts. And at some point you’ll likely need a breast pump. Most pumps will come with some starter essentials like storage containers, bottles, and nipples — so be sure to check out what’s included with yours!
7. Give yourself a goal
Everyone’s breastfeeding goals are different, but sometimes setting them in advance can help you get through difficult days and can motivate you to continue when it gets challenging. That being said, the goals you set before your child is born (especially if this is your first and you haven’t breastfed previously) don’t always line up with the reality of your experience once you’re breastfeeding. If it makes sense to reconsider your goals at any point, you can definitely do that. Always reach out for support on your toughest days — breastfeeding changes quickly and you may find more joy from one day to the next!
8. Seek out professional support
Even if you do a lot of preparation prior to breastfeeding, it’s normal to face challenges, have questions, or need reassurance once you get started. Fortunately, there are a lot of people who can help you. Certified lactation consultants are experts in helping folks who are breastfeeding with all of this — and you should be able to find one in your area or even one that you can work with remotely by video. Your child’s healthcare provider or even your own OB provider may also be able to be of help too. You deserve all the help and support you need along your breastfeeding journey.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- “Breastfeeding your baby.” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, March 2019. Retrieved July 16 2020. https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/labor-delivery-and-postpartum-care/breastfeeding-your-baby.
- “Preparing to Breastfeed.” Office on Women’s Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 27 2018. Retrieved July 16 2020. https://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/learning-breastfeed/preparing-breastfeed