Breastfeeding mothers often wonder if any special procedures are needed to prepare breasts for breastfeeding while pregnant or to care for them while nursing. Generally, the answer is no. Here’s wat you need to know about breast care before and while breastfeeding.
Before birth, there is not really anything a mother should be doing to prepare or “toughen” breasts for breastfeeding. Mothers should note if the breasts have changed size at all during pregnancy, usually in the first weeks or months. If the breasts have not changed size at all (not even slightly) from pre-pregnancy, this is worth noting. In incredibly rare cases, the breasts will not develop the systems necessary to nurse – this is not at all common. Before assuming breasts haven not changed size at all, consider asking the mother’s partner if available as they may have a better sense of this than even the mother.
The only other thing that should be noted before birth is if the mother has flat or inverted nipples. This would mean than when cold or stimulated, the nipples of the breast invert inward or do not protrude at all outward. Contrary to popular belief, nipples do not need to be “pulled out” before birth with a pump or device. However, mothers with flat or inverted nipples can have challenges establishing a deep latch, and might want to visit with a lactation educator or consultant to be sure to know good latching techniques, as well as to have as a resource after birth if latch is a challenge. In certain cases, lactation professionals may recommend nipple shields to help train babies to latch, but this is best managed in consultation as shields may occasionally reduce milk stimulation.
After birth, there is little that needs to be done in terms of special hygiene to care for the breasts. The nipples develop Montgomery’s Glands which naturally lubricate the breast. They also release a scent that the baby recognizes to draw them to the breast. Washing nipples with soaps or other cleansers can disrupt the effects of these glands and/or dry the skin of the nipples. Allowing water to wash over the nipples in the shower or bath is more than sufficient.
Choose a bra that is supportive, but not pinching or restrictive. Underwire bras are less desirable when nursing, but are necessary for some mothers with larger breasts to feel supported. Whether using an underwire bra or not, consider getting a professional fitting at a new mother or breastfeeding boutique if one is available. This can help to ensure that milk flow is not restricted which can result in plugged ducts.
If nipples are damaged due to latch concerns in the early days of breastfeeding, consider using hydrogel pads to soothe breasts in between feedings. See a lactation professional is breastfeeding pain continues or if nipples are visibly damaged for customized support.
This is an example of nipple shield, mentioned above. Use of shields is best managed in consultation with a breastfeeding professional, as they should be sized and may sometimes affect milk production.