Early days: what do you need to know?

Talking about preparing for breastfeeding.

If you’re pregnant, whether it’s your first baby or you’ve done it all before, chances are you’re busy preparing. Thinking about the birth, going along to appointments with your health professional and making sure you have everything on your shopping list.

But what about preparing for breastfeeding? Expectant parents often spend far more time preparing for the birth than they do preparing for breastfeeding, even if they’re planning to breastfeed for far longer than they’re hoping the birth will take.

Lots of people get well-meaning advice during this time. Some of it’s really great, but there are two pieces of advice that are my least favourite.

The first generally comes from an older generation of mums. At one point, it was probably pretty standard advice given out to pregnant women, especially first time breastfeeders. It’s all about toughening up those nipples. The theory goes that if you regularly scrub your delicate nips with steel wool or a stiff toothbrush, it will get them used to being used. Thankfully this is no longer recommended. There’s no research that supports doing anything to try to toughen up the nipples before breastfeeding begins, so you can leave your toothbrush and steel wool in their respective sinks.

The second often comes from people who have breastfed more recently, and faced some significant challenges when they did. Again, it’s well-meaning advice that comes from a good place. But it can undermine the confidence that’s really important in preparing to breastfeed.

So many expectant parents are told that they should accept the reality that breastfeeding probably won’t work out for them.

While it’s vitally important to support mums however long they’ve breastfed for, this advice can really undermine a new parent’s confidence. It’s equally important to respect the wishes of someone who wants to breastfeed and respect that it’s important to them.

So here are my top five pieces of advice for preparing to breastfeed, all practical tips that will help you get ready to breastfeed.

  1. Watch someone else breastfeed

So many parents have never seen a baby breastfeed right up until their own squishy baby is plonked onto mum’s chest ready for their first feed. Yes, breastfeeding is natural. But it’s also a learned skill. Can you imagine learning any other new skill without having seen it done? It would probably make things a bit harder. Head along to a local ABA group meeting to chat with other mums and see them feed their babies in a casual setting, or go to an ABA breastfeeding education class. Most classes have a mum and baby come along to demonstrate breastfeeding and they’re expecting you to get up close and ask questions.

  1. Write a breastfeeding plan

You’ve probably heard of a birth plan. It has information about what you would like to happen in certain circumstances, who your support people will be and any special circumstances that you may have that your care providers may need to know about. A breastfeeding plan can cover your preferences for situations like if mum or baby are unwell and need special care, skin-to-skin contact and feeding according to baby’s needs instead of by a schedule. You can find a referenced template with explanations on our website here.

  1. Gather your support network

Make sure everyone around you knows that breastfeeding is important to you. Partners and other support people sometimes feel at a bit of a loss while mum is breastfeeding and are unsure of how they can help her. But the truth is — their support is incredibly important. For some mums, the most helpful thing that a support person can do is to make two cuppas, and sit with her and chat while she feeds. For others, the most helpful thing to do is hang out a load of washing, do a sink full of dishes and put dinner on. If mum is having a rough time with sleep, then maybe the most helpful thing will be to bring the baby in to mum when they need a breastfeed and once the breastfeed is finished, take baby out for a walk in the pram. Let mum sleep! It’s tempting for support people to offer to feed the baby so that mum can clean the house and get dinner ready. But trust me on this one. Mum has earned a break from doing the housework! Mums we suggest you leave a list on the fridge of small house jobs that people can do. Whenever anyone says, ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do’, point to it and say, ‘Actually …’.

  1. Figure out where to go for help

Check with the health professionals who are supporting you through the birth what support is available for breastfeeding. Some hospitals will only provide lactation support services to mums who have birthed with them and some have long waiting lists. It’s worth finding out how long the wait will be if you need to see a lactation consultant publicly, as you may find that you’d prefer to pay to see a private lactation consultant straight away. You can find a local private LC through the Lactation Consultants of Australia And New Zealand website. Your local council may also have lactation support services, either through the council or through your maternal and child health service. Check your council website for details.

  1. Join ABA

Join ABA around the middle of your pregnancy. Book into a breastfeeding education class and go along to a local meeting before your baby is born. ABA membership also includes the book Breastfeeding … naturally that has all of the basic info you need about breastfeeding. Get your support crew to read it, especially if they don’t know much about breastfeeding.

So there you have it, a few basic things to do before your baby arrives. We’d love to see you come along to an ABA meeting and welcome you into our community.

For breastfeeding counselling, please call the Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 mum2mum or 1800 686 268. The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) runs the National Breastfeeding Helpline 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268). The Breastfeeding Helpline is available 7 days a week. It is staffed by trained, volunteer counsellors who answer calls on a roster system in their own homes. The National Breastfeeding Helpline is supported by funding from the Australian Government.

Here are more ways you can get information and support right now:

Find out more about ‘Breastfeeding … with ABA’.

WORDS // Jessica Leonard

Jessica Leonard is a breastfeeding counsellor with the Australian Breastfeeding Association, and mother to two children. She is passionate about providing families with evidence-based information to support them to meet their breastfeeding goals.