Preparing to Nurse

Pregnant women who plan to nurse their babies often ask nursing Moms or their caregivers, “What can I do to prepare for nursing my baby?”

What exactly does she need to know? Can one prepare for any aspect of motherhood? We go through the motions of preparation during pregnancy in hopes that we can prepare our homes and our lives for the addition of a new life. We buy baby equipment. We read books on baby care. We buy more baby equipment. We talk to other parents. We buy even more baby equipment. We might even spend time interacting with our friends’ babies. And did we mention baby equipment?

Are there ways to prepare for nursing in a physical or emotional context?

On the physical side, mothers were once advised to prepare their nipples by rubbing them vigorously each day with a terry washcloth. This was supposed to toughen your nipples. There are actually many doctors, nurses, and mothers-in-law who continue to tout this philosophy. Thankfully this practice has been deemed unnecessary by breastfeeding professionals.

Moms were also instructed to wash their breasts before each feeding. A Mom whose first child was born in the late ’70s remembers a nurse bringing her son to her in the hospital room. The nurse clucked her tongue at the poor Mom while she carefully washed herself under the nurse’s critical eye and with her curt advice. This too has been deemed unnecessary.

New mothers now usually are told that no physical preparation is needed unless your nipples are severely inverted (which you can verify with the assistance of a knowledgeable doctor or Lactation Consultant).

But is NO preparation really the best way to succeed with breastfeeding? I would like to offer the following suggestions for preparing for a successful nursing relationship:

Read all you can from reputable breastfeeding books such as La Leche League’s newest version of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (a nicely updated version of this classic book, packed with solid information), Dr. William Sears’s The Baby Book (valuable information about breastfeeding and general baby care), Nursing Mother’s Companion (excellent book with solutions to possible issue and concerns) by Kathleen Huggins, and others.

Talk to friends who have successfully breastfed their babies. Call your local La Leche League and consider attending a series of meetings while you are pregnant. The information and friendships that you will gain are invaluable, and you will set in place a network of help that may become your lifeline during the months of your breastfeeding questions and concerns.

Keep an open mind. Do not take every story that you hear about breastfeeding and worry that someone else’s trauma will be yours. Some women have problems with nursing that could have been solved by proper information and support.

Be assured that if you read, talk and keep an open mind, that you are well on the way to a successful breastfeeding experience.

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