When it comes to nursing your newborn successfully, half the battle is won if you prepare for breastfeeding before your little one arrives.
The more you understand how breastfeeding works, the higher your chance of success, says Dr Mythili Pandi, member of the Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group (BMSG).
Like many inexperienced first-time mums, Krystal Tan struggled with breastfeeding after she delivered her daughter. The stay-at-home mum says her mistake was to leave “everything to nature” instead of being well-prepared.
“The first few weeks were a disaster. I couldn’t figure out how to latch my baby on properly. I didn’t even know what a nursing pad was until the nurse told me to get a few because my hospital gown was soaked through after my milk came in,” Krystal recalls.
She eventually hired a private lactation consultant to give her a crash course during her confinement.
So, how can mums prepare for breastfeeding when they’re pregnant? We ask the experts for tips on how to start off right.
Arm yourself with textbook knowledge
Sure, hands-on practice is important for new mums. But so is textbook knowledge, says senior lactation consultant Yasa Yong Nyuk Yin from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.
As BMSG’s Dr Mythili, a general practitioner in private practice, puts it: it’s like preparing for a driving test.
“When you have studied the theory, you understand the basics. After the first few weeks of practice, you will be ready to speed off on the expressways,” she quips.
But not all information resources are created equal, so be discerning about where you get your information from. Yasa advises skipping negative nursing experiences on breastfeeding forums; they only add unnecessary worry.
Instead, check out these reliable websites to help you in your breastfeeding journey, like the Association for Breastfeeding Advocacy (Singapore), the American Association of Pediatrics – Breastfeeding, Dr. Jack Newman, the International Lactation Consultant Association, and the World Health Organization.
You can also learn more about breastfeeding techniques from BMSG’s recommended list of useful videos.
Don’t skip classes
Take your technical know-how up a notch by attending breastfeeding classes and workshops. Many of these are run by accredited lactation consultants, who will also demonstrate how to massage the breasts and do manual hand expression, says Yasa.
Even if you can’t afford the time, try to attend at least one class with Hubby, advises lactation consultant Betty Lee.
“Information from online resources may not address all your questions on breastfeeding. During a class, you can clear up any lingering doubts with the lactation expert,” she says.
Ask your maternity hospital about class schedules. Most of them offer antenatal courses, which cover breastfeeding techniques.
The BMSG also organises interactive breastfeeding classes as well as back-to-work workshops, which are useful if you want to continue breastfeeding after you return to work. Click here for details.
No formula milk, please
Studies show that newborns who are nursed within the first hour after birth tend to breastfeed more successfully than those who don’t.
If you intend to breastfeed Baby exclusively, inform your doctor and the nursing team beforehand, advises Yasa. They will assist you from the beginning of your hospital stay.
Rope in support from Hubby
While he can’t nurse, his moral support and understanding helps when the going gets tough.
Stay-at-home mum Lim Ting says she would not have persevered if her husband had not supported her. She initially faced disapproval from her family when she decided to exclusively breastfeed her firstborn.
She shares: “To learn more about breastfeeding, my husband read up on it. He always had a positive word for me whenever I felt discouraged. He helped me through the challenging period.”
In fact, a study published in the International Breastfeeding Journal in 2013 found that mums felt more confident and capable about breastfeeding when they perceived their partners as supportive and actively involved.
On the other hand, mums whose partners seemed ambivalent provided negative feedback about breastfeeding.
Betty says: “Sometimes, it can be hard to convince certain family members like your own parents or in-laws that breast is best. This is when support from your husband comes in handy.”
Prep your bosom buddies
During pregnancy, hormones help your body prepare for breastfeeding. For instance, your breasts increase in size and your nipples become darker to help guide Baby towards her food source immediately after birth, explains Yasa.
But things might get a little tricky if you have flat or inverted nipples which, according to Betty, occur when muscles holding the nipples are tight. Stretching these muscles can help draw out the nipple.
To do this manually, gently massage some nipple cream around your nipples once or twice a day, Betty suggests.
Alternatively, there are also devices such as the Philips Avent Niplette or Pigeon Nipple Puller that can help draw out the nipple gently, she says.
A word of caution: do this only after your first trimester when your pregnancy has stabilised. These techniques are not advisable for mums who are prone to uterine contractions, as it may lead to early labour, warns Betty. When in doubt, seek help from a lactation consultant.
(Also read: Breastfeeding recipe: Green papaya soup with fish)
Stock up on breastfeeding accessories
Technically speaking, the only “accessory” you really need prepare for breastfeeding successfully is Baby. You probably won’t need that many gadgets in the first few weeks if your baby is nursing on demand, says Yasa.
But the right gear can help make breastfeeding more comfortable. Plus, stocking up early during your pregnancy saves you the stress of having to shop for them while battling sleep deprivation when Baby arrives.
Ask your maternity hospital’s nurses or lactation consultants what you might need before making a purchase, Yasa advises.