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Many women approach breastfeeding tentatively because they don't personally know anyone who has successfully nursed. They may never have seen a baby at the breast or even held a newborn. Breastfeeding, while natural, also requires practice and skill for both mother and baby. Here are some steps to take to help you prepare to breastfeed before your baby is born:
Learn About Breastfeeding
Read as much as you can on the subject. If possible, find a class or group that teaches how to breastfeed and provides practical advice. Ask your childbirth educator or healthcare provider for a referral, contact a lactation consultant or seek out a breastfeeding support group such as La Leche League, which you can reach by calling (800) LA LECHE. The most helpful classes include one or more nursing mother and infant pairs, who explain techniques and share experiences.
Talk to Your Baby's Healthcare Provider
After you have selected your child's pediatrician or family physician, arrange a visit before the baby is born to discuss any questions or concerns, including questions about breastfeeding. Ask both sides of the family about any family history of allergies or feeding problems, and mention them at the meeting. Most pediatric healthcare providers endorse breastfeeding, but finding one trained in its management can sometimes be difficult.
Have Confidence in Your Body
The vast majority of women have healthy breasts that can produce milk normally. Lactation problems are rarely the result of problems with the breasts, but many women are quick to question themselves anyway. Only rarely does a woman have a medical condition that makes breastfeeding inadvisable. If you have had breast surgery or a history of breastfeeding problems, discuss them with your obstetrical-care provider. If your nipples appear flat or inverted, be assured that as you approach the baby's birth, the nipple shape may change naturally.
Contrary to earlier belief, flat or inverted nipples do not mean you cannot breastfeed. Some experts may suggest wearing a specially designed milk cup inside a properly fitted bra for a few months before the baby is born. Others suggest wearing the cups between feedings in the early weeks of nursing. The cup's design puts pressure on the areola and may help the nipple to stand out more. You can order these cups through La Leche League, lactation consultants, pharmacies and magazine ads. The baby's nursing will eventually draw the nipples out anyway.
By the way, there is no need to prepare your nipples in advance of breastfeeding. "Buffing," nipple twisting, application of creams or limiting feeding times have not reduced the number of complaints of sore nipples. More likely the cause is improper positioning.
Louise Arce Tellalian, RN, LCCE, FACCE, CLC, is a childbirth educator and a UCLA-certified lactation consultant in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. In addition, she is a lecturer and nurse-instructor for the UCLA extension lactation educator and consultant training programs. She has written a booklet, "Breastfeeding and Returning to the Workplace," and lectures frequently on the topics of childbirth and breastfeeding. Her two adult children were Lamaze babies and were breastfed.
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