1. Be prepared
Gone (thankfully) are the days when preparing nipples for breastfeeding meant roughing them up by rubbing them with a towel. “It has been found that doing so can remove the protective substances produced by the breast during pregnancy and afterward,” says Esme Nel Hough, professional liaison for La Leche League South Africa, a non-profit organisation providing information and support to breastfeeding women.
Lotions, too, aren’t really necessary, Esme says. “Your nipples are already producing what they need for their protection. Don’t use soap on your breasts, as this can dry them out. When you bathe or shower, rinsing with clear water is fine. If your nipples are very dry, you could apply a lubricant.”
Rub a bit of your colostrum (if you have any) into your nipples before birth and in the first few days of breastfeeding, adds Linda Britz, a nurse, midwife, and lactation consultant based in Johannesburg.
“Letting your breasts air and exposing them to sunlight is a good idea too.”
Sister Britz is a strong advocate for proper breast care, before and after birth, and emphasises that there is a difference between the nipple and breast care.
“I believe inadequate breast care is one of the biggest reasons for problems such as mastitis, which is another word for inflamed breasts,” she says.
She recommends gently massaging your breast tissue for a minute or so while in the shower each day.
“Start at the base and move upwards towards the nipple, almost as if you’re milking yourself, but do it gently. This will help prepare your breast for draining milk.”
Increase this to three to four times a day in the first week of breastfeeding, she says. “When you’re not in the shower, first warm up the breast with a nice warm facecloth and then use an oil, like olive oil, for the massage.”
While valuable, preparation for breastfeeding shouldn’t be restricted to only your breasts. Dr Nan Jolly, a medical doctor and lactation consultant who has been helping women breastfeed for 36 years, believes the most important part of preparation is becoming well informed about the normal challenges that breastfeeding brings and setting up a good support system to help you deal with these.
“You should be well informed of the risks of not breastfeeding, of the basics of breastfeeding success, and that breastfeeding is not something you ‘try’ to do. It’s something you learn to do,” she says. “It is often very challenging in the beginning, but gets easier with practice – you have to hang in.”
Preparing to breastfeed isn’t something you necessarily have to do by yourself either.
“My husband and I attended antenatal classes, and one of the sections we covered was breastfeeding,” says mom Aaniyah Omradien, 36.
“Later, it was very useful having him ensure that baby was latching at the right angle, as he was able to observe and assist with this from his perspective. It was a great way to include and involve him.”
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