Expectant moms can get ready for nursing with these "booby basics."
You may have noticed something besides your belly growing during pregnancy: your breasts. In fact, it's not uncommon for, ahem, the girls, to grow up to two cup sizes, especially if this is your first pregnancy. This new growth is a good sign that your breasts are getting ready, all by themselves, to provide milk for your baby after delivery. But, as an expectant mom, is there anything else you can do now to help get your breasts ready for nursing? Well, yes and no.
Here, your top five breast questions get expert answers.
Q: My nipples are so flat that they're almost inverted. Is there anything I can do to draw them out?
A: Yes—but not until close to delivery. "I usually recommend waiting until the last month of pregnancy to use breast shells— plastic dome-shaped devices with a central opening that are worn over the nipples to help draw them out," says pediatrician and breastfeeding expert Marianne Neifert, M.D., aka Dr. Mom, author of Great Expectations: The Essential Guide to Breastfeeding (Sterling). "Breast shells aren't recommended earlier in pregnancy because stimulating the nipples can cause uterine contractions and possibly trigger preterm labor." If you do opt to use breast shells, be sure to work with a lactation consultant.
Using a breast pump after your baby is born is also highly effective. "Pumping just before latching on the baby can help your nipples protrude and start your milk flowing," she adds. Also, even if you have inverted or flat nipples now, they will become more erect as your baby draws them out while breastfeeding, Neifert explains.
Q: Should I try to toughen my nipples for breastfeeding?
A: Nope. Not only is it unnecessary, but, as mentioned above, doing so may trigger pre-term labor. Plus, as Neifert notes: "Nipple skin is not callus-forming tissue, so you can't really toughen nipples; you might even damage the sensitive skin and make breastfeeding uncomfortable." If you want to feel like you're doing something to prepare, use ultra-pure medical grade lanolin on your nipples to keep the skin supple.
Q: I'm in my second trimester and my nipples are leaking fluid. Is this normal?
A: Yes. As early as 16 weeks pregnant, your body starts to produce colostrum; this is the earliest form of breast milk, and it's brimming with anti-infective properties to protect your baby right from birth. Some women do leak small amounts during pregnancy, but it's not something you should worry about. "There's not a finite amount of colostrum," says Nancy Wight, M.D., a board-certified lactation consultant, neonatologist and director of lactation services at Sharp Mary Birch hospital for Women & Newborns in San Diego. "Your body will continue to produce it after your baby is born."
Q: I'm an A cup. Will my small breast size affect my ability to nurse?
A: Common wisdom used to be that breasts of any size are capable of producing ample milk. But research shows that, while that's mostly true, certain breasts may have problems—particularly if they don't enlarge much during pregnancy, as ample growth typically indicates that the milk ducts and glands are multiplying and growing. "Most women, even those with small breasts, will notice significant breast enlargement during pregnancy and have no problems nursing," says Neifert.
If you do have small breasts that don't enlarge significantly while you're pregnant, see a lactation consultant before you have the baby so you can prepare for potential issues. For instance, Neifert says, small breasts may not store as much milk as larger ones, so it may be necessary to nurse more often.
Q: I've had surgery for breast implants. Will I be able to breastfeed successfully?
A: "We see many mothers who have had breast surgery and breastfeed without any issues, but breast surgery of any kind is a potential threat to nursing," says lactation consultant Wendy Haldeman, I.B.C.L.C., co-owner of the Pump Station, a breastfeeding resource and retail store with three locations in Southern California.
According to Haldeman, factors that could affect breastfeeding include the type of breast surgery a woman has had, the location of the incisions, the number of surgeries and when the last surgery occurred.
If you have any questions about your ability to nurse a baby, get a prenatal breast exam. Your OB may be able to do this; if not, visit a certified lactation consultant. Some conditions, such as previous breast surgeries, might affect your ability to nurse successfully. If so, you'll want to know now, rather than later, so you and your lactation consultant can come up with an action plan.