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Should we prepare our breasts for breastfeeding?

This question often comes up from mums who are thinking about breastfeeding their baby.

Culturally, depending on the the region of the world you are from, there are various ways to prepare the breasts for breastfeeding: Massage, both firm and gentle to model the breast, preparation of the nipples in order to make them stand out or make them more resistant, suction from the tip of the breast to accustom and “harden” it, hundreds of things have been tried and tested over the centuries. However, none of these preparations has proven to be effective. Currently, breastfeeding specialists agree that no special breast preparation is required to breastfeed. Besides, in the natural world no other species than humans try to prepare her breasts for breastfeeding.

One type of preparation can, however, prove to be useful: psychological preparation. Preparing yourself for what is to come by learning about breastfeeding increases your chances of successful breastfeeding. So do not hesitate to take breastfeeding preparation courses with a midwife. Ask questions in your ante natal classes or NCT groups. You can also speak to a lactation consultant or participate in breastfeeding mothers’ support groups. Some areas in the UK, such as Dorset have a breastfeeding charity on hand to help new mothers with support. Also, don’t hesitate to read books or listen to podcasts on the subject, there is a wealth of good information out there.

Breastfeeding, does it hurt?

Some mothers will tell you that breastfeeding hurts, others have experienced the pleasure of sharing this moment with their child with no problems. So, this one is a difficult question to navigate.

The sensation may be strange to start off with but you soon become accustomed to it. The thing to remember is that apart from a nipple tenderness the first few days, breastfeeding is never supposed to hurt.

Persistent pain is often a sign that something is wrong. Most often it is due to the baby being in the wrong position on the breast which can irritate it and cause cracks, but it can also come from the presence of a tongue tie which can hinder good positioning of the tongue and good suction/latching. It could be a nipple fungus or milk engorgement in the breast making it harder for baby to latch and therefore empty etc.

If the pain is severe, persist throughout the feeding and if it still present after the first 3-4 days, do not hesitate to talk about it and consult your midwife or health visitor,  who will be used to managing problems with breastfeeding or a lactation advisor who can help you find the cause of this pain and help make it go away.

Cracks: what are they? Do they always happen when starting breastfeeding? How can I avoid them?

The crack is a sore on the nipple linked to irritation of the nipple by bad positioning of the child on the breast or a bad placement of the tongue or the mouth of the child when latching on (which will impede its suction).

It’s a bit like when you wear unsuitable shoes: at first you feel discomfort, then pain, redness and swelling finally appear. If you continue to wear your shoes, a blister will form (what is medically called a phlyctene) and if you persist in putting on your shoes, this blister will eventually puncture and bleed. Exactly the same thing happens in your breasts during the formation of a crack: a bad latch or bad suction will cause friction on the breast, the skin will first redden and swell slightly : you feel discomfort or even pain during feeding and sometimes even afterwards, it is already time to act! If the cause is not corrected, a bubble will form on the irritated area and quickly pierce which will leave a painful, bleeding wound on the nipple. 

To avoid cracks, when you first breastfeed, try and have a midwife or professional with you to check all is well. Take advantage of your time at the maternity hospital to have your baby’s position on the breast checked and the breastfeeding properly checked. Get them to check for tongue tie too.

Lanolin-based creams can be used to protect the skin between feeds. They are applied to the nipple after each feeding to moisturise and support healing. It’s harmless for your baby, so there’s no need to wash off lanolin before breastfeeding.

Once the cracks have appeared, it is necessary to allow the skin to heal properly. Continue to apply cream (to prevent the wound from sticking to the bra) and/or spread a drop of breast milk on the nipple after each feeding. If the contact with the clothes is too unpleasant you can leave the breasts to get some air or use nipple shields.

Do not hesitate to make breast milk dressings, because your own breast milk is very healing. To do this, soak compresses in your milk, place the compresses on the nipple and cover with cling film. You can keep these compresses between each feeding.

Also, be careful not to pull on the nipple when you remove your baby from the breast. The best way to remove the breast from your mouth without risking the cracks is to run your little finger through your baby’s mouth and pry between the gums to remove the suction and remove the nipple without worry or pain.

What does it mean when they say “milk coming in”?

Around the 3rd day after the birth of your child you will notice a surge in the production of your milk. This is the transition from Colostrum (the first very rich and highly concentrated milk) to “mature” milk, richer in water and therefore more abundant. This period can be accompanied by significant swelling of the breasts which can be painful. This is completely normal and should pass in about 48 hours when your body has successfully adapted its production to your child’s needs. To pass this period which can be delicate, you can apply hot or cold alternately on your breasts. Let your baby suckle as much as possible so that they drain your breasts as much as possible.

If despite breastfeeding your breasts are still very tender and painful, you can massage your breasts in the shower so that the excess milk is drained. Avoid wearing too tight or wired bras and do not compress your breasts in bandages as it was advised at one time, this may aggravate the problem.

You can use the anti-inflammatory properties of cabbage by placing a sheet of white cabbage in your bra that you have previously crushed to release the active ingredients. You can keep them in the freezer to take advantage of the pain relieving and decongestant effect of the cold.

Do I have to buy equipment?

To breastfeed no specialist equipment is necessary, although it can appear you need so much when looking at amount the current brands have on offer. There are many helpful gadgets and appliances but wait until you have started the journey to know if you really need them. 

Only buy a few breastfeeding bras in advance because the size of the breasts can still vary with the rise of milk production and as you settle into a rhythm.

Breast pads (disposable or washable) can be helpful if your breasts leak outside of breastfeeding but sometimes they can be see through clothes so make sure you check in a mirror!

No need to buy a breast pump in advance as you may not need it. Sometimes you can hire a pump from your local health visitor.

Nipple protectors or breast cups are designed to be placed in the bra in order to avoid contact between the nipples and the tissue in the event of an irritated nipple and also allowing milk spills to be collected). They are not really used in practice and can encourage congestion.

Silicone breast tips should only be used after advice from the midwife, child nurse, or lactation advisor.

In case of cracked nipples, you can use lanolin cream to put on the nipples after feeding. Test the cream in advance because some cases of allergies exist.

In the event of large cracks you can use mother-of-pearl or silver nursing shells in order to protect the ends of breasts and to leave them in contact with milk which is very healing. But as not all women will have such severe cracks  (fortunately!), so do not buy them in advance. If you need them, you will find them in pharmacies or on the internet.

The first few weeks of breastfeeding is not always easy! You have to get used to the baby’s rhythm, get used to positioning baby well and the changes you will experience in your own body. But stick with it whilst you figure it out and you will see that when you both get the hang of it, it can only bring happiness!

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This article was written and published in French by Laudavie in France on the 11th July 2020 and has been translated and adapted for an English speaking audience.

To find out more on the subject:

List of associations for breastfeeding:

  • Association of Breastfeeding Mothers: Voluntary mum-to-mum support, counselling and information for breastfeeding women: www.abm.me.uk
  • La Leche League GB : A wealth of information for professionals and individuals. Face-to-face meetings, answers to your questions by e-mail or telephone: https://www.laleche.org.uk/
  • The Breastfeeding Network: Independent source of support and information for breastfeeding women, and those involved in their care: www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk

Designed and produced in France, Calmosine Breastfeeding contains organic ingredients and was developed alongside Midwives in France. Containing Fenugreek to help boost milk supply, passiflora and dog rose hip to help with stress and anxiety, magnesium for energy levels and biotin for skin, hair and nails. Calmosine Breastfeeding is proven to help improve mood, tiredness and increase milk supply.

Calmosine Breastfeeding contains organic plant extracts from plants grown and harvested by farmers committed to using sustainable and environmentally friendly growing methods.

See the results of the 2019 Calmosine Breastfeeding Trial
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