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Preparing Your Nipples for Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is a beautiful gift to both the mom and the newborn, but for many women it is far from easy. Before the birth is the time to prepare for breastfeeding and prevent any issues that might ensue.
Clean the nipples with water only, not soap. Soap can dry out your nipples.
Toughen Nipples by going without a bra. This will allow more air to reach your nipples and the rubbing against your shirt will help to toughen them. Even having them out exposed to the sun for short amounts of time will help toughen them and can be very healing if they are cracked or sore. I recommend taking an older, rough towel and rubbing it briskly across your nipples a few times starting around 36 weeks gestation. This will also help toughen the nipples to prepare them for breastfeeding. To toughen the nipple places a thumb and finger at the base of each nipple and press together. Pull nipple out and twist gently. Do this several times but never to the point of pain.
Check your nipples before birth to make sure they are sticking out and not flat or inverted. Use the pinch test to check them. Because nipples may look one way but once in the babies mouth respond differently it is important to test them. Place a thumb and finger about 3 cm behind the nipple and gently pinch.
The nipple will either:
Stand out- making it easy for the baby to latch on and feed.
Stay flat and not come out- babies can still latch on to this but it may be a bit of a challenge.
Invert inwards forming a dent- this can make breastfeeding difficult.
If you are not sure after the pinch test if your nipples are out then have someone else look at them. If your nipples are flat or inverted there are several options to prepare them for breastfeeding.
First, don’t stress about it. Due to pregnancy hormones that cause muscles and tendons to relax many women with inverted nipples find they have come out by the end of pregnancy. I do recommend being proactive by helping the process. Some couples find during lovemaking some gentle manipulation and sucking of the nipple will help to draw them out.
To draw nipples out, place your thumb and finger at the base of the nipple and pull out gently to stretch the base of the nipple. Do this all around the nipple. Increase the amount of time you do this. It will help to loosen adhesions and release the nipple. If you have any chance of premature labor do not do this as it can stimulate labor. If when you do this exercise the nipple inverts further in you may want to wear a breast shield that draws the nipple out so it is used to being out. The earlier in pregnancy this is done the better. This works for most women but not all.
Some women find using a breast pump can help pull nipples out, but this is best done once you are past 37 weeks gestation and ready to have a baby.
Some women have been helped by using a nipple aspirator which uses a syringe to pull the nipple out. You can purchase one on here from Amazon a Nipplette by Avent or make something similar by cutting off the needle end of a syringe and placing the plunger in the end you cut off and then placing the end where the plunger usually goes in against the nipple and withdraw the plunger to pull the nipple out.
Surgery is a last resort, and I would not recommend it before you have a baby as having inverted nipples may not even be an issue.
If flat or inverted nipples are an issue after birth, oftentimes using a nipple shield to initiate breast feeding may be needed. I recommend Medela Contact Nipple Shield. They are easy to use, inexpensive, and may save the day if flat or inverted nipples are an issue.
Please be proactive before birth to assess your nipples and pull them out if there is an issue. Please don’t give up on nursing and don’t listen if you are told you can’t because of your nipples. This is a lie. Remember, the number one best thing you can do for your baby is to give them colostrum (your first milk) to start with. Please have a plan for a lactation consultant or La Leche Legue member to help you. Don’t give up.
This blog is an excerpt from my course Creating your Dream Birth. Please check out my full course here.
La Leche League Group
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