During pregnancy, one of the things you might want to gear up for is breastfeeding your baby, especially if you’ve never done this before. Other than reading a good breastfeeding book, attending a breastfeeding class, or meeting with a lactation consultant, many women wonder if there is anything they should physically be doing to make sure their breasts are ready for nursing. But does any of it really work?
You might have heard lots of suggestions for how to prepare your breasts for nursing a baby. Some common suggestions might be:
- “Toughen up your nipples by rubbing them with a washcloth to make those first few days hurt less.”
- “Pinch your nipples to make them tougher, less sensitive, and easier for your baby to latch on to.”
- “Wear breast shells to help draw out your flat or inverted nipples.”
- “Pump to speed up colostrum production and to lengthen your flat or inverted nipples.”
- “Apply nipple cream before you deliver to make them less sensitive afterwards.”
Overall, these suggestions are completely false and have not been shown to help with breastfeeding in any way. In fact, some studies have shown that women who tried these methods were actually less likely to even try breastfeeding, and if they did start off breastfeeding, they were more likely to stop by 6 weeks postpartum!
The pain and discomfort associated with these tactics may have been the reason these moms did not want to even try to nurse, and it’s also possible that the embarrassment possibly associated with breast handling or milk leakage led them to not want to try or to throw in the towel early.
So are any of these methods worth trying, then? Not really. While women with flat or inverted nipples might really want to “fix” their nipples before they deliver, it’s important to keep in mind that a woman with flat or apparently inverted nipples can often breastfeed without any issue. In fact, many women with nipples that appear flat are surprised to see them quite elongated after their baby latches on—more so than any breast shell or pump can do!
One thing a woman can do that is helpful if she has flat or inverted nipples or is worried in any way about her breastfeeding success (such as in women who’ve had breast surgery or issues with milk supply before) is to have a prenatal visit with a lactation consultant. This can give her time to have a thorough exam done and to talk through her concerns and fears. It also will give her someone to call postpartum whom she already knows and trusts.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, March 2020
- Many methods of physically preparing the breasts for breastfeeding exist, but most don’t have any data to support them.
- Toughening up the nipples has not been shown to decrease pain with breastfeeding and should be avoided.
- Consider a prenatal visit with a lactation consultant if you have any concerns about breastfeeding.