University of Florida

Emotional and Physical Nursing Preparation

Although a women’s body is equipped to breast-feed after giving birth, it’s not as simple as a baby latching on to a mother’s breast. Many women experience difficulties and even awkwardness when they first start to nurse their infant. Fortunately, there is plenty of information to help prepare new moms—physically and emotionally.

Physical Preparation

You don’t have to wait until your baby is born to start physically preparing to breast-feed. In fact, your body starts to prepare as soon as you become pregnant. Your body’s way of prepping includes your breasts enlarging (due to an increase of milk-producing cells and the development of milk-carrying ducts), your body storing extra fat for the energy you may need, and your nipples darkening. Because your breast size increases, buying new bras that provide better support may help to prevent your breasts from sagging prematurely.

These physical preparations happen whether you decided to nurse or not, but if you do decide to breast-feed, inform your doctor or hospital where you’ll deliver. Your doctor can connect you to a nurse or lactation coach who can give you information on nursing basics. Additionally, your coach can prepare you to start breast-feeding as soon as you deliver to enhance lactation (milk production) and to help your newborn get used to nursing.

Ideally, you will start to breast-feed about 30 minutes to an hour after you give birth, even though this may not happen if you are exhausted, in pain, or groggy from medication. Furthermore, breast-feeding may not happen immediately if you had a complicated delivery. Although it is recommended that you nurse as soon as possible after your delivery, you can still bond with your newborn even if you don’t breast-feed soon after.

What to Expect

Your breasts will be soft the first couple of days after childbirth. This is because the blood supply is increasing and milk-producing cells are starting to function. Although your breasts will be soft to the touch, they will eventually become firmer. Also, your body will produce colostrum (a substance that contains proteins, antibodies, and other important nutrients), rather than milk.

While you produce colostrum for the first couple of days, by the fourth day your breasts begin to produce both colostrum and milk, which will make your baby fuller and eat less frequently. Milk production starts when your baby sucks at your nipple—sending a signal to make more milk.

At this time you may experience some pain in your breasts and uterus while nursing. This happens because hormones cause uterine contractions that help your uterus return to its pre-baby size and position. Your breasts may hurt because they are overly full with milk. To help alleviate this pressure, try using your hand or a breast pump to force unused milk from your breast. 

Emotional Preparation

Remember that not all babies get the hang of breast-feeding initially because of factors such as an overbite or an underdeveloped sucking reflex. Nursing women should not panic or get discouraged if their infant doesn’t take to nursing during the first couple of tries. Instead, realize it may take several days before your baby learns to latch on. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Practice patience

Don’t stress yourself waiting for milk—that can actually slow production. Instead, be patient and calm yourself by nursing your baby in a quiet corner or room, taking slow deep breaths, and listening to soothing music while breast-feeding.

  • Take a break

Make sure you take breaks while nursing to soothe a fussy baby. While some infants may be naturally fussy, others may just need to be burped. You’ll also want to take a break if you start to feel stressed or hassled while nursing. Remember that it’s perfectly fine to take a moment to yourself—your baby won’t starve if feeding is delayed a little.

Nursing is not always a smooth ride and often takes practice for you and your baby. All mothers aren’t the same—some enjoy nursing and others find it frustrating. Through it all, it is important to learn what works best for you, your child, and your family.

Adapted and excerpted from:

G. Evans and C. Danda, Emotional and Physical Preparation for Breast Feeding (FCS2166), UF/IFAS Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences (rev. 01/2011).

mother and child
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