Your breasts will change during pregnancy as your body gets ready to make milk.
During this time it can help to learn more about breastfeeding, especially how to get off to a good start.
Breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed your baby. It's a skill that you and your baby develop over the first days and weeks.
With the right support most mothers can breastfeed and continue for as long as they want to. In Ireland, at least 6 in every 10 mothers start breastfeeding after their baby is born.
Where to get information in advance
During pregnancy ask your midwife, obstetrician, public health nurse (PHN) or GP questions about breastfeeding.
You may be referred to a lactation consultant to explore ways to help you with breastfeeding.
You can also go to antenatal classes, see if your hospital offers breastfeeding programmes and use our free online service ‘Ask our breastfeeding expert’.
Correct positioning and attachment (latching) is the most important thing for successful breastfeeding. It can help to look at pictures and videos.
Learning how to hand express breast milk in advance can also useful.
Find a breastfeeding group
Many find it helpful to find a breastfeeding support group during pregnancy.
You are welcome to attend during and after pregnancy. You will meet other new mothers and hear about their experiences.
Read about what happens at a breastfeeding support group
Ask about breast and health concerns
Some women worry they won’t be able to breastfeed due to a physical issue or health problem.
Ask for a referral to a lactation consultant if you:
- are worried about the shape or size of your nipples or breasts
- are 35 or above and having your first baby
- got pregnant through assisted reproduction
- are taking any medications
- are likely to need induction of labour or a caesarean section
- have had breast reduction or enhancement
- have had surgery for cysts, fibroids or abscesses
- have gestational diabetes or type 1 diabetes
- don’t experience breast changes during pregnancy
- have high blood pressure during pregnancy
- have been told your baby has congenital problems
- have a multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets or more)
- have been told your baby has intrauterine growth retardation
- have hormone issues
- have a disability
What to get before birth
If you're planning to breastfeed it's helpful to have:
- thin cotton breast pads - these absorb leaks and prevent sweaty nipples
- breastfeeding or nursing bras - get measured at 36 to 38 weeks and look for a non-padded, non-wired type with broad straps for support
- clothes that make it easy to expose your breasts - such as front-opening tops or wide-opening pyjamas
You do not need to buy other breastfeeding products or equipment before birth.
Getting a breast pump after birth
Your midwife, PHN or lactation consultant will tell you about breast pumps after your baby is born. You do not need to get a breast pump before then.
It can be helpful to know the types of breast pumps available. You can also get recommendations from your local breastfeeding support group.
Only use a second-hand pump if it has a ‘closed’ system. It is not possible to completely sterilise an ‘open’ pump system. This means cross-contamination can occur.
What to bring to the hospital
- clothes that make it easy to feed your baby and do skin-to-skin contact
- breastfeeding or nursing bras
- thin cotton breast pads
- a water bottle that's easy to use during feeding
- healthy snacks
You do not need to bring any breastfeeding equipment with you to hospital.
Read about what else to pack in your hospital bag
How hospital staff will support you
Staff will show you how to attach the baby to your breast in different feeding positions. They will also show how to hand express breast milk if your baby has difficulty attaching.
They will also help you to learn:
- if your baby is getting enough milk
- how to recognise your baby’s hunger signs
- how to take care of your breasts and nipples
- how to use a breast pump
- how to store breast milk
Most hospitals have lactation consultants who can provide specialist advice.
This might include:
- sore nipples
- poor latch
- a baby born prematurely
- you being ill
- tongue tie
When you go home you will be given information on further breastfeeding support available at the hospital and in the local community.
Find out more about support provided in hospital and after you go home