When learning to breastfeed, the whole experience can seem quite foreign. No matter how many books you’ve read or videos you’ve watched, there are probably still a million concerns running through your mind, one of which is “Are my nipples normal?” and “Will I be able to breastfeed if I have (insert your boob concerns here)?”
As a certified lactation educator counselor, these are some of the most common concerns I hear, aside from those about baby’s weight gain and feeding schedules. Women early on begin to question whether or not their body is equipped to actually produce enough milk for the baby. While I know it goes without saying, I try to always remind Mamas that there is a vast variation of what is “normal” when it comes to boobs—specifically nipple size, skin tone, and breast shape. The most important thing to ask yourself is, “Did my breasts grow in size or change in color during pregnancy?”
It may actually be helpful to ask your partner. Oftentimes they are the first to notice your breasts and nipples changes. If your answer is “yes,” then your body is likely on the right track toward breastfeeding success.
Though there is a small percentage of women who experience conditions that cause them not to be able to reach their breastfeeding goals, for example, a diagnosis of insufficient glandular tissue, endocrine irregularities, or medical emergencies during labor that interfere with initiating breastfeeding soon after birth. In these cases it’s best to seek assistance from an IBCLC.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with or experienced any of the more serious examples I mentioned but are still concerned about whether or not you’ll be able to breastfeed, I’ve shared four of the most typical anatomical concerns women have and how to manage them in order to have a more stress-free breastfeeding experience.
1. Are my nipples too large for latching?
With large nipples one of the most important factors to experiencing painless breastfeeding is proper ridging (holding of the breast) and a deep latch for your baby. The primary concern in this case is that the baby won’t open wide enough to receive all of the nipple and most of the areola, and pain will ensue.
The best thing to do is swipe your nipple from baby’s top lip to the bottom to stimulate their rooting reflex and allow baby to open its mouth very wide (like a yawn). Your nipple should rest deep into baby’s mouth and as your baby compresses your breast tissue between their tongue and the roof of their mouth it will also compress and accommodate your nipple.
2. Will my small breasts make enough milk?
To begin, most women will experience significant breast growth during pregnancy. So even if you started your pregnancy with relatively small breasts, they may look much larger by the time you give birth.
Secondly, the ability to make milk for your baby is not related to the fatty tissue that gives breasts their shape but the lactating structures inside, which are the same in women with both “large” and relatively “small” breasts.
3. Will my inverted nipples cause breastfeeding problems?
In many inverted nipple cases, once baby latches on and begins suckling, your nipple will draw out. If you have any trouble getting baby to latch on, you can try pumping for a bit to help your nipple extend out. If this doesn’t work and you’re experiencing pain or nipple trauma, seek assistance from a lactation professional as soon as possible. Continuing to offer the baby your breast for multiple feedings will only cause more damage and make latching more difficult. It’s important to note that nipple shields should only be used under the directions and assistance of a lactation professional.
4. Can breasts be too large to breastfeed?
In this case, finding a comfortable position will help a lot. Laid-back feeding, where you recline back and your baby feeds in a vertical position on your chest, or feeding in the football hold with a rolled-up swaddle underneath your breast to provide a little lift are often very effective positions.
As I always like to say, breastfeeding is a two-person job at a minimum. Reaching out for advice and support before you run into any significant trouble is better than waiting until you feel completely overwhelmed. You can begin by interviewing lactation professionals before you give birth and planning for them to visit you within the first week postpartum.
Finally, if you are still at all concerned about your ability to breastfeed, especially if you’ve previously experienced any breastfeeding trouble, bring your concerns up to your doctor or midwife prenatally.