Despite what popular media sources may have led you to believe, having large breasts isn’t always a good thing. Anyone struggling through life with an ample chest will be familiar with an accompanying backache, the expensive yet ugly wide backed bras, the awkwardness of trying to do any kind of strenuous exercise (I’m a two sports bra kind of girl!) and the inability to wear pretty strapless tops in the summer.
You may think that larger breasts (DD+) will produce more milk when lactating but this is a common misconception. Milk is actually made in the glandular tissue buried deep underneath the fatty tissue which gives the breast it’s size and shape, therefore smaller breasts are capable of making just as much milk as larger ones. Nursing with larger breasts does come with some challenges though, especially in the early days of the mother learning to breastfeed (because let’s face it breastfeeding is a skill that needs to be practised). The nipples may hang quite low and be difficult to visualise, proving it to be more troublesome to position the baby at the breast. Often the big breasts, equal big nipples which can mean that some babies with little mouths, especially those smaller babies or those born at an earlier gestation can have real trouble latching on.
It is also virtually impossible to be discreet when breastfeeding if you have large boobs, especially in the early days when you are learning the basics of positioning and attachment! Throw into this mix postnatal exhaustion, the pain associated after birth, a sore, swollen perineum, possible abdominal surgery involving a large wound from a cesarean section and you could have a challenging breastfeeding journey ahead of you.
So what can you do to help prepare yourself and solve any of these breastfeeding problems?
Here are my top tips for breastfeeding with larger boobs
1. Antenatal Hand Expression
This tip isn’t just for women with bigger boobs. I actually recommend all pregnant women learn to hand express in the late stages of pregnancy for a number of reasons. Firstly, it gets the colostrum moving so that you have confidence in your body once the baby arrives if you can see colostrum there at the end of the nipple you know your body is producing it when the baby first latches. This should help calm any nervous mums who often worry that the baby isn’t getting anything in the early breastfeeding days. In my experience, this fear is one of the primary reasons women top up with formula milk or give up breastfeeding altogether.
Secondly, it can stimulate your oxytocin, otherwise known as the ‘love’ hormone making you feel happy and relaxed, which is never a bad thing in pregnancy. Nipple stimulation and hand expression can even stimulate natural labour going someway to avoid a lengthy induction of labour. Read about the things I tried in my own pregnancy to avoid induction my blog post the-birth-of-a-mother
Hand expressing also helps you understand your own body better and become a lot more familiar with your own breasts. Each person breast is different and knowing your own will help you a lot when baby arrives and you are trying to breastfeed or express milk for them. Unicef’s baby friendly initiative have a video demonstrating how to do it, to watch it click here.
Finally and probably most importantly you can harvest some of your colostrum.
Why would I need to do this, I hear you ask?
Well, there are occasions where it is medically recommended that you top up your baby with a little extra milk and in these circumstances, you can use your own milk rather than reach for formula. This leaflet from The Royal Berkshire hospital explains why you want to try to avoid giving formula milk to a breastfed baby. You can store expressed milk in the freezer until you need it, for a guide on how to hand express and store your milk see this leaflet from the breastfeeding network Expressing and Storing breast milk. So ask your midwife for some sterile syringes and getting expressing.
2. Breastfeeding Positions
Breastfeeding is all about getting the right positioning for the baby to have the optimal latch. So what do you do if your breasts are large and it’s hard to see how to position the baby correctly? My number one tip is to change your position. Biological or laid back nursing positions work well. My two favourite breastfeeding positions are the rugby ball hold and side lying. They both take a little time to perfect but grab yourself a doll before you have the baby and get practising. There are a few key principles to be followed when positioning a baby at the breast but they can be achieved in any position. For a refresher of the main positioning principles, you should have been given a copy of off to the best start leaflet by your NHS midwife.
Another good trick I learnt was to use some props! Firstly pillows are useful, there are a number of ‘breastfeeding pillows’ on the market but equally, you can use a couple of normal pillows to make you and your baby comfortable.
Another thing I found really useful was to roll up a small towel and place it under my breast to lift it slightly and position it in an easier way for the baby to latch on. You will have to play around with this a little to see what towel placement works best for you.
My final trick was sent to me via text by a very good friend who had spent a lot of time supporting women to breastfeed as an infant feeding specialist midwife. It was so useful I tell all women I care for about it, if they have larger breasts. Use a scarf and tie it under your breast and round the back of your neck, it really lifts the breast and pulls the nipple up so you can see what you are doing. It is not what you’ll be doing long-term as can feel a bit heavy on the back of your neck but will help whilst you get the hang of things.
Your hands will by far be your most useful ‘tool’. With your spare hand create a ‘C’ shape and place your thumb over the top of your nipple and the curve of your hand to support the breast under the nipple (ensure you are away from the immediate nipple area). This will help you support the breast, you can add a little compression to ensure your milk ducts are emptying fully and it is sometimes necessary to move breast tissue away from the baby’s nose to avoid suffocation.
3. Stay at Home whilst Learning Breastfeeding Basics
As I hinted at earlier trying to breastfeed ‘discreetly’ is virtually impossible when you have large breasts! Luckily, I have never felt shy or inhibited when it comes to nursing in public, as was solely focused on meeting the needs of my wailing baby than worrying about if people were looking at me. However, I realise that not everyone feels this way. If you feel nervous about showing too much flesh when out and about there are a lot of nursing covers on the market you can uses to help cover up. Personally, my baby never liked being in that hot, dark environment and I didn’t like to think of him squirming about under a cover without being able to make proper eye contact. I found a well-positioned scarf or button-up shirt was much better to protect a little bit of modesty. Once well practised you can also try feeding in a sling. I also hate the idea of the cover-up being used to hide something that others think is dirty or wrong when in fact it’s the most natural thing in the world.
So this is what I suggest. Spend a few days/weeks at home recovering and mastering your new skill of breastfeeding. Then get out there and show the world that breastfeeding is normal and wonderful. And if someone accidentally sees a little boob whilst you’re trying to nurture your child – So what?! I can guarantee you they saw more of some woman’s boob in a recent magazine cover, movie trailer or advert.
Remember in the UK it is your legal right to breastfeed your child in any public place. Here I am breastfeeding next to my 92 yr old grandfather using a muslin cloth to help cover up.
4. Wear a Supportive Bra
This one is important for all women, large and small, lactating or not. You should regularly get measured by a trained professional to ensure you are wearing the correct size bra. It is estimated that up to 80% of women are currently wearing the wrong size bra which can lead to back, neck and breast pain, skin complaints, sagging and bad posture. I have long been a convert of Bravissimo who are experts in the larger sized woman. They have a range of nursing styles and some that are even fairly attractive. It is best to choose a non-wired style and remember to get measured frequently as your breast size will change during your breastfeeding journey.
5. Seek Breastfeeding Support
There is a lot of help and support out there for breastfeeding mothers and not all of it is well used. In the early days your midwife should be visiting you at home, she is a fountain of knowledge and should be able to help you with most common problems. Look out for local feeding groups, drop in and baby friendly cafes these are not only good for help and advice but a great place to meet like-minded mums who are tackling the same challenges as you. The big breastfeeding groups have national helplines that you can call – some are even open 24 hours a day click here for information of national support groups. As time goes on your health visitor will take over from your midwife. She can help and support you through any feeding difficulties.
If you feel you aren’t getting anywhere with these and need a bit more one on one support then seek out the advice of a qualified international board-certified lactation consultant (ILBC), they are fantastic and have so much knowledge. And finally tap into online sources, there are facebook support groups and experts to follow online. Two of my favourite are The Milk Meg and Kelly Mom
Armed with this information you will hopefully glide through the early days of breastfeeding with no problems and still be feeding well into toddlerhood. If you’re interested in breastfeeding older babies read my blog post The top 10 reasons I continue to breastfeed
Did you have any challenges breastfeeding because you had larger breasts? I’d love to hear what worked for you and how you overcame your difficulties.