Breastfeeding

Gathering information, making the decision & preparing for breastfeeding

During pregnancy, the women we spoke to gathered information about breastfeeding from a wide variety of sources and had a lot to say about the quality and practical use of that information. They spoke to family and friends about birth and breastfeeding, they read leaflets and books and watched videos about the subject and some of them searched the internet for suitable websites. The women found a lot of these sources very helpful. However, some women felt that too much information could be a “bad thing”. One woman read so much that she felt confused by all the different advice while another thought that written information made breastfeeding sound “incredibly complicated”. 

Most women went to antenatal classes and specific breastfeeding sessions offered by a variety of providers, such as the government or NHS (local hospital, Primary Care Trust, or Sure Start), voluntary groups (National Childbirth Trust, La Leche League) and private providers (independent midwives, obstetrics/gynaecology and lactation consultants, breast pump manufacturers). Opinions of the classes covered the whole range from “very, very good” to “limited”.

Many described the information that they gained from antenatal classes as theoretical rather than practical. Many said that they were too focused on the forthcoming birth to think about breastfeeding. Some pregnant women valued informal opportunities to chat and learn about breastfeeding from breastfeeding mothers whom they met at groups. Some women believed that there was no substitute for experience in learning how to breastfeed. Some said that they needed the breastfeeding information more after the baby was born.

Several women found the advice and information they got from antenatal and other classes not that useful when faced with breastfeeding difficulties. Lizzie said that the class she attended didn’t discuss what to do if you have very low milk supply. Jessy found that the courses she attended provided no information about medical conditions or medications that could affect breastfeeding. (See ‘When breastfeeding doesn’t work out’ and ‘Medical conditions that could affect breastfeeding’).


Some women did not attend antenatal classes because they either didn't get around to it, hadn't planned to breastfeed specifically or the baby arrived before they had begun or completed the classes. Others talked about barriers to attendance such as language difficulties, the lack of classes in their locality or their husband's/partner's refusal to attend.

The decision to breastfeed was made by different women at different points' before pregnancy, during pregnancy or after the birth. Several women said that it seemed like the “natural” way to feed a baby but some felt uncomfortable about the idea at first. Most women were asked by their health professionals how they planned to feed their babies and that was recorded in their medical notes. Several of the women decided to breastfeed because their religion recommended it. 

As well as ensuring that they were well informed in preparation for breastfeeding some women purchased bras, breast pads, nipple creams and breast pumps while others said that there was no need to purchase anything except perhaps for bras and breast pads (see 'Advice for pregnant women and new mothers'). Some women attempted to express colostrum prior to the birth, usually as reassurance that they would have milk afterwards. One woman spoke of moisturising and stretching her nipples prior to birth in an attempt to strengthen them and prevent sore nipples*. Others ensured that their partners knew of their desire to breastfeed in case there were complications during the birth. One woman used pregnancy yoga and swimming to help her withdraw from using drugs by the time that her baby was born. 

* Footnote: Nipple preparation used to be recommended but recent research has shown it to be unnecessary and ineffective. 

Last reviewed September 2015.
Last updated September 2015.

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