Nursing can be difficult no matter what your body shape or breast size. Yet if you’re a plus-sized woman—and over half of all women in the US are—you may want to take extra steps to ensure successful breastfeeding. With a little know-how and some products to help, you’ll find nursing can be a good experience for both you and your baby.
“The most important thing to know is that plus-size moms tend to take longer for their milk to come in,” explains Brette Sember, author of Your Plus-Size Pregnancy and mother of two. Sember says it can take an additional 24 to 36 hours for breast milk to replace the colostrum that initially feeds your baby.
Most women’s milk comes in within the first three days after birth. A delayed milk supply may be discouraging, especially for first-time mothers. Sember cites one study in the May 2004 journal Pediatrics which found that “overweight women are 2.5 times less successful in beginning breastfeeding than other women, and obese women 3.6 times less successful.” To ensure a good experience with nursing, Sember suggests you meet with a lactation consultant before your baby is born as well as afterward.
Before becoming discouraged about nursing, Nancy Mohrbacher, an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant (ICLC) and the author and co-author of numerous nursing books, including Breastfeeding Made Simple, warns that any woman can experience difficulty with nursing. But the solutions are the same for all women, whatever their size. Good breastfeeding techniques and plenty of skin-to-skin contact, even at times other than nursing, “can offset other issues, whether it be weight, having had breast surgery, or a variety of other factors.”
Mohrbacher advises that you try a variety of nursing positions to find one that is the most comfortable. Often plus-sized women enjoy nursing with the infant’s head to the breast and baby’s body curved behind the mother, commonly known as the football hold. Lying down to nurse might also create a soothing atmosphere for the baby and offer back relief for Mom.
Until a few years ago, plus-sized maternity wear and nursing products were almost impossible to find. Eleven years ago, Alycia Carmin couldn’t find any maternity clothes to fit her tall frame. “It seemed like everything was designed for petite women,” explains Carmin, who as a result formed Jake and Me, designing, manufacturing, and selling clothing online for plus-size women.
“I remember one woman who contacted me, a pastor’s wife, said she didn’t like nursing because she always had to wear dresses and it’s not easy to nurse in a regular dress.” At Jake and Me, the woman found dresses in her size with paneling that flattered her figure along with handy flaps that allowed for easy nursing.
Larger manufacturers are waking up to the market demand for plus-size products. Within the past few years, Motherhood Maternity®, the largest maternity company in the world, began offering plus-sizes in many of its stores. Today a little over half of their stores carry plus-size fashions, including larger bra sizes. With each new store that is added or older stores that are renovated, plus-size products are included.
Before you head out shopping—whether to the mall or online, look over these products that might make nursing simpler for you and your baby.
You can now find nursing bras in a variety of fits and sizes, whether you prefer underwire or soft cup. In the past, obstetricians cautioned against using underwire bras because the wiring might constrict the milk ducts, but most well-made nursing bras won’t cause problems.
According to Mohrbacher, the key is to find the right fit—not too snug, not too tight. Talk to a bra-fitting specialist or to your lactation consultant to make sure that your bra fits properly. Once hard to find sizes such as cups sizes past D or E are now much easier to track down online. For example, in 2005 Medela introduced more sizes in its popular Beautiful Beginnings Seamless Bra line. They offer nursing bra cup sizes in F, G, and H with underwires for extra support.
The Anna Pillow allows women to adjust the height of the pillow by adding or taking away layers of padding. The pillow contains three, two-inch padding layers so that you can support your back while comfortably holding your baby to nurse. The rectangular-shaped pillow wraps around the front of the body and has a belt strap to keep it in place. You can find the Anna Pillow at various Web sites for approximately $49.95.
Once you’ve made your baby comfortable with a nursing pillow, support your breast with an Utterly Yours™ pillow. The pillow slips between the breast and your rib cage, propping up the breast to make it easier for your baby to reach the nipple. Women with larger breasts will find this especially helpful. The memory foam conforms to the shape of your breast and the outside cover can be removed and machine-washed. Find the breast pillow at www.utterlyyours.com for $19.95 for sizes small through large (cup sizes C through G) and $29.95 for extra large (cup sizes H and I).
There are a variety of breast pumps on the market, and the one you choose will depend on your needs. You may or may not need larger breast shields and flanges—the funnel-shaped cups that fit over the nipple and areola during pumping. If you have very large breasts, these larger cups can help you pump milk more comfortably and efficiently. Medela, Lansinoh®, and Ameda are three well-established manufacturers of breastfeeding products that offer flange kits designed for larger-breasted moms.
Breastfeeding not only creates a bond between you and your baby, but it provides the nourishment that your baby needs. If you have any problem nursing, or have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your OB-GYN or midwife, or contact a lactation specialist through the La Leche League or the hospital where you delivered.