Women with large breasts (and those who are also heavier all around) may face special challenges when it comes to breastfeeding.
Plus-sized women are less likely to breastfeed than normal-weight mothers, a study found. This may begin soon after birth as plus-sized mothers’ milk is often delayed to come in, causing these mothers to abandon it. Even if a mother is not curvy all around but simply has very large (DD-cup or bigger) breasts, she may struggle with unique problems that are typically not discussed in breastfeeding classes.
Unless you believe you might have gigantomastia (read about it in the links below), here are a few tips that can help.*
*Please note, I’m not plus-sized or large breasted. These tips were compiled from other sources that attest to their reliability, not from my own personal experience.
If you have breasts sized on the later end of the alphabet, no worries — breastfeeding can go smoothly! Try these tips to make things easier:
1). Use the football hold (clutch hold).
This is a good way to encourage proper latch without making your baby feel trapped, or overwhelmed by the shared body heat. Traditional cradle hold can be difficult with large breasts, but side-lying position tends to be much easier for top-heavy gals than for flat-chested ones.
Football/clutch is good for allowing at least one of your arms to control both your breast and baby’s head position without needing a free hand to act as sole support for your baby’s and/or breast’s weight.
Remember every nursing position will have a different effectiveness for different nursing dyads, especially as baby grows, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
2). Make sure baby is breastfeeding, not nipple-feeding.
Read this first if you need a biology crash course.
Babies need to compress the areola to transfer the milk, so make sure as much of the areola is in the mouth as possible. This can be especially hard to tell with newborns as their mouths are teensy-tiny, so if you aren’t sure what you should be looking for, don’t hesitate to ask for a lactation consultant’s help.
Also, make sure to keep breast tissue from pressing into your baby’s nose so s/he is able to breathe freely. With football/clutch hold, its easier to see how much of the areola is in baby’s mouth.
3). Always have a support for the breast.
This is especially important for babies who don’t have independent head control yet. Try ‘c-hold’ or place a pillow or rolled-up towel/baby blanket beneath the breast. When in public, try clutching your diaper bag so your breasts can rest on top and baby can remain at your side in clutch-hold position.
Keep baby level with the nipple and bring baby TO the breast; do not bring your breast to the baby, which can be scary, intimidating, and too forceful for an infant. Think comforting, not smothering (ironic how the word ‘mother’ is in there, huh?). By positioning baby in the vicinity of the breast, you allow him the choice to hang out for a while or immediately root around, depending on his fulfillment instinct.
4). Speaking of support, you’ll need properly-fitting nursing bras.
Ones that shift between sizes, ones that stretch, ones that un-snap or detach for easy public nursing, ones that hold the twinsies up without underwire, pads, or gel inserts, ones that feel comfy — and cute enough to help you make more babies 🙂 (if that’s your thing. Solely functional aesthetic is great too).
The best time to purchase bras is in your final trimester when breasts are closest to their milk-bearing size (1-2 sizes larger). Consider using a band extender until your ribcage settles back into pre-pregnancy position. You can also have your favorite bras converted if you don’t wish to explore new options.
- Anita – Well-reviewed maternity/nursing bras an lingerie, plus an easy-to-use size calculator.
- Breakout Bras – Full Figure & Plus Size nursing bra sizes up to 40GG.
- Mommy Gear – Many full-figured women swear by Goddess brand nursing bras, found here and at other retailers.
5). Nursing in public can be especially challenging for mothers with large breasts.
Plan accordingly, and practice during pregnancy with a doll if you have any lying around. Finding a carrier or sling that works for nursing will take some experimentation, too.
Sometimes bustier mamas are at greater risk for stranger harassment, which is unequivocally unfair. It’s a nitpicky kind of bullying. Do women with smaller chests seem to get away with it as if they’re accepted as more socially sensitive to nurse in public with less of a ‘show’? I’ve rarely been harassed in public, despite never covering up the last thousand times. Many of my more well-endowed friends can’t claim the same, and I’ve observed that there is indeed greater prejudice against larger-breasted women when nursing in public.
If more of one mother’s skin is exposed in offering to her child as comfort and food, simply because she happens to have more of it, then so be it.
The same rules apply to all of us: breastfeeding however it needs to happen, whatever you look like doing it, is always a beautiful thing. And our children know that, too. It’s the offended onlooker’s attitude that is poisonous to society, not a mother’s act of familial love.
The clothes we wear and the size and shape of what’s below them are irrelevant to the fact that we are all doing the SAME THING — providing for our babies. And remind everyone else by continuing to serve up the milkshakes as requested by your child.
Find your zen, recite your mantras, remember the nursing days go by quickly and don’t waste your emotional space on the haters.
6). Know the signs of a yeast infection under the breasts.
Here’s some information on recognizing yeast (candidiasis) within breast folds. For prevention: keep the breasts free from moisture –- especially in the folds underneath, the cleavage, and in any folds near the armpits –- by rinsing and drying on a daily basis with water only (no soap, cream, astringents or shampoos).
7). Don’t ignore your areolas: pump flanges and breast shields need to fit properly.
Don’t buy large flanges and shields just because your breasts are large. These are meant to fit over your areolas, which are the important factor in determining size, not cup measurements. Many women have large breasts and normal or smaller areolas, and vice versa with smaller-chested women.
Whether you have areolas that are large, small, or somewhere in the middle, if you’re a pumping mama you must ensure the flanges fit! Otherwise there’s going to be a whole lot of pinching or a whole lot of nothing happening and not much milk expression going on. Here’s one detailed sizing guide. You can also refer to the guidelines provided by your pump manufacturer for tips specific to their products.
If you use a breast shield, please consult with an IBCLC before use. They can help you come up with a plan that will incorporate the shield to address breastfeeding issues without sacrificing breastfeeding in the long-term. They will also make sure it fits perfectly so you don’t have to stress over whether you got it right.
- “Gigantomastia” – Cheri Casciola, IBCLC, RLC
- “Helping Large-Breasted Women: Tips from Leaders who have helped large-breasted mothers enjoy breastfeeding” – Bonnie Tilson
- “Nursing When Well-Endowed FAQ” – KMom
- “Nursing Tips for the Large-Breasted Woman” – Anne Smith, IBCLC