Breastfeeding is a natural thing, I thought. You either do it or you don’t. There’s no right or wrong way. It will be amazing. My baby should know how to do it. It will be easy.
While some of this is true, my breastfeeding journey was anything but easy in the beginning. Here is my list of things I wish I knew about breastfeeding (and should have done) before my baby was born.
1. There is a correct way to breastfeed.
There is a correct way and there is an incorrect way to breastfeed. I should have watched You Tube videos and read about proper breastfeeding techniques, holds, the latch, and what to expect. I was serious about breastfeeding, but I was so unprepared and uneducated when I had my baby. I think my breastfeeding journey could have gone a lot smoother had I prepared myself better. My baby didn’t have a great latch in the beginning and this lead to a lot of unnecessary pain. I almost quit breastfeeding one week in because I couldn’t see the light at the end of a dark tunnel. I should have watched videos and spoken to a lactation consultant regarding the correct latch and what to expect before having my baby so that I knew what to expect when she first latched on. Nevertheless, I corrected the latch a few weeks in and we survived, but my BF journey may have been better had I prepared.
2. Breastfeeding takes a lot of time during each session and can be really isolating.
I wasn’t prepared for the amount of time I would be ‘occupied’ feeding my baby. When she was young, she would feed for at least an hour each feed. I had visitors in the first few weeks after the birth, so I was essentially living in my baby’s nursery or my bedroom (for privacy) for the majority of the day doing nothing but watching her suck the life out of me. Don’t get me wrong, I cried a lot (tears of joy) because I was in awe of the miracle in front of me, but it was also really isolating and lonely. I should have told my company to hold off on visiting, or I should have made myself a really nice and secluded breastfeeding spot somewhere in my residence that I was more comfortable with and that was not so isolated from everything.
3. You may be nursing every hour, or every 45 minutes.
It seemed like I would feed my baby, she would sleep for 30 minutes, then get up and want more milk. This. Was. Painful. Especially since she didn’t have a good latch in the beginning. I didn’t know what was wrong and why she always wanted to feed. I didn’t get much time at all to really do anything but nurse. I ate when she ate. I didn’t sleep when she slept because this was the only time I had to take care of me. When she was awake, I was feeding her. When she was asleep, I was either feeding myself or taking a shower or doing laundry, or doing everything else that needed to be done around the house. I came to realize that breastfeeding, in the beginning, is a sacrifice mamas make for their babies. After a month, it became a LOT easier, and I started really reaping the benefits and conveniences of breastfeeding, but in the beginning, it was definitely a sacrifice. I maybe wouldn’t have had such high expectations of my ‘free time’ had I known the demand of breastfeeding in the beginning.
4. Your milk doesn’t come in for a few days.
I thought my baby wasn’t getting enough to eat because she lost some weight the first week (8% of her birth weight) and was always hungry. But, what I found out was that it was natural and normal for her to lose some weight. She was still pooping and peeing the correct amount in terms of dirty diapers, so this gave me some reassurance. Mamas produce colostrum in the beginning, and this is really vital for baby’s health. When my milk did come in 3 days later, it took a good few days for me to start actually producing a solid few ounces a feeding. But that’s all that baby needed at the time. Still, she fed all the time the first month, which left me in a constant state of self-doubt and anxiety that she may not be getting enough to eat. However, she was gaining weight, so this provided the confidence I needed to keep going. Had I been more educated on what to expect, I may have been a little less stressed during this crucial time.
5. Utilize the help of ALL of the support groups and personnel provided to you.
I had visitors in the hospital when the lactation consultant came in to check on us. I told her I was fine, and that breastfeeding was going well. Big mistake. Here’s the thing: it may not hurt right away, even if the latch isn’t great. But let me tell you: if the latch isn’t great, it WILL hurt a few days later. Because I brushed off the lactation consultant in the hospital, I had to visit a lactation consultant shortly after I got out of the hospital because I was in so much pain. I went several times to check my baby’s latch and to get support; mostly emotional support. In my lactation consultant’s office, I would weigh my baby before and after a feeding to make sure she was getting enough. This at least provided reassurance that I was producing milk. There’s also La Leche League – a support group that meets often to give support to new parents with breastfeeding. There’s also in-home breastfeeding support available as well; you just have to look up consultants in your area. These services are free of charge. People all over are rooting for you to succeed! I wish I would have utilized this help from the beginning, or even before my baby was born.
6. When your milk comes in, your breasts may feel hard and lumpy and will get much bigger.
I was googling ‘breast cancer while breastfeeding.’ I was freaking out. Again, educate yourself. This turned out to be normal. My baby’s cluster feedings signaled to my body that I needed A LOT of milk, and my body delivered. I actually had to pump the first couple of days before feedings to soften my breasts a little so baby could latch better. This also alleviated the pressure as well.
7. You will wear nipple pads and nursing bras for the rest of your life.
Ok, not for the rest of your life. But, I have not slept without a bra and nipple pads in six months. Every. Single. Night. I probably could now, but in the beginning, I didn’t want anything brushing against my nipples, and I would leak a lot of milk at night until my body found the right amount to produce. It’s just become habit for me now to wear a loose nursing bra at night with nipple pads, but I rarely leak anymore. I made the mistake the second night home of not wearing a bra to bed (this was before I got super sore). I had to change the sheets in the morning because of all of the leaks. I didn’t do that again. I should have bought more nursing bras and nipple pads before my baby was born to accommodate for this.
8. It really does get better.
Everyone kept telling me this. I didn’t believe them. I couldn’t imagine how it could get better because I was in a lot of pain, and baby fed all the time. For the first month, I just breastfed. I just breastfed and that was it. I would mentally bargain with myself before feedings. I had to prepare myself. Take deep breaths. Get in the perfect position. Then I would cry when baby latched. I didn’t leave the house for probably four weeks because I was so tied down and couldn’t figure out how I was going to leave the house with baby and feed in public without my nursing pillow and hot compresses, etc. I could barely feed her in the privacy of my own home without having a mental breakdown. But, at four weeks, I finally started to see the light. I remember telling my husband at four weeks that I finally felt like I wasn’t mentally preparing myself before a feeding anymore. That it was becoming more natural. That baby was big enough she could open her mouth wider. That my nipples were not cracked or on fire anymore. And that I finally had the confidence that maybe I was producing enough because my baby was gaining weight and not cluster feeding so much. It did get better. And now? Now it’s easy-peasy.
So, if you are in the trenches, or if you’re wondering if it gets better, or if you’re a soon to be mom determined to make breastfeeding work, you can. You can do it. It’s hard. It’s not easy. Mentally prepare yourself now. Watch those videos. Buy some nice products for your nipples BEFORE baby arrives. Invest in yourself. Pamper yourself. And when baby comes, give yourself four weeks. Give yourself at least four weeks to see if it gets better. Give yourself permission to cry and have breakdowns if it gets bad, but then get back up and try again. Get help if you need it. Call someone who has done it before. Go to a La Leche LeagueMeeting. Call your lactation consultant. Go to new mom groups. Email me! But most of all, prepare yourself and have realistic expectations. It’s not amazing and beautiful in the beginning. It will hurt, even if the latch is perfect (but won’t hurt as much or as long). It is truly magical, and you will cry in awe of what your body is doing for your baby, but you may also cry in pain. But it does get better. And at the end, after four weeks, or a month, or maybe you will be amazing and get it right away, you will be grateful you suffered through it and stuck it out, and your baby will be, too. If you want breastfeeding to work, and are determined to make it, you can! You’ve got this, mama.