The truth about breastfeeding is it’s freaking hard work. It takes time, dedication, and a commitment to make it successful. You’re going to go through some hurtles – maybe a clogged duct here, an engorged breast there – but it’s so worth it in the end.
I absolutely LOVE breastfeeding my son. There’s nothing that makes me feel connected as a mama than nursing my baby. He’s now 7 months old and we are still breastfeeding. I don’t plan to stop nursing until at least a year old.
I’ve had a very successful breastfeed journey, but I do want to share 10 things I wish I knew about breastfeeding before I got started. I hope that this article helps some of you expecting mamas out there.
I’m not a lactation consultant, but I’ve successfully nursed my baby since he was born. This is my story.
1.) Sometimes you have to supplement with formula and that’s OK.
Breastfeeding hasn’t always been a smooth journey. In the very beginning, I had to supplement with formula and pump. And it was so heartbreaking.
When my baby was born, I had an uncomplicated vaginal birth and we did skin-to-skin contact immediately after. He was a bit sleepy, but he found his way to my breast within an hour of birth. So far, it was great.
Unfortunately, he developed jaundice and had to stay an extra day in the hospital. Because you don’t produce very much milk in the first few days, the doctor wanted me to supplement with formula to get more fluids in him to get rid of the excess bilirubin in his blood.
Being separated from your baby is torture, especially when you just want to hug and smell him and give him all the kisses. But I gave birth at an amazing hospital (St. Thomas Midtown Hospital in Nashville, TN) and the nurses brought him into my room every three hours. He was only allowed to stay for 20 minutes at a time. I breastfed him for the first 10 to 15 minutes, then formula fed him with the remaining time.
Giving him formula killed me. I’ve always wanted to breastfeed my child. I was kinda an anti-formula person, but as you’ve probably heard, fed is best.
After the baby was moved back to the nursery, I used the hospital breast pump to try to pump for 20 minutes. The volume of milk wasn’t important (and I barely pumped 1 oz in the first days), but this pumping would help my milk come in.
Once my baby was cleared to go home, I continued to breastfeed and formula feed when we got home. A week later, when my milk was more established, I exclusively breastfed and it made me feel so happy!
2.) When your milk comes in, it REALLY hurts.
Dude, engorgement is no joke. It’s SO PAINFUL. Or at least for me. Maybe I don’t have the highest pain tolerance, but when my milk came in, it hurt SO BAD.
My milk came in two days after I came home from the hospital (day 4 postpartum). My breasts got huge, but they were also SO PAINFUL. I also developed chills and I felt terrible. My breasts felt hot and hard, and I just wanted the pain to go away. Strangely, I didn’t have a fever, but I slept with a heating pad because I was just so cold.
It hurt when my baby breastfed, and I wondered if the pain would ever go away. For me, this engorgement lasted for 2 days. Eventually, it went away and nursing my baby became more comfortable.
For the first few months, every time that my breasts would fill up with milk, I would feel this jolt of pain that would last for a few minutes. Sometimes, it was excruciating painful when my breasts would fill with milk.
However, eventually that feeling goes away and now I don’t even know when my breasts fill with milk. I can only tell if I feel my breasts and they’re hard.
3.) Every time you breastfed, you will feel menstrual-like cramping. It’s painful and not fun.
In the first few weeks after giving birth, I experienced intense afterbirth cramping every single time I breastfed my son. Online articles claim that this cramping is “mild,” but oh man, it hurt SO bad. It was really intense cramping like my normal menstrual cramps.
My cramping would start as soon as he began to nurse and the milk was flowing. It would be mild at first, and then it would get stronger.
The cramping wasn’t as bad during some breastfeeding sessions, but sometimes it was pretty painful. I was on a lot of painkillers in those early weeks.
Eventually, the afterpains go away and you find your rhythm with breastfeeding and it becomes comfortable and a beautiful experience.
4.) Don’t be discouraged if you don’t make a lot of milk in the beginning.
I’m a member of a several breastfeeding groups on Facebook, and I’m constantly seeing posts from moms who have an oversupply and they show how much milk they’ve pumped. It’s amazing, and when you’re not an over-supplier, it can make you feel jealous. Don’t let them get to you. It’s totally okay to not produce a ton of milk in the very beginning.
The first time that I pumped after I got home, I only got a few ounces from my breasts. It was super disappointing, but this is totally normal in the beginning, especially if you’re nursing full-time. Some women only make enough for their baby to eat.
But as long as your baby has plenty of wet diapers, is gaining weight, and seems to be happy and content, you’re doing great mama.
Obviously, if your pediatrician alerts you that there might be a problem, then you might not be producing enough and you may need to supplement to help your baby along. Babies go to the pediatrician pretty often in the first months, so the pediatrician will definitely alert you if there is something wrong with your baby. In the meanwhile, try not to worry too much.
5.) When you breastfed, your other breast will leak. A LOT.
Your breasts are going to leak A LOT. When you’re breastfeeding your baby, the other side will leak. You can use nursing pads to protect your bra from getting wet, or you can use a Haakaa pump to save the milk from your non-nursing breast.
Haakaa pumps are honestly the best invention. I used them all the time. I actually ended up buying two, so that when one was in the dishwasher, I could use the other one. They’re a silicone breast pump that uses a suction. They attach to your boob and catch all the milk drippage.
Sometimes I would catch one or two ounce of milk using my Haakaa. Over the course of a day, I would save enough to fill one or two freezer milk storage bags. It was super helpful to start my freezer supply. I highly recommend them.
You have to be careful with the Haakaa be cause sometimes my baby would wiggle and his hand would knock off the pump!
My breasts would also leak when they were full and I wasn’t able to pump or nurse my baby. I’d highly recommend either pumping or breastfeeding before you go anywhere, or else you might have embarrassing leaks when you least expect it!
6.) When leaving the house with your baby, wear breastfeeding friendly clothes.
If you are going out in public with your baby and you plan to breastfeed, make sure you wear nursing-friendly clothes, or outfits where you can easily whip out your breast at a moment’s notice. If your baby is hungry, he or she wants to eat now. Your child will cry inconsolably until he/she gets your breast. So find a top where you can do this easily.
Nursing tops, which you can find at maternity stores, are not the most attractive. They are rarely stylish, but they work.
What I recommend is wearing clothes that are stretchy. When I was out in public, I would often wear tank tops underneath a cardigan or sweater. I also wore blouses that were made of stretchy material, or V-cut shirts. They made my life so much easier. Shirts and tops with zippers and buttons will also be your best friend.
7.) Teaching your baby a proper latch will help prevent most breastfeeding problems.
When I was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed, so I took a breastfeeding class at my local hospital. I definitely recommend all expectant mothers do the same. It was super helpful. The nurse practitioner emphasized how crucial a proper latch is.
A proper latch is the key to your breastfeeding success. Breastfeeding shouldn’t be uncomfortable. Teaching your baby how to latch on correctly will prevent you from getting sore and cracked nipples, which will lower your risk of getting mastitis and other breastfeeding problems.
If your hospital has a lactation consultant, after you give birth, I’d recommend asking to see them. Ask them to watch you get the baby to latch to see if you’re doing it correctly. Ask them questions and learn from them.
I took advantage of our hospital’s lactation consultants in the days following my baby’s birth, and with their help, my baby learned how to latch the right away and I’ve had almost no problems with breastfeeding. The only time I had a breastfeeding complication is a plugged duct after my first time pumping while at work, but that was the only time and it resolved pretty quickly.
8.) You are going to be so HUNGRY all the time.
When you breastfeed, you are going to be hungry ALL THE TIME. Breastfeeding burns anywhere from 300 to 500 calories a day, so it’s not surprising how hungry it makes you. You could eat an entire Big Mac meal and want to eat again in two hours.
In my early months of breastfeeding, I was eating like four or five meals a day, plus a lot of little snacks. I seriously had the munchies around the clock. I still eat quite a lot, and I have to eat more often. I often find myself hungry after a nursing session.
You’ll also be more thirsty. Make sure that you drink plenty of water and you stay hydrated while breastfeeding. Water and being well-hydrated helps your body produce milk. I would often drink a glass of water during and after each breastfeeding session.
9.) Your milk production will sync up with your baby’s hunger cycle.
I’m not sure if this happens with every mom, but it happened to me. My breasts would fill up with milk right before my baby wanted to feed. I thought it was the coolest thing. My milk production totally synced up with his hunger cycle.
I fed my baby on-demand, and after a month or so, my supply was well-established. Soon, whenever I felt the pain of milk filling up in my breasts, it wasn’t long before my baby started crying because he was hungry. We were completely in tune with each other and it was amazing.
10.) The bonding you’ll share with your newborn is surreal.
I have never experienced anything quite as amazing as breastfeeding my baby. I love knowing that I’m nourishing him and caring for him, and it’s a bond that only he and I can share. He needs me and I need him.
There’s nothing as special as when he gazes at me, and when I smile at him, he’s at an age where he will smile back while nursing and I just get all the warm loving feelings.
Breastfeeding has been so amazing for me, and it’s made my bond with my son so strong. I was fortunate to never have any postpartum depression, and I honestly believe that breastfeeding has played a huge role in that.
I hope your breastfeeding journey is going well.
Tell me, what are some of the things you wish you knew about breastfeeding before you started?
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