10 11 / 2013
You don’t always hear people say how hard it is to breastfeed. But it is. It’s hard. Those first few weeks or even months can be a battle, and it seems like no one wants to tell us because they think they’ll scare us away. I think they underestimate us, and I think the denial of the challenges of breastfeeding are the real problem. If you bring your baby into the world thinking nursing is going to be dreamy and easy, and you’re met with reality at 3AM when you’ve had about five hours of sleep the entire week…well, it’s a shock. Now my baby is eight months old, and for the most part breastfeeding is pretty easy these days, but we had a rough start, as many others do. So here are ten things I wish someone had told me about breastfeeding, BEFORE I had my baby.
- Your nipples are going to hurt. It drives me crazy when LCs are always spouting off how breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt, and if it is, you’re doing it wrong. Well, I’m here to tell you that you can do everything right, and it will still hurt. The absolute best things I have found to combat nipple pain is 100% pure lanolin, Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Butter (I alternate the two), Medela’s gel soothies, and a properly fitting bra. I would encourage you to buy some bras that fit you as soon as your milk comes in, and once your supply settles, go back and buy a couple more that fit. Your breast size will change, and you may even lose quite a bit of weight in the first month. I went from a 36F to a 32DD after my supply settled, at around 6 weeks postpartum.
- You don’t have to switch sides at every feeding. This is another misconception that seems to be pretty widespread. Try nursing on one side until your baby is satisfied, and he/she will unlatch, and then switch. If your baby doesn’t unlatch, don’t unlatch them. The only time I would unlatch baby is when he was in a deep sleep and I wanted to lay him down in his bed. If you switch sides too often, you may witness a frothy green poo in baby’s diapers, which may mean he/she is getting too much foremilk. If you let baby completely finish one side before switching to the other, baby will get the fattier hindmilk.
- Your baby may want to nurse. All. Day. And that’s NORMAL. There will be days or even weeks where you seem to be glued to your couch with a baby on your boob. It’s normal. Keep in mind that your tiny human is brand new to this world, and you, Mommy, are your baby’s greatest source of comfort. You have a life that is solely dependent upon you for survival, and it is human instinct to want to be close to mommy. You are protector, giver of love, you smell amazing, and you keep baby’s belly full. So what if you let a few chores go? In a few months your newborn will sit up, crawl, walk, run, talk, sleep in his/her own bed, go off to college…etc. In a few short months you will look back at pictures of your tiny baby and miss every moment. When you’re old, you will never remember what chores didn’t get done. You will remember rocking your baby to sleep.
- Your milk supply is fine. As long as your baby is wetting enough diapers and gaining weight, your supply is fine. Your baby may nurse all day and all night. Your baby may fuss and cry more often. He/she may fuss and cry every day from 5-8PM. Your baby may not poop for five days. Your baby may spit up what seems like truckloads of milk. Your baby may begin to nurse and suddenly pull off and fuss or cry. You may be pumping and suddenly find that you’ve only pumped four ounces instead of six. You may not be able to get anything to come out with a breast pump. But none of that means that you have low milk supply.
- Your baby probably won’t sleep through the night any time soon. You may get lucky and have a baby that sleeps all night right away, and that’s great. The rest of us are insanely jealous. That is, until the four month sleep regression rolls around. But breastfed babies digest milk more quickly than formula fed babies, and therefore they get hungry more often. Including at night. My oldest son began sleeping through the night a few nights a week at five months old, and my youngest began sleeping all night at seven months old, but every now and then he will wake up at 5AM. My good friend’s two year just recently began sleeping through the night. All of this is normal, and it’s the reality of having a baby. You will get less sleep. Life will change. But it’s just a short time in your child’s life. It will pass.
- Breastfed babies are difficult to get on a “schedule.” This will drive some of you crazy, but you’ve got to let it go. I have attempted twice to put an exclusively breastfed infant on one of these infamous feeding schedules, and found it to be impossible. Sometimes my baby slept for two hours, sometimes for forty-five minutes. Sometimes he wanted to eat every thirty minutes, or not for three hours. He was impossible to predict. I gave up. But again, this is the reality of having a baby. You cannot fit your child into your old schedule. Your child now dictates your schedule. Society seems to hold disdain for letting your baby decide when he or she wants to eat, but for crying out loud, they’re babies. They cannot lie or manipulate you. They are hungry when they’re hungry. Trying to schedule when they eat and sleep is just going to give you a headache. As baby gets older, you may notice a pattern of eating and sleeping. At one month old I established a bedtime routine for my kids, and at six months I put them on a “schedule” that suited their needs. But ultimately they decided what that schedule would look like.
- Don’t compare your breastfed baby to formula fed babies. Try not to compare your child to other children in any case, but I know it’s difficult. However, comparing your breastfed baby to formula fed babies is impossible. They have different growth patterns and feeding habits. Formula takes longer for a baby to digest than breastmilk, and formula fed babies are often on “schedules” of eating every 3-4 hours. But newborn breastfed infants will likely want to nurse more often than this, for hunger or comfort or anything else.
- Studies show that breastfed babies cry or are more irritable than formula fed babies. This too is normal. This crying and fussiness is not a sign of distress or hunger. Researchers believe that this is just a normal part of babyhood, and that babies fed formula cry less because they are not allowed to feel hunger or are overfed. A breastfed baby that cries may just want mommy for comfort. This is normal. Research shows that babies need your comfort and love, and they need to be close to you. Understand that your baby may cry more, but breastmilk is still, and always will be, the best possible nutrition for your child.
- Don’t be afraid to nurse in public. I felt very anxious and self conscious about nursing my first child in public places. I always went to a private room or hid behind something, and of course covered with blankets and capes. I still use a cover, but I will never breastfeed in a bathroom again. You shouldn’t either. Your baby deserves to eat wherever, whenever, just like a bottle fed baby. There’s no shame or embarrassment in that. Except in rare cases, no one else is really paying attention to what you’re doing anyway. If anyone does have a rude comment, don’t let that deter you. The more we nurse in public, the more people will become familiar with it, and the more it will become normal.
- Breastfeeding is more than just feeding your baby. You’re providing comfort, pain relief, reassurance, stress relief, social interaction, visual development, nurturing, protection during illness, and reducing the risk of SIDS. Breastfeeding increases the release of oxytocin in both you and baby. You reduce your risk of breast cancer, and your child may enjoy lower blood pressure and healthier arteries throughout life. And once you get past these difficult first weeks, breastfeeding is a breeze. It really is dreamy and easy. Fewer dishes, fewer things to remember to pack in your diaper bag, fewer hassles in the middle of the night. And an immense amount of benefits for your child, for life.
I hope this list didn’t scare you away, like some of the experts seem to think. The reality is that having a baby isn’t easy, and breastfeeding can be difficult at first, especially when you don’t have adequate support. I had no idea what challenges I would face when I began, but I also never knew the real benefits I was providing until much later, and something other than “breast is best” would’ve been more encouraging. But everything here is the honest truth, from a mom of two, and I wish you the best on your breastfeeding journey.