Before giving birth to my son, I had visions of holding him in my arms, his little fist wrapped around my finger, gazing down at him in adoration and loving every moment… HA! Little did I know, my first few weeks nursing were among the most challenging of my life. I had taken a breastfeeding class, I had read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding from front to cover, and I thought I was well prepared for this new experience. Well – I was prepared, but there are still things I wish I had known.
Here are 10 things I wished I knew before starting to breastfeed my baby.
- It hurts a lot. I don’t want to scare you – you, pregnant mama-to-be reading this, but for me, breastfeeding was far more painful than childbirth. Experts say nursing shouldn’t hurt – a proper latch is painless – and they are not wrong. But achieving this proper latch doesn’t come easily to every baby or every mom. The first two weeks were filled with absolutely toe-curling pain every time I nursed. My midwives tried their best to teach me, and I consulted a lactation consultant: they were helpful and gave me great tips, but nothing would change the fact that my little 6 pound 10 onces baby had a tiny, dainty mouth, and for him a “wide open mouth” wasn’t quite “wide enough”. Looking back, I think the reason childbirth seemed less painful to me than breastfeeding was that I was mentally prepared for the pain of childbirth, but didn’t quite expect breastfeeding to be so painful. So remember: it hurts at first- be ready.
- The mental stress can be tremendous: I was induced at 39 weeks for high blood pressure (though I wasn’t preeclamptic) because my son had essentially stopped growing. He was born in the 10th percentile, just one ounce over the minimum required by the hospital to be clear of any prolonged tests. Needless to say, he had to gain weight – fast. Since in the first few days, babies lose a bit of their weight, my midwives encouraged me to nurse my son every two hours, and force him to drink. I was so worried – because I wasn’t feeding him with a bottle, I wasn’t sure how much he was taking in, and wet diapers were encouraging but didn’t completely put my mind at ease. For the first two weeks, my mind was constantly moving. In the end, he had gained two pounds those first two weeks (apparently I made cream instead of milk!), but I remember the worry vividly. If I had to do it over, I would have invested in a digital scale to worry less.
- Invest in nursing tanks and a good robe: For the first few weeks, I lived in my nursing tanks and robe. It was the most comfortable way to deal with my huge, hard breasts – I could stuff the tanks with breast pads and cabbage leaves, they were easily accessible for my son, and I was able to cover up quickly if someone was stopping by to say hello. I bought a couple of tanks from Bravado! and I absolutely loved them – they were flattering for the postpartum body, and offered a nice neckline. I still wear them with a long cardigan a lot of the time! As for my robe, I bought a nice cotton one that was machine washable – a must, as you will most definitely need to wash it eventually.
- Your breasts might leak for months: I knew that in the first few days after your milk comes in, your breasts might leak a bit of milk. A bit is an understatement: in my case, for months after giving birth, anytime I would bend forward to dry off after a shower, I would leave a trail of milk drops on the bathroom floor. I stuffed my nursing bras with breast pads for the first 4 months, and still sleep with them at night now since my son sometimes sleeps through the night. Here’s a tip: I initially tried two brands of disposable breast pads, but found that they irritated my already-sensitive nipples, so I replaced them with bamboo nursing pads. They were among my best postpartum purchases!
- Laid-back breastfeeding is a Godsend: As you may have guessed from the information above, I struggled with breastfeeding, in part because I had an oversupply, a quick letdown and a strong milk flow. My son was spitting up more than the average baby, and would moan the entire time he was nursing. After a while, I decided to give laid-back breastfeeding a try: I laid down on my back, with my son on me (belly to belly) and let him drink. Almost instantly, the pain I was experiencing diminished, my son’s spit-up improved, and the entire ordeal was a lot less messy: I used gravity to my advantage instead! Even if that might not be your situation, laid back breastfeeding allowed me to relax my whole body, and feel closer to the breastfeeding-goddess I thought I would be. Fun fact: my son is 10 months old, and still nurses this way 99% of the time!
- It’s worth it: A fed baby is the best kind of baby, let’s make that clear. I was ready to supplement with Formula if I had needed to. That said, nursing really is very special – once you get through the hard part of baby and mama learning how to do it, it’s magical. Guaranteed cuddles, convenient, free, sweet, and another way in which the woman’s body is amazing. Even though it was difficult getting started, and I wanted to quit more than once, it was 100% worth it for us. So – if you want to quit, know that in most cases, it gets better. SO much better.
Well there you have it! The 6 things I wish I’d known about breastfeeding. I hope this was helpful, and if so, please pin it or share it!