I’m not sure at what point in my life I made the decision to breastfeed, though I’m sure it was well before I became pregnant with my first. At the time, I hadn’t done much research on the matter, but somehow I just knew that was what I was going to do. When I did actually become pregnant with my daughter, I went heavily into research mode, looking up everything under the sun. Except breastfeeding.
I never looked up positions for breastfeeding, or anything about clogged ducts or mastitis. I never considered there would be complications of any kind. I knew this was what my body was made to do and I was going to do it. I learned a lot with my first child, and we successfully breastfed for three years. When I became pregnant with my son, I again knew I wanted to breastfeed and was determined to do whatever needed done to be successful. We are now six months into breastfeeding, and while the journey has been far from easy, I would still consider us successful.
While in the hospital with my daughter, we had difficulty latching due to inverted nipples, and we needed to use a nipple shield in order to get her to latch. We had to use this for about a month before she was finally able to latch without it. My son was able to latch on one side relatively quickly, but he couldn’t latch on the other side. No matter how many times we tried, he just couldn’t latch on that side. When we got home, the difficult side was the first I tried and he got it that first feeding at home.
10 things I wish I had known about breastfeeding:
1. Just because it is natural does not mean it is easy.
I can remember months after my daughter was born, during a night feeding, when I was just sobbing. The act of her eating was causing me so much pain. She had a beautiful latch, I had a decent supply, but the sensation was so new and unlike anything my body had experienced before and because I was not used to it, it hurt. It took awhile before I did finally “get used to it”, but those first months were rough.
When I had my son, I didn’t anticipate the same experience. After all, I had been through all this before. But for the first month or so it was the same pain and discomfort that I had experienced with my daughter and there were many times when I questioned my decision. I can remember the way I would grimace and tense up every time he latched. My body adjusted, however, and now, I realize how small a window of time it actually was. And given we are now 6 months in, the discomfort is, of course, worth it.
It’s incredibly important to surround yourself with people who understand your goals and who wholeheartedly support your decision to breastfeed. There is still so much negativity surrounding breastfeeding in our culture. It can be hard at times, and the desire to giving up on those hard days can be even stronger without a proper support system.
2. The day your milk comes in is no joke.
After my first baby, I feel like it was months after my milk came in before my breasts started to feel normal again. I had gone from a B cup to a DD, and I just felt full and big and awkward for the longest time. Evenutally my body figured out how much milk was enough for my daughter and things started to feel normal again.
I remember very clearly waking up the morning after we had come home from the hospital, my son was three days old, and my breasts felt so huge and heavy and I felt like my body wasn’t my own. My milk had come in. The feeling only lasted that one day, this time around.
Another aspect to this is leaking. Leaking should taper off once your body learns how much milk your baby requires. I experienced this for months with my first, days with my second.
3. You will look at your child in complete awe that your body is providing all the nourishment they need.
Seriously. It’s one thing to look at your baby and think about how you created this person, you grew them inside you. But to see them growing and thriving every day is nothing short of a miracle. Keeping tiny humans alive can be so hard at times. It’s ok to marvel at the incredible work your body did and continues to do.
4. It’s really time consuming.
The first few weeks, you are at the beck and call of your baby’s hungry tummy. This usually means you are breastfeeding every two hours for the first two to three weeks. Baby wakes up and you change him and then nurse. You nurse him for 15-30 minutes on each side. He falls asleep and you think that now you can take a nap or wash the dishes or shower. Then, as you are preparing to do that thing you decided you had time to do, he wakes up ready to start the process over again.
Later on, their feedings spread out a little more. But if you are a working mom or need to pump for any other number of reasons, it’s can feel like you are just a constant milk machine. Which, you are. But pumping takes time to do and when you mix that in with normal feedings, in can feel like you just never get a break. Hang in there, though.
5. Sometimes you will just want your body left alone.
I’m incredibly lucky to be home with my kids. It’s one thing I have wanted for as long as I can remember. But whether you are home with your kids or work outside the home, becoming touched out is a real thing. Having to be at the beck and call of a baby’s hungry tummy is draining. Add in additional kids or even tandem nursing and you can get sick of it all very quickly. There will be times you just want your body left alone. It’s ok to feel this way. There are times when I’ve nursed all day, and my 5 year old has been particularly needy, and by the end of the day I just feel like I’m crawling out of my skin. And it can, at times, take a toll on your marriage.
It’s extremely important that you make self care a priority. This is difficult for me. Sometimes I experience mommy guilt just for locking the door when I shower (when my husband is home of course). But there are so many days when I feel like I’ve given more of myself in a day than I physically can, and I’m just exhausted. Make sure you take time for yourself, too.
6. Your breasts are really, really smart.
There are all kinds of research out there about just how smart your breasts really are. I know from my own experience that, for example, when I’m sick and possibly spreading my sicky germs to my baby, they make milk that more closely resembles colostrum, producing all the germ fighting antibodies my baby needs to stay healthy. Seriously amazing.
7. Having a hungry baby in public can be really stressful.
I have never nursed in public without a cover. Unfortunately, we live in a society that is less forgiving to moms who are just trying to feed their hungry babies. Anytime we went out with my daughter, I always nursed her in the car. As someone who suffers from anxiety, I just get overwhelmed at the thought of being confronted by someone. I just don’t have the energy to deal with it. I’ve been a little more open with my son. I’ve nursed him in restaurants, covered. I still get worried someone will confront me, and I honestly don’t know how I would react. But my hungry baby comes first.
There are, of course, ways around this, such as planning trips around baby’s schedule or pumping and bringing a bottle. Sometimes the former is just not possible, and the latter can be more stressful in ways. Find a method that works for you and stick to it!
8. On the flip side, you may feel a rush of pride seeing other moms nurse in public.
Every time I see a mom nursing in public, I just want to thank her. The more work we collectively do to normalize breastfeeding, the better kind of world we are leaving for our kids. So if you are a momma who nurses in public, here’s a hug and big ol’ “Thank You”!
9. It will be one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done.
Although I reached the point when my daughter was 3 years and 1 month where I had just had enough, and couldn’t continue the breastfeeding relationship any longer, I often look back in wonder that we made it that long, given the rocky start that we had. My original goal with her was to make it 6 months. That came and went and I changed my goal to 12 months, then 18, then 2 years. Three years is seriously incredible to me. When the lactation consultant visited me with my son, she jokingly said I could do her job better than her, when I told her how long we’d made it. I look at my kids and can’t believe all that my body is capable of.
10. You’ll miss it when you’re done.
This is something that still gets me. By the time I was done with my daughter, if you’d have told me I would miss it, I probably would have laughed. But now, even though I’m six months in with my son, I realize how fast the time goes. The bond that breastfeeding creates is seriously amazing. And that’s not to say that the bond of a bottle feeding mama and baby is any less special. Because it’s not. Feeding is feeding. But for me, with my experiences, I know that the connection I feel with my kids is due in part to our breastfeeding relationships. And when my son weans, I will feel a pang of sadness along with the pride.
Breastfeeding is beautiful, hard, emotional, and exhausting work. But it is so worth it. There are plenty of challenges that come along with it, but trust me, there are so many pros, too.
When it comes down to it, the choice to breastfeed is a personal one. It doesn’t work for everyone. Not everyone is able to do it, whether physically, or due to work, or any number of circumstances. I will never take my breastfeeding relationships with my kids for granted. In the end, though, each mother needs to do what she believes to be best for her and her children.
If you’re a breastfeeding mama, what are some things you wish you had known before you had kids? Leave a comment below to share your knowledge!
I am not a medical professional or a lactation consultant. The views expressed in this post are strictly my own, based on my own experiences. I encourage you to do your own research and speak with your health care provider or lactation consultant.