Breastfeeding. A kahuna of a task. Nourishing a human with your body right from birth. The concept actually blows my mind sometimes because our bodies are amazing. Growing those tiny babies and then feeding them too. I mean, that’s pretty miraculous.
When I was pregnant with my first, I was so worried about all the pain I would face when actually delivering the baby. I never considered or even thought about breastfeeding. My friends had mentioned a few things here and there, but I basically just assumed it would be easy, and well you know what they say when you assume…
The day came when it was time to deliver my baby girl. It was ridiculously painful since I was 9.5 cm dilated when I got to the hospital so I FELT ALL THE PAIN. No worries…I still somehow got the epidural! (HALLELUJAH!) After having my daughter, came the task of nursing. And, OH MY GOD. It was tough. It was painful. There were lots of tears and frustration. It didn’t happen naturally like I had hoped. There were lots of people trying to tell me how to hold my boob or how I should put my arms or how I should be sitting. I was exhausted and realized that this was way worse than delivering since it wasn’t going to be short-lived. I knew I wanted to nurse for a while, or at least try, and that meant I had a few rigorous weeks or potentially months ahead of me.
And that is exactly how it went. The first two weeks were hard. Really hard. Soreness. Latching. Pain. Nipple shields. Pumping. Pain. Confusion. Nursing bras. Pain. Frustration. Engorgement. Pain. Guilt. Did I mention pain? Many people said to give up since it’s not worth it, but I had read everywhere that it truly was hard in the beginning, and I just wanted to persevere and see if I could make it. Nursing with achy nips definitely makes you want to quit, but I pushed through. One of the main things that kept me going was the immense amount of support from my husband.
And about a month in, it finally felt right. Not easy, but right. So I set my goals to be short term (best decision ever!), and I knew that if I could just make it to three months, it was going to be amazing and I would be a super mom.
Once I got to three months, things had gotten much easier. There was a schedule and latching had been solved, and the pain was gone. It wasn’t like I was feeding around the clock anymore, and it had become natural.
So I set another goal: I’ll shoot for another three months and try to see if I can nurse for a whole 6 months! It seemed monumental, but when my daughter turned six months, I wanted to shout from the rooftops that I had made it that far! Half a year!! She had started solids and my number of feeds was reducing. And then I basically thought I was reaching for the stars when I decided I would aim for the year mark.
Now, I didn’t actually make it there since I got pregnant when my daughter was 9 months and she weaned herself off when she was about 11 months old, but I was so proud that I had it nearly made it to the goal I had set when I got pregnant! And then when I had my baby boy, it all came back to me extremely naturally and I nursed him for 9 months.
Now, this isn’t everyone’s story. Some people do actually find it super natural, and are superstars the minute their children are born. They have a super easy time with it and they flow right into it. And then I also have friends who just couldn’t do it because it was impossible for them to nurse for countless valid reasons.
Nonetheless, I learned quite a lot that first year about breastfeeding.
I’ll break it up into a few categories so you know what to expect and what you may need!
BEFORE BABY ARRIVES
About this time, you’re probably wondering what is going to happen when they do hand you that baby, and he’s looking to you for food. Don’t fret. Here are some things you can do to help ease those worries:
- You may consider taking a breastfeeding class. The hospital you may be delivering at could have a class. Or the OBGYN you see can also recommend you some classes around town. I highly recommend taking your partner if you can. When we were trying to figure things out in the hospital before the lactation consultant arrived, my husband was able to remember a few things from the class that had gotten lost in the recesses of my brain thanks to “pregnancy brain.” Don’t expect to leave the class thinking you’re going to master nursing.
- Talk to your friends who are nursing. They will be the most honest and upfront with you about their journey, and may even have some tips that you may find useful. If it helps, maybe stick around to see what breastfeeding in real life actually looks like vs. what you see online or in drawn images in all those baby books you may have picked up. Don’t expect your experience to be the same. We are all different, and all our deliveries are different. Same goes with breastfeeding. What works for your friend, may not work for you. Or maybe she’ll tell you something that will be a life saver those first few weeks when you’re at home with your newborn. Don’t underestimate the power of experienced nursing mamas.
AT THE HOSPITAL
- Ask for skin to skin contact right after the baby is born. This is prior to them taking that precious little bundle away for the shots and the full on bath. It may work, it may not. With my first, it didn’t work, but with my second, it worked like a charm and the nursing began instantly. So try not to get too worked up if it doesn’t work like magic instantly. You’ll both find your groove because there is a learning curve on both ends. You’ve never done this and neither has your baby. You’ll find your rhythm together.
- Have your husband/partner involved. Keep him around when the lactation consultant comes around. They pick up on things we may miss in our very tired state of having a baby. My husband helped me remember all the different “holds” at 3 am when it was just us in the hospital room! Plus, it helped having him know how big of a task and how important it was going to be.
- Try avoid pacis/binkies if you can. We waited till about 2 weeks before we introduced one to make sure we got a good latch. It’s so important, and the confusion between going between the paci and the breast can be a lot for a baby. You might get lucky and have your baby not confused at all, but we didn’t want to risk it!
IN THE BEGINNING
- You will more than likely download some sort of app on your phone to keep track of how much your baby is feeding. Don’t always count the minutes. More often than not, babies tend to suck on one side longer than the other so no need to freak out completely. If it consistent, talk to a lactation consultant or a pediatrician.
- You will have probably bought a couple of nursing bras and tanks. Don’t go any further. Use all your maternity tops to help with nursing. Also, sports bras do the trick as well. Just lift up and you’re good to go! No need to go buy a whole new wardrobe! Your chest will move lots of different sizes are you go through the breastfeeding journey, so no reason to buy 20 new bras that you won’t wear once this phase is over.
- Bottles. This is based on personal preference really but we didn’t really use a bottle for a while. It’s completely up to you if you’d like to use the pump. Some people love it, and some people hate it with a passion. I was definitely the latter and every time I would pump, I swore it was saying “boo-bie” to me. HA. Do what makes you comfortable. The pump is totally dependent on how much you need/like it!
As you continue to nurse, know that you may have ups and downs. Not all of it is cuddly and amazing. There’s mastitis, infections, the babies biting your nipples, cracking of the nips, and potentially some emotional moments, or lots if you’re like me and are crying at all the diaper commercials for absolutely no reason.
On the flip side, the bond that you create is something that is indescribable and outweighs all the negatives. It is something you will always cherish. Remember that if you aren’t able to, YOU DID NOT FAIL. If there are any takeaways, breastfeeding isn’t simple for everyone and it can be rigorous. Don’t let it get you down if you’re unable to do it. Do as much as you can and be proud no matter how much you’re able to do it. Two days, two weeks, two months, two years. Be content no matter how long you did it for. It’s a true feat.