I was completely unprepared when I began my breastfeeding journey. Being pregnant during a pandemic prevented me from taking any in-person breastfeeding classes and I had to resort to online learning. I was able to gain some basic knowledge through the online class and my own research, but nothing prepared me for what breastfeeding was really like. Before you begin your breastfeeding journey, I am here to share everything you should know about breastfeeding (that a class won’t always teach you!).
This information is based on my own experience, I am not a healthcare provider. Everyone’s breastfeeding journey will look different because each baby is unique. My son was born at 39 weeks and latched on his first try immediately after birth. While I was in the hospital, one of the amazing nurses that I had introduced me to La Leche League, an amazing resource for all things breastfeeding. Because I am not going to discuss some topics, like the basics of breastfeeding, I highly recommend checking out their website for any questions or concerns that I do not address. Lactation Consultants are another great resource and are even covered by some insurances. Above all, trust your motherly intuition.
Your Body, Your Baby, Your Choice
No matter what anyone tells you, you are in charge of your body and your baby’s feeding. You can exclusively breastfeed, pump, or formula feed. Or, you can choose any combination of those options! Special circumstances might make it difficult or impossible to breastfeed. Whatever you end up doing, remember that fed is best. This topic is guaranteed to draw strong opinions from others. Don’t get caught up in what other people think is best for you. How you feed your baby is one of the first decisions that you get to make as a mother and only you know what is right.
Besides people telling you how to feed your baby, they are going to have many other opinions surrounding breastfeeding. Such as how long to breastfeed your baby for or where it is appropriate to feed them. Despite what you might hear or read, there is no set end date for your breastfeeding journey. Sometimes the weaning process is led by your baby. But, outside of that, it is a personal decision to choose when you are done breastfeeding.
When you are out in the world, just living your life, choosing how and where you breastfeed is another area that you need to advocate for yourself. This can be a controversial action for many people, but that does not make it wrong. Once again, it is your body, your baby, and your choice.
My Body, My Baby, My Choice
During my hospital stay, I had one morning where my newborn was too drowsy to latch. I know now to try different techniques (listed below) to wake him, but at the time I called for help with latching. The hospital’s lactation consultant took a while to come to my room and by this point, I had gone beyond my 2-3 hour window for feeding. She immediately demanded that I start pumping, which was not what I wanted to do yet. I wanted help getting my baby to latch so I could establish breastfeeding before introducing a pump. Before I had a chance to explain, she was setting me up on a breast pump and leaving the room.
While pumping in this scenario may be the best option for some people, something told me that was not the case for me. There had been no assessment or conversation before this decision was made for me. Because I felt overlooked in such a vulnerable position, completely exposed to a stranger asking for help latching, I began to cry. When she returned to the room and saw, she demanded that I explain my tears. This only embarrassed and upset me further.
For situations such as this, I strongly encourage having an advocate with you, someone who knows what your birth plan or parenting wishes are. These are the moments they can communicate for you because you will not always be in the best position to do so for yourself during or after birth. My husband explained that I didn’t want to pump and was seeking help with latching. The lactation consultant took me off of the pump. As soon as my baby was handed to me, he latched immediately. The moral of this story: You will intuitively know what is right for you and your baby, trust that.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
For Your Baby
Not only does breast milk provide the perfect nutrients for your baby to thrive, but it has many other health benefits for your little one. Your breast milk contains protective antibodies that will help your baby’s immune system fight off infection or illness. The American Academy of Pediatrics also provides studies that link breastfeeding to improved cognitive development.
Breastfeeding also strengthens the bond between you and your baby. That precious skin-to-skin time and eye contact with your baby is sure to melt your heart. This bond helped me through some of the more difficult moments of my fourth trimester, or postpartum period. Any stress or frustration that I had leading up to nursing would almost disappear completely as soon as I started breastfeeding. Feeling that bond truly helped me to form a strong connection as a mother.
Kissing your baby can actually change your breastmilk to benefit them! An article from Mothering.com says “When a mother kisses her baby, she samples the pathogens on baby’s face, which then travel to mom’s lymphatic system. Mom’s body then creates antibodies to fight those pathogens, which baby receives through breast milk.” Remember that with each sweet kiss!
These benefits are not just limited to your baby either. You can benefit from breastfeeding too! Breastfeeding was empowering for me. I had to release control over my labor and delivery, as my birth plan did not go as planned (it rarely does!). The disappointment that I felt from that experience was quickly dissolved by the empowerment that I felt feeding my child. Not only did I create and deliver this perfect little human using my body, but I was also producing the milk that was keeping him alive. This newfound purpose helped my transition into motherhood and reduced the amount of PPD and PPA that I felt.
Apart from being incredibly rewarding, breastfeeding your child is also convenient. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, there is no need to pack bottles, breastmilk, or formula. Little to no preparation is needed to feed your baby. As soon as they show signs of hunger, you can feed them fairly quickly. Having this ability can sometimes prevent the hunger level from reaching full meltdown mode and reduce the amount of stress on both you and your baby.
Breastfeeding is beneficial for your body’s recovery after birth as well. It provides a decreased risk for postpartum bleeding and even some forms of cancer. One of the things that will cross almost every new mother’s mind during recovery is “When will my body return to its pre-pregnancy size?” Breastfeeding your child can actually help you lose the weight gained during your pregnancy. But, this is not the case for everyone. It’s healthy to go into it with the expectation that you should eat healthily and exercise to lose any weight if you must.
Everything You Should Know About Breastfeeding (That I Didn’t Learn in Class)
Breastfeeding Does Not Come Naturally
I came into breastfeeding with the expectation that it would come naturally and easily… and I couldn’t have been more wrong. The World Health Organization says “While breastfeeding is a natural act, it is also a learned behavior. An extensive body of research has demonstrated that mothers and other caregivers require active support for establishing and sustaining appropriate breastfeeding practices.” This means that both you and your baby will be learning how to breastfeed in the beginning. Have patience while you both work through this process together. It can be challenging. Take some time to fill your own cup through self-care.
Expect to Be Sore at First
When you begin breastfeeding, even if you have done it with previous babies in the past, you will need to build up tolerance and strength. Just like you might experience soreness when you start using new muscles in an exercise, you will experience soreness when you start breastfeeding. Of course, always check with a health care provider or lactation consultant if you are concerned about the level of pain you are experiencing. They can help to ensure you have a proper latch or can teach you new positions to hold your baby in.
If breastfeeding is important to you, try to make it through the first couple of sore weeks. If done properly, it will get better. During the first couple of days, breastfeeding was confusing and uncomfortable for me. After that, it became more painful. My nipples were sore, chapped, and bleeding. I experienced some scabbing and any sort of touch was excruciating. Pain relief became my ultimate goal. While it was a time-consuming process to prevent the pain, every day was noticeably better.
By the second week, things had really turned around for me. Latching only brought temporary pain. I could even stand light touch (such as low water pressure in the shower) without any pain! Into the third week, latching was only slightly uncomfortable. Even then, that was only when my little one was really hungry and aggressive with his latch. I could stand touch and even shower with a higher water pressure without experiencing any pain. It did get better!
Some Pain Relief Strategies
Here is a list of everything that helped to relieve my pain, including products. Make sure you discuss pain relief with your healthcare provider to see what they recommend for you and your situation.
Disclaimer: I only recommend products that I truly love and use. With that being said, this blog post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, these links allow me to receive a small commission to continue providing free content to my readers. I am grateful for your support!
- Apply Heat. I used this combo heat/ice pack for a few minutes before each feeding
- Massage each breast
- Manual Silicone Breast Pump. I had an oversupply of milk and frequently experienced engorgement. Because of this, I used this product for a couple of minutes before latching. Even if you do not have an oversupply issue, you can use it to catch milk leakage on the opposite side while feeding to increase your freezer stash!
- Experiment with different latching positions. You will probably end up using different positions based on how and where you are feeding.
- Apply a drop of breast milk to your nipples. They don’t call it liquid gold for no reason! Express a drop of milk, apply to the nipple, and let it air dry.
- Nipple butter. I applied this after airdrying with breastmilk.
- Find a comfortable nursing bra. I live and sleep in this one. You don’t want anything too tight or uncomfortable when you are sore!
- Cooling pads – These gel pads help to soothe your nipples in between feedings.
- Ice packs – I purchased two of the combination heat/ice packs mentioned earlier to always have some ready to go in the freezer. The ice packs helped provide so much relief!
- Nipple pads. These are designed to help prevent leakage onto your clothes. Find some thick ones to wear in the beginning while you are sore, they will help to prevent anything from rubbing up against nipples and causing more discomfort.
In the beginning, you are still learning how to breastfeed, gaining confidence, and experiencing discomfort. Now, add in the postpartum hormone changes, recovery from childbirth, and sleep deprivation. Imagine how overwhelming that all can be! In the first few weeks, I remember feeling incredibly vulnerable. It felt like I was in a constant state of uncertainty and embarrassment.
Nurses were walking in at all hours of the day, catching me in all kinds of embarrassing situations. They walked in on me after my hospital gown had fallen down while trying to transfer my baby into the bassinet after feeding, while I was naked and using body wipes to take a cheat shower because I was too exhausted to take a real one, and even while I was crying during a breakdown. Not to mention all of the times that the hospital staff walked in while I was breastfeeding. It felt like everyone in that hospital had seen me naked!
My husband is vocal and reassuring in his belief that breastfeeding is a beautiful and amazing act of life. Even then, it was uncomfortable for me to have him see my breasts in a way that wasn’t sexual. When the lactation consultant came in and put a breast pump on me for the first time, I felt incredibly silly and was embarrassed just sitting there connected to this strange, new machine.
It’s important to remember that you are experiencing new territory, without a whole lot of privacy. You will not have the confidence to feel comfortable breastfeeding in the beginning. However, just like with the soreness, it will get better every single day. Now, I can walk around our house with a manual breast pump attached to me and not even think about it. But that definitely took time.
Breast milk is commonly referred to as Liquid Gold. This is because breast milk has so many beneficial uses from soothing rashes to clearing baby acne. Even if you are exclusively breastfeeding, you might still want to collect your liquid gold and store it in your freezer. While you are feeding, your body will release or leak milk on the opposite side. I recommend using a manual silicone pump to collect that milk. Starting to build up a freezer stock will come in handy for any time you may be unavailable for your newborn, such as dentist appointments, or any other days you may be too sick or need a break from feeding.
Some women struggle with their milk supply. Meaning, they are not producing as much milk as the baby needs or as much as the mom wants for their freezer stash. Consulting a Lactation Consultant (especially if your baby is not getting enough milk) is your best option. Personally, just drinking oat milk has boosted my supply. This is due to the amount of Iron in oats.
Many women claim that “power pumping”, oats, coconut milk, and Body Armour drinks have helped their milk production. There are also supplements, such as Legendairy Milk Liquid Gold Lactation Supplement, that are known to boost your milk supply. Always consult your physician before adding any supplements into your diet while breastfeeding.
Stress is known to reduce the amount of milk that comes during your let down. Do your best to de-stress! This may seem impossible with a newborn or infant in your home. Make sure to take some time out of your day, even if it’s just 3 minutes, to do some self-care for yourself. Some days, my only form of self-care is a shower but even that is enough to reduce some stress! Practicing mindfulness in everyday life can help as well.
Milk Supply Regulation
A common concern for new mamas is what appears to be a sudden drop in milk production. Sure, this can sometimes be due to a decrease in your milk supply. But it’s important to first rule out that your milk supply isn’t just regulating. Because breastfeeding is signaled by supply and demand, at some point your body will know just how much milk to make to nourish your baby. Meaning, it will no longer produce any extra. When more milk is needed, your baby will send the signal to your body by eating more frequently and staying at the breast much longer than normal. This is called cluster feeding.
When your milk supply has established, typically between 6-12 weeks post-partum, you might feel as if your breasts are not as full as you are used to or you are not leaking as much. If you are collecting excess milk, you might notice a decrease in volume. This is all easily confused with a decrease in milk supply and concerns many women. Make sure you talk with your doctor about any concerns but know that it could just be your milk supply regulating.
Another area that I was unprepared for was feeding times. You will be tracking your breastfeeding to ensure your newborn is eating frequently enough. Discuss how often to feed your newborn with your healthcare provider. Tracking how often and which side you are feeding on can be really challenging when you are sleep deprived and adjusting to life with your newborn. I recommend using an app, such as Baby Tracker, to keep track of when you are feeding and which side you are feeding on. You are also able to track dirty diapers on this app, which is very helpful for your first pediatrician appointments. Your pediatrician will be asking to know about feeding times and the number of dirty diapers your baby is producing.
When your newborn is going through growth spurts, you will notice that they seem insatiable. Welcome to Cluster Feeding. Your newborn may seem to want to eat every 20 minutes and it can quickly become exhausting. Remember, this is just a temporary period. Do everything you can to make yourself comfortable. Grab a book or binge-watch a show that you enjoy. Listen to podcasts or call a friend! Find a way to entertain yourself, you might be there for a while.
Anytime that I am breastfeeding, I have a little “Breastfeeding Kit” with me. I purchased a cute basket with handles to easily carry around the house. I fill it with snacks, water, nipple butter, heating pads, and burp cloths. It has enough room for me to toss in my phone and headphones as well. Having all of this within arm’s reach during nursing keeps you prepared. You should have almost everything that you might need while you are stuck in one spot for a while.
Another huge piece of advice that I can offer you is to accept help. Take advantage of having people around who can offer you support. When my husband is home, he helps feed me food, burp the baby, take my milk to the fridge, etc. This allows me to still have my needs met quickly and allows me to have small breaks between feedings.
Breastfeeding in Public
There will be times when you might need to feed your baby outside of your home. You can always bring some breast milk in a bottle from your stock at home or you can breastfeed your newborn while you are out. However, bring up breastfeeding in public with just about anyone and you are sure to hear their opinions on the matter. Unfortunately, there is a stigma and taboo surrounding breastfeeding in public without a cover. People might tell you to go to the bathroom or your car. Or, they may want you to wear a cover. Don’t let anyone tell you how or where to feed your baby.
Breastfeeding is a natural part of life. If you want to breastfeed in public, do it! Feeding your baby is a beautiful act. There are many options for feeding your baby in public that will fit any comfort level. If you feel uncomfortable nursing in public, consider using a breastfeeding cover or a muslin swaddle to cover yourself. There are also many clothing options for breastfeeding mothers. These nursing bras, shirts, and dresses are specifically designed to allow easy access for your breastfeeding while also providing some additional coverage.
As with anything in life, no matter how prepared or educated that you are about breastfeeding, there can still be some unexpected challenges that may get in your way. Not everyone can produce enough of a milk supply to fully nourish their baby. Some women have a great supply but have issues with their nipple shape. Having flat or inverted nipples will make it much more challenging for your baby to latch. The baby might also have a tongue or lip tie, conditions that restrict the movement of the tongue or lip. Premie babies can sometimes have issues latching as well.
Fed is Best
Even if you can produce enough milk and have a great latch, you may still choose to pump or formula feed for your own personal reasons. Some women don’t want the breastfeeding experience and that is ok. Breastfeeding isn’t always the best option for everyone and that is ok. Don’t judge yourself or allow anyone else to shame you for how you feed your baby. A fed baby is the best baby. It doesn’t matter if that baby is fed breast milk straight from the breast, from a bottle, or if your baby is fed formula.
Removing judgment and shame behind how you feed your baby will create space for you to be a better mother. Your baby doesn’t care how it is fed, it only cares that you feed it. They rely on you to provide nourishment, in any form. As long as you are providing that, you should be proud of yourself. You have created this perfect little human and you are a superwoman for caring for it.
What is something that you wish you knew before breastfeeding? Comment below to share with others!