Breastfeeding is amazing. I mean, it’s time consuming as hell, can hurt like hell, and gives you paranoia like hell. But other than all that, breastfeeding really is incredible! It’s one of the proudest achievements of my entire life, and I don’t regret a moment of my four-plus years of nursing my kids.
My first go around with nursing, I felt prepared. I took the class, read the books, and had boobs. Baby and I will be fine!, I thought. After all, breastfeeding is natural.
Now that I’ve been nursing for almost four years, I see what I wish I had known. So, to help out all of the other lactating mamas out there, I’ve built the list of the four biggest things you need to know if you want to succeed at breastfeeding.
Before my first kid was born, I hadn’t really been around anyone who was breastfed (including myself and my sister). So my knowledge came solely from a formal training: hospital classes, online forums, and books. As you can imagine, I learned a lot; but just like learning to drive (or hell, even giving birth), there’s only so much you can read about before you just gotta do it yourself.
Nursing my firstborn was excruciating. The pain was agonizing and my baby nursed for an hour at a time, giving me maybe an hour off before wanting to start again. I lived in our bedroom and ate what I could scarf down with one hand. And while I never wanted to give up, I never wanted anyone else to go through a breastfeeding journey like that! My experience is worth it if I can help others have an easier, more enjoyable time nursing their baby.
Breastfeeding Works on Supply-and-Demand
This! This this this! This is the number one thing I wish all nursing moms knew. So many people (including my own mom) stopped nursing because they thought that something was wrong with them… when in fact, nothing was wrong at all. “My baby wants to nurse all of the time – that must mean that I am not making enough milk!” Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Breastfeeding is a supply-and-demand system; simply put, that means that if you want more milk, you’re going to have to nurse your baby more often. Your baby will tell your body exactly how much you need to make, but only by breastfeeding. So even though it may seem like torture to be constantly putting your baby to the breast, that is exactly what you are supposed to do!
Newborns sometimes seem like they just finished nursing, and it’s time to start again. But nursing is a workout for your brand new babe: they will tire quickly, and may even fall asleep while at the breast.
After six weeks or so, your body pretty much figures out how much to make for each day, and your baby will suddenly seem like they know what the hell they are doing. But until then, nurse away Mama.
Remember that your baby’s stomach is only really the size of a marble at birth; combine that with the fact that breastmilk is very quickly digested, and that means that you are going to have a lot of fill-ups per day. Nothing is wrong with you, or your baby, as long as hey have enough wet diapers and they’re gaining weight.
There are two real ways in which you can make sure that your baby is actually getting enough milk: the easiest way is to just do a wet diaper count. Over 24 hours, keep track of how many times your baby pees. This article from Kelly Mom (aka the Breastfeeding Bible website) is great for details about how many wet diapers your baby should give you!
The other way that you can be certain your baby is gaining properly: weigh them! Before and after nursing, weigh your naked child on a super accurate scale. You can do this at home, or even better at your pediatricians office or during a Lactation consultation. The numbers won’t lie! (And if you’re with a lactation consultant, they can reassure and assist you with anything breastfeeding-related.)
If you feel like something is wrong, or even if you’re just paranoid, just go see a LC! Please don’t wait if you’re worried.
Get a Support Group
The world is full of people who will doubt you, shame you, and make you feel guilty. Every well-meaning parent has felt this way, and I think there’s a special circle of Hell for people who shame moms trying to breastfeed. There’s enough to figure out without know-it-alls and naysayers always yapping in your ear.
That said, I highly recommend that you surround yourself with people who support you. They don’t have to be experts on the subject, but just people who have got your back. I’ll venture that moms who don’t get any support are much more likely to give up on breastfeeding.
Your support group can consist of one or more of the following: your spouse/partner, your parents, your in-laws, your siblings, your friends, other moms on forums and on the internet, your obstetrician/midwife, your child’s pediatrician, your lactation consultant… the list goes on and on.
My husband was my number one advocate. He attended the classes with me and was really knowledgeable about things like proper latches. When I was in so much pain while nursing, he was right there telling me what he saw from his perspective and comforting me, getting me to relax and focus on our baby. He was so grateful that I was doing this for our child, and never once tried to push me to use formula. (If our baby had been severely dehydrated or otherwise not thriving, I’m sure he would have; hell, I would have used formula if my baby needed me to. But other than a sucky experience for me, our son was never in danger, so my husband continued to encourage and praise.)
Other people were skeptical or lackluster about encouraging me, and that hurt. I know they love me and they love my baby, but I wish they would have worked to cheer me on instead of set me up to fail.
I mentioned the supply-and-demand situation specifically, but really a lot of breastfeeding is just a matter of being informed. It kind of sucks when you think about it: something which humanity has been doing since the very beginning should come naturally, but it is often quite difficult. To me, it is essential that you have an idea of what is “normal” versus what is truly a sign that something is awry.
For example, there used to be a breastfeeding saying that “If it is painful, you are doing something wrong.” That is complete and total crap. Nursing can be agonizing, even when everything looks textbook perfect. You’ve got two humans who can’t really communicate with one another, trying to pass bodily fluids around. There’s bound to be some discomfort.
Speaking of passing around *ahem* fluids, do you know why breastfed babies don’t usually get as sick as their formula-fed counterparts? One of the reasons is the composition of breastmilk; another is because Baby’s mouth makes a vacuum with the nipple while latched, and the nipple actually absorbs some of the baby’s saliva! Then (as if we aren’t badass enough already), the breast analyzes the saliva: is Baby getting sick? About to hit a milestone? Lacking a vitamin or nutrient? BAM! Instant customized milk.
Being informed will help you be able to analyze, troubleshoot, and prepare for anything which might happen during your breastfeeding journey. The more you know, the more confident you’ll be. Plus, you’ll feel more and more like a super hero. Or at least a cool, helpful mutant.
Don’t Stress About Goals
I saved this one for last on purpose. I want you to know that goal setting is great, but not making a goal does not make you a failure. Especially when it’s dependent on more than you can control, including another human being. I have friends who are moms who, when I ask if it’s ok with them that I nurse my toddler, immediately explain to me why they were only able to nurse for x-amount of months. It hurts my heart that moms instantly feel that
I’m not saying that you’re probably going to fail, but let’s be honest: breastfeeding a newborn is stressful as it is, without you adding even more pressure onto yourself. You and I both know that each feeding, each drop of breastmilk that your baby gets will benefit them for years to come. Just look at getting more confident and comfortable, and don’t worry about “making it” any certain period of time.
So if you’d like to set a goal, I’ll ask you to set it for six weeks. The first six weeks is the truly shittiest time, because that is when you and your baby have no idea what the hell you are doing and your supply has not regulated yet. Once you get past that point, a lot of things will change for the better: your baby will suddenly click with nursing, your boobs and nipples will not be as sore, and your hormones will be leveling out, too. (I will warn you though, that the six week mark is usually when your baby goes through their first leap, or growth spurt; you can read more about it here.)
But really, don’t obsess over making it to a certain date or age with breastfeeding. No one is following you around with a stopwatch, keeping track. And plus, you and I both know that every drop of liquid gold you get into your baby is going to benefit them for the rest of their life.
What’s even more important than hitting a timed goal: a happy baby with a full tummy. And a happy mommy.
So there you have it! This is the street smarts of what you need to know about breastfeeding. Come back to this, read it often, be at peace. Check out my other posts on breastfeeding and pumping.
And no matter what, know that I’m so damn proud of you.
What other suggestions do you have for moms trying to breastfeed?