As I sit here in the early morning, working on my laptop and pumping milk from my body like a cow, I can’t help but think about how far I have come on this journey. It seems like yesterday I brought this helpless, hungry little new baby home and had to figure out how to keep her alive. We’re told that it’s all instinct, but that isn’t always the case. For those of you wondering what this experience is really going to be like, I have a few shots of reality to share.
Breastfeeding a baby is not for the faint of heart. If you doubt your body’s ability to feed your newborn, you are not alone. And you are in for a wild ride! I honestly didn’t expect to make it this far, and I thought about giving up a thousand times, maybe more.
I have been wanting to touch on this topic for awhile, but I didn’t feel quite like a seasoned pro until my daughter got a little closer to her first birthday. I have exclusively breastfed her since the day she was born, but I still feel like I’m learning something new about breastfeeding all the time. Along with exclusive feeding directly from the breast, I pump milk to store in the freezer for days that other people care for my baby and to share with other moms who are unable to breastfeed. There are so many things that I have learned through trial and error, and I look back and wonder, why didn’t someone tell me this?! Maybe they did, and I was just too tired to hear them or remember what they said.
“We’re told that it’s all instinct, but that isn’t always the case.”
Let me start by saying that I do not really consider myself a breastfeeding advocate. In my opinion, great things speak for themselves and people can make their own choices about what works for their family. I know plenty of formula-feeding moms with happy, healthy babies, so my opinion will always be that you should do what works for you and your baby. That being said, I do think that breast milk is a wonderful thing, it’s healthy, and it’s free! So why not give it a shot? That was my thinking when this journey began, and that is what has gotten me this far.
I tried to prepare for breastfeeding for weeks before my baby arrived. I read articles and watched (frightening) videos and talked to experienced family and friends… but honestly, no amount of preparation can actually prepare you for breastfeeding your baby. The experience is different for everyone, so you just have to wait and see for yourself. That being said, there are a few basic truths that can help you to feel a little less alone and a little less overwhelmed.
Ugly Truth #1: Breastfeeding Might Not Come Naturally To Your Baby
It kind of sucks to admit that you and your baby can’t quite figure out this very normal and natural thing. You might feel like a complete failure, and you might not, but you will probably wonder at some point or another why your baby just can’t figure out how to latch on and suck properly!
Try to stay calm. Most of the time, these babies do figure it out with a little help. They are new and inexperienced, so they need some practice and guidance, just like you do. My baby was not a natural at this; she struggled and she screamed and we both cried ― a lot. Don’t feel bad if this just doesn’t come naturally to you and your newborn. You will get the hang of it with some practice and patience.
Ugly Truth #2: It Really, Really Hurts
Now, people did tell me that it was going to hurt. They told me this a lot, actually. Every mom I spoke to wanted to sear into my brain the fact that breastfeeding is going to hurt more than anything I have felt before. It was super annoying to listen to… but it does hurt, probably more than you will expect it to. You will have a baby sucking on your nipples for all hours of the day and night, so they are going to be sore, and dry, and probably cracking and bleeding.
Use coconut oil. It isn’t going to magically make the pain go away, but it is going to help the area stay moist and keep your nipples from cracking and bleeding. I used Lanolin a few times, and I didn’t care for it, so I switched to coconut oil and never looked back.
Maybe the pain isn’t so bad for some moms, but even with the assistance of several lactation consultants and nurses, there is no escaping the fact that this very sensitive part of your body will be sucked completely raw. The pain lasted about two solid weeks, to be honest, but it was endurable pain. And once the pain was over, it was really over, and it was all worth it.
“You will have a baby sucking on your nipples for all hours of the day and night, so they are going to be sore, and dry, and probably cracking and bleeding.”
Ugly Truth #3: It Will Take Two Hands
I was always seeing photos of a glamorous mom with a baby attached to her breast and her free hand tending to something else. I wondered what was wrong with me and my baby and why it took two hands to keep her latched on. I had to hold her little body with one hand and squeeze/flatten my breast with the other hand to get her centered and keep her latched.
After many emotional convos with a lactation consultant, we finally learned that we were normal. My baby was just inexperienced and practically had to be force fed at first; she did not want to nurse unless it was super easy for her. If she had to work at all, she would refuse the breast. So yes, it took me two hands and a lot of struggling to help her learn her way.
After about three months, she got the hang of latching on without so much help, and it got easier. Now, she can latch on with no problems, and I can nurse her while doing just about anything.
“My baby was just inexperienced and practically had to be force fed at first; she did not want to nurse unless it was super easy for her.”
Okay, we’re halfway through the ugly truth about breastfeeding! Are you discouraged yet? Well, don’t be. You should be looking at this objectively and be able to see the good in your decision to breastfeed, regardless of the struggle. I wanted this post to be an honest look at the side of breastfeeding that you don’t see on social media, the raw side… but that doesn’t make it any less wonderful, or magical, or healthy. It just makes your expectations a little more realistic.
Ugly Truth #4: You Will Always Have A Baby Hooked To Your Breast… Always
My nurses and consultants helped me through three days in the hospital, but then I was on my own. My milk didn’t come in until day four… so if you can imagine a tired, emotional, half-suicidal, doubtful wreck of a new mom with bleeding nipples and a hysterical crying newborn, then you’re right there where I was that first night home!
The nurses advised me to let my baby eat whenever she wanted, for as long as she wanted, to keep my milk supply up. They also explained that breastfed babies will eat at least 10-12 times within a 24-hour period. So if it feels like your baby is eating every hour on the hour, they probably are! My baby nursed about 12 times in a 24-hour day, for at least an hour each session. That leaves very little time for anything else. I literally had a baby hooked to my breast all day and night for about five months. My body ached; it was difficult to exercise because I was constantly being interrupted by a hungry baby rooting, then cooing, then crying in agony over her momentary lapse of fullness.
Just when I wanted to give up, it got easier. My baby learned to suck more efficiently, our feeding sessions got shorter, and I could squeeze in some exercise without interruption. And now at 9 months, she nurses 6-8 times in a 24-hour day. Some moms set a stricter schedule for feeding intervals and length, but as a new mom that worried about my supply dropping, I insisted on feeding on demand. I don’t regret it, because I had enough milk to nourish my own baby, and donate to other babies in need.
“If it feels like your baby is eating every hour on the hour, they probably are!”
On another bright note, I learned how to work, exercise, grocery shop, write, and do household chores with a baby hooked to me… Talk about multi-tasking!
Ugly Truth #5: Your Baby Will Always Be Hungry
Another fun fact no one told me ahead of time: breast milk digests faster than formula, so your baby will be hungry more frequently. When I would hear my friends talking about their formula-fed babies sleeping through the night, I would feel a tiny bit jealous, but mostly just because I thought in my mind that something was wrong with my milk.
Nothing is wrong with your milk. It just digests quickly and leaves your little one wanting more. It’s normal, so just try to enjoy those frequent encounters where your sweet baby relies solely on you, for special nourishment and comfort.
“When I would hear my friends talking about their formula-fed babies sleeping through the night, I would feel a tiny bit jealous.”
Ugly Truth #6: You Will Face Judgement
Motherhood comes along with judgement; in fact, sometimes I think they are synonymous terms. You might face judgment for exposing your breast to feed your baby, for supplementing with formula, for quitting breastfeeding too soon, or for carrying it on too long. No matter what you decide to do, someone out there is going to have something to say about it. So just do the best you can, focus on the health of your baby, and ignore all the rest.
If you made it to the end of this post, you probably picked up on the fact that I don’t think this breastfeeding stuff is for sissies. It’s difficult at first, and it can be emotionally and physically draining. But I can honestly say that it has been worth enduring every challenge that came my way. I am thankful that I have been able to nourish my baby with perfectly balanced milk that came from my own body. All of those chunky rolls are due to our perseverance as a team, me and her. I wouldn’t change this experience for anything.
If you are determined to give breastfeeding a go, and you’ve prepared yourself for the not-so-glamorous parts that I’ve mentioned here, you just might find this to be one of the best experiences of motherhood.
“All of those chunky rolls are due to our perseverance as a team, me and her. I wouldn’t change this experience for anything.”