What I Wish I Would Have Known About Breastfeeding

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Right now, I know so many people having first time babies in the next year.  I also have friends having their second babies soon.  It is just that stage of life.  Inevitably, the subject of breastfeeding always comes up.  What was my experience?  How long did I nurse?  Did I have a hard time? Until you are actually in the thick of nursing, it can seem like a mysterious and scary thing.  Now that I am in the middle of nursing my second child, it got me thinking about the things I wish I had known before breastfeeding.  Here is my list:

1. Do What You Are Comfortable With

Before nursing my firstborn, I looked to other people and friends for guidance.  They were all so helpful and all had different experiences.  Some nursed for a few months.  Some nursed for a couple of years.  Some had to pump at work.  Some never pumped.  Some felt comfortable nursing in public (with a cover).  Some had to go to another room any time they nursed with other people around.  Some had horrible experiences in the first couple of weeks and never nursed.  Some always loved it.  What I have now learned is that you have to do whatever is comfortable for you.  Everyone will have an opinion about the best way to nurse, how long to nurse, where to nurse, etc.  Although this blog post is meant to tell you what I have learned, at the end of the day you will know what is right for you.  You will never please everybody, and there are a lot of opinions out there.  So, do what feels natural for you.

2. It Is Hard

No one told me this fact before I had my son.  The first couple of weeks of breastfeeding with both of my babies were hard for me, and I didn’t have any trouble with them latching.  It definitely gave me tons of compassion for those mamas who have issues nursing.  It was a big adjustment.  Every time they latched, it hurt.  They were getting comfortable with it, and my body was adjusting to it, not to mention the discomfort I felt when my milk came in.  Not only was I recovering from a c-section and completely exhausted all the time, I was also teaching my precious little one how to eat and it hurt every time.  I just got done being pregnant, and now I have to still watch what I eat and drink.  Add the anxiety of worrying that your baby is nursing long enough on each side and getting enough milk, and you have yourself a hormonal mess.

Not only was it a physical adjustment, it was a mental adjustment as well.  Although nursing was such a special time with my kids, it also blew my mind to think that my life and body now revolved around a three hour feeding schedule.  I was the one waking up in the middle of the night and changing my plans to make sure my baby ate on time.  It could be exhausting.  You are probably thinking right now “Wow, you make breastfeeding sound horrible.  So, why should I nurse?”  Here’s why…

3. It Gets Better

I also wish someone would have told me that.  I had a lot less anxiety during the first few week with my second child because I knew this little fact: it will get better.  Once your body and the baby adjust to the routine of nursing, it just becomes like second nature.  The three to four hour feeding schedule becomes a natural way of life.  I was so thankful I was able to stick it out, because once I got used to it I knew it was easier for me than fixing a bottle every time my baby was hungry.  It also saved our family money once I decided to stay home.  And, it was special for me and the baby.

After the first few weeks, I was able to enjoy it, and I was thankful I could do it.  I started off with the goal to nurse my son until he could take real milk.  I remember thinking during the first few weeks that I would be happy to make it to three months.  Well, guess what?  I got comfortable with nursing and made it to a year (although we did end up supplementing some at 9 months: refer to number one).  So to all the mamas out there who are in the midst of those first few weeks of nursing and they can’t imagine why they decided to do it in the first place, trust me, more often than not it will get better!

4. A Lactation Nurse Is Your Friend

I know this is not everyone’s experience, and lactation nurses often get bad reputations for only pushing nursing.  However, in my experience, if you are in a bind with nursing, consult a lactation nurse.  Their job is to help you.  My sister had trouble with her son latching at first.  She was so determined to nurse that she had a lactation consultant come to her house.  She would tell you that was money well spent.  It made a huge difference for her.

My second child was in the NICU for 10 days, and I was so thankful for the NICU lactation nurse who walked me through those days of moving my daughter from the bottle to full breastfeeding.  There were days where I just needed a sounding board or a little encouragement (and this was my second time around).  She provided that for me, and I am so thankful.  Most hospitals and pediatrician offices have lactation nurses on staff.  Take advantage of the help.  Sometimes you just need some reassurance.  They can tell you different techniques, and answer any questions you may have.  Like I said, I know this isn’t everyone’s experience, but overall most of my friends have echoed my feelings.  They were glad to have the help.

5. It May Take A Few Days For Your Milk To Come In

Once again, why didn’t I know this the first time around?  I think someone mentioned this in one of my child birth classes or in a book I read, but it didn’t really sink in.  Although my son latched well, he was on the verge of needing to supplement in the hospital because of losing weight.  We went home and like clockwork, my milk came in.  We went back to the doctor two days later and he was gaining weight fast.

When my daughter came along, I started off pumping because she was in the NICU.  I asked the lactation nurse why I wasn’t getting anything the second day after getting some colostrum the first day.  She said, “Everyone is dry the second day.  Just keeping pumping and it will come in.”  She was right.  Once again, after a few days my milk came in.  I know there are some that it never comes in for, but most of the time if you stick it out, it will be there.

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6. You Can Get A Free Breast Pump With Your Insurance

When we had our son, getting a free breast pump was a new thing.  We were able to get a nice Medula breast pump through a prescription from my doctor.  When my sister and I were discussing this post, she said this is something that a lot of her friends were unaware of.  Before you go out and spend a ton of money on a breast pump, consult with your doctor and see if you can get a prescription.  I have yet to hear of someone with insurance being turned down since this came into law in the past few years.

7. Get A Good Cover

I often recommend my cover to friends: the Bebe Au Lait Nursing Cover.  It is a little more expensive ($35 compared to $15), but it is worth every penny.  I got mine before my first child, and I have used it for both.  What I like about it is the fact that there is a wire in the neck line that allows you to look down and see the baby.  It keeps the cover high enough that you are the only one who does see it.  Also, there is burp cloth material on the corners of the cover in case you don’t have a burp cloth on you.  I cannot tell you how many times I have forgot to pack a burp cloth, and I have been so happy that my cover also acted as a burp cloth.  You can actually find it on Amazon for $20 right now and free shipping with Amazon Prime.

8.  It Is A Special Time For You and The Baby

A friend once told me that she liked nursing because it was a special time for her to take her baby in another room and have that alone time.  There is a special bond formed when you know you are providing that little baby with their food supply and comfort.  I have loved sharing this bond with my two babies, and I wouldn’t change it.  Although hard at first, breastfeeding is a neat experience I am happy I have shared with my little ones.  While I am still nursing my six month old, I hope I don’t forget to soak up this special time I get to spend feeding and comforting her.  It goes by too fast.

9. It Is Ok If You Don’t

I am the last person to judge someone who doesn’t end up nursing.  If my babies had trouble latching, or if I had any kind of issue nursing (infection, low milk supply, etc.), I cannot say for sure I would have stuck with it or been able to do it period.  I had a friend tell me that she felt so judged by other women when she legitimately was not able to nurse her baby after trying hard.  So, this is definitely not another blog post to tell you why nursing is the best and only way.  It was the best way for me, but it is not always possible for everyone.  The worst thing we can do as women is shame other women for something that comes more easily for some than others.  Heck, if you just don’t want to nurse, that’s your choice and you have every right to make it.  Although it has been a special experience for me (and, quite frankly, a smart economic one for our family), you won’t see any judgment from me (refer to number one and two).

I just hope this blog post helps someone out there who doesn’t know what to expect.  Good luck (refer to number three)! We have all been there!

What have your experiences been?  What would you add to the list?

~Laura

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4 thoughts on “What I Wish I Would Have Known About Breastfeeding

  1. It has indeed been very challenging. I took the classes beforehand and read the Leche League’s giant book, but still was unprepared for the physical pain and financial cost of breastfeeding. I got mastitis which turned into a major breast abcess and had to have surgery on it when baby was 3 months old. (surgery bills and all the medications were not cheap. Ironically I think breastfeeding has been much more expensive than formula would have been.) 2 weeks later baby needed surgery. But we have continued on despite both of us having surgery in the last month and the challenges of learning new positions for nursing a baby in a body cast. I love the special bond and how nursing can soothe her like nothing else.

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  2. Great post! The only thing I would add is that when you nursw a 2nd, 3rd, etc child, a refresher is your friend.Don’t be a know-it-all. Your last nursing experience was most likely with a 6, 9 or 12 month old….which is alot different than a newborn. Encourage your lactation consultants input….who knows, she may even tell you something new! I just had my 3rd and learned new tricks that I did not know for my first two babies!

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