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Two years ago, I sat in a breastfeeding class, learning all that I needed to know before my baby came.
Two years ago, I sat in a breastfeeding class, learning about the benefits of breastfeeding, which would hopefully be enough to motivate me to stick with it for at least a year (which was my goal).
Because breastfeeding is hard.
I believe that each mom has the right to make the best decision for her and her baby- whether that is breastfeeding or formula feeding. However, this post is for those moms who want to continue breastfeeding. This is not supposed to be a doomsday post about how horrible breastfeeding is, but rather a warning in advance so breastfeeding mamas don’t end up dreadfully disappointed because they didn’t expect any of these issues to arise. Trust me, it’s better to be prepared ahead of time than to be googling issues in the middle of the night when your emotions are high. Whatever your target length is for breastfeeding, know that you can do it and work through these issues. Breastfeeding can be a worthwhile experience for both you and your baby.
Expect a Learning Curve. As I watched other moms breastfeed I thought it would be easy. But instead it turned out to be incredibly awkward–I was trying to use my breasts in a way that I had never done before. I spent the first month wearing just a nursing bra on top because it was too hard for me to coordinate nursing with a shirt on. It took several more months after that to be confident enough to nurse outside of my home. In addition, my baby initially couldn’t latch because of my inverted/flat nipples. I ended up having to use a nipple shield to trigger his sucking reflex and also to soften my overactive letdown reflex.
Expect Engorgement. Expect to be extremely engorged when your milk “comes in” during the first week. You also might experience engorgement as your baby adjusts to eating solids, sleeps more at night, or goes on a nursing strike (my baby went on nursing strikes when teething- I found this article extremely helpful). What has helped me most with engorgement is being able to pump either by using my manual hand pump or by renting a hospital grade one. One thing I wish I had done was actually purchased an electric pump. For those of you who are lucky enough to have insurance cover part or all of a pump cost, DO IT!
Expect to Get Wet. This will happen not only when your milk first comes in and you are leaking all over the place, but also whenever you have a letdown reflex (which could be triggered by a baby’s cry) or when your nursing baby pulls off unexpectedly. These cloth nursing pads have worked the best for me, although I have tried disposable nursing pads as well. With disposables, I found that they were too small and would move around too much even if they had an adhesive to help them stick my nursing bra.
Expect Sore Nipples. I’m very grateful that my doctor prescribed a medicated nipple cream for me to use. Of course my nipples were very sore at the beginning because they weren’t accustomed to being used that often! My baby also happened to suck extremely hard, which I had to adjust to. Throughout the first year I used the cream sporadically due to soreness from growth spurts and latching/unlatching issues. Using a nipple shield also helped when my nipples were especially sore.
Expect Plugged Ducts. These are THE WORST. I seriously panicked every time I had a plugged duct. Luckily for me, with frequent feedings and pumpings, I was able to unplug them before developing mastitis. My top recommendations for unplugging ducts are 1) warm compresses, 2) massaging the affected area, and 3) pumping at different angles (even if this means bending over or laying down to pump). Plugged ducts usually occurred for me when my baby was on a nursing strike and I wasn’t draining my breasts as often as usual.
Expect to Worry About Your Milk Supply. At three months, my baby was not gaining weight appropriately and the doctor recommended supplementing with formula. We were confused by this because it seemed like my baby was nursing all the time—an average of three to four hours a day! After meeting with a lactation consultant, we realized that my baby was a lazy nurser. He was so used to nursing all the time that he didn’t bother to drink effectively. After two weeks of training, my baby learned to nurse in half the time and was gaining more weight. All of this goes to show that sometimes the issue may not be your milk supply, but rather how your baby is nursing. Additionally, by meeting with a lactation consultant you can learn the ways in which to boost your milk supply. Lastly, for those women who feel like they aren’t producing enough milk because their baby nurses frequently, I would recommend reading this article.
Expect to Bottle Feed. There will probably come a time where someone will have to bottle feed breastmilk to your baby. It may be because you go back to work, attend school, or you have a medical emergency. The latter two examples were true in my case. I was in my last semester of graduate school when my baby was born, and I had to have an emergency surgery a month after he was born. I was lucky enough to have pumped enough breastmilk to sustain my baby during these times (even if that meant pumping at the hospital). Part of what helped me do this were these breast milk storage bags.
Expect to Compare. There will be times when you will observe or talk with other mothers who breastfeed and wonder to yourself whether you were the only one who’s having a hard time. You aren’t! Hopefully this article lets you know that not only should you expect issues to arise, but that these issues are normal, and you can handle them. Breastfeeding doesn’t always have to be hard–as you and your baby adjust, there will be times when it will be easy and enjoyable. Issues may arise along the way (as they have for me over the course of a year) but they will be separated by stretches of good nursing experiences.
Expect to Sacrifice. You will have to worry about what you eat, drink, and what medicine you take, as all of this could negatively affect your baby. Breastmilk digests more quickly so you will have to feed your baby more often than a formula fed baby. This means you may lose more sleep at night, since you will be the one to get up and feed your baby. You may have to arrange your schedule to pump or nurse your baby regularly. You will have to travel either with your baby or a pump to keep up your milk supply.
There will be a point where you decide it would be best for your sanity and/or your baby’s health to wean. My son ended up self-weaning (It’s a real thing! My lactation consultant confirmed it!) at 15 months, and that was the right time for us. Whether your child weans a couple months or a couple years into breastfeeding, know that your efforts were worthwhile. And ultimately a fed baby is a happy baby, whether it’s breastmilk, formula, whole milk, or soy milk.