When I was pregnant with my first child, the only thing I knew about breastfeeding was that I wanted to do it.
My mom breastfed both my sister and me long-term, and I still have some memories from those days. I remember my sister as a breastfeeding toddler, all cuddled up in my mom’s lap. I thought her nursing was the sweetest thing in the world. Everything felt calm then, as she nursed. Sometimes I would sit nearby and draw, or play dolls (often I would pretend to nurse my dolls too).
And so, for much of my life, I had nothing but positive associations with breastfeeding. But then my son was born, and it came time to actually attempt breastfeeding myself — and it was anything but positive.
My biggest issue was with something I had thought would come naturally: My son wouldn’t latch. And even when I could get him to latch on, he would fall asleep immediately. I had to express my milk and feed it to him with a spoon, but even still, the pediatrician said he was losing too much weight.
I felt frightened and helpless, and spent weeks struggling to get him to do it right. But while I was lucky enough to have really good breastfeeding support throughout, when it came time to sit down and nurse, it was only me and my baby — and I just wasn’t sure it would ever work out.
I’m happy to say that it did (eventually), and I was grateful for all the help and encouragement I got along the way. But even now, years after the fact, I still feel totally duped. Why hadn’t anyone told me it wouldn’t come naturally? Why hadn’t anyone told me that some babies don’t always come out knowing what to do, and that you might not magically know how to do it yourself?
But that’s not all I wish I’d known. Allow me to impart some of my hard-learned breastfeeding wisdom:
1. It’s normal for new babies to nurse All. The. Time.
Whoever made up the “every two-to-three hours” schedule was totally out of touch. My babies were on the boob hourly, sometimes more.
2. If it hurts for a second when your baby latches on, that’s OK. If it feels like your nipples are going to fall off, NOPE.
When my first son latched on, it hurt a tiny bit, but then subsided. My second son, on the other hand, was a bit of a barracuda, and I needed to adjust things big-time with him to keep my nipples intact.
3. Sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work out according to plan, and that’s OK.
Maybe you were only able to do it for a short time. Maybe you had to supplement. Whatever happened or didn’t happen, you need to cut yourself a whole lot of slack, and know that you did the best with what you had. That alone means everything.
4. You will be hungrier than you’ve ever been.
I thought I was starving when I was pregnant, but I had no idea. Breastfeeding hunger is EPIC, so make sure to refuel regularly. (Otherwise, you’ll turn into one hangry mama.)
5. You might be a leaky mess. (And you might not.)
Every time my babies nursed on one boob, I leaked from the other one. I would also spray straight across the room if my baby popped off too quickly. But I never leaked between feedings, and many moms don’t leak at all. Either way, it’s totally normal.
6. Not all women lose weight while breastfeeding. (Sorry.)
For months, I wondered why my pregnancy weight wasn’t dropping off like I thought it would. Turns out, I’m not the only one who took forever to lose the baby weight and held on to a few pounds while nursing.
7. Being a breastfeeding mom can be very isolating at times.
Once I figured out breastfeeding with my first son, I would only do it topless, and I was sure I’d never leave the house. Even when I could finally don a shirt while nursing, it was really hard to get out before I mastered doing it discreetly in public. (Though later, I didn’t really care what showed!)
8. If the latch “looks perfect,” but it still hurts, it’s not perfect at all.
This is a big pet peeve of mine as a lactation consultant: It doesn’t matter how the latch looks; if it still hurts, something isn’t right.
9. The first time your baby smiles while breastfeeding, your heart will burst into a million pieces.
It’s like no other feeling. I cried the first time it happened.
10. You can’t judge other women who don’t breastfeed.
Nope. You can never know another mother’s reasons, her struggles, what cards she was dealt. So don’t do it.
11. The contractions you feel in the early days of nursing will hurt like hell.
I had natural births, but I was popping Tylenols like candy when the afterbirth pains came on.
12. It’s normal to hate breastfeeding sometimes.
Everyone has days when they just want a break, when they feel squirmy and just wish they could hand their baby to someone else and run away. This feeling usually passes.
13. Sometimes you will love breastfeeding more than you thought possible.
The good feelings about breastfeeding might surprise you. You might feel more empowered than you thought possible. But you may also have to wait for it — sometimes these happy feelings don’t surface until a few weeks in.
14. Sometimes you’re going to feel totally touched out.
This usually didn’t happen to me until my babies were older, but it’s real thing and it totally sucks. Luckily, it usually passes like everything else.
15. You will miss it when it’s over.
Shhh … this is what everyone says, but I don’t want to think about it yet.
My first child was born nine years ago. I breastfed him well into toddlerhood, and am now doing the same thing with his little brother. All the turmoil in those first few weeks of breastfeeding my first child compelled me to learn everything I possibly could about breastfeeding; which is why, a few years ago, I became a lactation consultant (IBCLC) so I would help other moms reach their breastfeeding goals.
But even with all the knowledge and experience in the world, I still remember the sting of those first few weeks of breastfeeding my son.
My biggest piece of advice to new moms? Get help right away if something is amiss. Seek out someone with breastfeeding experience that really listens, makes you feel at home, and offers concrete solutions. Also, find your tribe. Having a couple of mom friends around who breastfeed — or who are just open-minded and supportive about it — can make a world of difference.