Maybe I should have split this into multiple posts. Sorry in advance for the world’s longest blog post!
Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a preachy post about how breast is best. This is just about what it is actually like to breastfeed. I’ve had a really positive experience, and I’m so glad I decided to nurse my little girl. I want you to enjoy it and be successful too if you choose to breastfeed (your boobs, your baby, your choice). It also seems like a lot of blog posts about nursing only talk about the positives (breast milk is magic! Your baby will sprout wings and fly and live to a thousand years old and be a super model/genius!), but they rarely talk about the challenges and I think breastfeeding is more likely to be successful if you know what to expect.
What I love about nursing:
Health benefits – I promise, I’m not preaching, but there really are tons of benefits for both baby and mom. I won’t list them out, but it’s worth looking into.
Weight Control – I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but nursing really helped me get my weight back down. It also helps your uterus to go back to its original size (or close to it).
Cost – Yes, there are some upfront costs with the breast pump, and nursing bras, but it’s still MUCH cheaper than formula.
Convenience – Everything is pre-packaged and the right temperature. You don’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to make a bottle. Just pick up the baby, feed her, and put her back down. You also don’t have to deal with warming up bottles when you’re out, and airport security is much easier (but not as easy as if you didn’t have a baby. Ha.), you don’t have to deal with the dreaded liquids policy (but breast milk and formula are allowed through security, just FYI).
Less Baby Sharing – When your baby gets hungry, people have to give her back to you! This was huge for me. When your baby is brand new, you just want to hold her ALL-THE-TIME. Unfortunately everyone else wants to hold her too. If you breastfeed you get the baby back without protest!
Bonding – I don’t want to suggest that moms who use formula don’t bond with their babies, because that’s ridiculous. I don’t know any adults who aren’t close to their moms just because they weren’t breastfeed. BUT, I do really really love curling up with my baby to nurse. It’s such sweet time that we share together, and I love that it’s something she does with me, and only me. When your baby looks up at you and smiles while she nurses, you die a little inside from the awesomeness.
Ego Boost – You can’t help but feel good about yourself when your baby thrives on your milk alone.
What I find challenging about nursing:
Lack of Convenience – When my baby was a newborn, I couldn’t really do anything. I was nursing CONSTANTLY! Taking a shower was nearly impossible. I would feed her, jump up, run to the shower, and she’d be hungry again before I got out (any single, breastfeeding moms out there care to explain how you showered? I’m legitimately curious!). Fortunately that phase is really brief, but if you choose not to supplement, you still have to deal with the inconvenience of being her only food source. You have to pump enough milk to feed her if you are apart. On one occasion she was sick and her dad stayed home with her, and I had to leave work to nurse because she refused the bottle. I also have to point out that while I don’t have to mix bottles in the middle of the night, I am the only one who does night feedings. That was really hard, especially when I started back at work. Now she’s down to one feeding at 4 a.m. so I’m doing much better, but there are no words for how tired I was when she was younger. There were a few nights that I literally didn’t sleep one minute…but again, that phase is brief.
Lack of Caffeine – You can have some caffeine when you’re nursing, but you can’t go crazy with it. It’s really hard to be up all night feeding and then not be able to drink gallons of coffee the next day.
Lack of Wine – Again, you can have some, but you can’t drink a lot and nurse your baby. I take solace in the fact that someday I will have two glasses of wine IN A ROW!
Pumping – If you go back to work, you have to pump at work. It’s kind of a pain. It’s time consuming, it can be stressful, and it makes you feel like a cow. Plus my office is really cold. I definitely see why a lot of moms wean or supplement when they go back to work. I have the best possible circumstances…a desk job, a private office with a door that locks, a sink nearby, and a supportive company…and it’s still hard.
Nursing in Public – I do it. I do it a lot. I’ve never had a problem, and everyone has been really supportive, but I still sometimes get nervous about it. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.
What I think you need to know:
- I think the most important thing to note is that if you’re planning to breastfeed you need to take the option of formula off the table. I just think it’s the only way to stick with it in the first week or so, and when you go back to work.
- Brand new babies eat ALL THE TIME. After my baby was born a friend emailed me to complain that no one tells you that! She was right, and it’s really important information! I think a lot of women assume they aren’t making enough milk because they hear that babies are supposed to eat every three hours. That’s not the case for breastfed babies. Their tummies are really tiny, like blow your mind tiny. They’re only eating drops in the beginning and breast milk is really easy to digest. In the first few days they can eat every hour. That means that a feeding begins one hour after the start of the last feeding, and when they’re learning they might eat for 45 minutes. That’s right. That means a 15 minute break between feedings. Don’t worry. It gets better. The best judge of whether your baby is getting enough milk is diaper output and weight gain, not frequency of meals.
- Your milk doesn’t come in right away, but that doesn’t mean your baby isn’t getting nutrients. Colostrum, or pre-milk, comes in immediately. It’s super high in protein, and your baby only needs the tiniest bit (on day one your baby’s stomach is the size of an almond and it doesn’t stretch!). This is the point when a lot of people decide to give formula until their milk comes in, but it’s during this time that your baby nurses a lot…and that’s what stimulates your milk supply. Don’t worry. Your baby isn’t starving.
- Breastfeeding class is worth it. GO! Take your partner with you.
- Breastfeeding hurts, but just in the beginning. Any lactation consultant will tell you that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, and they’re right. It shouldn’t, and it won’t…once you get the hang of it. You have to remember that you and your baby are both new at it. It might be painful at first, which sucks because babies eat a lot then, but it doesn’t last long.
- I feel like my attempt to be honest is making breastfeeding sound awful, but it’s not. It’s awesome. It just takes a bit of time to get the hang of it.
- You have the right to nurse in public (at least in most states, you can check your state’s laws here). If someone is mean to you, let me know! I’ll happily put them in their place!
- If you’re having a hard time pumping enough for your baby when you go back to work, go on a pumping binge. I pumped every hour for a day (not the most fun day, but hey whatchagonnado?), and I haven’t had trouble since. Nursing is all about supply and demand.
- Pacifiers are OK. I would wait a week or two so you can establish nursing, but some babies need to suck a lot, and you don’t want to be a human pacifier.
- Nursing makes you hungry and thirsty! Your baby is literally sucking calories and water out of your body. I’m starving all the time! Keep granola bars and water by your bed so you have something to eat in the middle of the night.
- If you decide you want to skip nursing altogether, or give up at some point, or supplement with formula, don’t feel guilty. Formula isn’t poison.
What you need to have on hand:
Lanolin – Lanolin is a nursing mom’s best friend forever and ever…or at least in the beginning. Apply it after every feeding in the first few weeks. Your nips are going to take a lot of abuse at first, and you need to take care of them. The last thing you want is for them to crack, and lanolin will really help prevent that.
Breast Pads – Second best friend. First of all, it’s hard to get lanolin out of your shirt, but more importantly when your milk comes in you could end up being a leaky mess. Keep it under control. I started out using these (because who has time to do laundry when a brand new baby?) but have switched to these. The washable pads are less itchy, and they breathe much better. The instructions say to hand wash them, which I find hilarious. Throw them in the washer and dryer. Mine are still going strong after several months, and even if they do fall apart they’re cheaper than disposables. I don’t remember the brand I bought, but I got them at Target for something like $3.00 for a box of six.
Nursing Bras – Because, duh. I got mine at Asos.
Breastfeeding Book – I got The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and I found it to be pretty helpful.
Burp Cloths – because sometimes what goes down comes back up. I bought these and I use them for EVERYTHING. Don’t be fooled by the thinness. They’re super absorbent.
Breast Pump – You might not need it immediately, but go ahead and get one before you give birth. I have the Medela Pump in Style Advanced. It’s a lifesaver if you go back to work, but you’ll need one even if you stay home. Start pumping two months before you go back to work to build up a freezer stash. You’ll be so glad you have it! Also get the car adapter. It’s worth it.
What to wear:
My husband looked at me like I was crazy when I said that the worst part about breastfeeding was finding clothes that are cute but allow for boob access, but I don’t care! I stand by that statement! Here’s what worked for me.
Robe – I mentioned this in my “Birth” post, but the first couple of weeks I found it easiest to just live in a robe and nursing bra. It was comfy, easy access, best nursing outfit ever.
Shirts – I realize that you can’t live in robes forever (in fact I eventually got to the point where I hated that robe). I bought a couple of nursing tanks, but they’re not as convenient as I thought they would be. Instead I wear a lot of stretchy tank tops that can be pulled down, and when I need to look nice I wear button up shirts, which work well but are slightly less convenient. A cardigan/tank combo has served me well. I’ve been able to nurse in public without people even knowing (not that it matters if they do!).
Dresses – dresses are harder, but wrap dresses and shirt dresses both work. Or you can always just wear a skirt with your button up/stretchy top.
To see my breastfeeding pinboard go here.
An interesting/important post about weaning.
She finds the most beautiful breastfeeding art.
Ok, sorry again for throwing so much at you! I actually feel like I left a lot of info out, so feel free to ask questions or add info in the comments section!