I haven’t shared much of my breastfeeding journey on the blog (something for the future I think…), but it is something that lots of pregnant and new mothers should know about. While they talk about it at the Prenatal classes, they often don’t tell you everything. Tonight I’m joined by the gorgeous Têya from andsoshethought who shares honestly (and hilariously) the things no one tells you about breastfeeding!
Breastfeeding is such an abstract concept before you have a baby. You are told about how breast is best, about how special and intimate it is, and about how much you’ll eventually miss it. There were however, quite a few things they don’t tell you about. Here are some of the things I wish I better understood before I started my own breastfeeding journey.
1. Breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally.
Every breastfeeding journey is different. Some babies latch instantly, others completely ignore the nipple staring straight at them. Sometimes the milk comes in quickly, other times it seems like it’ll never arrive. Some nipples are inverted or too big for their babies. Some women have a super-fast let down, others struggle with their supply; too much or too little. Some women can feed as is, other need to involve nipple shields and/or tubing in the process.
Personally, I was incredibly lucky with both my babies. My first-born Cadence practically flew straight out of my uterus and onto my nipple. After this effort, Ezra’s taking about 15 minutes to start feeding had me momentarily worried that things may not be so easy this time. However, once he arrived on my breast he made himself a little bit too cosy there and hardly ever wanted to leave it.
I was incredibly lucky, however more than half of my mothers’ group experienced major obstacles to breastfeeding, with many of them having to end their breastfeeding journeys much earlier than they’d hoped. If you are struggling with breastfeeding, there are great organisations like Breastfeeding Australia who may be able to help you, and if that doesn’t work for you it’s okay, there are other options. A fed baby with a mentally healthy mum are the most important things.
2. It can hurt…a lot.
We’re sold an image of pure mother-baby connection when it comes to breastfeeding. I’ve seen countless images of mothers staring adoringly at their babies peacefully suckling away. While does happen and it is beautiful, more often than not however, those mothers have endured cracked nipples, engorged breasts, mastitis and even been used as teething devices.
When I began my breastfeeding journey, I experienced some initial discomfort, however things were going really well…until about day 3 when my milk came in, my daughter began feeding furiously. Suddenly, my nipples felt like they were on fire. I remember scrounging around my bag for something to help, and eventually a midwife walked in on me coating my nipples in moisturiser. Thank goodness, her response was to quickly go and get me some Lansinoh, that stuff is pure magic.
I narrowly avoided mastitis with my daughter, however I wasn’t so lucky with my son. Mastitis not only entails the incredible pain that accompanies boobs so full they feel like they are about to explode, but also extreme exhaustion, fevers and chills. Every new mum’s dream right? On top of all this, to avoid having your milk supply continuing to overproduce, the best way to relieve your super engorged breasts is by feeding your baby…I don’t even have the words to describe how painful this is.
Hopefully I haven’t scared you too much. You are a superwoman and you will survive all the pain that comes with breastfeeding, just like other women do all over the world every single day. I’m pleased to report that breastfeeding becomes less painful over time, generally becoming much less painful over the first couple of weeks, and generally completely pain-free after 4-6 weeks. I’ve always felt bad for those mums who weren’t able to continue breastfeeding to this point as I feel like they experienced all of the downsides of breastfeeding and none of the amazing moments of pain-free connection you experience if you’re able to make it through the initial challenges. Breastfeeding you baby really can be such a special and intimate experience.
3. Pumping is well…
I think it’s fair to say that any woman who has pumped milk from their breasts knows that few things make you feel less sexy than watching your breast get pulled and stretched by a breast pump while expressing liquid gold. While pumping isn’t painful, it’s definitely not the most comfortable or pleasurable thing to do. Pre-babies the idea of “just expressing” seemed so simple. The reality is that it is awkward, time-consuming and uncomfortable.
Personally, I have pumped very few times over my breastfeeding journey. While the idea of getting to sleep or go out while daddy feed the baby some breast milk via their bottle, the reality for me was that attempting to pump out a bit of extra milk after each feed to stockpile was way more exhausting than just waking up to feed my baby and very few social events seemed even close to being worth the effort.
4. The Dieting Sacrifices are not over yet.
So, you’ve made it through 9 months of no alcohol or soft cheeses…time to celebrate right? I wish! During the early days, you will probably be breastfeeding way too often and unpredictably to enjoy that wine you have been craving for so long. Fortunately, this stage doesn’t last forever and you will soon be able to have the occasional cheeky wine. There is even an amazing app that takes into account your height and weight to provide you with an alarm when it is safe to feed your baby again post alcoholic beverage.
Also, while some believe that what you eat has no impact on your breastmilk, others will tell that their babies would completely reject a feed or have really bad gas bubbles after certain foods. My daughter Cadence was a terrible sleeper during her first couple of weeks on Earth. I had 3 or 4 nights when I was still up at 6:30am attempting to get her to fall asleep. Obviously, this was incredibly exhausting. As I’d been a colicky baby myself, my mum instantly worried that Cadence would follow in my footsteps of totally rejecting sleep. Wanting to avoid this at all costs and to try a natural approach before looking at medical options, I did some googling (you will probably do a lot of this) and quickly found some advice around which foods to avoid eating to reduce the risk and symptoms of colic. They were spicy foods, citrus fruits, dairy, caffeine, “gassy” vegetables, garlic and onion…so pretty much everything with flavour! I followed this advice and miraculously the “colicky” symptoms disappeared almost instantly and my daughter started sleeping somewhere other than on my chest or in her capsule. I’m happy to let you know that I was able to slowly re-introduce all these foods at the 6-week mark without them causing any issues going forward.
5. Feeding Takes Forever
As a first-time mum, I was not prepared for how long breastfeeding would take. I guess my only exposure pre-babies was seeing friends or family members feed their slightly older babies. So, when I discovered that in the early days breastfeeding that each feed could last 40-60 minutes I honestly wasn’t prepared. Newborns feed a lot and you can quickly begin to feel like a walking feeding machine. The middle of the night feeds can be particularly tough as you adjust to your new sleep-deprived existence.
Just when you feel like you’re starting to get a handle on things, you’ll get to about the 6-week mark and your baby will suddenly want to feed non-stop, sometimes for hours and hours at a time. You’ll worry that you’re not supplying enough milk and will probably start considering supplementing your baby’s feeds with expressed milk or formula. I absolutely did this and I googled like a mad woman, until I suddenly wondered if my daughter was going through a growth spurt. I googled “when do babies have growth spurts?” and alas, one of the biggest growth spurts occurs at around 6 weeks. Words along the line of ‘many mothers fear they are not producing enough milk and give up breastfeeding at this stage’ stared back at me. I felt enormous relief in knowing that this was normal and was able to persist over the next couple of days of marathon feeds, and then everything returned to normal.
Try to take comfort in knowing that these stages will not last forever as babies become increasingly efficient little feeders and growth spurts will pass. Do your best to just soak up these precious moments of stillness and connection, as believe it or not, you will miss it. If you’re struggling to stay awake overnight, ignore the “brexting” shamers, it’s okay to distract yourself with a tv show or your phone if that helps keep you awake. You will have plenty of these special moments to connect with your little one during the daylight hours.
Têya is a Melbourne based mother-of-two and a blogger with a passion for all things womanhood, sisterhood and self-love. She created andsoshethought.com to empower and connect women by sharing their voices and stories, and exploring the issues many of us face but don’t talk about. Join her celebration of sisterhood, self-exploration and self-love on her Blog, Facebook and Instagram.