I have breastfed two children for a total of more than two years. I want to tell you the cold hard truth about breastfeeding. It’s best, but you need to know all the details so you can be successful.
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When it comes to pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum care, and nursing I feel like there are only vague details shared among women. It’s almost like we don’t want to share all the details, so we don’t scare new moms. I’m a firm believer in sharing the whole truth, and putting it all out there, so women can have an accurate idea of what to expect. I wrote FYI: The Truth About After Birth (what other moms won’t tell you!) just for this reason. Being a new mom, or even just a mom to a newborn, can be terrifying because there are so many unknowns. It’s one of THE hardest things you will ever do in your life, but something you will NEVER regret. I am telling you all of this because I believe that nursing is absolutely what’s best for you and your baby, and because I want you to be prepared for what’s actually going to happen and be successful in the long run. Let’s talk about the cold hard truth about breastfeeding.
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*Disclaimer: I understand that some moms simply cannot nurse for a myriad of reasons. This post isn’t meant to shame moms who cannot nurse. It’s meant to prepare a mom who hasn’t nursed before for the cold hard truth about breastfeeding so she can be prepared for what to expect and so she can be successful.*
The Cold Hard Truth About Breastfeeding
The First 2 Weeks
Breast is best. I will stand by that and the thousands of studies that have been done until the day I die. While I do believe that there ARE women who cannot nurse due to inability, medications, complications or early birth etc, I believe the number of women who end up using formula is FAR too great. A large number of women end up using formula because of lack of support, education, encouragement, and resolve. Many women try to encourage new moms to nurse by saying how easy it is, and how much more cost effective it is, and how much better it is for you and baby, and while that information is all true it’s also sugar-coating the cold hard truth about breastfeeding.
Nursing a new baby is HARD. Every baby is different. My first baby was different than my second baby. Each one of them had their own struggles and difficulties in the first 2-4 weeks. Nursing is HARD. Anything worth having won’t come easy. Your baby NEEDS breastmilk, and for more than just the first 2-4 weeks. Even seasoned moms will have latching trouble, will be utterly exhausted, and will struggle to survive the first 2-4 weeks. Yes, survive.
You need to absolutely resolve that you are going nurse your baby. Keep at the forefront of your mind that it will be difficult, that you will cry through most of it because your hormones are incredibly imbalanced, and that it WILL get better. The first 2-4 weeks are the hardest, but if you survive, it’s all downhill from there.
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Nipples are sensitive areas of the body. Add a crying, hungry newborn suckling them every hour or so and they’re going to hurt. A lot. The hurting will lessen and disappear after the first two weeks or so. No amount of nipple cream will make the hurting stop. Just remember to take deep breaths and to try to relax when baby latches. It will hurt, but if you can make yourself relax and breathe deeply (think labor breathing) while they latch it will go better for you and baby. If you’re tensing up, and forgetting to breathe, and wincing from the pain, your milk supply will reflect that, your baby will sense it and then they will let go and re-latch several times. You do not want that to happen. Once they’ve nursed for a minute or so, you won’t feel the pain any longer. Nursing cream does help, so don’t forego it, just don’t expect it to completely alleviate your pain. It’s normal. If your pain is excruciating and your nipples are bleeding, get with an expert mom you trust who has nursed, or a lactation consultant for help.
Also expect for the first few days to experience period-like cramping when your baby nurses. This is totally normal. Your uterus is contracting to continue flushing out the leftover debris from birth. This is not only normal, it’s good. It does hurt, but it’s a mild hurt. Expect it, and be prepared for it.
The cold hard truth about breastfeeding is that babies do not eat on a schedule. Babies eat when they’re hungry, bored, or need comfort. Do not expect going into this that your baby is only going to eat every two hours, three hours or whatever number you’ve read or have in your mind. You are your baby’s comfort. Nursing is far more than just food to a newborn. Babies will nurse for many reasons. Babies will nurse for comfort. Babies will nurse because things are changing in their bodies very quickly and they want to be close to you. And babies will nurse because they are trying to increase your milk supply.
When a baby’s milk needs change, they will cluster feed. Cluster feeding means that they will nurse for long periods with very little time in between nursings. These are the times I would deem a Netflix day and just plop my baby and myself on the couch for the day and let them nurse every 30-45 minutes for 30-45 minutes if they wanted to. This is normal and your body’s natural way of increasing your milk supply as your baby grows.
Another thing I need to mention about the cold hard truth about breastfeeding is engorgement. This is an uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing part about breastfeeding, but typically goes away after the first month or two. Engorgement is common within the first couple of weeks as your milk comes in. Your body over-produces milk to make sure your baby has enough and causes your breasts to be enlarged and sometimes tender to the touch. This will often cause leaking and can wet through your shirt. I make it a habit to wear cloth nursing pads in my bra at ALL TIMES when nursing.
While you’re nursing your baby, you will also notice that the breast your baby isn’t nursing from will leak. I always used a small washcloth or soemthing to tuck into the open breast to keep it from leaking all over me and the bed/chair etc. BUT I recently saw a post on Facebook that used THIS handy little catch bottle so you can preserve the milk leaking from the open breast as opposed to just sopping it up. It’s genius, and if I ever have another baby it’s going to be the first thing I buy!
Your Baby is NOT Starving
My word. This is the BIGGEST thing I hear from new moms. They know by day one that their baby is starving, that their milk hasn’t come in, and that their baby is crying because they’re not getting enough milk. Those moms are often enocuraged by other moms, and doctors and nurses to start supplementing with formula, and in a week they’re not nursing any longer at all. That’s such awful advice. Especially in the first 1-2 weeks after birth. Your milk can take up to a week to come in. In the meantime, a very rich substance called colostrum will come from your breasts to feed your baby. It’s absolutely VITAL that your baby gets the colostrum, as it carries everything they need for their tiny immune system.
You will be concerned because your baby has lost weight since birth, and hasn’t been gaining. Your baby cries a lot, and nursing is difficult for both of you. Two weeks in you will be exhausted and overwhelmed and won’t remember the last time life felt sane. It’s okay. This too shall pass. You do not need to supplement with formula in the first few weeks. Well, it’s HIGHLY unlikely and VERY RARE that you will need to supplement with formula.
Do not try to just pump exclusively and expect that your milk supply will be what your baby needs it to be. Expect that if you’re trying to pump exclusively, you will have a very low rate of giving your baby breastmilk exclusively. It can be done, but it’s rare that it works. Working moms typically have to go back to work after their baby is 6 weeks old, and will pump to feed baby while baby is home without them, and that has a MUCH higher rate of success than just pumping eclusively from the beginning. Even working moms will nurse their babies normally when they are home with them, in order to be successful.
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Nursing is Inconvenient
No matter how it’s marketed, nursing is inconvenient. You can’t just pop out a bottle while strolling through Target or sitting in Church, and while it is possible to nurse discreetly in public, it takes like a circus tent, 6 hands, and reflexes as fast as Spiderman to keep yourself covered and baby eating. Nursing covered never worked for me, but I refuse to nurse out in the open uncovered. I spent many times nursing in the car, or in another room while company was there, or in nursing rooms at theme parks etc (yes, those are a thing and they’re awesome!) and we survived just fine.
It is inconvenient to nurse, because you will be exhausted and awake for the third time in three hours while your husband sleeps peacefully with his useless nipples in the bed next to you. I can list so many reasons why nursing is inconvenient, but my word do I miss every minute of those inconvenienced times. Nursing is not as easy as mixing up a bottle and popping it in your baby’s mouth, but it is what’s best for your baby. While it’s inconvenient, soon it will be routine and easy for both of you.
You CAN Do It!
Nursing takes getting used to for you and baby. The first month (minimum) is very hard. This little human has only known you from the inside, and you’ve only known them from the inside. You both have to get used to a whole new world and experience and every baby is different. Remember to find support from moms who have exclusively nursed their babies. If you don’t have that, or are embarrassed to ask, THIS CLASS is fantastic and is very easy to understand and you can watch the videos over and over. I HIGHLY recommend it! See it HERE.
Breastfeeding numbers have gone down because women lack the support from their families, their doctors, and their fellow moms. Nursing is hard, and if you go into it knowing the cold hard truth about breastfeeding and with a steely resolve that you CAN do this, that it WILL be hard, and ready to stick it out for the first month, you will make it through and then it will become easy and routine. This is the cold hard truth about breastfeeding, and now that you know you can be prepared and be successful.