When I was pregnant with my first child, I didn’t have an opinion one way or the other about breastfeeding in general and I certainly didn’t give much thought to whether I’d breastfeed or not.
That all changed one day when I read a fact sheet about the benefits of breastfeeding for both babies and mothers. Within 5 minutes, I turned to my husband and said, “I’m going to breastfeed.”
Shortly thereafter, I read a book about breastfeeding and thought I’d be all set for when my child was born, but little did I know how much more there was to learn and how little I was prepared for it all.
The truth is that although breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t come so naturally to most women. It takes commitment, physical energy, mental fortitude, and flexibility for it to work. I should know—I breastfed two babies, each for a year.
There were other things no one told me about breastfeeding and I had to learn on my own. Here are 8.
1. You need help
After I gave birth to my first child, the lactation consultants in the hospital paid me a few visits. Everything seemed to be going well but I wasn’t quite sure if I was doing it right and it was also painful.
It wasn’t until they encouraged me to set up a private appointment with them a few days later that everything seemed to make sense and became a lot easier. They taught me how to relax, position my baby, and get the latch right.
Two years later when I had my second child, I once again met with a lactation consultant after I was discharged because I was worried my milk supply was low. After I fed my baby, the lactation consultant weighed her, talked to me about my concerns, and assured me everything was fine.
Whether it’s a lactation consultant, La Leche League, or another mom, breastfeeding moms need information, guidance, and support.
2. You might be hungry all the time
Although it’s not a hard and fast rule, moms who are exclusively breastfeeding need an extra 300-500 calories in their diets. Breastfeeding is a lot like a sweat session at the gym: your body is working hard to produce milk and you’re burning a lot of calories.
When I was breastfeeding, I felt like I was hungry all the time and eating non-stop. As a new mom of course, it was hard to find time to sit down to a meal so often times, I would multi-task and eat over my daughter as she breastfed.
3. You can pump too much
When your milk supply is low, lactation consultants tell you to pump but my milk supply wasn’t low and I actually think I pumped too much.
My first child was a good eater (she still is), and I had a really good milk supply and my breasts were constantly engorged especially in the early months of breastfeeding. Everyday, I’d effortlessly pump enough for a bottle so my husband could take a feeding at night. But when she started to sleep through the night, I continued to pump.
Eventually, I had a freezer full of milk for no apparent reason. Although I thought I was pumping to alleviate the engorgement, I think I inadvertently increased my milk supply.
4. It won’t be easy
Make no mistake: breastfeeding takes commitment and it’s a 24/7 job, especially in the beginning.
When my second child came along, breastfeeding became even more inconvenient because I had a toddler to keep up with too. I wanted desperately to follow the Baby Wise strategy which worked swimmingly for my first child, but wasn’t working out that well for my second who would cry the minute I put her in the bassinet and wanted to nurse all the time. With the help of the lactation consultant, I realized that wasn’t going to happen and some babies want to nurse—a lot.
I also started to feel like I could never get out of the house or go anywhere since I didn’t have breast milk reserves and I didn’t want to feed my daughter formula unless it was necessary—like the time I had a cat scan and couldn’t breastfeed.
5. You might be up against other challenges
While I was breastfeeding, I had postpartum depression (something I wasn’t diagnosed with until much later), I was dealing with Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER), and I had a bout with mastitis.
I also made the decision of having my second child’s frenulum clipped because she had a slight tongue-tie which made breastfeeding painful. Although I knew it had to be done if I was going to continue breastfeeding, watching her cry, and the doctor walk in and out of the room in 5 minutes, was tough. When I checked out and was told said procedure was $500, I nearly cried myself.
Of course, there was also work, managing my household and everything else life throws at you, which makes breastfeeding that much more challenging.
6. You won’t need a nursing cover for long
With my first child, I covered up while I breastfed and even went into a separate room when we had guests over or were invited to someone else’s house.
When you’re whipping out your breasts every few hours, however, that practice quickly fades. Soon enough, I breastfed in front of family, friends, and in public.
Come baby #2 and there was nothing to hide. In fact, eight weeks after giving birth, I found myself in the bridal suite for a family wedding pumping in a cocktail dress while my husband guarded the door.
7. Sex gets interesting
Due to low levels of estrogen, vaginal dryness can make sex uncomfortable. If/when you do have the big ‘O,’ your breasts can leak spray everywhere thanks to oxytocin, the hormone responsible for both milk letdown and orgasm.
I’m thankful to have a husband who could care less and who finds the humor in almost any situation, but feeling like I had lost all control of my body was an understatement.
8. You might have regret or feel grateful
The definition of breastfeeding success or achieving breastfeeding goals looks different for each woman. We’re all unique, have different challenges, and have varying beliefs and views about breastfeeding. There are no hard and fast rules: what works for you may not work for another mom.
For me, I felt grateful to be able to have breastfed both babies for as long as I did. For working moms who have to travel to an office, travel for work, clock hours or don’t have a traditional office like a friend of mine who pumped in her car in NYC garages in between meetings with clients, breastfeeding can be downright impossible.
Despite many challenges, I felt accomplished and proud that I stuck with it and gave my children what I believe is the best start in life.
Do I wish I would have been more prepared, had more support, and known what breastfeeding would really be like? Sure. But when it comes to parenting, you’re never really prepared, you make a ton of mistakes, and you learn as you go along. Ignorance is bliss.