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Breastfeeding is complicated. It doesn’t matter if your baby latches right away and it comes “easy,” or you try everything in your power to make it work but it doesn’t, or you decide from the beginning that it’s not for you — there’s no denying the fact that everything about it is so hard.
I was prepared for it to be tough, but was I really?
I learned early on that breastfeeding is full of surprises and you don’t know what your breastfeeding journey is going to look like until you’re in the thick of it. But it’s your journey, and that’s what makes it special.
This includes the relationship you have with yourself while breastfeeding. I know in my own experience, it was very easy to lose sight of what was best for me because my only concern was focusing on what was best for my baby.
If I could sit down and have lunch with my pregnant self as a first-time mom, I’d first send her Healthline Parenthood’s most recent content package, A Complete Guide to Breastfeeding — Because It’s Harder Than We Thought, because this has every ounce of information I was looking for. Having it all in one spot without having to Google hour after hour makes this series as magical as the liquid gold your body produces.
I’d also have so much to say to her about the physical, logistical, and emotional aspects of breastfeeding that are learned along the way. Here are just a few of those things on my mind now as I prepare to breastfeed my second baby in a few months.
Breastfeeding is new for you, your breasts, and your body. So even though we’ve heard a hundred times that this is a natural experience, it’s OK if it doesn’t feel like that right away — or ever.
No matter how prepared you think you are, something will surprise you
Not even our content package can prepare you for every single thing that will happen in your own breastfeeding journey, but it will get you close. Still, expect surprises.
My son didn’t latch right away, but knowing I needed to get that colostrum in him, I did something that I had never even heard of before: I hand expressed it out of me into a syringe (which is really just a nicer way to say “I milked myself”) and then dropped the milk into his mouth. This was a surprise.
The milk comes in with a vengeance
Three days after labor, my milk came in. I was expecting full breasts, but I was not expecting them to look and feel like Dolly Parton and cinder blocks had a baby.
The pain that came with this sudden filling of my milk tank was of course what I wanted, but the pain was unexpected.
There will be nipple pain
There will be sore, bleeding, aching nipples. Lactation experts will typically say that your nipples shouldn’t hurt if your baby has a good latch. I’m not an expert, but as new as this is for you, it’s also new for your nipples, so they need to adjust to this new lifestyle, too.
For me, the pain subsided after 8 weeks. I was told it wasn’t normal to last that long and it should have subsided earlier. But hey, it was my normal.
When you nurse on one side, your other side will leak — save that milk!
For the first few months, I was using a nursing pad to catch the leaking milk only to realize I was wasting precious liquid gold. Haakaa makes a nursing cup that catches the leaking milk, so use that instead. It’s the perfect top-off to a pumped bottle.
While these challenges weren’t the hardest to deal with, they’re important to think about (but honestly, you’ll learn them along the way just like everyone else does).
Prepare to plan your life in 2- to 3-hour increments
Once I started feeling a little more normal, I was getting out of the house to take walks and get fresh air. But that didn’t mean freedom. Outings were planned in 2- or 3-hour increments because any longer and I knew I’d have to breastfeed in public instead of in one of my nursing stations at home — which wasn’t a thrilling thought.
Set up breastfeeding stations at home — and always have the remote nearby
There’s nothing worse than finally getting settled into your breastfeeding position with your baby enjoying his meal to realize you have no water (breastfeeding makes you so thirsty), no snack (and so hungry), and no TV remote.
I set up two breastfeeding stations in our house that consisted of water bottles, trail mix, burp cloths, nipple pads, and a TV remote.
Don’t pressure yourself to breastfeed in public — it’s harder than it looks
The first time I attempted breastfeeding in public, I sat under a beautiful tree in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, laid a blanket down, covered myself with a tied swaddle blanket (so much easier than a nursing cover), pulled my bra to the side, and thought I totally got this.
Three minutes later, I was stung by a bug that was relentless and not leaving me alone. I left quickly with a screaming, hungry baby in the stroller.
I eventually got the hang of nursing while I was out and about — and avoided doing it in nature — but I didn’t love it, and that’s okay.
Getting dressed takes strategic planning
Your OOTDs must be selected with some thought. You can’t just throw on something — it has to be breastfeeding-friendly.
I learned the hard way when my outfit choice was workout clothes that sports bras are like barricades around your breasts. Nursing-friendly tops really do make a difference.
Beyond the wild physical and logistical changes that are going on around you, the most important is what’s going on inside — in your head and in your heart.
If breastfeeding isn’t going well for you one day, don’t give up just yet
My colleague offered good advice for a friend who was engorged and miserable in those first few weeks. Her advice: Don’t give up on breastfeeding on a bad day. Get through the challenge and then make the decision with a clear head. That way, you know you’re making the decision that will make you the happiest, and know you gave it your all.
Don’t worry about what everyone else says. Only listen to you
We hear about the many benefits of breastfeeding, but there’s no denying the fact that fed is best — if you’ve done everything in your power to continue to breastfeed but it just isn’t what’s best for you, it’s okay to stop.
Put yourself first (for once!) and make sure you’re doing whatever is in your best interest.
Look at where the pressure is really coming from
We fall into the belief that there’s a societal expectation to breastfeed, but I think deep down it’s the internal pressure we put on ourselves to do this “natural” act of motherhood, which in fact, isn’t always so natural.
As someone who considers myself a “natural mom” type, of course I needed to breastfeed for at least a year because that’s what natural moms do.
I made it 366 days. There were moments of sweet, loving, nursing hours… but it was mostly blood, sweat, and tears.
Looking back, if I had lightened up on my own pressure to live up to this brand of mom I set for myself, I would have given myself some slack, which would have made that year and one day more enjoyable for me — and everyone around me.
Support, support, support
You are not meant to go about breastfeeding alone. Get support. Use the lactation consultants at the hospital, hire a postpartum doula, and get hands-on support that can help make your breastfeeding experience a better one.
At Healthline Parenthood, we don’t think there’s enough support out there for parents who decide to breastfeed, and even for ones that don’t. We built A Complete Breastfeeding Guide — Because It’s Harder Than We Thought for all of you that are looking for help when it comes to everything you need to know about breastfeeding, questions on formula, lactation-boosting recipes, breastfeeding positions, exclusively pumping, and so, so, so much more.
Editorial Director, Parenthood