The early weeks of breastfeeding are H-A-R-D, and it can definitely be a traumatic experience for many women. If you’ve taken a breastfeeding class it sounds very simple and wonderful and don’t get me wrong, it is wonderful and it does become easier for most, but it does not seem like it at the beginning.
I’m going to be real with you because if you really want to breastfeed, I want you to succeed. Here are some of the things to be aware of in the beginning because honestly once you’ve got it down… you’ll become a master mind at it. How long is the beginning you may ask? It varies from woman to woman but typically 3-4 months.
1. The latch
This is the moment where your baby latches correctly to your breast. Yes, there is a specific way for babies to latch and you might not get it the first few times. This is normal, so don’t feel like you have failed on the first tries. If the latching is not correct your breasts will hurt so much, and your baby will not be sucking out any milk out of your breast, so this is why the latch is vital for a successful breastfeeding journey. It’s also why I would recommend a lactation consultant 100%.
2. Your boobs will hurt
This can be because of different factors.
#1 Your latch is incorrect
#2 You get mastitis
#3 Your milk just dropped (this is called the letdown) and your boobs grow immensely so it is normal to experience pain.
#4 You have so much milk that your breasts are producing that they get as big and hard as they can and just a little touch can feel excruciating (and these can be for a number of reasons)
Remember your nipples are being sucked on, yes, it’s by a tiny mouth, but it’s for hours a day and night so yeah, it’s probably going to hurt. In all honesty, when my child first latched, it didn’t hurt but everything else did. When my shirt or bra touched my nipples, in the shower, and basically when I looked at them. So, I do recommend 100% to buy a nipple cream to use after every feeding.
Yes, the pain goes away. It’s hard sometimes to continue breastfeeding if you know your nipples are swollen from so much sucking but just know that this too shall pass.
3. You will be physically and emotionally drained
I remember at the beginning when I had my first newborn, I was new to all of it. I had to pump 2-3 times in the middle of the night because I didn’t have enough milk and I really wanted to breastfeed. I was exclusively breastfeeding and that meant I had to be available 24/7 for my baby. I was exhausted, brain-fogged, depressed and I just felt horrible. Also, I thought I had gotten it down with the latch, but it was only after a few days that I took him to the ER and the Dr. told me he wasn’t eating enough. I cried almost the entire day after this episode. So yes, I felt the emotional toll. If you felt it too, know that you are not alone. Remember that even though your baby’s instinct is there to latch on, they still need help. They are new at this too, just like you.
4. Get help and support
The first few weeks are the most tough and this is why it’s so important to get help from a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding support center for any questions that you have. Most importantly, get support from your loved ones. You NEED help. You don’t need to do this alone. Your mom, dad, sister, brother, friend, neighbor, anybody that can help you with anything that you need. You will need extra hands at the beginning and as time goes by. You will eventually be able to eat with one hand while you breastfeed. You will also be able to use your hands-free pump on the non-feeding breast to pick-up stuff with your foot or call someone to come fix your plumbing. You’ll be a pro.
5. It gets messy
When your milk comes in, it comes in a flash, which means your boobs will leak everywhere. I recommend purchasing overnight breast pads which are a life saver! Oh, did I mention everything else will be covered in breast milk? Your clothes, your baby, your baby’s clothes, the couch, the rocking chair… you name it. This will stop once your milk has adjusted to your baby’s needs. I honestly had a burp cloth handy every time to clean any mess.
FYI: Other times you’ll need washing just because the burpie won’t cut it.
6. One bad latch or bite can injure your nipples
If you incorrectly latch your baby and leave her there, at the end of the feed you may have a cracked and sore nipple. After that your nipple will need time to heal so you might end up pumping instead of breastfeeding directly. If your baby bites (assuming they’ve already grown teeth) and your nipple gets hurt, it will need to heal as well but pumping is even more painful than breastfeeding on its own.
7. There are different breastfeeding positions
You will soon find out that you and your baby have a favorite position. Try all of them to see which one you and your baby like most. It’s vital that you do not sacrifice your posture to breastfeed your baby. Make sure you are both comfortable in that position you are using. Pillows and anything stuffy can definitely help raise, lower or support any body part for a successful feeding. Your baby might want to switch positions as she grows but always remember you are both comfortable.
8. Be proud of yourself
Even if you spent one day breastfeeding, be proud for making the effort into trying, even if you failed the first 10 times. Be proud of yourself no matter what decision you make. Whether you decide on formula a month later. You tried. You gave your best and nobody should tell you otherwise.
9. Be patient with yourself and your baby
Lower your expectations in the beginning. Every single mama I have had a conversation with has quit because they had VERY high expectations and things did not go as planned. Of course not! It’s like riding a bike for the first time. You are probably not going to get it the first time you hop on it. Also, it’s not a race! Stop competing and comparing yourself with other moms that “make it look easy” you don’t know what struggles she went through. Truth is, everyone’s new at this, you and your baby are learning. Take a breath. Find a positive mantra or a happy place to get you through. Whatever it is that will help you connect with yourself and your baby. No one else.
10. It gets easier as baby gets bigger
Both nipples and breasts will get used to the feedings as the days pass. You gain knowledge every single day and your baby also teaches you what she likes and doesn’t. There will be unexpected events, like everything else in life. Every single breastfeeding journey has a unique path with different experiences but know that you will manage. You are not alone in the difficulty, the struggles, the restless nights, the pain, the injuries. You’ve got this mama! Also, be kind to yourself and know that if it works out, that’s amazing, but if it doesn’t, you are still amazing.
Know this: If you have trouble, you are not alone if you’re feeling despair or inadequate. You’re awesome, you can get through it. The decisions you make are yours, and they are for the best for you, your baby, and your sanity. I wish more lactation consultants would address the psychological impact of feeding issues to help moms get through the rough patches both physically and emotionally.