When I popped out my first baby, I thought I knew what I was getting into with breastfeeding.
After all, as a Pinterest aficionado, I had read plenty of mommy blog articles about what it was like to breastfeed and how to prepare.
But as it turns out, breastfeeding can be a lot more technical and nuanced than just holding your baby up and waiting for it to chomp onto your boob.
While this is not a breastfeeding how-to, I want to share with you 11 things I wish someone had told me before my first baby.
Disclaimer: I am not a lactation consultant or medical professional of any kind. I am writing from my own experience breastfeeding. My first, I breastfed for 18 months, and I am now breastfeeding my second baby.
11 Things No One Tells You About the First Week of Breastfeeding
If you’re expecting a sweet little bebe, and you’re anything like me, you’ve been all over Pinterest reading up on how to prepare for life after birth.
Is it just me, or does it seem like everyone on the planet ADORES breastfeeding?
I’ll be 100% real and honest with you… I do not love breastfeeding.
I love what it does for my children, and my budget definitely loves it, but personally, it’s just not my favorite thing in the world to do.
So before I even get on to the tips, I just want to let you know upfront– it’s OKAY if you don’t live to breastfeed. You don’t have to love every second of it. It doesn’t mean you need to quit breastfeeding, and it doesn’t make you a bad mom.
You can still be successful, you can still find it rewarding, and you can still enjoy it.
With that said, here are eleven things I wish I’d known when I started breastfeeding.
#1. Waiting for your milk to come in is frustrating
One of the beautiful and amazing things about breastfeeding is how natural it is. Your body knows your baby had been born and that it’s time to start producing milk. In the meantime, it provides your baby with a wonderful, nutritive substance called colostrum.
Unfortunately, natural does not automatically mean easy.
It takes a couple of days for your milk to come in, and then a while longer to get your supply up.
Sadly, a good supply is not instant.
Having recently given birth and started nursing my second baby, I’m seeing afresh how frustrating it is to wait for milk to come in.
Your baby may want to nurse faster than you refill, and get upset or fussy when you don’t keep up. You may feel helpless, just wanting to be able to give your baby what he wants/needs, but don’t worry Mom Friend– this phase will be over soon.
Comfort your little one as best you can, and let them nurse, even if you think you don’t have milk. That sucking will tell your body how much it needs to produce!
My Favorite Pumping Supplies:
- Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump (yes, I like my manual pump better than the electric)
- Milk Storage Bags
- Haakaa Silicone Breast Pump (good for catching an overactive letdown)
#2. Being sore and being in pain are not the same thing
With my first baby, I was in excruciating pain.
She nursed like she breathed– ENDLESSLY –and I attributed my cracked, bleeding, bruised nipples to that.
I thought I was just sensitive.
No, Mom Friend.
It’s one thing to be a little sore at first. After all, it is a very sensitive part of your body that’s suddenly getting used a lot more than normal.
But you shouldn’t be bruise, cracked, bleeding, or blistered.
You shouldn’t continue to be sore for an extended period of time.
If you’re experiencing a lot of discomfort, your baby most likely isn’t latching correctly.
I’d encourage you to consult with a lactation consultant. They will be able to help you correct your baby’s latch, and identify whether a lip or tongue tie might be contributing to the issue.
I really wish I had worked with a lactation expert the first time around.
#3. Your baby may want to nurse endlessly
Did you read any of those resources that tell you newborns eat every 2-3 hours?
You baby might very well feed FOR 2-3 hours.
Especially in the beginning, new babies want to “cluster-feed.” This is actually really important for getting your milk supply up, and providing the comfort your baby is looking for.
Don’t let anyone scold you for being your baby’s “pacifier.”
For one thing, what is actually wrong with being your baby’s source of comfort and security!?
For another, a newborn is not ready for a feeding schedule, and neither are your boobs.
Your baby’s tummy is tiny. They need to feed often! And your milk supply needs those important signals to know to keep producing. Which brings me to the next tip.
#4. Your milk works on supply and demand
Yeah, it can for sure get annoying when you just fed your baby 10 minutes ago (for like, a freaking hour) and there she goes, rooting on you again.
You can’t POSSIBLY be hungry again already! you might think to yourself.
Well maybe she is and maybe she isn’t. Either way, she’s telling you what she needs is to nurse. (please make sure to also read #9!!)
Maybe your baby isn’t hungry again right then, but rather is trying to tell your body to make more milk. She’s planning ahead! She might not need more milk this moment, but she will need your supply to increase steadily as she gets bigger. The way she signals you to make more milk is to nurse more.
Your body doesn’t just automatically crank out gallons of milk. It works on a system of supply and demand (which doesn’t just turn off at night, by the way). The more your baby demands, the more your body will supply, so long as you provide the fuel your body needs to make the milk (#7 and #11).
#5. Your pediatrician is not a lactation expert
One thing you need to keep in mind going forward is that your pediatrician is not a lactation expert. (Unless, of course, your pediatrician IS a lactation expert.)
While I am definitely NOT telling you to ignore any medical advice from your child’s doctor, you should consult an actual lactation expert if you’re having difficulty breastfeeding, or if your pediatrician gives you information you aren’t sure about (like telling you you’re nursing your baby too much, or that you need to wean by “X” months).
Your pediatrician also might not be an expert on lip and tongue ties. (I’ve even had a pediatrician tell me lip/tongue ties are a medical “trend” and really aren’t a big deal, despite the fact that I was struggling to breastfeed a baby with a tight upper lip tie.)
No matter how much you trust your pediatrician, remember that YOU are your child’s last line of defense. YOU are your child’s advocate, and if something doesn’t sit right with you, trust your instincts! You can seek out referrals and second opinions.
#6. A good latch comes with practice
While I am glad that breastfeeding is making a comeback, I’m afraid that there’s an overemphasis on the front end (pushing mothers to breastfeed) and not enough follow through on the back end (not supporting mothers who struggle to breastfeed).
I feel like the message being communicated is that breastfeeding should just come easily and naturally because it is, well, natural.
But the truth is, it takes a lot of practice for both mom and baby.
Your baby might latch flawlessly from the get-go, but much of the time, a good latch requires work.
Just because your baby doesn’t have a good latch doesn’t automatically mean that she has a lip or tongue tie. And the great news is, a good latch is something you can master early on from the comfort of home.
I’m embedding a video here that I found SUPER helpful as I started breastfeeding again with my second baby. She teaches so many things I wish I had known with my first.
#7. Calories are your friend
Another great disservice to mothers, one that can actually be detrimental to your milk supply and breastfeeding efforts, is the pressure to “bounce-back” after birth.
I’m sure you’ve seen the “belly-only pregnancy” articles on Pinterest, along with the “how I lost all of the baby weight by 6 weeks!” pins.
The truth is, you’re SUPPOSED to store a little fat during pregnancy to fuel your milk supply after birth.
You don’t need to go on a diet the day you get home from the hospital. You should eat well, and not feel one bit bad about it because you are literally keeping another person alive with your body. That requires calories!
I’m not telling you to live on donut holes and cake frosting. You and your baby both need good nutrition!
But now is not the time to try a hardcore diet that eliminates or excludes food groups (like carbs, ahem).
If you need to make more changes to lose some extra weight later, you can, but a compromised milk supply can be tough to correct.
#8. Pacifiers are not the devil
This one actually makes me a little mad.
Everybody tells you from about the second your baby exits your uterus (if not sooner) not to use bottles and pacifiers in the first 4-6 weeks at the risk of the dreaded nipple confusion.
Well, I listened with my first baby, and then 4-6 weeks came around and guess what… My baby absolutely refused bottles and pacifiers. Which made our lives unnecessarily difficult because I could never leave baby with dad for more than an hour, and car trips were a pain.
So I did a butt-ton of research to find out if this “nipple confusion” thing was legit, and what I found was pretty shocking.
The academic, peer-reviewed studies on the subject actually revealed the opposite. Babies CAN absolutely distinguish between a real nipple and a rubber one (duh), AND adapt their suck accordingly.
I wrote an entire article on what the research ACTUALLY shows about nipple confusion that you should check out if you want more information.
Long story short, pacifiers (and bottles) are not the devil, and are a fantastic tool to give an exhausted breastfeeding mom (and her abused nipples) a break.
The key here is not to use the pacifier to suppress hunger cues.
You still want to nurse as responsively as possible to support your milk supply (and your baby’s attachment), but I can tell you first-hand that when your baby has been nursing for literally HOURS on end and you just want a pee break and maybe even a shower that handing dad the baby and a binky can save your life.
With baby #2, we introduced a high-quality natural rubber pacifier right from the get-go, and the so-called “nipple confusion” is not an issue whatsoever.
#9. You are allowed to take breaks
To piggy-back off of the last point, you are allowed to take breaks from nursing.
My first baby was very high-need and I’m not exaggerating, she legitimately nursed ALL THE TIME. Seriously, she barely took breaks. She was a marathon breastfeeder. I was so drained, and it stressed me immensely to have to un-latch her and hear her cry if I needed to do something radical like, I dunno, eat or pee.
I felt like a terrible mom when I couldn’t feed her the exact moment she wanted to nurse, or if I had to stop short, yet I was literally living in my nursing chair round the clock and it was taking a toll.
While my second baby is (so far) much easier than my first was, she still does want to nurse a lot because hello, she’s a newborn and that’s what they do. But a very important lesson my first taught me is that your needs matter, too.
Lemme say that again for the folks at the back. YOUR NEEDS MATTER TOO.
Your are not your child’s slave and there has to be a balance between what your child needs and what you need.
#10. Your boobs are gonna get huge
So to be fair, somebody did actually tell me this ahead of time, but I honestly did not realize just how dramatically your breasts change when your milk comes in.
It even surprised me the second time around.
I’d strongly suggest to wait to buy (or at least wait to take the tags off) your nursing bras until after your milk is in. If you want one for the hospital/first couple days at home, get something very unstructured and stretchy until you see what size you actually need.
(I really love the nursing bras and tanks from Target’s Auden line!! They are so comfortable, and worlds better than the ones I got from Motherhood Maternity my first baby. They are also VERY affordable!)
#11. Galactagogues are fine; water is better
A galactagogue, besides being a super fun word to say, is a substance thought to promote lactation.
Some popular examples you might have heard about are oats, fenugreek, and brewer’s yeast, to name a few.
There are a lot lactation treats on the market that promise to boost your milk supply in the form of a tasty brownie, or mouth-watering cookie, but they will cost you a pretty penny.
I am not dissing them by any means, but the truth is, no amount of galactagogues are going to magically provide you with an abundance of milk if you aren’t drinking enough water.
Before experimenting with any extra supplements, focus first on drinking plenty of water throughout your day. I know it’s not an exciting or novel tip, but it’s easily neglected when you’re busy caring for a new baby, and maybe other children, too.
It has really helped me a lot to have an insulated, spill proof drink cup since I can keep it close at hand in the bed or recliner without worrying about messes. Plus, I like my water ice cold, so having an insulated thermos is a game-changer. When I really don’t feel like drinking water, I’ll add in a tasty drink mix.
If you’re still struggling with milk supply, and you’re drinking the amount of water recommended by your doctor/midwife, then don’t hesitate to contact a lactation consultant!
And if you do want to test out some galactagogues, I recommend doing some solid research and consulting with your doctor/midwife/lactation consultant because herbal supplements, even if labeled for nursing mothers, may not be advisable or safe since they have the potential to enter your breastmilk.
Now I want to hear from you!
Did any of these tips surprise you? What are your personal breastfeeding goals?