Last week, a friend had a new baby. When we went to see her in the hospital, I got to snuggle a sweet squishy boy, who began to fuss and stuff his hand in his mouth. I know that move. "Looks like he's getting hungry, Momma. Want to nurse him? Want us to leave so you can?" I could see the look of panic in her eyes. One I'm sure I've had, too. "Um, that's not going so well... It hurts!" In that moment, I was so ANGRY for her! I wish mothers were given more information about breastfeeding by their care providers when they were pregnant. You can choose to take a breastfeeding class, but I know the one I took was woefully inadequate, and it's yet another expense associated with pregnancy that a lot of families understandably choose to skip. It's been on my heart the last few days, so here I give you 5 things I wish every new mom would be told about breastfeeding.
1) Breastfeeding is a journey. Yours will not look like mine, or your mother's, sister's, friend's, or anyone else's. Neither will your journey with a first baby look like one with a second, third, or fourth child. With each beautiful new life will come a brand new experience that sometimes can look more like National Lampoon's Vacation than a peaceful paradise. So often we hear that "breastfeeding is natural" and assume that means it will come instinctively, but it doesn't. You and baby will have to get into your very own groove, ant it will take some time. That's OK. Don't think that because you feel like you've got no idea what you're doing that you're going to fail. We all feel that way at first.
2) Sometimes it just hurts. I know, I know. I just heard every lactation consultant and La Leche League leader scream collectively "It doesn't hurt is you've got the latch right!" I call bullshit. For the first few weeks it can hurt like a muthaf***er. With my very first child, a lactation consultant came into my hospital room after I had her to see how breastfeeding was going. I learned that I have flat nipples. Did you know that was a thing? I didn't. So she brought me nipple shells to wear in my bra between feedings and an industrial grade pump to try and correct the problem. The next day, she came back to observe me breastfeeding and got all up in our business and was trying to shove my breast further into my little baby's mouth. Now, you may not have noticed, *snicker snicker* but I have rather large breasts and (TMI) proportionate areolas. I am never ever going to have a child that is going to be able to get the entire areola in their mouth like you're supposed to, and she really ought to have been able to see that. Despite that fact, it obviously doesn't mean that I am unable to breastfeed. What it does mean it that I experience toe-curling, tear-inducing, don't-talk-to-me-while-the-baby's-latching, pain for a good 4-6 weeks after baby is born. Even if you don't happen to have large, flat areolas, there is a human being sucking on you for dear life (literally) every two hours (at least). That's just bound to hurt a little bit until your body gets used to it.
3) Cluster feeding is normal. It was not until I had my third baby that I learned about cluster feeding. My girls both had their own schedules that they settled into on their own. Zachariah? Not so much. He would nurse on both sides for a good 20 minutes each, and then want more 15 minutes later. Sometimes he might go for a 2 hour stretch, but his nursing pattern had no actual pattern, EVER. Those people who like to try to shame mothers who nurse in public saying "just plan around baby's nursing times." clearly don't understand cluster feeding. I may as well have sat around topless for about the first 8 weeks of his life. He stretched out feedings a bit after that, but still never in any kind of predictable manner, and it was always prone to changes with growth spurts, teething, or just a general "I want to be close to mommy"ness.
4) Speaking of nursing in public, be like Nike and Just Do It! Wear a cover, or don't wear a cover. It's totally up to you. Almost every state in the US (With the exception of Idaho and West Virginia) has laws exempting breastfeeding from public indecency. During colder months, I favored the two shirt method - nursing tank with a shirt over it. Tank and bra came down, shirt came up. All the important parts are covered by a nursing child. During the summer, Baby laying in your lap really covers most everything anyway, so go with it. Some women prefer the over the top breastfeeding method. As we've already mentioned, I'm pretty busty, so I'm not comfortable with it for me. But you know what? If I were, It would still be OK. Do what makes you comfortable, feed your baby, and don't let anyone give you crap about it.
5) Hang in there. Remember my first point? Breastfeeding is a journey. The first few weeks are ROUGH, and you'll continue to run into rough patches throughout your journey. Teething, growth spurts, sleep regressions, sickness, all are going to impact nursing frequency, and some will also affect latch. But if you hang in there, it is so, so rewarding to be able to provide such a sweet nursing bond with your baby. Obviously, I love breastfeeding, or I wouldn't still be allowing my almost three year old to nurse, no matter how much he wants to. It's worth it.
Last, but not least - (Did I say 5? Think of this as 5.1) Just do your best and don't beat yourself up about it. My breastfeeding experiences have ranged from exclusively breastfed to supplemented with formula and weaned early. Maybe you nurse your baby for a week, maybe you nurse your baby well into toddlerhood. Every little bit counts. Whether you're a momma who has IGT, you have a baby with a tongue tie or lip tie, or it's smooth sailing from the beginning, hold your head high, feed your baby and create your very own beautiful journey.
Disclaimer: I am just a mom. You know your body and baby best. If you feel like something is really just not right, find a good lactation consultant. :)