What I wish I had known about breastfeeding
What I wish I had known about breastfeeding
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I fantasized about all of the sweet and intimate experiences I’d have when I breastfed her—something I was so intent on doing. It seemed like the single-most natural thing that my body was built to do.
And then she entered the world and I learned very quickly that it almost never comes quite as naturally as most of us moms expect.
Breastfeeding is really, really challenging and it pushes you to your limits mentally, emotionally, and physically.
I was lucky enough to be able to breastfeed—my milk came in, my baby latched, and my supply stayed strong—but I realized that even with all of these circumstances in my favor, it would still require a ton of work, commitment, perseverance, and willpower to breastfeed my child exclusively for as long as I wanted to.
I learned so many valuable lessons during those 13 months and re-learned them all over again when I welcomed my son three years later. He didn’t latch quite as well and had a minor lip tie which caused me to get mastitis three times in four months. I pumped a great deal and had to supplement with formula around six months in order to continue my breastfeeding journey with him.
If there’s one thing I took away from my two breastfeeding experiences is that breastfeeding is a journey—and a bumpy journey at that. It looks different for every mother and is certainly not always easy or magical as it seems from afar.
I wouldn’t trade my time breastfeeding my babies for anything, but I will say that there was much I wish I had known beforehand that would have helped me navigate the unchartered waters.
In honor of World Breastfeeding Month, we reached out to real moms to ask them what they wish they’d known about breastfeeding with the hopes that it might help some new moms who are about to embark on their own breastfeeding journeys.
Does breastfeeding hurt? It can be challenging initially, and yes, it can be painful.
“I wish I knew that it isn’t always so simple and natural to begin the breastfeeding journey. All these images look so peaceful when women are breastfeeding and I got the sense it would be second nature. It actually can be very difficult to get your baby to latch properly and there is a lot of learning. I wish I had looked into breastfeeding resources ahead of time instead of assuming it would be a seamless experience with my first.”
— Amber M. mom of two from Carlsbad, California
Breastfeeding takes serious time out of your schedule
“I wish I’d better understood what a huge commitment it is. I think before my own breastfeeding journey, I saw it as natural and economical and an obvious choice. It’s much more complex than that with navigating needs of my body and my baby’s body, the hours of sitting in a chair with baby or attached to the pump (or cleaning the pump), and it’s mentally taxing to live your life in 2 to 3 hour increments, always counting down to the next nursing or pumping session. It’s a beautiful thing, but it wasn’t as ‘easy’ as I had imagined. And once I was finished, I looked back and could more clearly see how stressful parts of the journey really were.”
—Katie R., mom of two from York, Maine
Breastfeeding is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting
“While it’s one of the most beautiful connections I’ll have with my child, breastfeeding also can be physically and emotionally exhausting; I wish someone had reassured me that was normal and prepared me for the challenge. It also doesn’t just happen right away naturally for everyone—with my first we had lots of feeding challenges that we ultimately worked through but it was extremely emotional and led me to feel inadequate at times. With my second, he latched immediately, and it’s been the most seamless and happy journey. No one really prepared me for how hard it could be and I would have felt really comforted knowing others had experienced the hard times and got through them.”
—Sarah G., mom of two from San Diego, California
You can still breastfeed even if you’re supplementing with formula
“It’s perfectly fine to supplement with formula and to find the schedule or balance that works best for you to be the best mom. Those early days and months can feel so long, and having the right support system so you can identify your needs in addition to your baby to find the right schedule is so helpful, but often times I found myself catering to my child’s nursing needs and I came last.”
—Jessica T., mom of two from Bridgewater, New Jersey
Seeing a lactation consultant is important
“I wish I knew that it can take a while for your milk to come in and for the baby to latch! I didn’t know what I was doing and was getting frustrated when I saw my baby wouldn’t latch and that was why she wasn’t getting enough milk. I finally found a great consultant who helped me get a piece to support my nipple size and then both my daughter and I were comfortable during feeds.”
—Jana M., mom of two from Brooklyn, New York
Every baby breastfeeds differently
“I didn’t expect to struggle as much as I did the second time around. Every baby is different and needs to learn how to latch properly. Your body also needs to adjust as well. The big thing though is the intercourse. Breastfeeding makes intercourse very painful at least for me. This was a huge surprise going into it while breastfeeding.”
—Marina S., mom of two from Swampscott, Massachusetts
You might not enjoy it—or want to do it—and that’s okay
“I wish more people had discussed how hard it was. Everyone I knew talked about how magical breastfeeding is and the bond, and so on. It wasn’t like that for me. It was hard. I’m so proud that I was able to do it, but I wish I’d known more women who said ‘Yeah, I don’t like this either.’”
—Joanna M., mom of two from Boston, Massachusetts
Signs your milk is coming in: The process may not feel pleasant.
“I wish I knew the feeling that can come when your milk comes in. I went home from the hospital and ended up with flu-like symptoms for a period of time, which was my milk coming in. I had no idea that it could feel like that.”
—Andrea G., mom of two from Swampscott, Massachusetts
A support system is essential to your survival as a breastfeeding parent
“You need support and to self-advocate, because otherwise I see why people give up. I had amazing family and friends to help problem solve issues, and I refused to give up… so you definitely need to want to continue. I also did not realize how much babies need to nurse in the beginning, like all the time. Ha! I would have bought more books (pictures sent by my friend of The Nursing Mothers Companion book was my life saver with my first!) or pre-sought out lactation groups.”
—Abbey G., mom of two from Marblehead, Massachusetts
It’s common for babies to have lip or tongue ties
“My first had an undiagnosed lip tie and it took 6-plus months for us to figure out feeding. I was bleeding and in tears for months while trying to power through the process and at 18 months learned that a big frenulum equals lip tie. I had been noticed this from the beginning, yet lactation and pediatrician missed it. This knowledge would have made my experience so much more enjoyable versus being a painful labor of love.”
—Rachel O., mom of two from Marblehead, Massachusetts
Note: If you are having trouble breastfeeding (maybe your baby has a challenge latching or always seems hungry) or if you develop a fever, a rash, or sore nipples, seek help from your doctor or pediatrician. Though breastfeeding is uncomfortable for some women, it should not be overly painful.
Q: Can you get pregnant while breastfeeding?
A: Breastfeeding can offer some layer of protection against pregnancy, due to the fact that your levels of the hormone prolactin are quite high in order to produce milk and this same hormone can shut down your ovulation. That being said, it’s not a foolproof birth control method. It is possible to get pregnant even before your period returns, since you ovulate two weeks prior. What’s more: Some women can ovulate and can get pregnant as soon as 4 weeks after giving birth.
Q: Can you drink while breastfeeding?
A: The World Health Organization recommends against drinking any amount of alcohol while breastfeeding, since it can get into your milk supply. However, the amount of alcohol that transfers to your breast milk is quite low, so if you do choose to drink, it’s a good idea to wait at least 2 hours after you’ve finished an alcoholic beverage before you breastfeed your child.
Q: Can you get a tattoo while breastfeeding?
A:The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not have a specific stance in regard to whether or not it’s safe to get a tattoo while you’re breastfeeding. Of course, getting a tattoo comes with its own set of risks, including infection, allergic reaction, and pain, all of which could have a negative impact on your milk supply and/or ability to breastfeed.
Q: Can I take ibuprofen while breastfeeding?
A: Yes, it is safe to take ibuprofen or other NSAIDs while you are breastfeeding, since it transfers into the breast milk in very small amounts. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends taking the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.
Q: Can you drink coffee while breastfeeding?
A: Yes, it is safe to drink coffee while breastfeeding; however, it’s smart to limit your intake to between 200-300 mg (1 to 2 cups of coffee per day). If you notice your baby is particularly irritable or agitated after you nurse when you’re drinking a cup of coffee or have recently had a cup of coffee, it might be a good idea to consume your caffeine after a feeding session or cut it out altogether.
Q: When do you get your period after birth while breastfeeding?
A: The time in which it takes your menstrual cycle to return while you’re still breastfeeding can vary between individuals. Some breastfeeding women might experience a return in their cycle weeks after giving birth while others may not have a return until they stop breastfeeding completely.