For most things in life, experience is the best teacher. We won’t truly learn how to do something until we, well, do it. Even so, there are things about certain experiences I would have liked to have known ahead of time. Things that would have, at the very least, mentally prepared me for what was to come. Things that, for some reason, the books usually leave out.
I’ve already written about the things I wish I had known before I had my second child and before I had my third child, and since those posts are two of my most popular, I’m going to continue the series.
My third installment is:
Eight Things I Wish I’d Known About Breastfeeding
Before I begin, a tiny disclaimer: I am not a breastfeeding expert. Everyone will have a different experience and I am sharing what I learned from my experiences with my three children.
Also, I have breastfed and formula fed and I have no desire to get into a debate about the best way to feed your child. If you love and care for your baby, you’re an amazing mom. End of story.
Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link. If you make a purchase (at no extra cost to you) I’ll receive a small commission. Thank you!
1. Natural Isn’t the Same Thing as Easy
If you only read one point in this post, read this one. We’ve all heard someone say, “She’s a natural artist,” or “Algebra comes naturally to her.” The implication is that something that is natural is easy; that it doesn’t take much work to ‘get it’.
What could be more natural than breastfeeding? Not much, but please hear me loud and clear: Just because breastfeeding is natural does not mean it will come easily!
Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones and it will. My oldest caught on quickly to the whole thing and we had a pretty seamless transition.
Then I had my second child and WOW, it was a struggle!!! I’d spend at least half an hour just trying to get him latched (while he screamed the whole time) only to have him let go after three sucks and we’d have to start the process all over again. This went on for three or four weeks before we really got it down.
The Take Away: It might be hard and that is 100% normal. Don’t give up! It could take a few weeks before it “feels” natural.
[Tweet “Just bc breastfeeding is natural doesn’t mean it will come easily! @Oh_Honestly_LC”]
2. It Hurts at First
Imagine putting a damp suction cup on a fresh sunburn. Now imagine attaching a pulsating vacuum to the suction cup. Now imagine doing that for thirty minutes every two hours. Guess what? It hurts. A ton. Maybe not the first day or two, but by day three, feeding your baby is kind of a nightmare. The good news is that it only lasts a week or two before your skin ‘toughens up’ and the pain goes away.
I tell you this because you’ve probably heard that if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong. LIES! Well, sort of. It’s true that if the baby latches incorrectly, it will hurt and you should readjust. However, to a mom who is new to breastfeeding, it’s pretty hard to tell the difference between the pain of a bad latch and the pain of sensitive skin.
The Take Away: Pain doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing it wrong. It’ll definitely hurt at first. Lansinoh and walking around topless to air things out are your friends. (Use discretion with that second one 😉 )
3. It Might Take a While for Your Milk to Come In
When I had my first baby, my milk didn’t come in for four or five days. It’s easy to start worrying that your tiny baby is going to starve to death, but somehow the colostrum manages to sustain them until the good stuff arrives.
(Also, if you’re worried that you won’t know whether your milk has come in or not, let me assure you; there’s no mistaking it.)
The Take Away: Obviously you need to keep an eye on how the baby is doing, but don’t worry if it takes a few days; that’s normal. More good news: With each successive baby, it’ll happen a little sooner.
4. The First Time Your Baby Sleeps Through the Night is a Mixed Blessing
It’s the holy grail of parenthood: Your child sleeping through the night. My kids all started sleeping through by the time they were six weeks old (yes, you can hate me now) and for each of them, it was the same thing:
I’d wake up around 4 am in amazement, “Oh my goodness, they’ve been asleep since I put them to bed last night!” The amazement would quickly turn to disgust, “Oh my goodness, I’m soaking wet and extremely uncomfortable.” Then came the mental debate, “Do I pump or do I wait for them to wake up? If I pump, they’ll probably wake up two seconds after I’m done and then I won’t have much left to give them. If I don’t pump, they’ll probably sleep for another two hours and I’ll explode.
The Take Away: If your baby starts to sleep through the night while you’re still exclusively breastfeeding, don’t be surprised if you want them to wake up!
5. It Can Feel Confining
A baby needs to eat every two to three hours on average. If you are the sole source of food for that little one, even if you pump, there are moments when you’ll feel tied down. Everything (everything!) must be planned around a feeding schedule. Sometimes you’ll feel like your entire life is measured in two hour increments.
Want to run errands by yourself? If you feed the baby at this time, you’ll have this amount of time to be out before you need to be back to nurse. Cooking dinner? Make sure the baby won’t be hungry halfway through. It would be a shame to burn that dish you love.
The Take Away: Just like the huge adjustment of becoming a parent, breastfeeding takes time to adjust to as well. When you’re used to doing things on your own schedule, breastfeeding can be a bit of a shock. Take time away if you need it (pumping definitely helps with this!) and remember that this is only for a short season.
6. It’s Awesome for Introverts
Breastfeeding gives you a rock solid excuse to go hide for 20 minutes during social gatherings, even if those gatherings are at your own house. Someone will say, “Hey, where did (your name) go?” And someone else will say, “She’s feeding the baby.” And the first person will say, “Oh okay, great!”
No one will think you’re antisocial, no one (except maybe your husband or closest friends or relatives) will disturb you, and you’ll get a few minutes of peace and quiet to recharge.
The Take Away: Enjoy these moments!! Don’t feel guilty for hiding away and certainly don’t feel guilty for enjoying it. It’s good for everyone if the introverted mom has the time she needs to refresh. Plus, that one on one time with your little one is pretty darn special!
7. It Doesn’t Always Go the Way You Planned
I wish I didn’t have to include this one, but it’s important to know. It’s easy to get a plan in our heads of how things will go and not consider any alternatives. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t always follow our plans.
In my case, two of my kids ended up being sensitive (and in one case, having allergies) to some of the foods I was eating. I cut out food group after food group until finally I had to make the difficult decision to switch to formula. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and for a long time, I felt like a failure.
There are other things that might throw a wrench in the works. Maybe your milk doesn’t come in or your baby is tongue-tied or you end up with an illness. Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying these things mean you can’t continue to breastfeed. I’m just saying that you should expect the unexpected.
The Take Away: If you’re prepared for things to not go the way you want, it will help you cope and make decisions with a clearer head. When you’re completely thrown for a loop, it’s tough to decide what to do in the midst of the emotions. Regardless of what happens, hear this: YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE!
8. Your Boobs Will Never be the Same
I’ll end on a depressing note. It’s true. They’ll never be the same. I can’t tell you what will happen because it varies from woman to woman. Some have said theirs got bigger when they were done breastfeeding. Some get smaller. Some disappear entirely. Some get droopy.
The Take Away: Change is inevitable. Prepare yourself for it now and it will be less of a shock later.
Did I miss anything? Tell me in the comments!
Lauren is a wife, mom of three, and the writer behind Oh, Honestly. She loves to share the real life joys and trials of motherhood so other moms will know they’re not alone. She is also the author of The Words Your Kids Need: The Value of Writing to Your Children and How to Do It With Ease.
Andrea B. says
This is a great post. I love the tips. I’m not sure I’d add anything, although I will say that just because someone has large breasts doesn’t mean they’re going to immediately have loads of milk – or the opposite, either.
I’m going to share this on a mama’s board I’m on … shortly!
That’s a great point Andrea! If milk supply was dependent on breast size, my poor kids would have starved, lol! Thanks for sharing!!
Herchel A Scruggs says
Loved this. I had two totally opposite breastfeeding experiences. I had a kid that hated to eat (still does) and struggled to latch. Then I had my daughter who was always hungry, latched on like a pro the first time, and nursed so much I bled.
I wouldn’t change my choice to breastfeed though. I am actually back in school to become a nurse specializing in lactation (which weirds my husband out.)
That’s awesome Herchel! I had a nurse help me a ton with my second (harder to nurse) son and she was WONDERFUL. We need people like you!
Liza | (a)Musing Foodie says
Loved these! 😀 Here’s what I’d add:
1. Find a great online resource and bookmark it – my two favorites: kellymom.com and a Facebook group full of supportive been there, done that moms.
2. Understand normal nursing patterns, what supply and demand means, and put the timer away! Nursing nearly 24/7 for the first 6-8 weeks, and also during subsequent growth spurts, often causes new moms to worry that they’re not satisfying their baby’s needs or producing enough milk. On the contrary! This is all part of the normal process of your body understanding what it takes to meet your baby’s needs for the long haul. Just go with it. (And if you need a second opinion, consult an IBCLC, and/or check one of the resources in #1!)
3. Everyone’s milk flow is different – from a fire hose, to hardly noticeable (except to the latched baby).
Great points Liza! That one about the growth spurts is really important. My kids never had really pronounced ones, but I know a lot of babies do and if you’re not expecting it, you could think something was wrong.
Great post! This will be helpful to so many new moms, Lauren!
Thanks Echo! I really hope it does help!
Janine Huldie says
Wonderful article and I wish I would have read this before I had my first as I was totally clueless to pretty much all of the above and then some!
It’s a huge learning curve. Hopefully this will help some women.
I’d say the confining part was the hardest for me. My girls ate a LOT and hated taking a bottle, so I felt like I could hardly ever be away from them. If I needed to run an errand, I’d feed them, hand them off to my husband and sprint out the door to get as much done in my “window” as possible. I totally agree that natural doesn’t mean easy.
Yeah, if they won’t take a bottle then it really IS you and only you.
Amanda Bricknell says
In the same arena of sleeping through the night, comes the sleep regressions. The first one, at 4-months, I thought that I wasn’t producing enough milk all of a sudden to sustain him through the night. We were right back to feedings every 3 hours during the night and I was exhausted. I’m currenrly there with baby #2. Important to know that it’s most likely not a milk supply issue, but a new sleep pattern being established and baby is most likely waking between sleep cycles and needs mama to return to sleep.
Great point Amanda! It’s important to know about all those little stages so they don’t throw you for a loop when they happen.
So funny you are – especially the introvert part! I used to LOATHE that – having to hide at parties! lol! Really good tips, support was key for me. I had a network of women I met at a breastfeeding support group. Good post!
Haha! It’s funny how different we all are.
Yes. Yes. and. Yes.
I love this list! Especially the introvert part it was always a vacation to get away from the overcrowd of people wanting to get their hands on my little baby. lol.
It really is a nice benefit!
“Breastfeeding gives you a rock solid excuse to go hide for 20 minutes during social gatherings, even if those gatherings are at your own house.”
HAHA! I’m SUCH an introvert, so that is definitely a good reason to breastfeed, as far as I’m concerned! 😛
Yeah, and I think that’s one of the benefits not many women think or know about.
Tove Stakkestad says
This is such great advice…. especially # 1! It doesn’t come naturally – but once it clicks… it clicks. I may or may not have used the hungry baby as an excuse to hide from the in-laws.
Haha! It’s a valid excuse!
Elizabeth Flora Ross says
I’m a long way from the breastfeeding years, but I love this post! #4! OMG! No one warned me about that. In fact, no one tells you about most of this stuff. All the focus is on getting started in those early days. How about keeping it going successfully? Great post!
Great point Elizabeth! It’s just like getting married. Everyone focuses on the wedding and forgets that the real work starts once you’ve said ‘I do’!
Great post! These kinds of posts are always helpful. I’d add to see a lactation specialist and don’t feel embarrassed if you have to see them over and over again. They definitely help during the process and should be very reassuring. And you’re so right, breastfeeding is different for everyone. Wish it was a little easier=)
Thanks Bre! I agree; having a good support system is really important!!
This is a great post! I wish more breastfeeding classes and websites were honest and real about just how hard breastfeeding is, like your post does. It would help new moms not feel like so much of a failure when the unexpected arises. Thank you for your honesty! I wish I had read this before my daughter was born.
Thank you so much Mona! That really means a lot to me. I started blogging for the very reason you mentioned. It’s easy to feel like a failure when it appears that everyone around you is doing just fine. If we were more honest about the struggles, we’d realize we all go through the same things.
Alice R says
Hi there, I just wanted to echo what you’ve said about the pretty much full time (no, I take that back) 24 hour a day job it is to breastfeed!! I am still nursing my toddler (she’s 2.5 now) and she still really loves it. My breasts however, are getting close to being really done now! For one thing, she favors the right side (because if we sit on the couch one way she has a view of the window maybe? or it tastes better? I have no idea why…) But in those early days (year) — I felt like a shut-in, and I am not an introvert. So it was hard for me to be so “latched” to her. I felt deprived of everything normal for a while – sunlight, moonlight, friends, driving, bicycling, talking to people!! It didn’t help that my best friend was critical of me (she doesn’t have any kids) about how “baby centric” I was…ugh!! you try this!!
anyway, thanks for your nice blog. It’s good to hear from other moms. I wish I’d started my mommy career earlier but it was the right timing in my life – I was a late bloomer. I will likely just have the one (only child) and it does make me feel a bit sad not to have the colorful chaos of a bigger family. I am in gratitude that I conceived “naturally” at 41, and gave birth to a perfectly beautiful and healthy girl at 42! Older moms are my heroes 🙂 Take care, and have fun with your little ones. Alice
Thanks so much for your comment Alice! It’s definitely a full-time job and one that you can’t really appreciate until you’ve done it. I have a feeling that if your friend ever has a child, she’ll be coming to you with an apology! My mom tells me about having three young children and her (no kids yet) sister said something about how she couldn’t believe my mom didn’t take the time to shave her sweaters, lol!! After my aunt had kids, she told my mom how sorry she was. That story cracks me up.
I wish someone would’ve told me that nursing my baby in public wasn’t going to be some huge deal! Ladies walk around with more clevage showing then what shows when I’m feeding. & that mastitis is nothing to put off for 4weeks going to the doctor is the thing to do.
Oh gosh, I’ve heard that mastitis is just awful, but am thankful I never went through it. Definitely not something to try to fight your way through!
I’m just about to embark on my own reflection on 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding, and these eight things are pretty much spot-on. I don’t want to be depressing, but even after half a year, I still don’t feel “natural” about it. Breastfeeding is wonderful, it’s true, but it’s also been built up as this beautiful bonding experience between mother and child, and I just have never felt that way. I’m so glad I stuck with it though, because knowing my baby is getting the very best nutrition from me makes it worthwhile.
I think it’s important that women know that it won’t feel that way for everyone. Sure, some women will love it for the bonding, but if you don’t, it’s okay!
Thank you for pointing out that it does hurt. I don’t think I’ve read a single book that admitted that breastfeeding actually hurt even if the baby is latched correctly. Made me wonder if they were written by women who had ever actually done it?! The key for me to remember was not just to tough it out but to do everything I could to help them feel better in between nursing. Mine seemed to take a few weeks to get used to it.
Yes! I don’t understand why they all say it won’t hurt if they’re latched correctly. That’s true once you’ve been doing it for a while, but I wonder how many women have thought they’ve been doing it wrong because it hurt at first.
Freida Wheeler says
I’m way past the age of breastfeeding. But, I will say breastfeeding my two children was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Yes, it did hurt at first, but that pain stopped after 2-3 days for me. I guess I was different from other mothers. My mother nursed me and my brother, my family was from the “country” and I had been around nursing mothers growing up, so it wasn’t even a question for me whether to do that or not. My children had no problems “latching on”, and they always seemed to relax and enjoy their feedings. Another big benefit in my case was when your baby is hungry, everything is ready for them without a wait while they’re crying from hunger, or in their case, just wanted to nurse. The biggest problem I had was the child falling asleep while nursing. I would try to do different things to keep them awake, sometimes it worked, sometimes not. I also had an enormous amount of milk. I too experienced mastitis for about a 4-5 days. THAT was painful; but being engorged with milk only made the pain worse. My husband and I would try to go to the movie theater for a night out, but when I heard or saw an infant I would begin to leak instantly, even with pads in my bra, it was embarrassing to walk around with huge wet spots on my shirt, but I survived. I am 64 years old, but like I said the experience was so rewarding for me and my children. I’m such a big proponent of breastfeeding, I have to watch my self to not try to influence my daughters-in-law. Like I told them, I can only convey my experiences during that time. I apologize for the length of this post, but wanted to let you know, been there done that, and never had regrets. If anything breastfeeding enhanced the appearance of my breasts,no complaints. Maybe it was because I had no thoughts about feeding formula, and my boys would NOT take a bottle at all,not formula or water, not even a pacifier. I nursed my oldest son for a little over a year. My younger son nursed about 8 months, he began teething and decided to use me to help alleviate his gum pain, sometimes not letting go, would have to pry his gums apart. Thank you for allowing me to travel down memory lane. I have a smile on my face just thinking and writing about my sweet memories and experiences.
This is an awesome post! I wish I had seen this while I was still pregnant. My baby is 4 months old. I planned on breastfeeding and thought I was so prepared. I took a class and everything. There is so much no one tells you about breastfeeding. It is supposed to be so natural, but it takes so long for it to feel that way. After the first three or so weeks of excruciating pain and sobbing during nursing sessions, I started pumping and bottle feeding because I just couldn’t take it any more. I wasn’t bonding with my baby and I spend every moment in terror counting down until it was time to nurse again. But I felt like a failure and also sobbed when she got a bottle. I was so close so many times to just give up altogether and I was just sick about it. After lots of determination, twice weekly visits to a lactation consultant and amazing support from my husband, my baby and I got back to nursing full time. Now every time we nurse I am so thankful that we stuck with it. Like sometimes I cry I am so thankful. Nursing is now a highlight of my day and I enjoy every moment (pain free!). My goal to breastfeed for a year now feels very attainable. Anyway, my point is I feel like I could have written this list it is so spot on! I wish I had had a more accurate idea of what I was getting into (even though nothing can completely prepare you for it) so maybe I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself when everything didn’t go as I had planned. Now more than ever in my life I feel like I can do anything I put my mind to. Thanks for writing this so maybe another mom will have be better informed starting out.
I read this as I sat nursing my fourth baby who is now… (counting) 10 days old. Every single one of these is SPOT ON!!! I absolutely. LOVE. it! I only wish I’d known these before my first. Knowing when to expect those growths spurts and when your baby will want to nurse more frequently to increase your milk supply is vital to establishing a good supply. I didn’t know that and had some bad advice from a loved one about starting a paci when Baby #1 was actually trying to increase supply in preparation for a growth spurt. I especially wish I’d known the one about it hurting, even if you’re latching correctly. Oye. I’m so thankful I pressed through the pain until my nipples “toughened up” and healed. I’ve been able to nurse all three previous kiddos til about 14 months and then we weaned. As someone else said, find a resource you can refer to. I love and have used with each kiddo kellymom.com and BabySleepSite.com They have both been a valued help with nursing, growth spurts and sleep. Amazing. Thank you so much for the honest and real blog. “I make milk. What’s your super power?” 😀 Thanks again.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it and had similar experiences. I try to write what I think will hold true for more than just me, but that can be hard sometimes when you’re just writing from personal experience.
I’m forever grateful to the internet and to posts like these as they’re being a fountain of invaluable knowledge for me!
Nearly every day for 5 weeks, since a gave birth to my first baby, I have been about to give up breastfeeding, but at the same time hoping I’m getting somewhere and it’ll get easier and enjoyable! I do feel like a prisoner as I have been nursing him non stop, day and night, for the last 4 w! But I’m glad that it’s normal going trough this, that this happens to more mums and I wish there was more mums speaking up about what it’s really like to breastfeed rather than being all hypocritical about the whole thing and how wonderful it is! It might end up being wonderful, but first few weeks definitely put you to a test, at least to me!
Thanks for a great post and for being honest ❤️
There’s so much pressure to breastfeed; I think some women are scared to admit that it’s hard or that they don’t like it for fear of judgment. And that’s too bad because if we were honest about the hard parts, I think a lot more women would be successful at it!
Hang in there! You’re almost through the toughest part <3 And CONGRATULATIONS on your little one!!