Breastfeeding is an absurd concept. The baby is born. She wraps her tiny mouth around your ridiculously large postpartum nipples. She sucks instinctively. And, somehow, milk comes out and she’s nourished on that and (unless you’re supplementing with formula) that alone for the next six months? *Record scratching noise.* Whaaaat?
I read Breastfeeding Made Simple cover-to-cover before Ali was born, but as a recovering perfectionist who learns best by doing, the concept still completely stumped me. I remember holding Ali in the moments after she was born, sort of panicking (I had only held one baby ever), boobs out, desperately wanting to nail the whole motherhood thing, and asking every human woman who walked into the room, “am I doing this right?”
The nurses, the lactations consultants, the doulas, your mom, and every mom who’s breastfed will likely have advice for you, so I’m going to go ahead and add myself to the list. These are the ten breastfeeding truths I’ve learned since becoming pro on June 4th.
1. You’ll get the hang of it.
At first, breastfeeding feels so, so awkward. You have to get yourself set up just so. You have to hold the baby just right. You need the lights on so you can guide your “boob sandwich” into your baby’s tiny face hole. I promise though, soon enough you will have spent as many hours breastfeeding as an Olympic gymnast spends training for gold and you’ll be able to breastfeed with one arm while shoving food into your own face with the other. Ask me how I know.
2. It hurts. But not forever.
Lactation consultants maintain that if breastfeeding hurts, then something is amiss. Bullshit. There is a tiny human–who has never eaten before–sucking on your nipples– which have never fed a tiny human before. Nipples are sensitive. They are going to get sore, just like your soft hands would get sore if all of a sudden you had to swing hammers for a living. Use that nipple butter like your life depends on it, and things will ease up in a month or so. It’s not forever.
Same goes for the other pain associated with breastfeeding. The uterine contractions triggered by breastfeeding only last a week or so. The weird nervy pain goes away in a couple weeks. Severe engorgement is gone within a month or so. This too shall pass.
3. Hand expression is dumb.
Lactation consultants, especially ones of the hippie variety, fucking love hand expression. They think it’s the coolest thing since, I don’t know, making an artistic print with your placenta. But nope. Using your hands to milk your boobs into a small kitchen bowl is not a “game changer.” Use your breast pump, free with insurance (I got mine here), and let the machine do it for you. That said, being able to milk yourself sans equipment is a handy skill (see what I did there?) to have in your back pocket should you ever need it. I know a mom who forgot her pump at TSA for a transatlantic flight and ended up hand expressing into a cup in the lavatory. Badass status for sure.
4. Expect a mess.
Sometimes baby will stop sucking but your body will continue producing. Sometimes it’s a trickle. Sometimes it’s a legit geyser. Either way, it’s helpful to tuck a little cloth under your boob so you don’t ruin a dozen shirts a day or, alternatively, smell like sour milk until your next shower.
5. What you eat matters. (And dairy might be the problem.)
Breastfeeding burns a crazy amount of calories, so you’re going to be hungry all. the. time. Make sure to have healthy snacks on hand so you don’t binge on whatever nonsense is in the pantry. (Ahem, chocolate for lunch anyone?) Baby is getting all of her nutrition through you, so choose your food wisely.
Also, a solid number of babies have a dairy sensitivity that they will eventually grow out of. If your baby has a tendency to become a human puke fountain–like more than the “normal” tiny bit of spit up all babies produce–try cutting out all dairy products from your diet and see what happens. Cutting out dairy worked miracles for us. (So much less laundry when baby doesn’t puke fountain daily!) Dairy-sensitive babies are allergic to the dairy proteins, not the lactose, so lactose-free products won’t help.
6. No one cares if you nurse in public. And if they care, it’s their problem.
I read so many stories before Ali was born about militant mamas putting breastfeeding shamers in their place. I fantasized about my moment to do the same. But it still hasn’t happened. Not a single person has asked me to cover up or given me side eye. Granted, I live in San Francisco, where literally no one cares if they see your boobs, but regardless of where you are, give zero fucks about feeding your baby in public. If you want to cover up because it makes you more comfortable or helps your baby concentrate, by all means, do it. But don’t ever feel like you have to. If you’re confident about it, no one will even notice.
7. If you’re struggling with over-supply, don’t be afraid to pump for relief.
When my milk came in, I was incredibly uncomfortable. My boobs looked like foreign objects. My lactation consultant advised me to hand express until I felt a bit of relief, which also made it easier for baby to latch. (It’s easier to suck on a pillow than a rock, apparently.) She warned me not to pump because it would likely trigger my body to make even more milk. If I hadn’t taken her so literally, I would’ve pumped until I was comfortable, a few minutes– or an ounce or so–on each side, instead of milking myself into a bowl while laugh-crying.
8. If you’re struggling with too little supply, there are lots of people with a lot of opinions on that. Listen selectively.
I had the opposite problem, so I am no expert, but everyone and especially everyone on the internet has opinions about what to do if you have low supply. Try what might work for you, but if you feel like you’ve given it an honest try and it’s just not working for you, formula will nourish your baby just fine.
9. Side lying is not a savior for everyone.
Some moms swear by side lying breastfeeding, basically feeding your baby while you both lay on your sides. They claim it helps everyone get more sleep, since you don’t have to get out of bed to do it, but I found it to be the least restful position of them all. It killed my back. Baby kept popping off. Milk spilled all over the sheets. It was no bueno. Later I found out that ladies with smaller tatas (holler!) have a harder time with this position than our big breasted sisters. So if you’re on the smaller side, maybe side lying isn’t for you.
10. On that note, no one hold or method is for everyone.
My doula swore by the cross-cradle hold. A friend by the football hold. The lactation consultant by creating pillow forts and the (idiotically named) My Brest Friend. The nurses by reclined breastfeeding. What ended up working for me was a regular cradle position (baby in the crook of my elbow) leaning against some pillows on the bed. Try what people love, but if it doesn’t work for you and something else works better, that’s cool too.
When it gets tough, and it definitely will get tough, just remember… this too shall pass. (And then you’ll be nostalgic for it like I am now because you’re a crazy person.)