The inspiration for this post stems from my own personal breastfeeding experience through which I realized that breastfeeding was much more difficult than I thought it would be.
When I was asked if I would be breastfeeding, my first reply was, “Of course!”. I mean I had heard about how important it was, but, honestly, the whole idea boggled my mind (almost as much as birth itself).
I had no idea how my breasts would ever produce enough milk to nurture a baby, let alone how my newborn (and I) would even know how to breastfeed. But it’s natural, right? So, I just will know?
No one told me that breastfeeding could be incredibly painful. No one explained to me how milk supply works or that I could lose it. There’s a lot of what no one prepared me for.
Honestly, though, no one could’ve really prepared me for that first month so I won’t suggest that I can. However, there are some things I wish I knew (some of which I have already mentioned) and understood more BEFORE I was expected to breastfeed. So, if you plan on breastfeeding, here’s what I recommend you to get familiar with.
Also, check out my personal breastfeeding story. There I talk about my struggle with breastfeeding and my journey from a crashing milk supply to an eventual oversupply. I also include tips on how you could increase your own breastmilk supply (I went from supplementing to a 400 oz stash in a month!).
Disclosure: There may be affiliate links in this post. If you choose to use them I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting this site!
Preparing to Breastfeed
The bulk of the work for breastfeeding preparation is done by your body. Throughout pregnancy, your breasts have been changing and preparing for lactation. You might have even experienced some colostrum leakage in the months leading up to your delivery date!
However, breastfeeding also includes active participation from mom as well. This involves both mental and physical preparation. Mental preparation in the sense of learning the basics of breastfeeding, and physical preparation in regards to having the proper tools to make breastfeeding a smoother experience.
As a first-time mom, you will need to know the basics of a latch, positioning, milk supply, and breastfeeding diet. These, along with other important terms, will be discussed in detail throughout the article
Having the necessary breastfeeding essentials is the other important aspect of pre-delivery preparation. This topic is mentioned in this post but it is more thoroughly covered in my other post, 11 Breastfeeding Essentials For First-Time Moms.
Breastfeeding Success and the Newborn Phase
The newborn phase is the most difficult aspect of breastfeeding. The reasons for this primarily center around the fact that both you and your baby have undergone a traumatic experience, in a very short time frame. As you are both adjusting to this new normal, you have to both figure each other out and work together to make breastfeeding successful. Seems complicated, and it is because every mom and baby is different. It takes a lot of perseverance and patience!
Here are some things you can do in those early stages to ensure success…
- Breastfeed immediately after birth. Breastfeeding in the first moments of your baby’s life is a major determinant of success. The sucking reflex is the most powerful in the first hour of baby’s birth!
- Skin to skin. Skin contact between mother and baby is also an essential component as it is both comforting and reassuring for a newborn. Being in an unknown environment is terrifying, any reminder of the womb will help your baby feel more secure and thus more willing to breastfeed.
- Avoid using pacifiers and bottles as much as possible. It is true what they say, don’t give your baby either until breastfeeding has been established. Nipple confusion is very real and it can easily ruin the chances for breastfeeding success. I have dedicated an entire article to battling nipple confusion and nursing strikes because of how it almost ruined my own breastfeeding experience.
- Get support. Utilize all of the resources available to you, from the hospital nurses to lactation consultants. Ask questions about any concerns you might have. Also, start surrounding yourself with supportive individuals, family members, who will encourage you to breastfeed when it gets tough. Trust me, you will need all the help you can get (Find some more breastfeeding support here!)!
An overview of what to expect…
III. You grow chawankas!
VI. You need to pump! (be sure to check out the infographic on how I pumped to increase my supply!)
VIII. Water! Water! Water!
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1. It can be quite painful.
So there’s this thing called “latch” and it is something you’ll hear throughout your breastfeeding journey and a word you will add to your vocabulary for those conversations you’ll have with other mommas. The latch is how your baby takes hold of your nipple before sucking. An incorrect latch will not only result in painfully cracked (and sometimes even torn) nipples but results in an inefficient feeding for your baby (kind of like trying to suck the water out of a pool through a straw). Your baby might get exhausted before filling up on milk which could make your baby extremely fussy (been there!).
What can you do if you have nipple pain…
- Perfect the latch. Easy said than done, I know. Going to multiple lactation consultants helped a bunch, however, I learned that perfecting latch was more about my persistence. So I will give you helpful resources, however, the rest is in your hands. It’s not easy but worth it!
This video is so resourceful and well-rounded in explaining how to get your baby to properly latch.
Important tips to remember are:
1. Get into a comfortable position. You will be feeding for some time, both you and baby will enjoy it most if you’re both comfortable. Tip: Try multiple positions and see which works best for you! Most babies like the Back Laying position. Mine preferred the Side Laying position for some time.
2. Nipple-touch the nose. Touch baby’s nose with your nipple to initiate latch and get baby to open their mouth wide. This is called the “rooting reflex”.
3. Make sure your baby opens wide enough. Only place your nipple into your baby’s mouth when it is wide enough. Shallow patches are painful! You might even need to get your baby to start crying in order to get a wide enough latch. It’s heartbreaking but it will save your nipples!
4. Flare out the lips. A good latch means flared out lips. In my case, my baby’s bottom lip was much more flared out than the top lip. Just make sure that you can see the lips out and not tucked in.
5. Fix it or break it. If the latch isn’t good you could try to fix it by attempting to pull up your baby’s lips. If it doesn’t work, break the latch by inserting your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouths and pulling your nipple up and then try again. Your baby might get upset, especially if you break the latch. However, if you don’t work at fixing your latch, it will be hard on both of you.
Remember that breastfeeding is intuitive for the baby, but not for momma. Baby’s will root and latch, but they need our help to get there and sometimes they need help to do it properly.
If you find yourself still struggling with latch, check out my post on Tips for Getting Your Baby to Latch. I understand the struggle of breastfeeding, and almost quit myself. These tips really did help me!
- Treat your nipples. What helped sooth my nipple pain was lathering on nipple cream and then putting on Soothies nipple covers over the area before putting my bra back on. Make sure that you clean the area well, before and after each use for hygienic reasons. Watch out for thrush, a yeast infection that spread from baby to mom through breastfeeding (a tell-tale sign for thrush is a white tongue), nipple creams can actually exacerbate the problem! Another, more natural, option is to cover your nipples with your own breastmilk and then let them air dry. Breastmilk has both healing and soothing properties.
- Look for other culprits. Nipple pain is a complication of many other common issues, some are not necessarily related to breastfeeding problems. Conditions like thrush, nipple bleb, and Raynaud’s Syndrome also result in nipple pain. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between nipple pain and a painful letdown. Conditions like mastitis and clogged ducts can also be very painful, although they result in general breast pain. Last but not least there are conditions known as tongue and lip ties. These are actually very common in newborns and they are usually the main culprit of both latching difficulties and nipple pain (this was the issue in my case). I will delve into this more in our next section
Apart from nipple pain, breastfeeding stimulates further uterine contractions (in other words, it helps your uterus get back into the small shape it was before) which are also incredibly painful. It’s almost like labor repeating itself, well just not as intense. Your doctor might prescribe pain medications to help you cope. For the most part, there isn’t much you can do but ride it out.
2. What’s a tongue tie?
A tongue tie (and many people have it without ever knowing it; check out my post to see if your baby might have one as well) is when the tissue that attaches the tongue to the bottom of your mouth is much closer to the front of your mouth than it should be. This causes a lisp later in life, depending on how significant or close to the front it is.
A tongue tie often results in a bad latch, leading to the previous (painful cracked nipples), and inefficient nursing. The reason for this is because a baby’s tongues are very involved in both latch and the actual sucking. You could check out this video for a clear illustration of how this works.
Breastfeeding should not be painful, it should just feel like a little tug. So, make sure to ask your pediatrician to check for this if the baby is eating often and still extra fussy and displaying signs of hunger!
3. You grow chawankas!
I knew your breasts grow along with the baby, but I always anticipated that this primarily happened during the pregnancy. However, in my case, my breasts tripled in size, pre-pregnancy, especially since I was breastfeeding. So you should definitely consider getting a more comfortable (and maybe even bigger) bra. But know, they don’t stay large and firm for long… they can (depending on your genes) get saggy once you’re done, but it’s ok, it’s normal!
If you want to avoid getting stretch marks, make sure to use some sort of skin care oil. I purchased BioOil (you can also use regular Coconut Oil) if you have it on hand) and regret not using is postpartum. I had a few stretch marks on my breasts when I delivered, however, as soon as my milk came in, my breasts literally doubled in size! Needless to say, I got a lot more stretch marks than I had hoped for.
4. You’re a leaky faucet.
It does take some time before your milk actually comes in. The first breast “secretion” your baby will have is called “colostrum”. You might have had this leak during your pregnancy. It’s thick and yellow (or white) and filled with a lot of antibodies meant to strengthen your newborn’s immune system. And yes, it is the only thing your baby needs that first couple of days before your milk comes in. Of course, you need to make sure your baby is having an adequate amount of wet and dirty diapers, and that your baby is gaining enough weight, as well.
As you already know, colostrum does randomly leak from your breasts (and the stains it leaves can be difficult to get out), however, once your milk does come in the leaking can get even more uncontrollable.
First, when you breastfeed both breasts become stimulated and release milk (which is why you might also need a Haakaa if you want to save that extra milk!). Additionally, your breasts can become stimulated at the sound of crying babies, and you can’t do anything to stop it. The only thing you can do is prevent it from leaking through all your clothes with either reusable or disposable nursing pads.
5. You can’t eat everything.
I thought I would be able to return to eating everything after pregnancy, NOT! What you eat can potentially cross into your breastmilk. Although now you can freely indulge in those cold cuts, wet cheeses, smoked salmon and runny eggs (one thing I missed having the most during my pregnancy), you should stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and high mercury fish (1).
You also have to be aware that certain foods can lower your milk supply if consumed in large portions (peppermint, sage, parsley).
Things like garlic and spicy food can tinge the taste of your breastmilk (2).
Nuts, eggs, dairy, soy, wheat, corn, citrus, and fish should be avoided if an allergy is presumed. Signs of an allergy include: fussiness after feedings, inconsolable crying, sleeping difficulties, skin reactivity, breathing difficulties, cold-like symptoms, increased irritability, colic, mucus or blood-tinged stools (3).
Also, you will hear that certain foods should be avoided because they can cause gas in babies. From my experience, I only questioned a few (cabbage and cucumbers were avoided and fruits were limited, especially berries) although by three months I ate everything with no problems. Other moms swear by others (different babies, difference reactions). However, most doctors will tell you that those types of food reactions in breastmilk aren’t actually proven so you’re free to eat what you like in the veggie and fruit categories unless you do notice some adverse reactions in the baby.
6. You need to pump!
Most moms hear about pumps before they deliver, so it isn’t something necessarily unheard of. I just didn’t realize how often I would have to sit behind the machine even though I was planning on exclusively breastfeeding. Whether you’re exclusively breastfeeding or exclusively pumping, it’s a very necessary piece of equipment to ensure your baby is getting enough breastmilk.
Here is the total list of essentials you will need if you plan on breastfeeding and pumping.
In my case, I used my pump to maintain and build up my supply while my baby was going through the healing of her tongue and lip tie (it hurt way to much to feed at one point). I’d pump and she’d feed on the bottle.
You might also have to use it if your baby isn’t emptying out your breasts adequately during feedings just so that you don’t lose your supply, and then supplement back that pumped milk.
If you are expected to return to work and you want to feed your baby breastmilk, you will have to build up a supply and get a stash of breastmilk going (check out My Breastfeeding Story to read about how I built up my supply of 700+ ounces). Even if you aren’t, it is good to have stored breastmilk or the option of pumping just in case you have to leave your baby with someone else at any point.
Here is the way I pump to increase my supply. Save these tips for later!
Pumping, in general, is the artificial way to maintain and build your milk supply if your desire to exclusively breastfeeding is just not working out as anticipated.
7. Maintaining your supply becomes the second-most priority, to feeding baby.
So all you first-time moms also hear the term “supply” being thrown around. I’m sure by now you understand that this refers to the amount of milk you have. More specifically, it refers to the amount of milk you have available for your baby with each feeding. Whether you have enough will determine if you will need additional supplementation with every feeding.
If you want to exclusively breastfeed your milk supply is something you will always think about. Every mom worried if her baby is getting enough milk and even at some point doubts her ability to support her baby’s nutritional need. However, as long as you only offer the breast everytime your baby is hungry and nurse on demand, you should be fully capable, in most cases, of supplying enough breastmilk for your baby.
Make sure that you know your baby’s hunger cues so that you can nurse on demand.
If you want to increase your fallen supply you should pump after feedings, POWER pump, drink lots of water (something I will cover the upcoming section), and try fenugreek supplementation (you could either try drinking Mother’s Milk Tea or eating some Lactation Cookies). Avoid consuming things that inhibit breastmilk supply like parsley, peppermint, and sage. Overall, your main focus should be on completely emptying your breasts after each feeding because the more empty your breasts are the faster your milk production will be (4)!
8. Water! Water! Water!
As I mentioned earlier, you will need to drink lots and lots of water if you want to produce breastmilk. In my post on breastfeeding essentials, I suggested using or purchasing (if you don’t have one) a large water flask and dragging it around with you everywhere you go. It will serve as a reminder for you to drink lots of water.
Breastfeeding also makes you incredibly thirsty, so you’ll thank me later!
9. It’s a skill to perfect.
Although breastfeeding is a natural process and babies have an automatic suckling reflex from birth, it still is a skill that both you and your little one will have to perfect.
As with everything, time and persistence will be that determining factor. You will learn about the art of breastfeeding, specific for your baby, as you go.
When to switch nursing sides? When to offer the other breast? Which position is most comfortable? How do I achieve a proper latch? These will all come with trial and error and don’t get frustrated if what worked earlier (or even the day before) all of a sudden isn’t working. That’s just how babies are! They’re ALWAYS changing! A source that I often went to when I struggled was KellyMom.com. It is written by a certified lactation consultant and is very comprehensive on answering all the breastfeeding questions you may have!
10. A nursing chair (or a comfortable reclining seating area) is highly recommended.
Since we live in a tiny place, we overlooked the nursing chair because we didn’t know where we would put it. I quickly realized I was missing out at our first appointment at our lactation consultant, the difference was significant (at least for me). I immediately regretted not getting one.
From personal experience, it was extremely difficult finding a comfortable nursing position without an accommodating chair. Now if you already have some sort or reclining chair or sectional that you plan on dedicating to nursing time, you are set! However, if you haven’t considered if you need a nursing chair and you don’t have a comfortable area to nurse, consider it! You won’t regret it!
Learning how to breastfeed a newborn is exhausting and painstaking, add the fact that you won’t be feeling like your best self postpartum, additional discomfort should be the least of your worries.
As a side note, you should expect to find yourself locked to your nursing chair or couch for the first weeks, if you are exclusively breastfeeding. In the first couple of months, predominantly in those first weeks, your baby will be cluster feeding. This is when your baby nurses frequently at certain times of the day, likely evenings, and has more spaced out feedings at other times of the day (5). It almost feels as though they are always hungry or not getting enough food.
Unless your baby is not gaining enough weight (this is why check-ups are important), this should not be a cause for concern and is absolutely normal. Babies usually fill up right before their longest stretch of sleep, which is why this usually happens in the evenings. Also, it is how your supply is established, which is why it is so important to breastfeed on demand.
Here is an illustration of the approximate feeding concentrations, based on the approximate size of your baby’s stomach, you should expect your newborn baby to consume, in those first few weeks. Sometimes visualizing the concentrations helps mothers be less anxious and doubtful of their ability to completely nourish their baby.
11. It’s extremely difficult…
Considering that breastfeeding is a skill, it might not necessarily come easily. Actually, it might be pretty difficult. One of the most common issues encountered while breastfeeding is when you baby struggles with or refuses to latch, so I highly recommend checking out this comprehensive post I wrote about how to overcome these difficulties.
If you’re not one of the lucky few that have it easy, breastfeeding will take a lot of patience and persistence. Some days you’ll just want to give up! If it wasn’t for my mom and a very special friend who was studying to be a lactation consultant, I would have thrown in the towel in the very beginning! I’m glad I didn’t.
Surround yourself with people, whether in person or online (What to Expect has forums specifically for exclusive breastfeeders which are SUPER helpful and encouraging!), mommas that will push you through the journey. It is so worth it in the end!
12. …but it gets better promise!
As with anything difficult, it does get easier. My little one became a pro by month three so know that practice does make perfect! If you keep at it, you both will learn to actually enjoy this amazing experience and the bond it forms will last a lifetime.
Just a note, though, DON’T beat yourself up if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for you. Bonding with your baby is not limited to this one experience, even bottle feeding your little one is a beautiful experience. You are MORE to your baby that just a source of nutrition, you’re this baby’s MOMMA! You’ve got a lifetime of bonding ahead of you, so enjoy it! Don’t let little things ruin it for you!
Ultimately, FED IS BEST!!!
Was there something you wish you knew before starting breastfeeding? Do you have an experience worth learning from? Please share it, we’d love to hear all about it, in the comment section below!
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