Things You May Not Know (Or Expect) About Breastfeeding — Successful Breastfeeding Series (Part III)
Welcome to the third and final post in the Successful Breastfeeding Series! If you’d like, you can start by checking out parts one and two if you haven’t already, but you can also start here and go backwards — the order isn’t important, but the information sure is!
Things That May Surprise You About Breastfeeding
I didn’t take a breastfeeding class before having my son. I don’t know if I’d recommend taking one, because I am not sure what they generally cover or who usually runs them (and if the person is really qualified and up-to-date on the latest research and best practice). As I mentioned in part one of this series, I had heard so much inaccurate and conflicting advice from each member of the medical staff, including doctors, nurses, and the postpartum wing’s pediatrician. Even the on-site lactation consultants had conflicting information about how to wash the pump parts (when I should not have needed to pump at all before my milk even came in). I hope to help prevent you from dealing with the same added stress and confusion, and just focus on loving up that new baby and trying to take care of yourself as best as possible!
Your Milk Doesn’t Come In Right Away
I really went into breastfeeding clueless. I didn’t know that colostrum wasn’t milk and that it took a few days for the actual milk to come in. My milk came in pretty quickly and I was super engorged and leaking through hospital gown after hospital gown the first few nights. It was definitely annoying then, but now I realize how blessed I was to have that issue when there are women out there who wanted to nurse so badly but never got to have that experience.
Breastfeeding Can Be Painful
There are many women who have pain in their first few weeks of nursing while their nipples adjust to a newborn latching and sucking. The constant nursing can cause rawness or cracked nipples for some, but there are also women who don’t experience pain in those first few weeks. When I was in the hospital, someone popped a nipple shield on me right away, so I think that may have helped me skip the pain, and I was lucky to never experience after weaning from the shield other. Teething can also be an area where some women are affected and others aren’t, all depending on the child. My son didn’t bite much at all when he was first teething, but as his teeth started coming in groups of four it got a little worse. I’d have a few days of pain, but lanolin seemed to help (just make sure to use nursing pads because it left residue on some of my shirts).
Nursing Causes Contractions
This was definitely something I didn’t fully understand going in. I may have heard that nursing a child while pregnant could induce labor, so to work with an IBCLC through it, but I had no idea that it was going to cause me to have contractions right after birth! The first day or so I would nurse my son and have some minor (but still painful) contractions and bleeding. Definitely not my favorite memory of my son being born. I am not sure how varied this experience is for people, but I can tell you that I was induced due to preeclampsia and ended up being delivered via C-Section while anesthetized, so the extent and duration may differ depending on the circumstances!
You Need To Read Labels
Of course you know there aren’t many medicines safe to take while nursing, but what about the things that don’t go into your mouth? I remember luckily catching the warning on a prescription face wash early on that nursing moms should not use the product. I would have never thought to look! After seeing that, I became vigilant and made sure to only use products on my skin that I knew were safe for breastfeeding. This included any lotions (especially containing essential oils–unless the specific oils and dilutions were safe for nursing moms), topical medications, acne treatments, and beauty products. Always mention to your doctor, dentist, specialist (especially dermatologists), and anyone else that you are nursing — even if it doesn’t seem relevant. Getting in the habit of clarifying will ensure that everyone is informed just in case, and could protect your child from any unwanted side effects. And don’t forget to follow up with your own research when they do prescribe something, many medical professionals are clueless when it comes to breastfeeding so make sure to read those labels and check that the ingredients are safe for your little one. The resources I mentioned in part one of this series will give you a great starting point on where to look for this information!
Every Nursing Relationship is Different
Finally, I want to point out that every mom, baby, and nursing relationship is different. Not everything is universal or “one size fits all.” You may have a very different experience from your sister or best friend, and advice that helped them could be harmful to your breastfeeding journey depending on the circumstances. Remember to trust your instincts and work with someone who knows the specifics of you and your child, rather than listening to blanket advice or humoring someone with good intentions. I strongly believe that your instincts will guide you on what to do, and that you will know if something really isn’t right; That has been my experience so far.
My Best Advice
Drink lots of water, keep healthy and filling snacks on hand, and fill up your Netflix and Kindle lists! Keep track of your phone, charger, tablet, or TV remote so that when you get stuck nursing for a long time you have some options to keep yourself sane (I got lucky, my son was cluster feeding during an “Every Dexter Ever” marathon–if you haven’t seen Dexter yet, add it to your Netflix list!). You will spend a lot of time in the beginning just sitting and nursing your little one. Your body is working extra hard to produce milk and you are burning tons of calories and not getting much sleep, so make sure that you are setting yourself up for small acts of self-care in advance!
Nursing can be so hard. It is very likely that you will face many challenges along your breastfeeding journey. What has worked best for me is remembering why I chose to nurse my son in the first place. The benefits for him far outweigh the inconvenience or struggles I am facing (this isn’t always the case for everyone, especially if it is messing with your health). My son has a great immune system, when he does get sick it isn’t for long and if I am sick the antibodies in my breast milk keep him from catching it. He has a very expanded palate which I attribute to the variation of taste in breast milk depending on what I ate, and of course breast milk has a high nutritional value well passed age 1 (and even 2!). Our nursing relationship helps stop tantrums in their tracks and provides a source of comfort on top of the amazing nutrients he is getting, and it even gives me the benefit of a decreased risk of breast cancer! I only wish I was one of the moms who experienced the rapid baby weight loss due to nursing, but unfortunately there are us unlucky ones who miss out on that. My son and I have a wonderful relationship, which breastfeeding (and the release of oxytocin that it brings) has greatly influenced. I would make the decision to nurse again, despite any and all challenges we have faced, hands down. I hope that you end up feeling the same way! Please let me know how it is going for you so far in the comments section below, or shoot me an email.
Free Breastmilk Storage Cheat Sheet
All the information you need on storing breastmilk so that when it comes time to use it, you know it is safe to drink!