You see a lot of stuff about breastfeeding on the internet like it’s magic or something, and to an extent, it is. It helps boost your baby’s immune system and is ideal for baby digestion and your body works to meet exactly your baby’s needs (well…sometimes) and it’s a wonderful bonding experience, etc., etc. But there are a lot of things that I wasn’t expecting about breastfeeding that I feel like those who plan to breastfeed should know, and no, I’m not just talking cracked nipples and the horrors of nipple confusion. (Although seriously CRACKED NIPPLES. That shizz is no joke.)
Some things you should know about breastfeeding preferably before you start breastfeeding:
- Remember those videos where newborns basically crawl their way up to their mother’s breast and latch all by themselves, no problem? Yeah. That probably won’t be your baby. For something that is “natural,” breastfeeding often requires a lot of guidance, usually from a paid expert.
- Whatever you learned in your pre-baby breastfeeding class, you will forget. Whatever you learned from your hospital lactation consultant the day your baby was born, you will forget. You’ll probably need a lactation consultant a few days in to help you figure out how to get your baby to latch properly again even if you had a great latch to start because sleep deprivation and hormones.
- Prepare to spend a lot of time sitting around with a baby latched to you, because newborns nurse long and nurse often. For the first two months, you will feel like all you do is nurse (and honestly, it comes pretty close to being the truth), and you will find that you can get more done in the hour between nursing sessions than you could do in entire weeks before you had a baby. I recommend having several seasons of a TV show you really like to watch queued up, because watching TV is really the only thing you can do most of the time.
- You will resent that you wake up 6 times a night to nurse while your partner sleeps like the dead, and your partner will think you are a big, bad meanie for not feeling any sympathy for them when they complain about how tired they are. Take lots of deep breaths and try to avoid blacking out from rage when they make some comment about how lucky you are because you get to stay home and nap all day. (AHAHAHAHAno.) The first couple of months are rough and divorce/breaking up may sound tempting, but once your baby develops hobbies outside of your boobs, it’s actually nice to have another person around to split parenting duties with. You laugh at this now, but just you wait. You will have at least one night where you are up for the 11th time that night at 2 AM glaring daggers at your peacefully sleeping partner, and the only thing that will keep you from actually stabbing them is the knowledge that you won’t be able to take your baby with you to jail. For real.
- You will leak. There will be times when you wake in the night, and you will have leaked through every piece of clothing you own. I took to sleeping with a burp cloth or cloth diaper under my breasts to keep from having to change the sheets every night. This was even with super awesome nursing pads, which will be your best friends. There will also be times when you will be out somewhere nice, and you will suddenly discover that you have leaked through your bra, your undershirt, your t-shirt, and your sweater. You’ve probably packed an extra outfit for your baby. Remember to pack an extra one for yourself, too.
- You will dry out down there. I was shocked to find this out from my CNM several weeks after giving birth, because I hadn’t read or heard about it anywhere before that. Basically, breastfeeding sends your body into a hormonal state similar to menopause, which pretty much turns your nethers into a desert, and it will in all likelihood stay like that until you stop breastfeeding. Hooray.
- Not everyone loses weight while breastfeeding. Another side effect of the menopause-esque hormones is that for some women, you actually hang on to those last few pregnancy pounds. It’s probably some evolutionary crisis-mode holdover to stave off starvation, I’m sure, but any time some woman is going on and on about how breastfeeding is the magical solution to getting into a size 2 a month after giving birth, you should be giving that b some serious side eye. She’s got genetics and luck on her side, and that’s pretty much the beginning and end of it. Breastfeeding is not a weight loss program.
- Pumping may not work out for you. I say this as a person who read and did absolutely everything on Kellymom and every other breastfeeding website about increasing pumping output, who did everything her doctor told her, including doing two pretty gnarly prescription medications. Some people don’t respond well to the pump and long-term, it can tank your supply. You can try things like visualization or sticking photos of your baby to your pump, but in the end, some people don’t do well with it. There are the ladies who pump like 12 oz. every time they sit down, and then there are the ladies who agonize over the measly 1 oz. they pump and weep over every lost drop. I was in the latter category, and while I made it work for 5 months, I know that my experience with breastfeeding was cut short because ultimately, I couldn’t pump enough to keep up with my daughter’s needs and having to pump half the time killed my supply.
- On that note, start your freezer stash early.
- After you finish breastfeeding, your boobs are going to look sad. I’ve heard this is true even if you don’t breastfeed, but I don’t have anything to compare it to. Every woman I know who has breastfed has said, at the end of the experience, her breasts look like a tube sock with loose change in them. I was an A cup before and a B cup after, and you’d think being in the IBTC would spare me the ravages of gravity, but no. I guess sort of like those ladies back in their size 2 pants before their babies’ umbilical cords come off, there are women who come out post-breastfeeding with super perky boobs, but again…genetics.
- I don’t think I ever really understood how much breastfeeding would mean to me until about 3 months in, and then I couldn’t imagine not breastfeeding my daughter. It sounds silly, and I don’t mean this as a knock on moms who do formula at all, but for me, breastfeeding was just amazing (after the incredibly difficult first couple of months.) I felt like it gave me the chance to snuggle and bond with my daughter that I didn’t get very often otherwise, and as a working mom, I cherished those precious nursing sessions where my baby would curl against my body, fill up her little tummy, and fall asleep in my arms. It’s that intense and almost overwhelming feeling of love you get when you’re nursing (thank you, hormones) that makes so many people positively militant about breastfeeding, glossing over all the bad and unpleasant things and focusing on the near-magical properties of breastmilk and the rush you feel when you nurse. I totally get why people nurse their kids until they’re in middle school. It is, despite its challenges, incredibly rewarding. Like all things motherhood, it completely changes your life, and in some ways–and this is just the blunt, ugly truth–not for the better, but there are moments of beauty and love and wonder, and you do it, and love it and your babies, for those moments.