Things are starting to settle down here as baby R gets integrated into our daily routine and we get used to being woken in the middle of the night again. He’s doing well and growing fast, and so far neither myself nor the Mr. has been quite tired enough to accidentally put salt in our morning caffeine fix instead of sugar. So far.
As we’ve been readjusting, it has occurred to me, as it did when G was a baby and we were learning to nurse, just what short shrift breastfeeding gets when it comes to information. Doctors have been lauding the benefits of breastfeeding for baby and mama…but where the joys and pains of childbirth itself are discussed in (sometimes excessively exaggerated) detail, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of breast feeding, you can hear crickets chirping.
I think this is a huge disservice to women and their babies. I suspect that the reasoning behind the wall of silence is good intentions. Breast feeding is not all sunbeams and rainbows. But I personally feel that not giving women the heads up that, yup, some of it sucks, but it gets way better sets new mamas up to fail. So, without further ado, here are the things I wish I’d known:
The First Two Weeks Suck
Bad news: For the first two weeks of breast feeding, it’s gonna hurt. Good news: After those 2 weeks, so long as there aren’t outside complications and you and baby have figured out latching, it stops hurting.
knows that childbirth hurts. It’s one of those universal “truths”. Women compare horror stories, and I’ve even seen pins on Pinterest
comparing giving birth to having limbs removed. Having gone through 2 natural, un-medicated births now, I find that all a little
hysterical, but as a result, I was even more shocked that no one had so much as mentioned
the discomfort from nursing. I had given my emotional all to the birth and figured since it was over I was home-free.
Now, before anybody freaks out and has a panic attack, I’m not saying the pain from breast feeding is anything like the pain of giving birth, but if you aren’t expecting it, it can be extremely discouraging. Don’t be discouraged, it’s normal, and it doesn’t last.
The first kind of nasty surprise comes quickly. In the days after the baby is born your uterus will need to contract back down to its original size. Nursing helps that process. That’s a good thing…you want your uterus to shrink so all your internal bits can go back where they belong, but it’s not terribly comfortable. Expect menstrual type cramps for a day or two after the birth whenever baby feeds. Second time moms? Expect them to be worse. We’re not immune to the wall of silence…nobody mentioned that these cramps apparently increase with each child. Ibprofen and heating pads help with the pain just like they do for your period.
Mother Knows Best
A lot of moms who plan to nurse have a mental picture of breast feeding as being this perfect, blissful, instinctual Earth-mother type thing. It can get there, but the thing is, that whole “instinctual” part? Not so much. Yes, your baby has an innate rooting reflex and basically knows how to latch on, but you’re going to have to help some. Remember, your baby can’t even control their head yet, there’s only so much they’re going to be able to hold the reins on this.
I had a hard time with this concept with G. I had it in my head that, hey, babies have been nursing for centuries and have a natural instinct for it and if there is a better way for him to be latching, he’ll eventually adjust and do it, I just have to tough it out til then. Ooooh did I hurt as a result. There are a lot of ways the baby can latch on and get milk just fine. It may not be the most efficient way, and it’s almost certainly not the least painful way for you unless you’ve helped guide them, but if they’re getting milk, the latch works from the baby’s perspective.
Do yourself a favor and learn early how to remove the baby while they’re nursing (basically use your finger like a fishhook in the corner of their mouth ) and don’t hesitate to stop them and start over if they aren’t latching correctly. Yes, you’ll be sore the first few weeks, so it can be a little tough to tell the difference between a good latch and a bad one sometimes…but if it feels like you’re being bitten, you probably are!
Unfortunately, because several generations before us relied on formula rather than nursing to feed their babies, breast feeding has become a hidden affair. That makes it really hard for new moms to know what they’re doing. If you’ve never seen somebody nursing a baby (and chances are you haven’t unless they’ve been entirely obscured by a blanket) how on earth are you supposed to know if you’re doing it right yourself? Take advantage of any resources you have. Most hospitals have lactation consultants. If this is your first time nursing, talk to all of them. Just like doctors and nurses, some of them will be more helpful than others. Talk to friends and family who have nursed. Find breast feeding groups locally if you can. The more you have opportunities to talk to people who breast feeding is normal to, the more helpful tips and tricks you can gather.
The first few days after the baby is born your body produces colostrum. This is a kind of pre-milk that has all sorts of antibodies in it for the baby. You don’t make a whole heck of a lot of it, so when you’re in this phase, your baby is probably going to suck hard. They’re going to have to work for their food a lot harder than when your milk comes in, and as a result you’re going to feel a bit bruised. Trial and error while figuring out the proper latch is going to contribute to this bruised feeling.
Once your milk comes in the baby doesn’t have to work quite as hard, buuuuut, as your body adjusts to how much your baby needs to eat, you may have discomfort from over-fullness of your breasts, also known as engorgement. Nurse frequently to keep the soreness to a dull roar. The longer you go between feedings the more uncomfortable you’ll be. Heating pads and (very gentle) massage can help. If you need to, use a pump for relief, but keep in mind, the more milk that comes out, the more your body thinks baby is d
emanding and it will lead to your making even more.
Keep heart, all of this gets better after 2 or 3 weeks.
Why Didn’t You Say So?!?
Some of the things I wish I’d known are pretty random, but make a world of difference.
Do NOT Touch Baby’s Head
So you know how you’re pretty sore from the birth? So is baby. Depending on your labor, there was most likely a lot of pressure on your little one’s head and it’s probably still tender. By all means, help guide your baby to latch on correctly, but do it with your hand around the back of their neck or across their shoulders. Resist the urge to cup the back of their head in your hand, especially once they are latched on. Doing so tends to result in the baby clamping their jaw and throwing their head backwards. Not fun.
Pat Yourself Dry
I don’t just mean after you shower. Every time you nurse, make sure you’re dry before you re-dress. There is little I can so much as imagine that hurts worse than having to pull stuck-on cloth off of already bruised, sore tender bits.
Stick With Sleep
By now you guys know, I’m pretty vain, so when I tell you to not even consider a bra cuter than a sports bra/training bra hybrid for the first two weeks, you know it’s serious. Like I’ve mentioned, you’re going to be tender and you’re probably going to have at least a day or two of engorgement like symptoms. Sleep bras are made out of tshirt material with no underwires or other hard bits. They definitely don’t do much for shaping your figure, but they give you support without aggravating already sore breasts or increasing your risk of mastitis. Swallow your vanity for a couple of weeks til you can get past the soreness and then look at cuter nursing bras, your body will thank you.
Baby Straight-Jackets Are Your Friend
Some babies love being swaddled (my two, thank god), some hate it. If you’re lucky enough to have a blanket straight-jacket friendly kiddo, take advantage of it when you’re nursing. There is very little in this world that is more frustrating than when you’re already struggling to get a good latch and little-bit shoves their tiny fist in their face while screaming about how hungry they are. And don’t forget that those tiny claws you’re mitten-ing them to keep away from their eyes can scratch you too.
Aim for the Nose
Not entirely sure why this works, but it made a huge difference when I was nursing G. Instead of trying to center yourself, aim as if you’re trying to nurse the baby’s nose through the top of their mouth.
Don’t Even Bother If Baby Doesn’t Look Like a Hungry Goldfish
Remember how I said I had it in my mind that G would readjust his latch once he started and that it didn’t work? A lot of that pain came from letting him latch with a partially opened mouth. I learned my lesson, R doesn’t get that option. If baby’s mouth isn’t open all the way, they aren’t going to have room to latch properly and it is going to hurt.
Sometimes Water Doesn’t Cut It
I’m a huge proponent of drinking plain water. It’s inexpensive and incredibly good for you. Thing is, when you’re nursing, especially the first few weeks, you may need something more. I kind of hate Gatorade, but if I don’t drink it when I’m first nursing I wind up with a raging headache, regardless of how much water I drink*. It may not feel much like you’re running a marathon, but your body is working really hard at something it’s new at. Make sure you’re getting all of the hydration and electrolytes necessary to take care of yourself.
All in all, nursing is one of those things that you, unfortunately, kind of have to figure out the details of on your own, but the more information you have, the easier it can be. Find as much help as you can early, and stick out those first two weeks!
*Fellow Gatorade non-fans, my Mr. found this coconut water powder
for me that does basically the same thing, but the “original” flavor is essentially flavorless. I’ve been adding it to my tea and it’s doing just as well at keeping the headaches away as the Gatorade ever did!