Sunday, March 6, 2011

Some Breastfeeding Surprises: Help and more.

Baby Des is three months old. One quarter of a year.

That means that I have been sustaining his life with my body alone for over 375 days. I have been breastfeeding him for over 92 days.

I don't understand how that number can seem so small and so large at the same time. On one hand, the time really has scampered past much faster than I anticipated. On the other hand, it feels like so so long ago that I was first looking down at his little face, watching him root and find me, latch himself and get to task.

As a duo, I am thankful that we haven't yet had any problems that got in the way of our nursing relationship. Part of it has been my tenacity and part of it seems pure luck - I know I'm fortunate that I haven't had to sort through a bad latch, thrush, or plugged ducts.

At the same time, it hasn't all been easy. I know many women gush about breastfeeding, and I do it too. But there were a few things that came as a surprise to me as we began breastfeeding as total newbs. And I was one of those pregnant women that committed to breastfeeding as soon as I saw those two little lines, so I was sure that things weren't going to surprise me. I was educated, well-read, had friends who were successful, and belonged to several supportive online breastfeeding communities - but I soon learned nothing will prepare you the way experience will (the way all parenting seems to be), and I had a lot more learning to do.

Some things that surprised me about breastfeeding:

1 - Don't expect to do anything but eat and nurse.
Okay, I did read this. It didn't sink in. I had no idea how much time I would be spending as a moo cow for my little baby. From the very beginning, the baby's favourite place to be was my chest. Baby was noming on Colostrum - the first milk a mother makes for her new little one, and this is more than enough for your babe for the first while. Cuddling skin-to-skin as well as nursing frequently and on-demand helped my milk come in on the second day we were home. But my sleepy baby just couldn't stay awake while in the ultimate comfort zone, so I kept a cool cloth handy to keep him awake and we spent a lot of time in the rocking chair. My most spoken sentence had to be: "He wants to nurse AGAIN? ALREADY?" This is why having a support person in those first two to three weeks can be so helpful. My partner actually fed me at one point, which is hilarious now but at the time, so necessary. While his stomach slowly grew, he also became a more efficient and alert baby who could eat in less than 15 minutes.
Moral of the story: Your baby will literally be depending on you, so don't expect to do much, especially when you are also still healing from birth. Arrange to have someone support you by cooking and feeding you and cleaning your house, even if they have to stop in nightly to do it. Feed your baby as often as he or she asks, even if (/especially if!) you feel you don't have any milk and remember that it isn't going to last forever. Lean down and smell their tiny heads, soak up the love, and take at least a few pictures while nursing.

2 - Yeah, it is going to hurt. But just a little, and just at first.
  We were released early from the hospital because we were healthy, breastfeeding well, and so ready to go home. From the very start I noticed that his latch was sensitive for me and I got several nurses to take a look. It was totally great, totally fine, totally NORMAL, they said. One week later and my nipples feel raw. I'm applying lanolin after every feed. My toes curl when he goes to latch. Which, yes, he is doing ever hour and a half. I hysterically e-mail my friends who have breastfed, I think, "I'M DOING IT WRONG!" They console me: It's totally fine, totally normal. That is when I learn what no one ever said: It IS going to hurt at first. Your nipples do have to get used to this new extended contact, they have to toughen up. Just like any guitar master has to grow callouses on their hands, your nipples will have to get accustomed to your tiny baby learning to eat. They may get sore, they may get raw, they may even form scabs. But it's okay, it will get easier, the pain goes away, the nipples heal, and you come out the other side forgetting it even happened.
Moral of the story
: Practice makes perfect, and your nipples need to get accustomed to their new job. Compared to giving birth, it's a breeze so bear with it and you'll see your way through it in no time. If you have a painful latch for longer than the first 2-3 weeks seek help! See below for more details on where to look for answers.

Des on his 3 month-iversary.
 3 - There are no rules. Get the milk into the baby, that is the only rule. You might have to strip down to get the baby to eat. You might have to get into a rocking chair and not stop rocking for 40+ minutes. Your baby might feed 12 times a day. Your baby might feed 24 times a day. The cross-cradle hold may not work for you, you might have to try several different positions or just make one up yourself. You might not even be able to feel your let-down, and you may find it easier to get started with a nipple shield. When things get tough - when you get overtired and you haven't showered in three days, you are hungry and you, like every mother, have no idea what you are doing - you will have to try everything until something works. You'll know when it does.
Moral of the story: There are no two breastfeeding relationships alike. Whether it is small or large differences - not everything will work for everybody. This is why it is so important to PREPARE!

Yes, you need to find a comfortable spot in your home where you will be happy to sit for a long time over the course of the day. Yes, it is important to make sure you have a large waterbottle. But most importantly: learn about breastfeeding ahead of time, and gather a large enough support group that if you do run into any problems you will have a solid, encouraging, and informed collective of women in which to find answers. Looking back on my experience, I wish I had gone to a La Leche League meeting while I was still pregnant. Many women encouraged me to go - but at the end of a work day I was all together nervous, shy, and fatigued from pregnancy that I never went. That was my mistake because it only gets harder to leave the house once you have a baby. All the women at the LLL meetings are just so welcoming and friendly, there was no need to feel shy at all. Or lazy. If I could go back I would've kicked my slow pregnant butt out the door and gone to an LLL meeting sooner, for sure.
Moral of the Story: The internet is a new mom's best friend, and there is no shortage of reading to do on nursing. I will include some of the best sources at the bottom of this post! And if you are lucky enough to have a La Leche League branch in your area - Go! Go while the baby is still easily trapped inside you! You will be glad to have support if you need it - and if you don't you will at least meet some pretty accepting and awesome moms.

Some important places to visit before starting your breastfeeding relationship: - Up to date evidence based research about breastfeeding - from basic introductions all the way to "How much wine can I have with dinner?"
La Leche League International - Tap into mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education and find a group local to you.
Dr Sears' Breastfeeding Index - Over 50 articles on the topic of nursing your baby, including a lot of trouble shooting and helpful tips as well as the science behind those mammary glands.
Dr Newman's Breastfeeding Help - Videos and printable PDFs on a variety of roadblocks that any new mother might hit - but that don't have to signal the end of your nursing relationship.

One last thing I didn't realize before I started breastfeeding? How proud I would be to hit this three month milestone and how fast it would arrive at my feet. How three months can seem like such a short amount of time while also feel like forever, I don't know. But I'm so excited to see what the next three months have in store. Best of luck to any expectant mothers, I can only hope that my realizations will help anybody preparing to start a wonderful breastfeeding journey.

Read more from me about breastfeeding. 


  1. Congrats, mommy! You're doing awesome!

  2. Yes, congratulations on making it to three months! May there be many more.

    Two points:
    - sometimes it doesn't hurt some people, I don't know what the difference is. stronger latch, different amount of nerve endings in the nipples? Who knows
    - Although plugged ducts can occur at any time, I think they happen for most people, that I've heard of, between 6-12 months when the baby starts on solids and nursing schedules can change(?) This is just anecodotal, what I've witnessed in various communities.

    My husband fed me too, a few times, when we had our first! Funny to think of, now :) The one big plus of having a child in hospital the second time around was actually having the nurses take care of me. It works well in lieu of having a lot of support. (first child was a home birth.)

    I've been nursing for 3.5 yrs now and it is such a sweet experience to be able to sustain humans on your own body's supply. .I know *exactly* what you mean by that. YAY for us :)

  3. Ok, let's try this again.

    Okay, I did read this. It didn't sink in.
    I think this statement applies to first-time parenting in general :) We're told all these things, and assume it's going to be different for us because we're older/younger/smarter/had fertility treatment/wanted to be a mother all our life/whatever. Then we're totally shocked because we didn't realize it was going to be like this.

    Yeah, it is going to hurt. But just a little, and just at first.
    The mantra that if it hurts, something is wrong, is my breastfeeding pet peeve. No one really questions that breastfeeding hurts for some people during times of hormonal turmoil, such as during your period or while pregnant. But after birth, if you're having pain, obviously YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!!!

    I wonder how many women have stopped breastfeeding because they were told it wasn't supposed to hurt, but it did?

    Pain during breastfeeding should be a cue to look for a problem, but not a reason to assume there is one in absence of other signs.

    (Incidentally, I had significant pain during the first few weeks with my first and third, but very little or none with my second. I'm pretty sure the difference was that I nursed through my second pregnancy. Yay tandem nursing!)

  4. You are so right about number 1. I didn't realize this until my second child (my first was in the NICU for almost a month so I didn't get to breastfeed too much). It especially sucked after having been on bedrest for a month. All I wanted to do was *something* because I finally didn't have the limitations of bed rest and I was stuck feeding on the couch most of the day. Very frustrating at the time.

    I love this whole post and I'm going to forward it to a friend who is planning on breastfeeding.

  5. I have decided to moderate the comments in this post. Sorry for any confusion this may have caused, but let's all stay on topic from this point onwards.


  6. Love this and all of your points are so true! Congrats on 3 months. :) (I came here through the LJ breastfeeding comm, if you're wondering. ;)

  7. Such a great post Farren! I am going to share it on the NUM wall on FB!

    Congrats on making it this far! I love my BF relationships with my kids and now how DS remembers it is so heart-warming. The pain, the plugged ducts, the pumping, the feeds all night long--it really is all worth it in the end. <3

  8. Thanks so much, Natasha! I definitely agree. Every time I look down at Des' little head while we are nursing I am flooded with so much love and gratitude for our breastfeeding journey thus far!