Things I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding (TMI)
Let me preface this post with a warning: if you are not breastfeeding or about to have a baby and considering breastfeeding, then this post really isn’t for you. It’s hard enough to talk about the nitty gritty details without wondering who exactly is going to read them. That was your warning, the rest of this post is probably way too full of TMI (too much information) for anyone who isn’t in the throes of early motherhood.
I’m on kid number four now. Every kid I have exclusively breastfed until at least 6mos (when a small amount of solid food was introduced) and then breastfed until they were a year old (or as close as we could get) while slowly adding in more and more solid baby food to their diet. There are pros and cons to it, but I was pretty unaware of things from the get-go. Now that I’m on the fourth, here are a few things I would’ve liked to know:
It Hurts Like Hell
I’m not sure if everyone has this problem. I have the type of sensitive skin that would get a rash if I spent the day in the sun, wind, salt and sand of the beach for a day as a teen. I scratch and bruise easily. And when I feed my babies, I get very sore, swollen and cracked nipples. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told (mostly by older nurses and lactation consultants) that it shouldn’t hurt… but every kid the lactation consultants and nurses have also said the latch looked great. I’m convinced I’m doing everything right, but it still hurts. Come to find out, nearly all of my friends and relatives that I’ve asked have had the same experience. It’s frustrating when you think you might be doing something wrong and hurting for no reason.
With my first, I almost gave up it hurt so bad. It was my male OB of all people that checked in on me and told me if I could make it 2 weeks that I’d make it. I needed that. Two weeks of pain was a goal I could set my mind to (and it really meant only another week by the time he talked to me). Every single feeding during those early days of my first made me feel like screaming for the first few seconds and often brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t know then what I know now about helping out the healing process as much as possible. But mentally it really helped to know that I wasn’t alone in the pain and that after two weeks it normally gets more bearable.
Have a Routine After Every Feeding
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the first. I brought my tube of Lansinoh Lanolin to the hospital and applied it like my life depended on it. But I don’t think it helped at all and it ended up leaving greasy stains in my nursing bra. Here’s my routine now:
- Always dry off baby’s spit immediately from the breast
- Apply a couple drops of expressed milk to the nipple and let that dry
- Apply a gentle nipple cream that is soft and not sticky: I’ve used Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter and I’m currently using Badger Organic Nursing Balm
- Use a nursing breast pad on each side to preserve your bra and reduce your laundry a bit
The baby’s spit will chap your nipples like your own spit chaps your lips, so don’t let it sit on there after a feeding. If you are new to motherhood, then you have yet to learn about the amazing qualities of breastmilk. That stuff is liquid gold. It heals everything faster and expressing a few drops to coat on after a feeding will help your nipples heal between those feedings. A light coat of something to help with chafing (again, think chapped lips) will also keep your nipples from getting to dry or rubbed between feedings. I hated Lanolin because I found it to be sticky, but both of the balms listed above were based in natural oils that seemed to help.
Finally, I use disposable nursing breast pads to help with chafing as well. I tried the reusable ones, but they are thicker and it’s a pain to wash them after so much oil (from the balm). Instead, I found that the disposable could last a day or longer (especially if I wasn’t actually leaking) and were easy to coat with a layer of balm for added comfort.
Try to Stick with One Side
I know not everyone has the supply for this. But, in many cases supply is also what your baby is telling your body to make. From day one I only fed on one side unless the baby seemed super hungry after emptying that side. Allow your baby to fully empty one side before switching and see if you can get away with only nursing on one side. This is totally personal preference, but I liked having the longer times between feedings to allow a side to heal and I loved that I could pump one side while feeding on the other if I needed to (see more about that below). There isn’t a right or wrong to this, but a lot of new moms don’t even think about this as an option.
Don’t Sleep in Tight Bras
The fastest way I’ve found to get milk duct clogs is when I’m wearing a bra that is too tight or constricting. You want a really comfortable soft (wire free) nursing bra or sports bra for sleeping in and during the early days of nursing as your body is getting adjusted to producing milk. It’s also nice to have a nursing bra with underwiring for going out because it makes you feel more normal.
Don’t Ignore the Lumps
I’m not sure if everyone is this way, but I can guarantee I’ll have some clogged milk ducts in the first few weeks of nursing a new baby. You will feel a very hard and painful lump, which shouldn’t go ignored. If you don’t clear those ducts, they will quickly turn to mastitis (or infection) and this can be serious enough to require surgery. If you feel a lump, don’t panic:
- Gently massage the lump like you would a bruise, this can be even more effective with a heating pad or during a warm shower
- During the next feeding on that side, try to point baby’s nose towards the lump as he or she feeds (this isn’t always possible)
- If feeding time isn’t soon and you feel engorged with excess milk, don’t be afraid to pump it and freeze the milk for another day. Just don’t fully clear out that side (which will encourage the body to make more) and apply a heating pad to the lump while pumping to help unclog those ducts. Even just pumping an ounce can make a huge difference in your comfort without telling your body to overproduce.
Learn to Love the Pump
I don’t like pumping and don’t envy moms that have to pump full time (you totally rock if you have to pump a lot!). However, I did fall in love with my little hand pump and it is an amazing resource to have. I have an electric Medela pump that I got before Kamden and haven’t even opened because I prefer to use the handheld one. I’ve owned both Lansinoh and Medela hand pumps and they both worked great for me.
The trick is actually learning how to pump while feeding. Yep. The natural letdown you get while feeding your baby makes pumping like 10x faster. Of course, this doesn’t really work if you have to pump for every feeding, but if you just want enough for a feeding or need a bit of relief from engorgement or want to store up some in the freezer for later, then this is an easy way to do it.
I tend to get really sore on one side, so this is a great way to take a break on that side. I can pump when the baby is nursing on the other side and then offer a bottle for the next feeding to give the sore side a longer break. The pump is more controlled, so it hurts less than the baby. And, since I’m pumping it just a tad early, I don’t struggle with any loss of supply on that side.
Plus, it’s a good idea to give your exclusively breastfed baby a bottle every once in a while. Babies that aren’t given a bottle early on are more likely to reject the bottle completely, which can be a huge problem if there is ever an emergency where you aren’t free to breastfeed.
Try to Relax
Feeding your baby while you are stressed can make it even harder to produce milk and avoid pain. Find a comfortable place where you can feed the baby at various points in your day. I like my armchair in the bedroom at night and the couch with a supportive pillow during the day. Don’t let the baby stress you into feeding him or her. You want to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible to encourage the flow of milk and help your baby relax as well. Using a fan or blanket to get the right temperature can help–so can having a drink or snack by you to enjoy while feeding. You can help reduce the baby’s frustration by waking them up whenever it’s time for a feeding and not waiting until they cry to feed.
Remember Why You Breastfeed
A positive mantra can really help during those moments when it is the most painful or inconvenient. After all, it’s not always easy to stop what you are doing and feed the baby out of your own body. But:
- It saves money. That might be the biggest reason I love breastfeeding my kids. I’m frugal and any good deal is hard for me not to get excited about. Formula is expensive, y’all.
- It burns calories. It’s good for you! The calories you burn during breastfeeding are about 20 per ounce. That means you can burn up to 600 calories a day.
- It’s best for baby. Okay, let’s get this straight first: fed is best. A baby nourished by formula is going to be a happy and healthy baby, so it’s wonderful to have that option. However, the reality is that breastmilk from the mother is ideal for a young baby. It isn’t the only option, but it is the best option if it is indeed an option you have, and that is helpful to remind yourself throughout this hard process of adjustment. Breastmilk is the perfect balance of the fats, sugars and proteins your baby needs. Your body will actually react to the baby’s saliva to create important changes in your milk that support the baby’s needs. Studies have found that breastmilk lowers your baby’s risk of allergies, asthma, sickness, infections and more.
This is all to say: don’t beat yourself up if you can’t (or don’t want to) do it, but be prepared if that is something you want to do. It is a personal decision. It is a hard job and your body will need to adjust. After four babies, it isn’t a lot easier, but I’m far better prepared to do it.
4 thoughts on “Things I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding (TMI)”
Nice article. This has lots of info about breastfeeding. Thanks for sharing!
Huge thumbs up for this post. Passing this on to my wife.
Oh, that part about the routine is great. So many times I would fall asleep and end up really sore because I didn’t apply the balm.
Appreciating the time and effort you put into your blog and in depth information you provide.
It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the
same rehashed information. Wonderful read!