New moms often cringe when faced with the loaded question: “Are you planning on breastfeeding?” Their answer may invoke feelings of judgment, guilt, shame and even failure - both as a woman and as a mother. Backed into a corner, some new moms feel they have to justify their decision not to breastfeed - which just isn’t fair.
Breastfeeding is a rewarding and even enjoyable experience...for some. Yet it still comes with challenges, struggles and frustrations that aren’t always openly discussed. When a new mother isn’t aware of all that breastfeeding entails, it’s difficult for her to make an informed decision as well as put forth a sufficient effort.
For any new or future moms out there faced with the decision of whether or not to breastfeed, we at Baby Gaga want to let you know that nothing has to be set in stone. Women are allowed to play things by ear, see how it goes and find out if breastfeeding fits the bill. And while mother’s milk is extremely beneficial for a newborn, there are plenty of realities out there that anyone with a breastfeeding agenda may neglect to share.
Any new moms who are considering breastfeeding for the first time, we urge you to give it a good old college try without making any promises. Until then, let’s clear up some popular misconceptions by exposing 15 breastfeeding secrets the experts don’t always discuss.
15 Is It Really Second Nature?
Puppies and piglets do it with ease so how difficult can breastfeeding actually be? The short answer is very - at least at first anyway. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as cuddling a baby to a bosom and letting nature work its magic. There are quite a few moving parts to consider such as: an effective hold on baby, a solid latch and ensuring baby is stimulated to ingest the necessary amount.
To say it’s the natural way to feed a baby implies that breastfeeding will occur easily without any outside assistance yet this can be far from true. Just because a woman’s body is hardwired to produce milk in response to her baby’s needs does not always indicate it’s the only or even best option available. If natural was the only way to go, then that would throw epidurals, C-sections and even vaccinations out the window.
14 Pacifier: The Devil's Device?
They look innocent enough - basically a cutesy piece of plastic with a nipple on one end - yet according to many experts out there pacifiers are the devil’s device. It doesn’t help that there’s plenty of misleading and downright confusing information floating around out there. Women are told that if their baby uses a pacifier it will decrease their milk supply, cause them to gain weight, increase their chances of becoming pregnant and cause the baby to suffer from nipple confusion.
On the other hand, some experts claim that a baby using a pacifier will actually be encouraged to continue breastfeeding. So which is it? Who honestly knows. That said, studies designed to put this mystery to rest routinely found no difference in breastfeeding outcomes whether a pacifier was used or not.
Yet that doesn’t stop some hospitals or birthing centers from only selling pacifiers to new mothers that they deem worthy of their requirement. True story.
13 Convert To Voyeurism
Many women have an idealized vision in mind when it comes to breastfeeding. There is a beautiful and relaxed woman sitting comfortably, snuggling a baby close as they gently receive nourishment from her breast. Become an actual voyeur on the act with a close family member or friend, and any woman will realize this vision is far from reality.
Understanding what realistic breastfeeding entails is step one toward becoming a whiz at it. So if there is a family member or close friend who happens to be breastfeeding their baby, seek them out as a possible mentor. Breastfeeding clinics may be able to provide possible protegés with a volunteer they can watch and learn from as well.
Basically, all that is required is a woman who successfully breastfeeds and is willing to offer non-judgemental emotional support and guidance as needed. Seeing breastfeeding up close and personal may make all the difference in the world for an expectant or new mom’s morale and confidence in her own breastfeeding ability.
12 It Effing Hurts!
They’ll say the latch isn’t correct. They’ll insist the baby isn’t in a proper holding position. They’ll tell you it will get better. And maybe they’re right. Or maybe not. There’s just no denying it - breastfeeding can be done textbook perfect and still be uncomfortable if not downright painful . . . at first.
Any part of a person’s body that is hungrily sucked upon around the clock will end up chapped, raw and painful to the touch. Sure, it sounds kinky, but mention this to a brand new breastfeeding mother and it may warrant a slap in the face! Experts insist that nipples will toughen up and adjust and that things will improve. All true. But this doesn’t lessen the amount of pain a woman well endure to reach breastfeeding nirvana.
Then there are postpartum cramps to contend with. Often unnoticeable to first-time moms, the cramping can be excruciating to women nursing their second and third-born babies. A newborn’s sucking triggers a hormone release which helps the uterus contract back to regular, pre-pregnancy size. The good news is that a new mom will know that her body is doing what it needs to heal. The bad news is that it effing hurts!
11 An Inconvenient Truth
Breastfeeding is often lauded for its convenience and simplicity. There are no bottles to wash and sterilize, no heating required and best of all no heading to the kitchen at two a.m. However, breastfeeding comes with its own unique set of challenges and inconveniences that aren’t always obvious at first glance.
For starters, feeding a constantly hungry baby falls squarely on the mother. Sure a partner can offer some assistance by bringing the baby to and from an exhausted new mom and even burping the pumpkin after a meal. But that’s basically it.
Then there is diet to consider. Some foods the mother fancies may not sit well when passed along through her milk. This can sometimes result in gassiness or fussiness in the baby. And of course alcohol remains a no-no as long as a mother is nursing.
Not to mention the definite awkwardness of nursing in public. Of course this can be avoided altogether so long as a new mom is content to be a housebound hermit for the duration of her breastfeeding venture.
10 Operational Outcomes
In the majority of cases, breast implants will not affect a woman’s ability to nurse her baby. But a lot of this is dependent on a number of specific variables such as the type and placement of implant as well as how the surgery was performed.
During breast augmentation surgery, it is possible for nerves, milk ducts and glands to be damaged which can negatively affect milk production in the future. Damaged nerves in the nipples can affect a woman’s let-down response which allows the milk to flow freely to a hungry baby. As well, implants can block milk flow and cause painful engorgement.
If surgical incisions have been made under the breast or near the armpit, it is less likely to result in breastfeeding interference than if made directly across the nipple. Also implants located under a woman’s chest muscle are less likely to damage milk ducts or nerves.
If a woman has undergone breast surgery and is concerned it will affect her ability to breastfeed, her best bet is to talk to her healthcare provider or a lactation expert about it beforehand.
9 Breastfeeding Birth Control
One of the many benefits to breastfeeding (aside from offering up homegrown nourishment for a bouncing baby) is the fact that most nursing mothers experience a reprieve from their period. Either they don’t have one at all or else it’s extremely light - this phenomenon is called lactation amenorrhea. However, if a woman mistakenly believes that an absence in menstruation indicates an absence in ovulation, she may be bringing home an Irish twin in the near future.
A woman’s fertility can be closely tied to her breastfeeding pattern. Typically, when milk production decreases, a woman’s fertility can go through the roof. As a baby starts to eat larger quantities of regular food, a nursing mother’s milk supply will wane in response. A woman’s sudden decreased milk production may also be caused by stress or certain medications. If another baby is not on the immediate docket, then it’s important for a nursing mother to maintain an effective birth control method.
8 Wardrobe Malfunctions
What’s the point in saving money on the cost of bottles and formula if a new mom has to blow a small fortune on the cost of all the breastfeeding duds she’ll have to add to her wardrobe?! The good news is that breastfeeding is possible with or without any specialty garments. Sure there’s a corner of the market dedicated to nursing clothes such as specialty bras, pyjamas and tops but don’t believe the ads. When it comes to nursing a baby, they aren’t deal breakers.
Nursing bras are definitely convenient as they are great for comfort and accessibility but there are many different types out there. Before spending a pretty penny on a whole whack of them, nursing mothers should buy just one and ensure it is a comfortable fit and easy to operate.
As for the additional purchase of pjs and tops, there are ways to remain discreet yet not break the bank. Scoop-necked or low cut tank tops can be worn underneath stretchy tops. Button-up blouses and pyjama tops are extremely accommodating to nursing mothers as well.
7 Complications: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
Until a nursing mother hits that breastfeeding sweet spot, she may find herself wading through treacherous territory that includes blocked milk ducts and ragged nipples. And while these complications are relatively minor - they can turn serious in a heartbeat.
Blocked milk ducts can be another painful result of breastfeeding and if not cleared up, they can lead to the more serious condition mastitis. This occurs when an infection takes hold in the mammary gland tissue. The affected breast may feel hot, hard and sore in a certain spot and the nursing mom may feel fluey. Continued breastfeeding is encouraged and may help relieve the situation. If not, antibiotics may be required.
Hyperlactation is another possible side effect arising from breastfeeding. This is when a woman produces more milk than necessary for her baby’s needs. Typically, this will right itself once hormone levels balance out but if not it is important to discuss the issue with a healthcare provider or lactation expert.
6 Dress for Battle
Most likely, women who have never given birth aren’t familiar with the term nipple shield. This is liable to change once she’s popped a baby out and is headed down the breastfeeding path. The shield in question is a flexible silicon nipple that women place over top of their own nipple - think of it as protective armour for the nursing mother. It can help a newborn develop a strong latch as well as offer a nursing mother a brief respite from the agony of a cracked or raw nipple.
Many experts warn that shields should only be considered a short-term fix. There is concern that extended use of a nipple shield will reduce a woman’s milk supply while also making a baby’s latch dependent on it. That said, many women with naturally inverted nipples successfully use them the entire time they breastfeed.
Once a nipple is healed or a baby has gotten the hang of the whole nursing game, the shield can be put into storage for a rainy day.
5 Four Words: Formula Is Not Poison
Despite what some breastfeeding bullies may insist, instant baby formula is a viable healthy option for hungry babies. Not only does formula consist of all necessary ingredients for a growing baby to thrive, but it usually contains additional vitamins that breastfed babies have to receive via supplement.
Designed to mimic mother’s milk, baby formula is comprised of a combination of proteins, sugars, fats and vitamins. It is carefully manufactured under sterile conditions - and under no circumstances should anyone attempt to concoct their own homemade formula. When feeding a newborn, parents have only the two options of using breast milk or store bought formula.
The downside to formula feeding over breastfeeding is the fact that it can cost about $1500 per year and a baby is more likely to suffer from gas or constipation. But at the end of the day, as long as a baby is fed and happily growing, does it really matter whether the food source is breast milk or formula?
4 Overwhelmed Much?
Painting a misleading rosy picture of breastfeeding is a surefire way to discourage women from attempting to feed baby au naturel. If they don’t get the hang of it as easily as they are led to believe they would, it can be a blow to their confidence.
While still travelling down the bumpy road of recovery after childbirth, breastfeeding may be another hurdle for a new mother to overcome. Many brand new moms are unaware of how long a process breastfeeding can be for a newborn - it can sometimes last more than an hour per session.
Motherhood is overwhelming - period. Now heap on the additional stress of being the sole provider for baby’s sustenance and new moms may feel they are slaves to their hungry babies. Not to mention, prisoners of their leaky boobs.
Keep in mind that like anything worthwhile in life, breastfeeding takes practice and perseverance. Eventually it will become a streamlined process that won’t take as much time and won’t involve any pain.
3 Six Is The Magic Number
For those immersed in the milky world of breastfeeding, the six-week mark seems to be the magic number. Many moms describe it as a light-switch moment, when breastfeeding transforms from a dreaded chore to an enjoyable part of their day (or night). In the great scheme of things, six weeks may only be a blip of time, yet to a new mom suffering from pain and exhaustion, six weeks can seem like an eternity.
So what’s so special about the six-week mark? For starters, this is when most babies surpass the most vulnerable stage of their infancy. Even if a new mother decides breastfeeding just isn’t working, the baby has received plenty of tailor-made antibodies and the mom’s body has already healed significantly from her breastfeeding efforts.
The sixth week of breastfeeding typically coincides with several other important milestones including:
- A nursing mother's hormone levels have stabilized.
- Her milk supply has balanced to her baby's needs.
- The baby has gotten the knack of this breastfeeding deal.
- A new mom is more comfortable with the nursing process herself.
- Fingers crossed, she is feeling more like her old self.
- By now she is accustomed to motherhood.
2 Bonding Be All And End All?
There are a million different ways to form a bond with a baby and breastfeeding is only one of them. If it was the only way, then there would be plenty of unattached parents and children milling around.
In truth, there are many ways for loving parents to form a bond with their children. Skin-to-skin as well as eye-to-eye contact is one of the easiest and most lauded ways. This can occur while just relaxing with a baby, talking to them or enjoying their company in a quiet setting. Bonding can take place while changing a diaper or during bath time as well.
As a parent slowly gets to know their baby, they will inevitably discover what seems to calm them and what activity they most enjoy. This can turn into a special moment they both share - and may have nothing whatsoever to do with the feeding process.
1 Hate It And It's Just Not Worth It
Breast is best . . . until it’s not. The quality of a mother should not be judged by whether or not she breastfeeds. What is most important is that she is a kind, patient, nurturing and loving mother to her baby. If she is unhappy and stressed and dreads the act of breastfeeding her baby, this sort of defeats the purpose. Babies are highly attuned to the emotional states of the adults in their lives. If a nursing mother is reluctant or resentful, the baby may become fussy or stressed themselves.
As a mother, a woman has the right to decide what is in her child’s best interest. And if breastfeeding doesn’t fit the bill, then that’s okay. Judgment, guilt, shame and pressure should not have any sort of role in this decision process. Remember a baby won’t care whether they are breastfed or bottle-fed, and neither should anyone else!