Parents may have read all the books, attended all the workshops, and asked their doctor, midwife, or mom every question in the book. But nothing prepares a woman for the reality of new motherhood quite like experiencing it all first hand. The sleepless nights, the gas and crazy explosions (baby's or mom's), the postpartum hair loss and weight fluctuations (that's right, I said gain). And of course, the reality that is breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is different for every woman, making it a joy or a horror, depending on who you ask. For many mamas, it's a little bit of both: An incredible bonding experience that fills you with wonder and pride, while also being a tedious obligation that prevents you from sleeping through the night, wearing normal shirts, or going anywhere without your baby for more than 30 minutes.
You may not be able to find a single top that allows you to look halfway presentable while also affording you the opportunity to discreetly nurse in public. You may invest in gorgeous and stylish nursing covers, only to find that your baby sees shrouds as a smothering hazard and rips them off every chance he gets.
You may go from a B cup to a D cup while breastfeeding, only to find that you've regressed to an A after the baby has started solid foods (so unfair). You may find yourself leaking at a dinner party, pumping in an airplane bathroom, or popping strange herbal pills to boost your milk supply.
Regardless of your experience, breastfeeding is beautiful, trippy, painful, exhausting, weird and wonderful. Read on.
15 Whose Girls?
Pre-baby, your tatas were your own. Whether you wore sports bras, push-up bras, lacy bras or practical bras - or none at all - they were undeniably yours to do with as you pleased (and perhaps your spouse enjoyed them too, wink wink). Post-baby, all rules fly out the window. Those jugs aren't yours, they aren't your spouse's. Fun makes way for functionality because they are now the baby's plates.
Baby gets them anywhere from five to 45 minutes at a time, every two hours (at the beginning, anyway). And if you feed on demand, the baby will demand those boobs whenever he has a hankering, day or night.
And while your spouse may have even more of an interest than before now that your cup size has increased, you will likely have less of an interest in having them touched. Not only are they likely to be lumpy, sore and leaky, but they've also been sucked on, scratched, grabbed and mauled so much by the baby, that it's hard to fathom any woman being game to have her girls touched by anyone. Ever.
14 Goodbye Symmetry
You may not be able to tell at first glance, but most of our bodies are asymmetrical, and women's lady lumps are no exception. For some mamas, this anatomical quirk can be exacerbated by nursing, as model Chrissy Teigen learned when nursing her daughter Luna, who apparently preferred one side more than the other.
Some women may find that one side tends to produce more than the other, which can also account for some serious lopsidedness. And while some mamas may not care too much about the size difference, others may find it super annoying. If that's the case, rest assured that there are things you can do to help mitigate lopsidedness, including nursing first or more frequently on the smaller one, to help increase supply (if it's a supply issue), as well as pumping the smaller one in between feeds. Another option is to head to the doctor to make sure there isn't an underlying reason that the baby prefers one of the girls over the other.
13 When It Hurts
I remember the first few days of breastfeeding as being so tortuously painful, I couldn't fathom continuing. It was so bad on Day 3 that I begged my husband to buy a couple bottles and some pre-mixed formula, just so I could have it on hand in case I needed to jump ship.
After getting confirmation from my midwives and a lactation consultant that my daughter had a decent latch and no tongue tie, I decided to power through, and within about a week, she had become more efficient at nursing, and my poor tortured nips got used to being tugged and sucked. And lo and behold, the pain subsided.
Painful breastfeeding can be caused by a number of issues. The first and most important one to figure out is the latch since a bad latch can cause the baby to chomp on your nip - essentially slamming it into her hard palate - destroying your nips and your milk supply in one fell swoop. Ugh.
Plugged ducts, painful letdown, tongue tie, and thrush can also make nursing painful, even between feedings. If nursing hurts at first, consult your doctor, midwife, or a lactation consultant to rule out any of the above problems. And rest assured that it does get better!
12 Cracked Nips
By the time I had gotten the latch figured out, my tiny new bundle of joy had gnawed my poor pepperoni slices straight into a pulp, making it agonizing to feed her. It felt like she had razor blades in her tiny, hungry mouth, and she was sawing off my nips with each painful suck.
Most women who experience cracking or bleeding have a baby who hasn't learned to latch properly, and the best way to mitigate all that distress is to work with a lactation consultant who can show you how to tweak head and holding positions, to optimize latch and save your nips.
While some mamas swear by store-bought ointment (like lanolin) to combat cracked nips, I've always found that the best remedy was the most natural: simply hand-expressing a small amount of milk onto each one after a feed, and letting the milk air dry before putting my top back on. Both methods (lanolin or milk) are known as "moist wound healing", and are a great way to mitigate potentially crackings before symptoms even arise.
11 Engorgement And Mastitis
Ugh. Mastitis: it real, and it's awful. Take my word for it.
Mastitis - which affects about one in 10 breastfeeding mamas - is an infection of the breast-tissue that comes with a host of awful side-effects like a red, painful, swollen patch on your jugs, as well as flu-like symptoms like fever, chills and the general longing for death. A mom may find herself with mastitis if her baby miraculously sleeps through the night, leading to engorged breasts that aren't emptied quickly enough.
The good news is that this crappy illness is totally treatable, and can clear up fast if you catch it soon enough. If you think you've got mastitis, keep feeding baby from that breast, and apply a warm compresses. If it doesn't get better, or you start getting the dreaded chills, head to the doctor for some antibiotics.
10 The Low Down On Letdown
All breastfeeding women experience letdown, but women with oversupply may experience letdown on steroids. Oversupply may sound wonderful - I mean, mom will have no problem keeping her baby fed. But, like under supply, oversupply comes with its own set of problems, including what's known as "forceful" or "overactive letdown", which can cause babies to choke or cough as the milk comes rushing into their mouths. Babies whose mothers have forceful letdown are also more likely to pull off the girls or clamp down on the nips to ease off on the milk, spit up or become gassy, or refuse to nurse altogether.
As with most breastfeeding issues, there are ways to combat oversupply and forceful letdown, including reclining or changing the baby's position so that gravity is working against the letdown. Reducing supply can also help, but should only be done in consultation with an expert.
9 Leaky Jugs
Ahhhh leaking boobs. What fun.
The problem with this slightly embarrassing side-effect of breast feeding (which, incidentally, doesn't happen to all women) is that it's totally unpredictable. And while some mamas only leak in the first few weeks of breastfeeding as their bodies adjust to the process, others leak for months.
Leaking is caused by the hormone oxytocin, which is what causes milk letdown. Some women may find that one of her tatas leaks while their baby is nursing from the other, or first thing in the morning and during the night when their girls start to fill up again. Others may even find their shirts getting wet at the sound of their baby's cry, or in the shower (thanks to heat triggering let down).
For mamas who find themselves soaking through shirts, nursing pads are a saving grace. Increasing the frequency of nursing can also help, and if you're away from your baby when you start to notice those familiar dark spots showing up on your shirt, head to a bathroom and hand express some milk into the sink. You won't be the first - or last - woman to do this... promise!
8 Under Supply
Sadly, leaking jugs likely aren't an issue for mamas like this writer, who had low supply.
It can often be hard to really know if you're producing enough milk, but a constantly fussy baby, one who nurses for long stretches of time without seeming to be satisfied, or one who is gaining weight too slowly, are all indications that your body isn't producing quite enough.
Low supply can be caused by a number of factors, including hormones, previous surgeries, not enough glandular tissue, mom taking certain medications (like antihistamines), nursing on a schedule rather than on demand, or nursing a baby with a poor latch. And for women who are passionate about exclusively breastfeeding, having a low supply can be stressful and even devastating. But rest assured, there are lots of ways to combat a low supply.
Feeding more frequently and pumping in between is the best and easiest way to boost supply since your body makes milk in response to the amount that's removed from your breasts. Supplementing with supply-boosting herbs can also help, including blessed thistle and fenugreek, and mother's milk tea (although, warning: I found these herbs left me smelling like maple syrup! My two year old loved to tell me that I smelled like pancakes).
7 Tubing The Girls
Women struggling with low supply - and for whom medication isn't entirely working - may have to feed their baby a combination of breastmilk and formula, either temporarily while their supply increases, or for the duration of their little one's infancy. And for those of us low-supply mamas who are passionate about continuing with breast milk and avoiding bottles whenever possible, the tube system is a fantastic option and perfect compromise.
The idea with the feeding tube system is that it allows babies to consume pre-pumped milk or formula while nursing on the breast. Here's how:
One end of a feeding tube is placed inside a container or pouch filled with milk or formula, and the other end of the tube is placed inside the nursing baby's mouth. As the baby sucks, he is getting both breast milk, and whatever is inside the vessel at the other end of the tube. This allows baby's tummy to fill up, while also triggering mom's body's reflex body's to keep producing milk.
6 Cluster-Feeding Madness
Cluster feeding is basically when your baby decides to torture you with his hunger.
Most new moms leave the hospital armed with some basics about breastfeeding, including the expectation that they will be nursing every two hours, with the duration of each breastfeeding session gradually decreasing, and the length between feedings gradually increasing, as the baby grows older.
Not so with cluster feeding, a milk party where baby feeds in bunches during a particular time of the day - often in the evening (or what my husband and I called "the witching hour").
Cluster feeding can happen because of growth spurts, changes in mom's supply, for comfort during a fussy period, or to top up before a long stretch of sleep. The super annoying thing about cluster feeding is that your baby never seems to be satisfied, meaning you may have a cranky baby on you on and off for several hours, right at the time of day when you really just want to be winding down.
For the most part, cluster feeding is a normal, albeit annoying, part of breastfeeding. Full sympathy to any mama going through it.
5 Nursing In Public
What's a mother to do? Well, feed your baby when she's hungry, wherever you are. Of course, modesty and the fear of upsetting strangers make it harder to practice what I'm preaching, but luckily for nursing mamas, people have become a lot more accepting of a public boob than they once were. Bonus: a woman's right to feed her baby in public is protected by law. Whoot!
First-time mamas, or those who prefer to be a bit more discreet, have a huge selection of nursing covers to choose from these days, including ones that serve double duty as scarves, shawls, stroller covers and swaddles. And you might be surprised at how accommodating restaurants, shops and even public transit users are when it comes to giving women and their babies space, privacy and acceptance to nursing in public. Whether you cover up or go tits-out, it's your right and your baby's right, and it's even kind of liberating.
4 Pumping In Public
It's one thing to nurse in public, with a baby whose head mostly covers your jugs, and with an immediate vessel for the milk that's coming out of your body. It's another thing altogether to pump in public, when you have to deal with elaborate devices, the milk you've pumped, and some sideways glances from people curious to know just what you've got going on under your nursing cover.
But if you're away from your breastfeeding baby for anywhere from a couple hours to a couple days, and are dealing with engorgement, oversupply, or let down, you may find yourself traveling with a pump and putting it to use in all manner of places.
I've done it myself in more weird spots than I can count, including on an airplane, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at a 5-star restaurant, and even in a hipster speakeasy in New York City's Chinatown. I've hand-expressed into a woman's washroom sink at a baseball game that went into extra innings, and in several Target Starbucks coffee shops. And I can't tell you how many times I've pumped in the car on a long car ride or while stuck in rush hour traffic (as a passenger, of course). Public pumping, like public breastfeeding, is usually a matter of necessity, but the good thing is that people these days - thanks to a growing movement to normalize and destigmatize breastfeeding - are pretty cool with it.
3 Multi-Tasking With Baby
I can't tell you how many times I've gone grocery shopping with a baby attached to my chest. Dozens of times? Hundreds? Too many to count, that's for sure.
Babies get hungry when they get hungry, and you can't always structure your day around their feeding schedules. Sometimes you need to stir the dinner pot, put an older sibling down for a nap, go to the bathroom, or get your hair done... all the while with a baby attached to your jugs. And you might be surprised at how adept you become at multi-tasking while nursing.
In fact, in the first few weeks, breastfeeding moms may spend one-quarter of their day nursing, according to Wendy Wisner, a lactation consultant, and author of a column called It's OK To Text and Do Other Real-Life Things While Nursing.
"I’ve breastfed while pooping, peeing—and helping my other kid do the same," she writes in her column. "I’ve breastfed while wiping butts, mopping up snot, cleaning crumbs off the kitchen counter, and scrubbing crayon off walls. I’ve popped my baby in a baby carrier and nursed him while playing mini-golf, helping my kid climb up the slide, (done) grocery shopping, hiking, and waiting in line at the amusement park. I’ve nursed in the bath and shower, while putting on makeup, dressing myself, dressing my other kid, baking cookies, doing art projects, and waiting in the car to pick my kid up from school. I’ve opened the door for the delivery man while feeding a baby, I’ve had a pap smear while nursing. I’ve made whole meals while nursing ... and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve eaten a meal with a nursing baby on my lap."
Honestly, if moms didn't multi-task while breastfeeding, either they'd never get anything done, or the baby would never eat.
2 Strange But True Facts About Breastfeeding
Amazing things about breastfeeding you didn't know, according to Amy Johnson-Grass, midwife, and founder and director of Health Foundations Birth Center.
1. Human milk boosts a baby’s immune system, helping baby fight infections and illness.
2. Breastfeeding helps a shrink a woman's uterus back to it's pre-pregnancy size faster.
3. It takes 1,000 calories a day on average to produce breast milk.
4. Producing breast milk consumes 25 per cent of the body’s energy.
5. Almost 75 per cent of all women produce more milk in their right breast.
6. Milk changes its nutritional profile as the baby grows to adjust to the baby's changing needs. The lady lumps can even detect fluctuation in baby's temperature, and adjust its contents if baby is sick or hot.
7. Human milk promotes sleep and calmness in babies.
1 Fed Is Best
If there's any takeaway from this article, it's this - breastfeeding can be wonderful, but it can also be hard. Really hard. Every baby is different, every boob is different, and there are so many variables that can contribute to breastfeeding going well - or go awry - that it's impossible to dole out one-size-fits-all advice.
At the end of the day, all that matters is a healthy, thriving baby with a full tummy, as well as a healthy, thriving mama. To have this, some women need to forego breastfeeding - in part, or altogether - in lieu of donated milk or formula. And everything about that is totally okay.
Families, with the help of their doctors and other health care professionals like lactation consultants, need to focus on what system best meets their own individual needs, based on their health, lifestyle, and means. So whether you exclusively breastfeed, supplement, pump, tube feed, syringe feed, cup feed, offer donated milk or straight up formula... keep it up! You're doing great.
References: Babycenter.ca, Wikihow, Today's Parent, Parents.com, Kellymom.com, Parents.com, Scary Mommy, Health-foundations.com