When it comes to nursing, there are few experts that moms can really trust. From campaigns for formula promotion to doctors who just don’t “get” nursing, there are a lot of naysayers out there.
Fortunately, moms can usually rely on lactation specialists to be both honest with and supportive of them throughout their nursing journeys. And these days, most moms who have babies in the hospital will meet a lactation consultant within the first few hours of their infants’ lives. Of course, many moms also attend classes to learn tips and tricks for nursing their babes long before they hold them in their arms. After all, it may be natural, but that doesn’t mean nursing is easy or even enjoyable at all—at least at first when you’re figuring things out.
And at the end of the day, the best advice comes from lactation specialists who see moms interact with their babies, because it’s difficult to diagnose any issues without seeing the baby actually latch and nurse.
But that doesn’t mean lactation consultants can’t give soon-to-be moms great advice, too. Here are some of the things only a lactation consultant is knowledgeable enough (or honest enough) to tell a soon-to-be mom.
20 Sometimes Nursing Will Hurt (For Seemingly No Reason)
If you google the question “does nursing hurt,” you’re bound to be inundated with a hundred different answers. Most will say, no, nursing shouldn’t hurt. The thing is, many moms do feel discomfort and even pain when they first start nursing. Fortunately, a lactation specialist will likely be up front about this fact.
Whether it’s due to the fact that this is your first baby and you’ve never nursed before, or you have a low pain tolerance and the chafing and latching is causing irritation, nursing can feel awfully uncomfortable at first. It’s normal, though, something so many moms deny. And, thankfully, it tends to go away if there aren’t any actual issues with you or baby.
19 Making Milk Is A Full-Time Job
From hospital pamphlets and online forums, you might get the idea that nursing is easy and fun, perhaps even relaxing. But a lactation consultant can tell you the truth: nursing is hard work and practically qualifies as a full-time job.
There’s the physical act of getting baby’s latch right, figuring out how to hold said baby, eating the right stuff, drinking enough water, picking the right pump (if necessary), and avoiding stuff that’s bad for milk-making (like peppermint and certain spices). Hopefully, once you get into a groove, it will feel easier. But your lactation specialist should be honest so you know what to expect, at least in the first few months.
18 Pumps Aren’t Usually Par For The Course
I’m the mom who, if I have a third child, will be requesting a pump from the first minutes of my baby’s life. But this is because I have a history of milk-making struggles—something soon-to-be first-time moms don’t have. Because as your lactation specialist will tell you, there’s usually no reason for a mom to need a pump in the early days.
Of course, there are exceptions if your baby is ill or unable to latch—but in most cases, just nursing frequently will help your milk come in and ensure your baby is getting what she needs. Besides, good lactation support will help perfect your baby’s latch and give suggestions for your feeding routine—eliminating the need for a pump in most cases, anyway.
17 Latching Isn’t Always Second Nature
While the warm-and-fuzzy informational videos and pamphlets on nursing will have you believing latching is in every baby’s toolkit from birth, it’s not. Thankfully, lactation specialists are usually up-front about this.
The good news is, a baby can learn to latch, whether they’re a newborn or a few months old and a NICU graduate.
In addition to mom having to figure out nursing and how it all works, babies have to do the same. Most babies need a bit of help getting their latch perfected, and it takes often some good lactation support (and a whole lot of patience and determination) to do it.
16 There’s Not Always A Solution
Unfortunately, there isn’t always a nursing solution for moms whose babies can’t latch. And while it’s relatively rare in the scheme of things, I really wish that my lactation consultant had told me from the start that for some moms, nursing just doesn’t work out. It took her a week or so to admit to me that she had no answers, although she did refer me to an ENT (Ear, Nose Throat specialist) to check out my baby’s latch, which was literally causing him to gnaw off my sensitive bits while nursing.
It could have been a lip or tongue tie, which is apparently more common these days, but I never did get an answer—except that my lactation specialist had no fix—but at least she was honest.
15 Every Nursling Is Different
Though moms hope for stellar nursing experiences from day one, it doesn’t always happen that way. Similarly, your nursing experience can be different with each baby, even if you’re dealing with twins or higher multiples. If you’re a first-time mom and nursing has been easy for every woman in your family, don’t bank on it being easy for you, too.
Similarly, if it turns out this baby is a champion nursling, don’t necessarily expect it for their younger sibling(s), too. The huge variation in babies’ development, instincts, and abilities just throws that bit of unpredictability into every birth and nursing experience.
14 Some New Babies Eat 24/7
One thing that most soon-to-be moms who plan to nurse aren’t prepared for is the constant feeding. And by constant, I do mean every twenty minutes or so for the first few days or even weeks of life. The thing is, frequent feeds are entirely normal, especially when your newborn is brand-new.
Some lactation specialists call this “cluster feeding,” and it’s literally a mechanism to make your body produce more milk so your baby has more to eat. The byproduct of nursing all the time is a fuller milk supply, which means this seemingly pointless non-stop nursing really does have a purpose.
13 It’s Okay To Stop Nursing
Most people who support breastfeeding come down hard on moms who decide to stop nursing for any reason. However, your lactation specialist won’t! She would, of course, love for you to succeed at nursing—after all, that’s her job!
But it’s likely also her passion to see mamas be happy and bonded with their babies, so if nursing is stopping you from being close to your baby and enjoying your time together, your lactation specialist will see that. And she’s the one person you can trust to be truly honest about whether it’s okay to stop nursing because she’s totally in you and your baby’s corner.
12 All Moms Are Different
Whether you’re nervous to give your lactation specialist a live demo of your infant feeding or you’re just embarrassed about how little milk you seem to be producing, I can guarantee you, your lactation consultant has literally seen it all.
Every mama is different, and every baby is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to nursing—or anything else parenting-related. So whatever your issue or worry is, rest assured that you can tell your lactation specialist about it without expecting judgment in return. At the end of the day, it’s their job to support and help educate you, not look at you sideways for your unconventional approach, opinion, or nursing “equipment.”
11 Multiples Don’t Mean You Can’t Nurse
It’s probably almost like winning the lottery for a lactation specialist to meet with a soon-to-be mom who’s expecting multiples and plans on nursing! After all, it’s usually harder than nursing a singleton, mostly due to logistics, but also due to the fact that there are more mouths to feed.
But as your lactation specialist will tell you, it’s not impossible to nurse—in fact, many moms successfully make milk for twins on up with no need for supplementation. Of course, the whole “every mom is different” reassurance applies here, too, but in most cases, having multiples doesn’t mean you can’t nurse. If you don’t believe us, just ask your LC!
10 A Nursing Shield Is Usually Okay
Here’s another piece of relatively divisive advice: nursing moms shouldn’t use nursing shields. Surprisingly, there’s a good bit of argument over whether or not a nursing mom should use a shield to ensure the proper latch while her new nursling is figuring things out. Some say it messes with babies’ natural abilities to latch, but most lactation specialists say it’s A-ok in the pursuit of long-term nursing.
After all, most moms are able to drop the shield once their babies become more confident with latching and nursing overall. Despite the hype, nursing shields can help prolong your nursing relationship with your baby, plus it can help them actually remove the milk more effectively if that’s something they struggle with—it’s basically a win-win.
9 Direct Feeding Isn’t The Only Way
Especially for mamas of NICU babies, or those soon-to-be moms who are expecting an early arrival, it can be devastating to find out your baby has to stay in the NICU long-term. After all, it puts a huge damper on your ability to nurse on a whim, and it can also affect your baby’s ability to latch—especially if they’re really small or have health issues.
Some babies will latch just fine despite those problems, but others will need some help. However, your lactation specialist will be the first to tell you, latching to feed isn’t the only way. Bottle feeding isn’t even the only way—there’s also cup feeding, syringe feeding, and even finger feeding (using a tube on your finger for baby to “latch”)—tons of ways to get milk into the baby!
8 You Don’t Need Tons Of Milk To Start
Plenty of soon-to-be mamas are confused about how nursing works and what to expect. So when they deliver their new bundle and find that they can’t squeeze out even a drop of milk, they begin to panic. But hopefully, they have a knowledgeable lactation specialist who can calm their fears by explaining that you don’t need a ton of milk to begin nursing your baby!
Most veteran nursing mamas know that the initial milk—the colostrum—only comes out in small amounts in the first few days postpartum.
Babies only need this little bit of high-nutrition milk to thrive in the early days, and once your milk comes in (your LC can also tell you this varies between one and even seven days), they’ll start eating more.
7 Nursing More Is A Good Thing
Although cluster feeding is tough for moms to deal with, what with the constant fussing for milk even if the baby has just eaten, it does have a biological purpose. And while a doctor might suggest supplementing or switching to bottle feeding entirely just so your baby won’t need you so much, lactation specialists will share that while it’s frustrating, cluster feeding is actually a good thing.
Not only does it encourage your body to make more milk, but cluster feeding can also be a sign of your baby experiencing a growth spurt—more food means more growth, after all. An LC will give you the support you need to hang in there until the spurt ends.
6 Feeding Confusion Is Basically A Myth
I can’t even count how many blogs I’ve read about “feeding confusion” and how breastfed babies should never ever drink out of a bottle because it’s bad for their latch. The thing is, your lactation specialist will likely tell you that feeding confusion isn’t as big of a worry as you might have thought.
Some babies are picky, sure, and tend to prefer bottles because they’re faster food—but that’s about the extent of the problem. Babies who nurse are used to working for their milk, while a fast-flow bottle encourages them to be lazy. Stop the flow problem, and your baby likely won’t become “confused” with dual feeding methods.
5 No Position Is Perfect
When you look at nursing pamphlets, the moms usually hold their babies like a “football”—this is the most common “hold” for nursing. But it’s not the only way—and your picky baby might have his own opinions about the matter, too.
Luckily, your lactation specialist is an expert when it comes to positioning your baby for an effective meal. They can suggest different holds, positions, and tricks to get your baby to eat no matter how they’re positioned, and they may even have some advice on how to relieve shoulder strain or other issues from holding your baby the “wrong” way.
4 Nursing Pillows Aren’t Necessary
So many soon-to-be moms are gifted (or buy themselves) nursing pillows, as they’re almost seen as a necessity for effective nursing. But as your LC can tell you, nursing pillows aren’t always the best means of supporting you or your baby during a feeding.
In fact, one expert told Romper that using a nursing pillow encourages “hanging” while your baby is eating—not something new moms want to hear! Not only can your baby’s low position cause you to “hover” over her while she’s eating, but it can also create back and shoulder problems in mom. But, your lactation specialist probably has some suggestions for this issue, too.
3 Your Delivery Might Mess With Feeding
Despite a mom’s best intentions, it’s always possible that her delivery can affect how well or whether she can even feed her baby via nursing at all. In many cases, mamas who were expecting intervention-free natural births either end up needing or get coerced into having augmented deliveries. And in some extreme cases, mamas need life-saving interventions that can involve meds or other measures that mess with her milk coming in.
Many mamas who have had C-sections report problems with their milk arriving late or not having a full supply, even after a lot of work and extra pumping. But as your lactation support person can tell you, nursing can become harder when your delivery doesn’t go as planned.
2 They Can Let You Know Who To See Next
One of the great things about lactation specialists is that they don’t work within a bubble. Most of the time, they’re on staff in hospitals or birth centers, making rounds to visit with new moms who are planning to nurse. They also have connections with other professionals, including pediatricians, ENTs, and other specialists. Therefore, if you’re struggling with nursing and they’re not sure they can help resolve the problem, they may be able to tell you who to see next.
My lactation specialist sent me to a pediatrician who referred us to an ENT, and while I never got the answers that could save my nursing relationship, I appreciated that she had connections to try and help us out—and I’m sure those connections helped other moms in the end, too.
1 There’s A Range Of What’s Normal
Another facet of “every mom is different” is that there’s also a huge range of what constitutes normal. It’s normal for a mom to produce more milk than her baby can drink, and it’s also normal for her to produce a little less than what her baby seems to want.
It’s also normal for a mom to produce exactly the amount of milk her baby needs, no more, no less. Of course, it’s hard to accept when you’re not in the “normal” group you wish you were in, but your lactation specialist can confirm that it’s all normal, relatively speaking.