Nursing Gaffes You Didn't See Coming

After the many indignities of pregnancy and childbirth, women don't expect that nursing their babies will also be rife with embarrassment and bared skin. Babies are born with the instinct and ability to breastfeed, but they still need to work with their mothers to learn how to do it well. In preparation, mothers read books and seek help from midwives and nurses to learn the posture and process of teaching their babies to nurse well. Still, there are some surprising nursing gaffes that moms don't see coming.

Doctors continue to build the evidence that breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed a newborn. As new mothers try to find balance in their lives, nursing is becoming more accepted in public places. Nursing covers and receiving blankets go a long way to protecting mom's sense of privacy, but there's little she can do to buffer the effects of some of nursing's most mortifying moments.

Even if you manage – somehow – to keep nursing within the confines of your home, you take your breasts with you everywhere you go, and sometimes they belie your lactating habits to innocent strangers. When that happens, you can take solace in the fact that breastfeeding is both a wonderful way to make your baby strong and healthy, and very temporary.

7 Leaking through the breast pads

The law of supply and demand governs breast milk, so that the more your baby eats, the more milk your body learns to produce. This is an unending cycle. This relationship is beautifully symbiotic — until, of course, you break routine.

When you are away from your baby when your body thinks it's time to nurse, you'll have what's termed a 'let down reflex', meaning that your breasts will release milk intended for your baby to consume.

This phenomenon has resulted in the creation of breast pads, which are nifty little absorbent circles that fit in your bra. They soak up excess milk so that, in theory, it doesn’t leak through your shirt. They also further increase the size of your already swollen bosom. You can purchase disposable or reusable (cloth) breast pads, but no matter which way you go there’s only so much liquid they are going to take before your leaking breast milk goes all the way through to your shirt.

If you’re the type of woman who enjoys drawing attention to her chest, you’re in luck, because round, dark circles on the nipple areas of your top are tough to miss. It’s kind of like walking around with your skirt tucked into your pantyhose – it’s not exactly the kind of attention you were looking for, and even the most altruistic strangers don’t want to tell you about it.

I’ve known women to skip the breast pads altogether and use liners from cloth diapers for the purpose. Some women also give up trying to prevent the leaks and just wear patterned shirts so the wet spots aren’t as obvious.

The good news is that most women don’t leak enough to need diapers in their bras, and in time your body learns to turn on the milk only when baby’s calling for it. Just like all other parenting matters, you get better with a little bit of practice. In the meantime, make the best of your bulging boobs as best you can, and pack an extra shirt when you go out.

6 Bared breasts

There are so many products available that are designed to make nursing a more discreet process. There’s the nursing cover that attaches around your neck so baby doesn’t push it off, and nursing tops and bras that allow access to your breasts without baring your midriff. No matter how you try to cope with the situation, the truth is that your breasts, usually off limits to public viewing, are out in the world for the purposes of feeding your baby. The feeling of baring something private is even more evident to first-time moms. As parenthood progresses most moms lose sensitivity to embarrassment, and drop expectations for privacy.

In any case the nursing baby is usually enough to block any view of the more private areas of your body while she eats. When she gets older discretion becomes more of a problem. Older babies are stronger, more opinionated, and more distractible by the world around them. They want to push off the receiving blankets, sit up, and see the world. Unfortunately, when your wee one turns her head to look around, you’re left with your breast hanging out, bared to the world, and half the time it’s spraying milk all over the place.

Try nursing at a mall food court – how many people can you shock as you nurture your baby? Extra points are awarded for visible tattoos.

If you’re out in the world when your baby needs to eat, you will feel pressure to go somewhere private to breastfeed. Often moms check out the “nursing station” handily provided for this type of situation. Most ladies quickly realize that having to hide each time their baby needs nursing is enough to make them want to stay home.

Luckily, by the time babies start to play peek-a-boo with mom’s boobs, they can go longer without nursing, so you can probably arrange your schedule so this nursing gaffe doesn’t happen to you.

5 Baby helping herself

When you decided to breastfeed your baby, you probably didn’t realize that nursing would be part of your life even when baby’s not eating. There are lots of parts of your life that are affected by the choice to nurse your baby. Of course, your personal dietary habits come into play, and your wardrobe choices are limited (ever tried to feed a baby in a dress?). Your body shape might be affected by nursing hormones, and there are lots of considerations for healthcare and medications while you’re nursing, too.

One surprising element is how much baby learns to think of your body as his property. By the time your little one is just a few months old, the routine is set: your baby knows where the milk comes from, and knows he has a right to it. Studies have shown that babies know mom’s smell from a very early age. This is really great news – it means your baby has learned to trust that you’re a source of food.

But what happens when baby decides it’s time to eat, even though it’s not a convenient time?

Culturally, we are learning to accept nursing in public places, as an everyday activity we should accept. But it’s still embarrassing when the baby tries to help himself to your breasts when you’re not ready for it.

Your kiddo will be there in your arms, then suddenly he looks down at your chest and clamps on to your breast on the outside of your shirt. Though you friends and family may be familiar with the breastfeeding routine, it makes for an awkward moment when the kiddo starts lifting up your shirt in mid-conversation.

Partly this is cute and funny – the kiddo doesn’t think this is embarrassing behaviour. For his purposes, this is his territory.

Everyone else present, however, tends to feel differently.

As a mom you have to laugh it off: you’re stunned, but you needn’t be ashamed. You don’t want to push the baby off or get angry with him. It’s best to sigh and accept that for now, you belong to your baby.

4 Uneven sizes

Breastfeeding is a bit of a mystery to new moms. If you’ve never nursed a baby before, it’s hard to know how it should feel, or what it will do to your body.

And then you have to work on your technique – holding baby right, getting her to latch properly, and figuring out when she’s even hungry. One of the initial hurdles in learning to breastfeed is figuring out when to switch off from one breast to another – there are two boobs, one baby. How is that supposed to work? As it turns out, how you deal with this one question can change the look of your body.

Nursing books are careful to instruct moms in the makeup of breastmilk – the watery foremilk, the fatty hindmilk – and how to organize feeding from one breast to the other so baby gets enough of both types.

Breastfeeding should start on the first breast. When baby lets go, you are to burb the baby, then try that breast again. When you’re sure she’s done with that side, you are to switch to the next breast. For the next feeding, you alternate, starting on the opposite side and repeating the pattern. There are even bracelets available to help you remember which side to start with for each feed.

All that information is valuable, but it doesn’t account for baby’s personality. It’s a bit of a hiccup when your little one prefers one side to another. This might happen because of the shape of your nipples or your baby’s comfort level when you hold her with your left arm. Babies also fall asleep mid-feed, leaving you with one large and uncomfortably full breast.

You can alternate which breast starts each feed, but if baby winds up taking more milk from another consistently, the result is predictable: you’ll end up with one breast bigger than the other. You might not even notice your lopsided physique right away. It might be when a new outfit fits funny, or if you look in a mirror and you happen to be topless.

Otherwise you can walk around completely oblivious – and looking like you forgot to stuff your other bra cup. 

3 Expressing

Most moms will find that they need to get away for one reason or another during the time that their baby is nursing. Sometimes moms go back to work, other times they just want to leave for a few hours during the evening. No matter the reason, being apart from baby means expressing milk.

A bunch of products have been developed to help make accessing breast milk easier. Still, it’s not a very easy thing to do.

First, finding time and privacy are not among a new mother’s skill sets. Mothers rarely get time to themselves in the bathroom, let alone forty-five minutes of struggling with suction cups pulling at their boobs.

Your options for expressing milk are pretty grim: you can either use suction cup contraptions with a hand or electric pump, or you can go at it with your hands, in a manner similar to milking cattle.

Pumps can make the process a lot faster, and moms who are returning to work are generally recommended to get the commercial variety so they can get the volume necessary to feed the baby during the day. However, pumps can be uncomfortable if the suction is too strong, and the eerie sucking-air noise is disconcerting.

Naturalists, and also mothers who don’t like suctioning their boobs, prefer hand expressing. While using your hands to extract milk might not feel quite as absurd, it is awkward and embarrassing.

No matter which technique you use, readying your mental state is the biggest step in encouraging milk out of your body. You have to wrap your head around the process of drawing milk out of your own breasts and into a little bottle for safekeeping. It is not a process you want to be caught doing – it’s as awkward as it gets. Just as you wouldn’t want somebody watching you pop a zit, you don’t need an audience for expressing milk.

Bringing on the ‘let down’ reflex is by far the most important factor in expressing, so learning to relax and focus on the task at hand is crucial. Some people find it helpful to have your baby within sight while they express. Others can just picture their baby to bring on the lactation.

2 Biting Baby

Nursing your baby is usually pleasant and relaxing – a few moments of quiet out of your busy day. After you and baby have learned how to breastfeed well, you can sit in comfort, bonding with your newborn – until your baby learns to bite. Then, your feeding time with baby fills you with dread.

Whether or not your baby has teeth, baby’s biting habit is unnerving, aggravating and painful! Because of all of the nerve endings in nipples, they are really, really sensitive. You should never be subjected to pinching or pulling – unless you’re into that sort of thing.

Some babies never bite, but others do so at almost every feeding. When you expect that nursing will be painful, your day is filled with anxiety, waiting for that next feeding time. Feeding your baby is essential, and you do it whole lot. As baby latches on to feed, each time you grit your teeth in expectation of a sharp jolt of pain that comes when he bites down on you.

If you are subjected to a chewing infant, you will learn how to tell when he might hurt you. Your infant can’t bite if he’s latched on well because his tongue is in the way. When you feel him start to come off your nipple, that’s when you need to be vigilant in case he starts to clamp down. You can protect yourself by holding a pinky finger at the ready, set to break your baby’s suction power to stave off any attack your baby might have for your breast.

Even though being bitten when your guard is down could make you really angry, keep in mind your baby isn’t trying to hurt you. Sore gums from teething might make the baby want to chew on things. Sometimes babies pinch or chomp when they need to burp, and need to take a break from nursing. If you can learn to forecast when your little sweetie is going to bite, you can stop it before it happens. Luckily, biting seems to be a passing phase.

1 Milk ejection during sex

After having a baby, it takes a bit of time for your body to heal, and for you to wrap your head around any bedroom activities except sleep – lots and lots of sleep. You’re probably pretty tired, and sore, and worried whether your body will ever get back to ‘normal’.

With all these thoughts racing through your mind, when you finally decide it’s time to get freaky you might not appreciate the new tricks your body has in store – tricks like milk ejecting when you get turned on.

Oxytocin is the hormone that governs your milk let down reflexes. As luck would have it, it’s also the same hormone that courses through your body during sex. Deemed the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin is involved in many feel-good, warm and fuzzy things we do during the day. So when you’re, uh, showing your love in the most adult way, your milk is apt to let down.

Body fluids are ever-present during sex anyway. You might expect that with everybody’s juices flowing you won’t even notice a bit more moisture between you. But let’s just say if you’ve never had breast milk leaking (or spraying) all over you while you’re doing the deed, buckle up, because it’s a bit surprising the first time.

During your private time with your mate, you’re very likely to be topless, which is why lactating is likely to make such a big difference. Coupled with the fact that you’re probably a bit self-conscious about your body and its new functions in nurturing your baby, you might not be right on board about this new element to your lovemaking.

Try not to feel weird when your body turns on the milk flow – just go with it. Some men can get really into this extra element. Even if he doesn’t like being showered by your breasts, he’ll be happy enough to be getting down with you again to get over it. If it really bothers you, hopping in the shower together is never a bad idea.

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