“I gave birth to my second baby about five months ago. Before he was born, I knew I would be re-entering the world of breastfeeding. I breastfed my daughter until she self-weaned at 18 months and I have wonderful memories of our breastfeeding bond.
The thing is, breastfeeding didn’t necessarily start off easy for me the first (or second) time around. It’s a crazy thing, actually. Breastfeeding comes with a learning curve I simply didn’t expect. For something that’s so natural, it doesn’t always come naturally to many mamas and babies.
Learning about how milk production works, how to get the right latch, and identifying your baby’s hunger cues before they’re a wreck all take some time to learn. But once you get it, the benefits to mama and baby are so worth it.
Fast forward to the start of my breastfeeding journey with my second baby, and I was genuinely surprised by how many things still shocked me in the beginning! Sure, I knew a lot of the basics, but I’d forgotten many of the nuances of breastfeeding in the first month.
Let me share some of the things that surprised me during my first month of breastfeeding—both times around:
1. Babies don’t just latch on themselves…the correct way anyway
I don’t think I’m alone in having the notion that because human survival is dependent on breastfeeding (especially in the days before alternatives existed) babies must just know how to do this.
Well. That’s only partially true. Newborns are born with a rooting reflex and sucking reflex to promote breastfeeding. However, most newborns cannot latch on in the most effective or optimal position.
In the early days, weeks, and even months, you’ll need to help them latch on with a wide mouth and confirm their lips are splayed out (like fish lips).
This ensures you don’t wind up with abrasion or laceration on your nipple, will help keep your nipples from getting sore, and will help your baby remove milk most efficiently and effectively.
2. How dang thirsty I’d be
Before I gave birth, I’d heard a lot about breastfeeding hunger. I’d been given advice to stash snacks on my bedside table for middle-of-the-night nursing sessions when hunger strikes. I knew breastfeeding burned a lot of calories, so I was ready for the hunger.
What I didn’t expect? To be so insanely thirsty! And regular water didn’t cut it. I wanted to chug large amounts of ice-cold water round the clock. Insert giant insulated water bottle into my life.
Later, I learned how important proper hydration is to your milk supply. Your body needs a lot of water to make breastmilk, so follow your body’s thirst cues to help keep your supply up.
3. Breastfeeding might not be snuggly and relaxing at first
I think some mamas do get the hang of breastfeeding quickly and immediately have snuggly, enjoyable nursing sessions with their newborn. In fact, I was one of the lucky ones who had this my first time around. But with my son, it took a solid 8 weeks before nursing became reliably enjoyable.
Now I’m not saying this to scare you or put you off, but just to set a realistic expectation. The second time around I had a few factors going against me that made our nursing sessions frustrating:
My son has a dairy allergy I didn’t identify until he was 4 weeks old, which caused him a lot of gas and pain.
He had significant reflux (related to his allergy) that meant an increased need for burping throughout feedings and lots of spit-up.
I had a forceful letdown that he had a really hard time managing. But we persevered, and I am so glad we did. It makes our snuggly, quiet nursing sessions now that much sweeter.
4. I’d start to smell like spoiled milk
I mean it makes sense, but this genuinely surprised me! When you’re nursing, or between breastfeeding sessions, milk tends to get on your shirt or bra.
Whether it’s leaking between feedings, baby dribbling a little out of their mouth, or your letdown happening on both sides, you will wind up with milk on you. And, yes, in about an hour or so, the milk starts to smell spoiled. Suddenly you’ll catch a whiff of yourself smelling like soured milk. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
5. How obsessed I’d be with another human’s elimination
As a new breastfeeding mama, one of the toughest things to accept is you can never know exactly how much milk your baby is getting. It can be easy to doubt yourself or worry they aren’t getting enough when they actually are.
Your one huge clue? Your baby’s diaper output! I had no idea how obsessed I’d be with another being’s poop and pee than before I started breastfeeding. Every wet diaper was another sign my baby was taking in enough milk.
6. How isolating being a new, nursing mother can feel
Breastfeeding, especially in the early days, is a round-the-clock commitment. Your baby does become more efficient at nursing as they get older, but in the beginning, it wasn’t unusual for my baby to nurse for 40+ minutes and then eat again an hour later.
All of the time spent sitting and nursing can make it difficult to leave the house and can feel a little lonely at times. Finding interesting podcasts and listening to audiobooks were ways I kept myself occupied early on.
I also started going to a support group for new mothers every week. We were all in the same boat and it was the perfect place to practice going out with my new baby. I could easily nurse, change diapers, and lean on others for support, all in a safe place.
7. I could provide everything my baby needed
Perhaps the biggest and most amazing surprise of all? The fact my body is able to nourish my baby and provide them with everything they need to grow and develop. A truly incredible and empowering phenomenon indeed!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Latched Mama. It originally appeared here, on their blog. You can follow their journey on Facebook, Instagram, and their website. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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