But for many women, breastfeeding is a total enigma right up until they nearly give up. It's weird, daunting, wonderful, and rarely without challenges. While I'm here to sing the praises of nursing your infant, I can also tell you that it's TOTALLY OKAY to get freaked out by this "natural" part of motherhood.
I'm blessed to be successfully breastfeeding for the third time, and we're well into a rhythm of pumping and nursing. But, even with lactation classes, friends' and sisters' wisdom from their experiences, and reading up on "what to expect"...there were still things I didn't discover about breastfeeding until I did it myself.
Here are five things about breastfeeding that I didn't have a clue about until I did it:1. Hurt so good.
I had heard that "it doesn't hurt if you're doing it right", which is incredibly discouraging and very misleading. While that is generally true for breastfeeding regularly and consistently - it is not necessarily true for the first couple weeks!
Reality is, your body has been through hormone-mania and you thought the pain portion was over since labor ended, right? Your nipples are not used to being exposed to air and getting constantly tugged at, so yeah - it's gonna hurt. Many women opt to use nipple shields in the first few weeks to help minimize the pain while still breaking in the skin of the nipple. (A nipple shield is a malleable plastic guard that covers the nipple while still allowing milk to pass through when nursing.)
I bit the bullet and was able to tough my way through it (granted, I was still on pain killers from my c-section) but I won't sugarcoat it - my eyes would well up with tears the first week or so every time the baby latched on.
Two things that helped: 1. Gel packs (specifically made for breastfeeding by Lansinoh) that you keep in the fridge and place on the nipple after feeding, and 2. Nipple cream/butter/balm. I would recommend "Boob ease", Lansinoh's lanolin, or Earth Mama Angel Baby's nipple butter. Be liberal! And know that the BEST remedy for breastfeeding pain is to KEEP BREASTFEEDING...it will get easier.
2. Milk ducts in a row.
Up until I actually saw it coming out of my own breast, I had no idea that there were like a dozen little holes in the nipple that expressed milk. I guess I had figured my breast would mimic a baby bottle and therefore only have one tiny outlet for milk. Not the case!
These teensy little pinholes in the tip of your nipple are each individual milk ducts that deliver nutrition to your infant. While I had heard the term "milk duct" I didn't understand that there are several in each nipple and any one of them could get clogged for various reasons.
A clogged duct is not uncommon, and usually solved by nursing consistently, but if you see a duct get swollen or red or crusty, be sure and ask your doctor or lactation consultant before it worsens. Best to keep all your ducts in a row! (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)
3. Let Down for what?
The term "let down" was a huge mystery to me. I thought that it basically meant when the baby latched on, my breasts would let the milk out, end of story. Wellll, turns out depending on your milk production, "let down" can happen just about any time.
You will especially experience let down if you either 1. Hear your baby cry, 2. Haven't fed your baby in a while, or 3. Forgot to wear nursing pads, are wearing a white shirt, have an important meeting with a male coworker, and forgot to bring a sweater!
Let down basically means you are filling up with milk right then and there and unless you feed immediately, you will leak. It can be a sudden, tingly sensation in your breasts, and if you are ready to nurse then you will feel relief. But, if you are filling up with milk at an inopportune moment, it can be quite uncomfortable and you will have to awkwardly "hug" your breasts by crossing your arms and applying some pressure that can help suppress the flow until it stops.
4. All or Nothing
This is pretty straight forward, but also really important. I had no idea that when one breast was expressing milk the other would too! Some women don't have this issue, and if the milk supply is somewhat low it can rarely happen. But, regardless of production, you have no control over letting the milk out or not.
When the baby is nursing on one side, your body just knows to let the milk out, but if you experience let down while nursing (which is what generally happens each time) then your other breast will start expressing milk even if your baby isn't latched on to that side. In other words, it's all or nothing. Either both breasts are ready to go, or neither are. Of course, if you have emptied out one side by either pumping or nursing, then your other side is still full and needing to release milk somewhat soon.
5. Made to Order
Did you know your milk is made exactly and exclusively for your baby? Your body takes in information from the baby's saliva every time they nurse, then specifically churns out the nutrients the baby's body needs. Crazy, right?! When I learned this, it surpassed all my "I-know-breast-is-best" knowledge and just blew my mind how God had created my body for this experience.
I mean, we all know that breastfeeding is free, healthy, builds immunity, and can even boost infant intelligence, but in a recent study reviewed in an article by Science News, now there is evidence showing that these nutrients are perfectly designed just for your infant:
Part of the immunity that breast milk imparts, it seems, may depend in part on a mixture of milk and baby saliva flowing upstream. This backwash may actually cause a mother’s body to create made-to-order immune factors that are delivered back to the baby in milk, some scientists think. Full Article HERE.
I want to encourage every new mama to try out breastfeeding, but please hear me out that I'm well aware there are times and circumstances that this isn't an ideal option for everyone. Absolutely ONLY YOU know what is best for your baby (though I hope you get the input and support of friends, doctors and lactation consultants if necessary). But, if you choose to hop on the breastfeeding train - welcome!
I hope these tips have shed some light on a superpower you didn't know you necessarily had. After all, a nursing cover is just a superhero cape worn in front!