5 Things I Wish I Would've Known About Breastfeeding
You know how parents give you a hard time about your bad habits, but they always tell you it's for your own good, that they're just hoping you'll learn from their mistakes so that you don't make the same ones? Yeah, this post is about that. Consider me your figurative pesky mother in the art of nursing (who is also actually a mother that is still nursing). Because even though Noah and I are five months strong on our exclusively breastfed (EBF) journey, it has not come without failings that I really want to share with you, in hopes that you avoid some of the aches and pains, both literal and figurative, that we had to endure. I speak from good experience here. Five months may not seem like much, but we have managed through oversupply, engorgement, and two bouts with mastitis to get to where we are now, which is quick and efficient feedings and a just right supply (with the added bonuses of $0 spent on food for baby in the first 5 months and Mommy getting back her pre-baby body & then some). Read on for the things I learned the hard way that will save you from some less than pleasant experiences.
1) Don't reach for that pump just yet, girl.
When you've just started nursing, chances are that unless you are dealing with an undersupply, your boobs will feel pretty full at one point or another during the early weeks. Maybe baby is down for a nap, you managed to sleep a long stretch while someone watched your little one, or for one reason or another, your breasts are rock hard and your little angel is not at your disposal to empty them and provide some relief. Or maybe you're going to be returning to work early, and are anxious to start building up a milk stash. Whatever the reason, if you only read one thing I have to say today, don't fire up your breast pump within the first 4-6 weeks of nursing. Unless you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely have to, such as your own or baby's extended hospitalization, pumping too early could cause you some major oversupply issues.
The first time I pumped, Noah had been down for a pretty long nap of about 4 hours when he was about three weeks old. He was a newborn and was still feeding every 2 hours at the time, so I was feeling pretty full and was also really interested in trying out my pump. So I set it up and set a 15 minute timer, the length I'd read suggested by many pumping moms around Pinterest. After my session I felt so relieved and was also super impressed because I'd managed to pump around 4 ounces in a sitting. Since we had only been breastfeeding, it was super rewarding to see my liquid gold in a bottle! So I started pumping fairly regularly, maybe 2-3 times a week, for 15 minutes and at about 50% of the strength of the pump. About a week or two later, when Christmas was getting ready to roll around, I had nearly doubled my output and got between 6-8 ounces out at each session, which I thought was great. Unfortunately for me, I was tricking my boobs into thinking this was my baby and he needed that amount of milk regularly, even though he was still tiny and actually consuming way less. Hello, engorgement! Hello, mastitis! So, long story short, until your baby is at least 4 weeks old (though I'd say wait the whole 6), leave your pump and all it's parts sitting pretty. And if you absolutely must pump, do it for short sessions and at lower power settings to create less demand.
2) Hang loose (but not too loose).
I remember fondly the days of throwing caution to the wind and letting my floppy flag fly, sleeping without a bra. I know there are ladies out there who actually prefer to sleep in a bra, whether with or without underwire, and to those ladies I'd like to say, God bless you, you're weird. But whether or not you sleep with a bra on now, you will have to when you start breastfeeding to keep breast pads in place. That is, unless you don't mind waking up to the sensation of bed sheets soaked in your own milk. And if you don't, then again I say, God bless you, you're weird.
But if you want to stay dry, you're going to want to invest in a good sleep bra out the gate; one that doesn't have any underwire and isn't too tight. As your breasts fill throughout the night, if you're wearing your old reliable sports bra (which your new, bigger boobs probably don't fit in anyway), any constriction could cause plugged milk ducts, which could lead to painful and unpleasant lumps and engorgement. The same can be said for underwire. Not to mention that these styles of bras aren't the easiest for helping baby latch during night feedings. So don't be cheap, like I was at the start, and get a sleep bra that's stretchy enough to be comfortable while also keeping everything in place. We love the ones Medela makes, which you can find on Amazon or pick up in-store at Target.
3) Bye-bye, belly!
Speaking of sleep adjustments, if you're a stomach sleeper like me, you can kiss that goodbye along with your long nights of ta-ta freedom. If too tight fabric is bad news for your boobs, you can bet that baring the weight of your body is, too. Once my C-section incision was healed and feeling good, around 6 weeks, I was excited to finally be able to sleep on my tummy again now that it was no longer in the shape of a basketball. When I woke up, I could've used my chest to chisel The Thinker in miniature. Not fun. So after you tuck in your little one, follow the pediatrician's sleep recommendations yourself... Back to sleep.
4) You will never not need lanolin.
I remember reading about how important lanolin is to prevent dryness and cracking in the early stages of breastfeeding. I was really lucky not to have any issues with this when Noah and I started out on this journey. He had a great latch from day 1, so I never had any pain or bleeding and not a single crack. So even though I used lanolin daily in the first few weeks as my breasts accustomed to their new role as milk machines, I very quickly found little to no need for it and stopped using it all together probably around the time Noah was 3-4 weeks old. No pain & no cracking, so it wasn't very useful to me anymore, and pretty messy. Bye!
And hello, again, four months later when I had my first crack. Impossible, right?! This happens at the beginning! No change in latch, no thrush, so what gives? I never really found out why I started having some minimal bleeding & discomfort so late in the game. I spoke with my doctor & pediatrician and neither had much of an idea either, so I credit it to Noah being older and a wiggle worm now, probably injuring me little by little without either of us noticing it, until I noticed it, wincing and pulling away. Lanolin saved me from plenty of further pain, and I'm back to using it fairly regularly, because that small taste of the pain many moms experience was zero fun. So you'll probably never outgrow lanolin as long as you're nursing. I thought I had, but I was totally wrong, so always keep it handy.
5) And you thought dressing took effort before.
Getting dressed is no longer about looking cute, sister. I mean if you can, that's an awesome added bonus, but dressing while nursing is all about functionality. I remember when Noah was almost a month old, I wore a pretty red dress for a Christmas celebration. Festive, right? Wrong. So wrong. There is not a nursing cover in existence that could do the job so that I could feed my son in this dress. If I pulled it up, I was in my underwear from the waist down, and if I pulled it down, a nursing cover wouldn't do much for my completely bare shoulders and back. Did I mention this was a church event? Tierra, trágame as we like to say in Spanish, which directly translates to "Earth, swallow me". For real.
I've learned a few tricks along the way, thankfully. The two shirt trick is a lifesaver. Button-downs are a breastfeeding girl's best friend. And when you're finally able to pack away those maternity pants, don't even think about putting the tank tops in. Those things are stretchy! Use them!
Hopefully you've learned a useful thing or two that will save you from some of our hardships. I can say that we truly hit our stride around the 3 month mark, and save for our lanolin enlightenment, have been trouble-free since. Noah just started solids once a day at five months, but is still nursing like a champ! If we can make it through the first year, I will be really impressed with myself, but my realistic goal right now is 9 months (read: I doubt this lazy pumper will make it through the start of a new school year). If you found these tips helpful, be sure to SHARE with your other mama friends and feel free to comment below about your own breastfeeding journey! It's a beautiful one to take with our babes, ain't it?