Breastfeeding is natural, right? So that means it’ll be easy, right? One of the first things I learned in a breastfeeding class was that I was clueless about breastfeeding. After the six hour class, meeting with two lactation consultants in the hospital, and then another in my home, I learned that I was in fact still clueless. Fantastic. Who knew there was so much to learn?!
For me, one of the hardest parts of struggling to breastfeed was feeling alone in my struggle. Between friends and social media, I thought breastfeeding would be this easy and natural bonding experience with my son. Complications weren’t even on my radar.
On top of that, I also thought that the baby weight would just magically fall off from all the successful breastfeeding I’d be doing. I had visions of my pre-baby body at the beach with my six-month-old baby. Can you sense my eyes rolling?
I ended up learning SO much about the complications of breastfeeding when my son was about eight months old. Fun fact: my son stopped latching at four months. So yes, this information came too late for me, but if your breastfeeding journey is just starting, I’d love to share breastfeeding tips I wish I had learned sooner with you.
Find a board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC).
The extensive knowledge and training that these woman have is incredible. My favorite podcast is hosted by the lovely Jacqueline Kincer and it’s called The Breastfeeding Talk Podcast. Episode 101 is about preparing for breastfeeding. It’s a great place to start. Hearing Jacquline talk about her struggles was the first time that I didn’t feel alone. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
After speaking with a local lactation consultant, she shared with me three breastfeeding tips that she wished moms knew:
- It’s okay to ask for help. Breastfeeding is natural, but you still may need support and guidance.
- You don’t need a freezer stash. It’s perfectly normal to only produce enough for your baby.
- Meet with an IBCLC prenatally. You can learn what to expect those first few days, weeks, and months ahead of time, and feel more prepared to welcome your little one.
The second one was the biggest surprise to me. I’ve seen the pictures on social media of women who have massive freezer stashes or heard about women donating their milk because they make so much. I wanted so badly to be one of those women. I thought it was the goal . . . and that was far from what my journey was.
Remember that fed is best.
I know I’ll probably catch some flack for this one from the folks that say “breast is best” but hear me out. I do not contest that breastmilk and breastfeeding are absolutely wonderful for your baby. Not one bit. BUT is putting your physical or mental health at risk to breastfeed worth it? Not a chance.
By day two, I was anxious each time I needed to breastfeed because of the amount of pain I was in. My nipples were cracked and bleeding before I even left the hospital. It was impossible for me to wear a shirt or bra because I was in so much pain. Luckily, I had packed some muslin swaddle blankets, and I used those to lightly drape over me whenever guests came by. I was told this was normal. The truth is, it’s COMMON, but not NORMAL.
There are several things that can cause that level of pain and bleeding, one of which is a lip or tongue tie. Turns out, my son had a lip tie that wasn’t discovered until long after he stopped latching.
Next up on my difficult road was anxiety. The memory I have is so vivid. I was sitting in my recliner with my five-day-old son sobbing. Full of fear and anxiety, I told my husband to go to the store to find formula because our baby was going to starve to death. My anxiety and sleep deprivation had completely taken over.
Don’t worry about what others would think.
Knowing what I know now, I probably did produce enough. But in that moment–sore, bleeding, and exhausted–I was convinced that my body had failed me. I felt so much guilt and shame over my body not doing what it was “supposed” to do.
I worried about if he was going to get enough nutrients, if he’d grow enough, and the worst worry . . . what other people would think. Yes, I’m rolling my eyes at myself again. My son is and always has been happy, healthy, very well fed, and unconditionally LOVED.
Why did I care if anyone thought any differently of me over simply giving my son formula? I made sure he was fed, that we were both healthy, and that’s all that matters. Period. Several years in, I’m much better at not caring what others think about my choices as a mom. But as a brand new mom, the thoughts of others weighed heavily on my shoulders.
Breastfeeding is only one aspect of motherhood.
It does not define you as a mother. Each mother’s experience is unique and there is not a one-size-fits-all plan. Your breastfeeding journey may not go as planned (spoiler alert: most of motherhood won’t), so trust your instincts, listen to your body, and give yourself grace.
Each August, for National Breastfeeding Month, the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) announces a new theme. This year, This is Our Why is the theme they’ve chosen. This is Our Why hopes to highlight the importance of the work that goes into supporting and celebrating the families who need it.
If you have yet to start your breastfeeding journey, I hope this advice encourages you to learn more than I did, and if you are like me, I hope you feel less alone. I’m proud of you, mama.