Sometimes it hurts: Part I. As a dietitian who had studied all about breastfeeding during my undergrad days, it had been drilled in my head that “if the baby is latched properly, it won’t hurt”. But guess what? Sometimes it does. I couldn’t imagine what I was doing wrong and I was frustrated that it wasn’t coming as naturally to me as breastfeeding is often made to seem. Nipples are not used to such aggressive and frequent sucking, and they may need a couple weeks to adjust. Give it time and it will improve.
Sometimes it hurts: Part II. No one warned me about the cramping that takes place during the first few post-partum days while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding stimulates hormones, such as oxytocin, that causes your uterus to contract, resulting in cramps. The good news? This is a sign that your uterus is shrinking back to its pre-pregnancy size, which is part of the reason women who breastfeed are able to fit back into their pre-baby jeans a lot faster than moms who bottle-feed.
It’s okay to get frustrated. Baby won’t latch. Baby falls asleep as soon as he latches. One breast leaks everywhere while the other is being nursed on. Breastfeeding can be frustrating. In those first days, it is a full-time, exhausting job, and it’s okay to be frustrated when things don’t go as planned. Once you and baby start to get a routine and rhythm to it, you’ll realize how much more convenient and efficient breastfeeding is in comparison to bottle-feeding.
Modesty takes a backseat to hunger. I was an exceptionally shy and modest person before having kids. But after the first couple times of trying to maneuver on a nursing cover-up, while holding an infant, while unbuttoning a shirt, while trying to see the baby underneath it all, while attempting to keep the baby calm and fed quickly before the screaming starts, there comes a point where you figuratively throw your hands in the air and say, “Forget it—these are my boobs and my baby is hungry! Deal with it.” You have the right to feed your baby whenever and wherever you choose.
Ask for help. My first child was born long before I became an LC. I was clueless but was afraid to ask for help. After all, this is supposed to be such a natural thing to do, right? Am I a bad mother because I can’t figure it out? Plenty of thoughts ran through my head…except for one: ask to see a lactation consultant. Most hospitals have an LC on staff or have a list of resources available for one. A good LC can save your breastfeeding relationship, and your sanity.
Food never looks so good. I gained an average amount of weight with both of my children: 25 pounds for the first, and 22 pounds for the second. My appetite during pregnancy was mostly the same from before, aside from a few cravings. But during those first few weeks of post-partum breastfeeding, I could’ve outeaten a professional linebacker. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to feed the baby and my stomach growling so loudly I was afraid it'd wake up the whole house. Hormones released during breastfeeding cause increase hunger; lactating women need more calories per day than pregnant women.
Weaning is emotional. I went into breastfeeding with the mentality of “breast is best” and wanted to breastfeed, primarily, for the health benefits for my children. What started as something with purely physical goals turned into an emotional journey capped by the weaning phase. The day I nursed my youngest son for the last time, I spent the following days crying. The emotional experience of weaning for some women is highlighted by excitement of having their bodies back to themselves and a sense of accomplishment. Good or bad, breastfeeding goes beyond the physical role of providing nourishment.