Breastfeeding: What To Expect (It’s Not What You Think)

Breastfeeding: What to Expect (It's Not What You Think)

If you’re expecting your first baby you’ve probably given some thought as to whether you are going to breastfeed or not. Most new mothers decide to nurse their babies because it’s the most natural way, but things don’t always go to plan. Here are five things I wish someone had told me before my babies were born so that I would have felt better prepared:

Breastfeeding: What to Expect (It's Not What You Think)

1. Breastfeeding is a skill.

The first thing I think it is important to understand is that breastfeeding is a skill that must be learned by mother and baby.

During my pregnancy I was bombarded with so many messages about breastfeeding being natural, and the best way to feed your baby that I thought if I wanted to breastfeed my babies that it would just happen.

But it doesn’t.

As a mother you need to know the right way to sit or lie down, the right way to hold your baby and how to position their mouth so that they can latch on properly. Instinct tells you that you want to nurse your baby, but instinct doesn’t help you with the how.

If you are expecting your first child and you want to nurse I would recommend going to your local library and picking up a book that walks you through the steps with pictures.

I would also seek out a friend who has recently nursed a newborn and ask them to sit with you when the baby arrives to help you both learn what to do. Your midwife might well be able to do this for you, but in my experience they were so busy trying to deal with lots of new mothers that they just couldn’t spare me the time I needed.

2. Breastfeeding hurts.

The one thing I was completely unprepared for was the toe curling pain that I felt whenever one of my babies latched on to nurse. I was so sure that they weren’t latching on properly, or that I was doing something wrong until a midwife told me the pain was normal and would ease over time.

I wish someone had warned me about this before the babies arrived, somehow pain is easier to deal with when you know about it in advance and you know that it’s normal.
And it does get less painful every time you nurse.

Breastfeeding: What to Expect (It's Not What You Think)

3. Breastfed babies can lose weight quickly.

When new parents proudly announce the arrival of their babies they always include their birth weight, but no one ever tells you what the baby’s weight was a week later.

I had no idea that babies lose weight in the first week of their lives, until my twins were three days old and my son had lost 13% of his birth weight and we were not allowed to leave the hospital.
When they told me that he had lost that much weight I felt like a failure, it was my job as his mother to keep him safe from harm and I felt like I was starving him.

For two days I tried everything I could to get him to take milk, first from me and then from a bottle. Finally in desperation I asked a nurse to put a feeding tube down his nose and give him milk that way. It turned out that’s what he needed to give him the energy to start nursing properly.

I wish someone had told me that most babies lose weight in the first few days and that I should have nursed him as frequently as possible to keep his energy levels up, and to help my milk come in more quickly.

4. Nipple confusion is a myth.

I was told by so many people that I shouldn’t offer the babies a bottle or a pacifier because then they wouldn’t breastfeed properly. They called it nipple confusion and from my experience that advice is complete nonsense.

The decision to give my son a bottle was taken out of my hands because the doctors wanted to see how much he was drinking. But at every feed I started out by nursing and then topped up the feed with formula from a bottle. He didn’t bat an eyelid.

At some point in the early weeks we gave both my son and daughter a pacifier and when we got home from hospital I started mixed feeding my daughter as well. They nursed, they drank from a bottle and they had a pacifier and they weren’t confused at all.

Breastfeeding: What to Expect (It's Not What You Think)

5. Breastfeeding is not right for everyone.

Here in the UK new mothers are constantly told that breastmilk is best for baby and I think this can lead to feelings of guilt and disappointment when they can’t nurse.

I nursed my son for eight weeks before finally admitting that it wasn’t the right thing for him. He fought me at every feed and then screamed because he was hungry. When I switched to feeding him formula from a bottle he was a much happier baby.

My daughter on the other hand was happier being nursed than fed from a bottle so I followed her lead and nursed exclusively until she was six months old and I had to wean her for personal medical reasons.
Breastfeeding has health benefits but sometimes it’s just not the right thing for the mother or the baby and no one should be made to feel guilty if they don’t nurse their baby.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. Great article Clare! After nursing 5 babies I still remember that toe curling pain, lol… but it is worth it and the pain does go away. Congrats on nursing twins for 8 weeks, that is quite a feat!

    • Hi Megan!
      Glad to hear you enjoyed Clare’s article. And yes, we agree – 8 weeks, she’s quite the hero!

  2. This is such a good post Clare! I am convinced my efforts to breastfeed my first child failed because everyone kept telling me before birth “If the baby is latched on correctly it won’t hurt.” I kept taking her off every time it did because I was sure she wasn’t latched right. We were doomed from the start. Some girlfriends clued me in before the birth of child #2 and I went on to successfully breastfeed him and his preemie brother who only took a feeding tube or bottle the first six weeks of life and quickly and successfully made the transition to the breast as soon as he was home from the hospital (so yes, “nipple confusion” is bunk). You just have to work through the pain. It will get better quickly. Thank you for letting moms know. This may help someone.

  3. Beautiful article Clare. I always wondered about the nipple confusion. My oldest took to breastfeeding like a champ, I felt very little pain with him. But, he wasn’t getting enough sustenance from just my milk. I still remember the day my Mom and Grandma were visiting, and one of them mentioned that it just didn’t seem right that he wanted to eat a half hour after each feeding. We had received a sample of formula and bottle in a gift basket, so they helped me get the bottle sterilized, boiled up some water and then they waited to see how he’d take to the bottle. I will never forget that afternoon, he drained the bottle and still wanted more. Then he slept a solid two hours during the day. Within a week he was sleeping for almost 6 hours at a stretch during the night. I continued to nurse him until he was 6 months but we supplemented with formula every day. He’s a happy healthy 16 y/o now. My youngest was a different experience. It hurt from day one with him, even though he was latched properly, and he took formula under protest until we just stopped giving it to him.
    Sometimes I think we put so much emphasis on what science or society tells us is best, and forget to think about how the moms feel. Being a new mom has enough stresses in and of itself, the simple act of feeding our children should not be an area of more stress.

    • Completely agree Alli, that’s why I wish healthcare providers could just talk to you about breastfeeding and formula so that moms can do what’s right for them and their babies. Babies need sleep just as much as they need food. My poor boy got himself in a circle where he ended up too exhausted to eat because we were being forced to wake him every hour to feed him!

    • Hi Alli, thanks for sharing your experience. We’re glad you liked Clare’s article! And yes, we totally agree. Society should not be making us feel bad for the stresses we come across while feeding our children.

  4. This is good info for new mothers. You did a good job of laying out the reality of breastfeeding. It can hurt, sometimes it doesn’t but it can–a lot.

  5. I think it is a personal choice for everyone. I couldn’t do it with my first one because I had really high blood pressure after I gave birth, and was on several different meds. I wasn’t planning on BF in the first place, so it really didn’t affect me.

    After the second, bottle feeding was the best option because he was a reflux baby and needed cereal in his bottle.

    I have no problems with those that choose to breastfeed. It just wasn’t the right choice for me.

    • Jennifer I’m so glad that you were able to make the choices that were right for you and your children. I fear that moms giving birth today would be made to feel guilty at those same choices, but it didn’t do your kids any harm right?

    • Hi Jennifer – thanks for sharing your insight. We agree, society should not make any mother feel pressured about breastfeeding. Every mother is entitled to their personal choice.

  6. I think breastfeeding is one of those things that, no matter how much you read about it, you don’t really know until you try it! It wasn’t the right option for me, but I love your tips all the same!

    • That is so true Emma – sort of like the rest of motherhood… everyone tells you that you’ll be sleep deprived but until you’re in it you don’t realise just how desperate you’ll suddenly be for just 5 minutes of sleep!

  7. Great article! I nursed both my kids and it truly is a skill. I was so happy to have a wonderful nurse stay with me and walk me through each step of the way minutes after my son was born. My daughter was a champ, but it was so painful when I was getting infected once a month I ended up stopping after 13 months. I’m so glad for the honest truth here!

  8. Love your pink base! U did them quite professionally.. I tghhuot it was done at a salon at first look haha and may u and your family have a blessed Year of the Rabbit!

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