Breastfeeding & 10 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me About It
10 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me About Breastfeeding
…or at least, I wish somebody made sure that I was paying attention when they did try to tell me.
1) Your first time breastfeeding might not be magical. You may be tired, in pain, drugged up, blissed out, numb from the waist down and/or getting stitched up in various places when a nurse grabs your boob and your baby’s head and WHOOMPH: she mashes them together while you hold your hands over your head, like. Whoa. Then the baby starts to suck which is pretty crazy, and then you hear that first swallow, like. Whoa. There’s milk in there, but overall it’s okay if you find the first nursing session to be mostly supremely kind of weird.
Illustration by Secret Agent Josephine
2) Your baby is born knowing how to suck, not latch. Totally a huge distinction. We mothers put a huge burden on ourselves over breastfeeding and doing it “right,” but forget that there are two people in this equation. Sure, one of them is small and squishy and kind of alien-like, but he has to learn how to breastfeed, just like you. He knows how to suck, but his mouth is small and his aim is terrible. At some point, your job will begin and end with just getting the boob in his general direction and he’ll take care of the rest. For now, though, you’ll need to help him learn to latch properly.
3) If you don’t ask for help, you will not get any help. And to help your baby learn to latch properly? You need someone to teach YOU how to latch her on properly. There’s a trick to it, and I’m not even going to begin to try to describe it with words. There’s…compression and proper finger placement and upward pointing nipples and stuff. And NOT ONCE was a proper latch ever really and truly demonstrated for me at the hospital. My own lactation consultant, on the other hand, did and was WONDERFUL, but if I had only relied on the hospital LC services, I doubt I would have lasted a week at home on my own.
4) All. Purpose. Nipple. Ointment. If you end up with nipple injuries that won’t heal, either from bad latches, pump trauma, chapped skin, whatever, ditch the lanolin and get a prescription for some APNO. Yes, you need a prescription (my Lactation Consultant was also a Nurse Practitioner, super convenient), and yes, you need to take that prescription to an old-school pharmacy that will make compounds. It’s worth it. It’s made up of two antifungals, an antibiotic and a steroid. Soothes pain, aids healing, prevents infection and fights thrush and other nastiness. Ahh, it’s good stuff.
5) Knowing the difference between “eating sucking” and “comfort sucking” can save your nipples from a lot of unnecessary wear and tear. I know, I know. “Nipple confusion” and all that. I was terrified of it the first time and steadfastly refused a pacifier for days and days, until my boobs were crunchy burnt toast points of worn-down flesh. It. Was. Awful. I was determined to breastfeed my second baby but BY GOD, I was not going to end up with chunks of skin hanging off my nipples again. When Ezra started with the endless rooting, a nurse showed me how to use my index finger to “gauge” his sucking. Vigorous sucking with a lot of tongue action? Hungry. Give him the boob. Gentle sucking using mostly the lips and not the tongue? Comfort. Give him a pacifier or simply let him continue to suck on a finger or knuckle.
6) Yes, it hurts at first, but it will stop hurting. If it keeps hurting, something is wrong. Some people will try to tell you that ANY pain while nursing means “you’re doing something wrong.” This is crap. See Thing Number Two. There’s a learning curve, and YOU can do everything right and maybe it’s the stupid BABY’S fault, okay? God. But after…uh, awhile (two weeks? ish?), your nipples will heal and engorgement will regulate and you’ll turn a corner and your toes will no longer curl in pain every time the baby latches on. If the pain continues, see a lactation consultant, stat. And while we’re on the subject….
7) Tongue tie! Tongue tiiiiiiie. Thanks to the Internet and mommyblogs, I recognized my baby’s tongue tie (short frenulum) days before I could convince anyone in a white coat to check his mouth. A tongue-tied baby will not ever stick his tongue out past his lips. The tip of his tongue will actually be pulled back and under by the frenulum and resemble the top of a heart shape. Latching on will HURT. The baby will be unable to suck strongly enough to fully empty your breast.
An on-call hospital pediatrician dismissed my concerns and told me his frenulum would probably stretch out with time. True, except that he was not getting enough milk, not emptying my breasts would hurt my supply, and OH YEAH. IT EFFING HURT. (Some tongue ties DON’T resolve either, and can cause speech difficulties later on, rawr.) I refused to be ignored and luckily MY pediatrician was a tad more supportive of successful breastfeeding and recommended we get his tongue snipped. Two seconds and one indignant squawk later, Ezra’s tongue was fixed and nursing got awesome.
8) Take probiotics BEFORE you start nursing — before you give birth, even — to ward off thrush. If you end up needing antibiotics for any reason at all, your risk of thrush is increased, though you can certainly get thrush without antibiotics. A probiotic supplement will keep the growth of candida in your system under control. I got thrush with Noah (it’s a burny/itchy kind of thing, like athlete’s foot in your nipple) (I KNOW), but not with Ezra, despite requiring antibiotics both times. With Ezra, I started probiotics about two weeks before he was born and continued them for about a month.
9) Oh my God, take a Tylenol already. You CAN take many over-the-counter medications while breastfeeding. You CAN have some wine. (These things are fantastic, by the way.) You CAN eat fish and lunch meat and stinky cheese. You CAN breastfeed while sick. Not everything you eat and drink and consume ends up in your breastmilk, and even stuff that does (like alcohol) will pass both in AND out of your milk and may not require a pump-and-dump session 100% of the time. Learn what you can and cannot take. When in doubt, check for answers at breastfeeding support sites like Kellymom, but after the incredible paranoia and mile-long list of do’s and don’t’s of pregnancy, you’ll often be happily surprised to learn that breastfeeding is actually much more forgiving.
10) When breastfeeding works, it is the awesome sauce.. Look, I could never exclusively breastfeed my first baby. I just couldn’t. I didn’t have the milk, no matter what I tried. He preferred bottles, he went on constant nursing strikes, I was never able to pump enough once I went back to work and dried up just like that. We limped along for five months, but I probably truly enjoyed nursing for two or three weeks, tops. My second baby has been a completely different experience. It is amazing. Powerful. Convenient. Inexpensive. Easy. Enjoyable. Wonderful.
And now I am in this weird space where I KNOW for a fact that breastfeeding doesn’t work for *every* mother and baby. I KNOW the frustration and the annoyance and the downsides and the thrush and the pain and all of that. But now I also know how absolutely wonderful it can be, and so I want to cheer every new mother on to not give up! Don’t give up! Yeah, it might not work, but oh! If it does work! You’ll be so happy you didn’t give up. So don’t give up.