Breastfeeding: Expectations vs. Reality
When we are expecting, we are led to believe that breastfeeding will be this natural, euphoric experience. As a result, many new moms feel like they’ve failed if it doesn’t go smoothly at the beginning. As women, we are guilty of continuing to perpetuate this idea despite the fact that most of us have a very difficult time getting used to breastfeeding.
At Boston Naps we hold numerous classes for new moms and breastfeeding support groups. We have observed that as soon as someone starts talking about her challenges with breastfeeding, almost every woman in the group jumps in to share why it was equally as hard for her.
Do not get us wrong here. We are not trying to discourage anyone from breastfeeding. (In fact, we love breastfeeding!)
But we know that many women need to overcome challenges big and small before they can enjoy the experience.
Let’s take some time to address what women wished more family members or friends had told them about breastfeeding before they started. If you encounter any of these challenges during your breastfeeding journey, this list can help you determine what is natural and normal and feel confident you can work through it.
Top 5 Breastfeeding Challenges
Here are the most important things we feel you should know now about breastfeeding while you are pregnant, so you can not only be knowledgeable, but to also know when to reach out for support and help.
Breastfeeding can hurt
As expecting and new moms, we receive a lot of information in the form of blogs, magazines, brochures and other informational materials telling us that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. We are here to tell you that’s not entirely true (personally and professionally).
In most cases, your body goes through an adjustment period, especially with your first baby. To put it bluntly, this transition period is happening because you have another human being sucking on your nipples 8-12 times a day for 20-30 minutes at a time, and your body has never experienced this. So yes, your nipples can hurt and become sore and sensitive. When your baby has a deep latch, this pain should only last for the first 30-60 seconds and then subside once your baby starts swallowing:
- Normal pain subsides within the first minute and then you are pain free for the remainder of the feeding.
- Abnormal pain lasts throughout the entire feeding. Cracked and bleeding nipples are never normal.
If you experience continuous pain and damage to your nipples, it’s a good idea to reach out to a lactation consultant for support.
Pro Tip: You will experience uterine cramping any time you breastfeed, and these cramps tend to get worse with each additional baby. You can manage this pain by taking Ibuprofen as advised by your doctor.
Breastfeeding is hard
Even though breastfeeding is the most “natural” way to feed your baby, there are many factors that can impact what your unique experience is like. It’s helpful to compare it to labor, and the wide variety of factors that influence each women’s labor and birth story.
Your specific breastfeeding experience is influenced by the positioning of your baby, your anatomy, the baby’s anatomy and your milk supply, just to name a few! These factors can make breastfeeding difficult for you or the baby or both. When you add in postpartum hormones and the false notion that breastfeeding is supposed to be easy and natural, it’s no wonder that so many women struggle with feeling like a failure at this early stage.
We can assure you that there is no better mother for your baby than you, and you are always enough. Sometimes you just need to ask for help!
Pro Tip: When things are hard, talk about it with a friend. It is helpful to have a friend who has a baby the same age as yours, so you can talk about your similar experiences and turn to each other when you need the support.
You should seek help with breastfeeding
Know that you can ask for help, and please do so early and often. Asking for help is a learned skill. We have worked with enough new moms to know that a lot of women struggle with the idea that we need to juggle all of the balls and take on everything.
This belief only leaves us feeling tired, overwhelmed and resentful. In fact, we would argue that you are a better women, wife, and mom for knowing your needs and asking for help to meet those needs. Start practicing now! You can do this by anticipating your needs and asking for help to meet them, instead of asking later from a place of frustration and desperation.
Pro Tip: Come up with a plan now for overnight feedings. You can talk to your partner about setting up overnight shifts, where you breastfeed the baby for one part of the night and your husband or partner takes over the other half with a bottle of pumped breastmilk or formula (if needed). With this shared system, you are each able to get a decent stretch of sleep. You are also proactively developing a plan to anticipate and meet your own needs as a team, instead of waiting to feel overtired and overwhelmed.
You can introduce pumping and bottles in the first 4 weeks
There are a number of reasons for women to pump within those first few days or weeks home with baby. You can introduce one pumping session per day if:
- Your milk supply comes in within 3 to 5 days after birth
- Breastfeeding is going well
- Your baby is gaining weight
Note that you can also start pumping every other day, or every three days, as long as you stay consistent.
You can use the pumped milk to allow your partner to introduce a bottle (as in the nighttime scenario described above) or to have a bottle ready if you want to leave the house to do something for yourself. (Yes, grabbing dinner with a friend, working out or getting your hair or nails done is possible after having a baby).
Pro Tip: Pump first thing in the morning, after the first morning feed. (We are talking about normal morning hours, when the sun is up, and the coffee is brewing). Pump both breasts at the same time for about 10-20 minutes. Once you introduce a bottle, we recommend that you maintain this pumping session as part of your normal weekly routine at least 2-3 times a week, so that your baby continues to take bottles easily during any periods that you are apart.
Lactation consults are not just for breastfeeding problems
Many people believe that you only need help from a lactation consultant when something is wrong. We actually recommend scheduling a consult for all moms, even when things are going really well!
All new moms are likely to have an abundance of questions, such as:
- Whether your baby is getting enough milk
- When to start pumping
- How to introduce a bottle
- How to feed your baby more during the day to promote better sleep.
These are all topics that a good lactation consultant should be able to answer for you. Look into resources within your community while you’re still pregnant to find a lactation consultant and breastfeeding support group near you.
Just remember: The goal is progress, not perfection, and there is NO better mama to your baby than you. You've got this, and we are always here for you if you need it.
Jamie O’Day, BSN, RN, IBCLC, and Emily Silver, MS, NP-C, IBCLC, are the co-founder of Boston NAPS, which provides classes, overnight care and in-home consultations for breastfeeding and sleep training.