Before having a baby, it's hard to understand what breastfeeding will be like and to understand the challenges that it brings.
You think it's natural. Your baby is supposed to know what to do, and the entire hospital staff is there, along with lactation consultants (LC's) to make sure you get it right!
You've also gone to the breastfeeding class at your hospital so you've got this one IN THE BAG.
Right? Wrong. Well at least not for me. So here's what I wish I knew ahead of time to make this experience a whole lot easier for me.
It wasn't easy (or automatic) for me
Right after having our first child they hand you this warm precious baby and lay them right on your chest. "Skin-to-skin" as it's called, and its amazing. The first glance of your little miracle and if you're like me, you instantly tear up and start crying tears of joy.
After that moment, I looked at the nurse asked, "Am I supposed to breastfeed her now?" because I was waiting for the instructions to start. Holding a life in your arms is a huge responsibility. And someone should be telling you what on earth you're doing and how to care for this little angel in your arms, right? 🙃
"Yes, if you want!" she replied, and then I promptly sat up in bed and blacked out completely. I told the nurse I was getting very sleepy and asked her to take back my baby and a few seconds later I woke up with an oxygen mask on me and had passed out.
Everything ended up being okay for me, and while I hope that's not the start of your breastfeeding story, it certainly was a unique one for me.
Every woman is built different
It's an uncommon thing to think about, but going into this whole thing I had no idea that there was a large variation in nipple size. Everyone is totally and wildly different, and each present some unique challenges to getting that miracle 'latch' the first few days.
In the hospital, my lactation consultant shared with me a nipple shield and then later found a pretty interesting tool called "latch assist" on Amazon. These simple tools helped me early-on to get a great latch with my baby and reduce the pain, but it also took a while to figure out how to use them and to discover that they existed.
I wish I would have known that they exist so I could have packed them in my hospital bag. I had no idea that nipple size would affect on your ability to breastfeed easily. For me, they were tools that I used in the beginning and eventually transitioned away from using them, but they were lifesavers to help start a solid connection and get that very first latch.
Also, when you learn how to pump, you'll need to choose which size flange to use. There are different sizes for each nipple size, but most of the pumps only come with 1-2 standard sizes so if you're bigger or smaller than average, you'll want to buy some special sized flanges ahead of time.
It was painful, but there are things that can help
In all of the classes and articles I read to prepare for breastfeeding, they all seemed to say the same, "If you have a good latch, it shouldn't hurt".
Well, most women I talk to agree that its quite painful in the beginning. But not all. I do have some friends that said it was the easier thing ever, so you never know. But after a few days or weeks, it does get to a point where it doesn't hurt anymore.
If I had known beforehand, I would have bought some balm to help manage the main and promote healing while you're in the hospital. The lactation consults will give you some lanolin cream in the hospital, but it is sticky and difficult to apply, so I definitely preferred the alternatives I bought online once I was home.
Patience is key
When you think about breastfeeding and watch videos on YouTube, its often older babies that have a wide-mouth and a perfect latch already. It can be frustrating to watch these videos when you're with your newborn, because your baby is still learning too, and squirming all over the place!
One of the biggest struggles that I had was with getting baby's mouth to open wide. When their mouth doesn't open wide, it is quite painful and is an awful latch, but you have to just wait until their mouth opens wide. Patience is key.
It's okay to take a break
This was one thing that the lactation consultant in the hospital told me that was very freeing, was that its okay to pump and give your body a break and a chance to recover.
If you're in pain, just stop and pump for a feed (or in my case for like a week straight) and then get back to it when you're ready. Your baby will still get what he/she needs with your breastmilk or with formula, and it doesn't really matter how he/she gets it.
So give yourself a break and learn how to pump, because pumping does NOT hurt and it gives you a little break from the soreness if you're committed to continuing to breastfeed.
And remember, fed is best, and there is no shame in feeding your baby with formula or any other safe way if that is best for you and your health.
Eventually it will become easy
This was the one thing that kept me going. For me, it took about 8-10 weeks to really master it. Looking back if you told me this at week 1, I would say that is eternity and I probably would have given up. But I was determined and kept on going and I think part of the journey is figuring out how to do it.
It took us months to get it right but time really does help everything get better, and also baby gets a bit bigger and those tiny little mouths grow bigger and open wider. And that makes it much easier too :)
Get some support!
If you need some hope and some enthusiasm, take out your phone and read some of the forums. You can hear from folks that are struggling and how the community just rallies to keep you hopeful and motivated. So many moms have gone though this before you and you'll figure it out, too!
So good luck mamma! You've got this!
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