Breastfeeding: The (Hard) Truth

When I had my first baby nearly 9 years ago, I knew I wanted to breastfeed her. I knew nutritionally that it was the best option and let’s be honest, it’s free. What I didn’t know was how hard it was going to be, physically and emotionally.

I’m now nursing my third child and am reminded (again) of the truth about breastfeeding: It. Is. Hard.

And no one tells you so.

I think no one tells you how hard it is because they don’t want to scare you away from trying. For some people, this may be the case. For me, knowledge is power. And knowing what to expect, and that MANY others go through the EXACT same thing, is beneficial to me. And keeps me going.

So I’m laying it on the table. I’m telling you the truth about my breastfeeding experience. I hope it gives you the strength and confidence to try breastfeeding and keep with it.

  • Nursing is natural. It’s how God made our bodies. BUT, it doesn’t feel natural at first. Having a baby suck on your boob for the first time is weird. Sorry, but it’s just an odd feeling. And…
  • Let’s face it. Your boobs are big. (Even little boobs are big when you’re pregnant and even bigger when your milk comes in.) And your precious little baby’s mouth is not. It takes a ton of practice to make sure your baby opens his mouth big and wide before latching on. The bigger the mouthful, the less it…
  • Hurts. When your milk comes in a couple days after delivery, it will hurt. Your boobs will be engorged (filled with your baby’s yummy milk) and when baby nurses and your milk lets down? Well, breathe. Don’t hold your breath. Breathe through it. And relax your shoulders. I’m pretty sure that letting down during the first few weeks is one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve experienced. When your milk regulates and you aren’t engorged, it’s not painful. You just have to get through those first few weeks.
  • Use lanolin. Religiously. Starting after the first time you nurse until your nipples are used to the action they’re getting. It’s like chapstick for your nipples. Believe me. It’s a lifesaver.
  • Don’t stand facing the shower without first covering your nipples for the first few weeks. It seems silly, but your nipples are tender and shower heads are not friendly during this time.
  • But, warm showers are great when you feel tired and your breasts are engorged. Stand facing the shower with your nipples covered and let the water gently massage your breasts.
  • It is okay to fall asleep while nursing your baby. I promise you that if you lean your head back and close your eyes in the rocker while nursing, you will not drop your baby if you fall asleep. I have woken up an hour later in the exact same position with baby still latched on (or not).
  • A tip if you don’t like nursing pads: When you start to let down, press on your nipple and you won’t leak 9 out of 10 times. I don’t know why this works, but my mom told me this trick with my 2nd and it works like a charm. (I guess it’s something you learn after working in women’s health for so long.)
  • Pump. If your baby sleeps through the night, pump in the morning so you’re not full of milk and leaking endlessly. If you leave baby with Dad or a sitter, don’t miss a feeding. Pump when you can (before and/or after you leave) so your body doesn’t make less milk. If you don’t want to buy a pump, borrow a friend’s or rent one.
  • I only nursed on one side at each feeding for all three of my kids. I think it gives the other breast more time to recoup before nursing again. All of my kids were nourished and grew perfectly fine. (And there’s plenty of research that supports this way as another breastfeeding option.)
  • TALK about any problems/concerns you might be having. Call a lactation consultant – all hospitals have one and your doctor can recommend one also. Call a friend who has breastfed a baby. I’m always available. And willing. It will help – maybe you have a problem that your friend has an answer for. And if not? At least you have a friend who will listen. It’s amazing how much that will do for your soul.
  • Breastfeeding is a commitment. A big one. But so worth it.

Remember, not all babies nurse easily. Not all women produce milk easily. Don’t take it personally. YOU HAVE NOT FAILED. There is a reason that formula was invented. You need to be the best mom you can be. And if nursing is stressing you out to a point that’s not healthy and you feel you’ve exhausted all options, IT’S OKAY. Stop breastfeeding. Your baby will love you just as much.

Please, add to my list if you have another suggestion or tip. The more, the merrier the breastfeeding mom will be. 🙂

7 thoughts on “Breastfeeding: The (Hard) Truth

  1. Jessica

    Great post, Katie! It was helpful considering I am about to go through this for the second time. I had a great experience the first time around but I am just as nervous about it this time. I think your suggestions will come in handy as I try to get the swing of things again.

    Reply
  2. Natalie

    Love your honesty! You are so right – it’s not easy but so worth it. There were so many times I just wanted to give up but it helped that I had a supportive spouse and a great lactation coach. Two other things I would add:
    1.) Take it day by day. At 2 months I was overwhelmed with the thought of nursing for 10 more months (1 year was my goal). But I quickly learned not to look so far ahead. Rather, take it as it comes.
    2.) Also, when my daughter was about 8 months old and started to use a cup (& become more aware of her surroundings) she lost interest in nursing. I was frustrated and confused but rather than giving up or feeling like a failure, I started to pump and give her breast milk in a bottle. I’m grateful to say, we made it to our goal of breast milk for 1 year. So, don’t be surprised if this happens to you. Just go with it and adapt as your baby grows and changes.
    Thanks again for such an honest post!

    Reply
  3. Jill

    And if you get mastitis….keep on nursing. And that HURTS but it’s what you need to do!
    Agreed about the one side at each feeding. No one else will notice that things feel lopsided!

    Reply
  4. Cindi Browning

    Please, please please don’t fall asleep breastfeeding. You may not drop your baby, but you can, in fact, smother it.

    Reply
  5. Deb Baresic

    Kate, maybe you should go learn to be a lactation consultant. Could be a new career! : )

    Almost all Mom’s will fall asleep breast feeding–it’s the nature of the game of being up at all hours. For safety, nurse in a chair if you are really tired, put your legs up on a foot stool. Then, if you fall asleep and your arms relax, your baby will be supported by your legs. Or put a small pillow on your lap. Safety does call for you not to fall asleep with a baby in the bed, but rocking chairs were made for both Mom and baby to be comfortable. Breast feeding is a great gift you can give a baby, but a happy mom and baby is a better gift, and you should do (breast or bottle) what makes you happy and relaxed as a new Mom.

    Reply
  6. Michelle G

    Oh…what a great post! I have nursed all 6 of my babies. EACH ONE WAS DIFFERENT!! My first was exclusively nursed for one year (NO food other than breast milk) I had milk to spare! He nursed until 18 months. Then he self-weaned.
    My next three all nursed till at least 2 years old
    The last two had SO MUCH difficulty. Why? I have no idea! I tried EVERYTHING!
    (now I had cracked nipples and pain in the beginning with each one…but with these two – OMG it was horrible….I was stubborn and kept at it – but it was literally a nightmare!)
    I tried EVERYTHING – lactation consultants, La Leche League etc.
    my youngest stopped nursing at 8mo. 🙁
    Would I try it again if there’s a #7?
    YES
    but now it’s a scary thought rather than a warm fuzzy thought 🙂
    I just want moms to know it can be different EACH and EVERY time!
    Thank you for your honesty!! I think too many moms think it’s all sunshine and roses and then when they try it’s HARD and so they give up.
    🙂
    M

    Reply
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