Being a new mom, I had no idea what breastfeeding was going to be like, so I read everything I can about it. But like some things, no amount of reading prepared me for everything I was about to experience.
Before we came home from the hospital, I thought my baby had a good latch going so he can drink his milk efficiently. But after watching videos and seeing pictures of American babies with “the right latch,” I became paranoid that my baby wasn’t doing it right. My fears were confirmed by the fact that he wasn’t pooping and his jaundice was getting worse.
I later learned that his latch wasn’t the problem. He was latching on fine, but because I was comparing his little tiny mouth to bigger babies with bigger mouths and bigger-looking latches, I thought there was something wrong. Totally my bad. Because of this, I became stressed and frustrated enough to make him go on a hunger strike.
Pain was another reason why I thought my baby’s latch was wrong. I was told that if feeding hurts, then the latch must not be right. But I realized, wrong latch or right latch, my nipples were bound to be sore after being exposed to moisture every two hours for several entire days!
You know how those wounds from scratching hurt when touched? That’s the kind of pain I felt for a while – that’s what sore nipples felt like for me.
When my milk came, my baby would cough and gag during feeding. I apparently had an overactive letdown, meaning my milk comes on too fast and baby can’t keep up. It’s like drinking from a huge pail poured over your mouth.
My research said to pull baby away from the breast at the beginning of the letdown and wait till it slowed before putting baby back on. The thing is, I didn’t even know how letdown felt like, so I was always too late pulling baby away – he would’ve already gagged or coughed.
Some people describe it as a tingling feeling, so that’s what I was waiting to feel. But after close observation, I realized that it wasn’t exactly “tingling” for me. I can’t actually describe it, but I knew I felt something going on in my breasts before I saw the milk come out. By around the 2nd week, I finally figured out how to tell that my milk was coming.
Empty vs. Full
The first time I tried to pump out milk, I got a whopping ONE ounce TOTAL from an hour of pumping with a manual pump (which hurt like crazy!). It confused me because I thought I could get milk enough to feed all the babies born that day from the way I was so engorged. So my mom told me to keep pumping to “empty” the breast. But how was I to know how empty felt?
I knew what “full” meant – it was like the fullness during PMS, multiplied by 3. And engorgement? So much worse than that. Empty, on the other hand, was a big question mark for me, until I felt a load of relief from engorgement after pumping with an electric pump (and with the help of warm compress) and constant breastfeeding.
So that’s what empty felt like – when the breast feels like it’s been unloaded 1,000 gallons of milk, and when you can’t manually get anything from it anymore.
Up to this day, almost 3 months since the first time I breastfed my baby, I am still learning new things like better ways to hold him while nursing (so he doesn’t choke) and nursing on one breast per feeding. Everyday is a challenge indeed, as I try to figure out everything myself. But I am a fast learner, and I did learn that figuring them out and overcoming challenges can be truly rewarding experiences.