Looking back at the last 9 ½ months, I realize there are things I wish I knew then about breastfeeding. Not that it would’ve affected my decision to nurse exclusively, but in a sense it would’ve made me more prepared for what I was to experience.
During the first month, while my baby and I were learning to nurse, it felt like my breasts were simply a couple of milk-producing gadgets, thanks to my mom and my husband who would curiously watch milk squirt out of my nipples onto the pump. I was their Discovery Channel Live.
I had no intentions of staying cooped up in our room, also because I really had no reason to. It’s not like I needed to hide nursing from my mom and my husband. BUT I also didn’t plan to expose my boobs all day, yet I felt like I didn’t have much of a choice. I would sit on the sofa airing out my aching, sore nipples after every nursing session. I’m a self-confessed prude, but somehow, modesty fell to the bottom of my priority list. So if you plan to breastfeed, try to find a place to comfortably let your boobs rest and hang out exposed for hours on end.
1 hour breaks
For the first couple months, I nursed every two hours or on-demand, whichever came first. What I didn’t know was that Milo would nurse for 45-60 minutes, giving my breasts only an hour max to rest before he latches on again for the next feeding. Talk about working round-the-clock.
No pain, no gain
Whoever said “it’s not supposed to hurt” must have nipples of steel. While it is true that pain while baby is sucking means an incorrect latch, I believe that even with the right latch, pain is inevitable, because your nipples are exposed to moisture and pressure 24/7 (with 1-hour or so breaks in between). I felt more pain after a nursing session, lasting for about 2 months.
Instinct – NOT
Contrary to popular belief, nursing doesn’t happen as easily as we’d like it to. Infants do suck by instinct, but the way they latch on to efficiently draw milk doesn’t necessarily happen “naturally.” There IS a learning curve to breastfeeding, though some can pick up more quickly than others. I was supposedly one of those lucky ones, but my paranoia made me counterproductive.
I stressed about baby’s jaundice and worried that he wasn’t getting enough milk because of a wrong latch. The truth was, he didn’t nurse efficiently only because I was stressed and frustrated, so he decided to go on a nursing strike (this I found out from my pedia’s lactation consultant). As soon as I started to relax and just let him nurse, he picked up on my no-stress nursing and fed more. Indeed, there is a good reason why we are told to relax while breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is a decision. Working to build your supply by nursing and pumping frequently (not to mention cleaning your pumping equipment after every use), enduring the pain from engorgement and sore nipples and committing to nurse despite all of that is no joke. There were days when formula feeding just seemed so much easier, especially while we were learning to nurse.
The irony of it is that these first weeks of breastfeeding may be most difficult on both mom and baby, but also have been shown to be most beneficial to both. I can’t even begin to enumerate its benefits to baby, not to mention mommy’s recovery (and even weight loss!), which clearly show why breastfeeding is worth every ounce of our commitment and hard work.
It gets better
Now don’t get discouraged if I painted too clear a picture of the challenges of breastfeeding, because it does get better. After a few weeks, my baby learned to finish up his meal in less than 10 minutes. My nipples stopped hurting. Soon, nursing became almost second nature to both of us. That’s why we’re still going.
There are lots of other things I wish I know now even if they have yet to happen – like how bad (or good – I wish!) my boobs will look after I’m done nursing, how long I will have milk and if it’s going to hurt more now that he has 4 teeth (and counting).
Guess I’ll just have to wait and see.