I loved breastfeeding so much that it’s hard to remember how badly I hated it at first. It was painful and confusing and I had no idea if I’d ever get it right. Now, after 49 total months of nursing my babies, I consider myself a pro, but I sure didn’t start out feeling that way. Here’s the breastfeeding advice I wish I’d been told at the beginning of my journey. If you’re pregnant and planning to nurse, these are tried and true tips from one mama to another:
You don’t have to hide your hooters
That whole section of nursing wraps in the baby store? Really great marketing for something you may not need or want. For one thing, your baby is likely to kick off any fabric you throw on top of him. For another, it is not your responsibility to make others feel comfortable while you are feeding your baby. It is only important that you and your baby feel comfortable. His head will block half your boob anyway!
You can’t prepare your nipples
I remember reading that I could “toughen up” my nipples in advance of breastfeeding by rubbing them with a loofah, but please don’t do this to yourself. The only thing that will get your nipples used to breastfeeding is breastfeeding. So how can you prepare before the baby comes? Get a good lactation consultant on speed dial and put some dark beer in your fridge — it will help your milk come in, plus you deserve it after birthing a baby.
It might hurt (like hell) at first
There’s a mistaken notion that if breastfeeding hurts you must be doing it wrong. Even with a perfect latch–meaning the baby’s mouth is covering the entire areola, not just the protruding part of the nipple–there can be a few seconds of pure agony at the start of your nursing sessions until your body adjusts. (For me, that took about a month.)
But you can do things to soothe the pain
Lanolin topical cream (which is safe for the baby to ingest) and refrigerated gel packs helped me push through the initial discomfort.
The breastfeeding holds they teach in the hospital might not work best for you
I was taught the cradle and football holds but neither felt particularly comfortable or organic. The well-meaning nurses kept making me start over, rearranging the parts of my body like living room furniture, until I wanted to give up. But once I got home, I discovered that laying side by side with my baby felt natural, relaxing and EASY. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little.
Your baby can help you
A brilliant lactation consultant I met a week or two after giving birth taught me that if you lie on your back and put your baby on your chest, the baby will actually find your nipple. I know that sounds crazy, since a newborn can’t crawl yet, but somehow, instinct enables them to wiggle into position.
Cluster feeding is totally normal
Some day, many months from now, you will have a routine and a schedule that works for you. Now is not that time. Now is the time to feed your baby every single time she asks, because that is what she needs, and it’s also how you get your supply up. Just fed her 30 minutes ago? Doesn’t matter. Go with it.
Don’t forget to eat
Remember, food is the fuel that makes the milk factory run. You’ve got to eat and drink, which isn’t always easy when there’s a baby attached to you. During one night of particularly intense cluster feeding, my husband had to hand-feed me pizza in the glider. And every breastfeeding mom I know has dropped food on her baby’s head at least once while trying to eat and nurse at the same time. Just avoid hot soup and you’re good!
With my first baby, every time she woke at night, I got out of bed, turned the lights on, plucked her from the bassinet, changed her diaper, fed her sitting up and then tried to get her back down, often unsuccessfully. My second baby, I was so tired that I routinely fell asleep while breastfeeding in bed. With the baby nestled in the crook of my arm all night, she just nursed whenever she felt like it. Guess which way I got more sleep?
Your back will hurt
Two giant milk jugs plus a 6-10 pound human baby pulling on the front side of your body can really wreak havoc on your back and neck muscles. Treat yourself to a massage if you can, or convince your partner to give you a nice rubdown while you nurse.
You will need a lot of bras
Just when you think your pregnancy boobs can’t get any bigger, your milk comes in and they are freaking gigantic. It’s smart to wait to buy your nursing bras until that moment. I never would have guessed my baby B’s could become double D’s. They change size again when your supply levels out, and again when you stop nursing, so let’s just say you need a big lingerie drawer and a line of credit.
Other nursing moms are your “breast” friends
It is so, so helpful to find mom friends going through the same thing, whether through a mommy & me class, a lactation support group or just in the neighborhood. Breastfeeding is a strange new experience that takes getting used to — seeing other moms do it too helps you feel normal and much less isolated.
It gets easier
Breastfeeding is not for everyone, but if you can make it work, and push through the tough times, it will bring you and your baby a lot of joy. By the time I had my second kid, nursing was second nature to me–painless, easy, and something I could literally do in my sleep. I am so glad I persevered with breastfeeding. It is one of my best memories of my kids’ babyhood and I never could have guessed how much I’d love it.