Breastfeeding Expectations vs. Reality
Breastfeeding really threw me for a loop. I was picturing flowers and fairies and the reality was like getting hit by a truck. I wish I had know the following 5 things before I started so I could have been more prepared.
1. Early on, you will spend 8 hours a day feeding your baby.
Factor in diaper changes and feeble attempts to sleep, and your days will pass in a blur of leaky breasts.
This is normal.
When my lactation consultant told me a new breastfeeding mom spends an average of 8 hours a day nursing, I let out a huge sigh of relief. Nobody warned me how time intensive feeding a baby is early on – you aim to feed a newborn 8-12 times a day and they don’t exactly drink fast! The good news is this average feeding time will drop significantly as your baby becomes more efficient.
2. There is a difference between nutritive sucking and nursing for comfort.
Both are important, but early on I was so worried when my LO was on my breast for 87 minutes straight (after feeding most of the day already). I later learned that he had been snoozing and was probably only consuming a small amount of milk. While comfort nursing plays an important role, don’t instantly panic and think you don’t have enough milk because a nursing session is lasting foreverrrrrr.
3. Breastfeeding might hurt at first!
Nobody tells you breastfeeding hurts. I couldn’t have imagined so much pain could be concentrated in my nipples. I truly believed I would rather go through the pain of labor and delivery again than suffer through one more painful nursing session.
It is true the breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt long term, but it can be immensely painful at the start. If you are in pain, seek help, but don’t give up due to pain alone – chances are you can make adjustments and breastfeed pain free. Also, don’t make the mistake I did and let your child nurse with a bad latch. I was so excited he was finally nursing that I ignored the bad latch and wound up with a host of issues ranging from chapped, cracked nipples, to months of pain from vasospasm.
4. There is such a thing as a let down, or milk ejection reflex.
I really didn’t know how breastfeeding worked – milk doesn’t just automatically flow at any given time. Your nursling will need to gently suck to stimulate a let down (milk ejection reflex) and then drink his fill from there. Also, there are usually multiple let downs per feeding, which is why the baby’s rate of sucking and swallowing varies as he nurses.
Knowledge of the milk ejection reflex can also help with pumping. When I first pumped, I would sit there with the pump suction dialed up wondering why it was taking forever for any milk to come out. If you use your pump to stimulate a letdown first, you can usually pump more milk, faster.
5. Breastfeeding is instinctual for baby, but a learned skill for mom.
This one is probably the most important of all – cut yourself some slack if you’re struggling to nurse your baby! Early on breastfeeding is time consuming and painful, but like any skill, it takes time and practice to master. Your body was built to do this – have faith in yourself and you will be surprised at the amazing breastfeeding relationship that will develop.
And remember, you can ask for help. I had the support of two lactation consultants. I also saw a doctor since I was convinced we had thrush (we didn’t) and saw a specialist since I was convinced baby had a tongue or lip tie (he didn’t). Maybe I was a breastfeeding hypochondriac at first, but with practice and persistence we eventually got to the point where I could nurse without crying. I have now continued breastfeeding my son past his first birthday, and (sometimes) I actually enjoy it.
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