7 Truths I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding
More than a year ago, I was gently caressing my ever-growing bump, delightedly looking at the done-up nursery I had so lovingly built. I remember thinking, ‘I am ready. I have all that I need.’ I also remember smirking at the dozens of ads appearing on my Facebook feed, inviting me to join webinars and seminars to learn everything I can about childbirth, breastfeeding and the like.
Breastfeeding? I laughed. Why would I need to learn about breastfeeding? It is the most natural thing in the world! Why would women need to learn about it?
Oh boy, little did I know that I was so wrong.
To all mothers-to-be, these are the 7 things I wish I knew about breastfeeding before I held my baby in my arms.
1. Breastfeeding Can Hurt Like The Devil
If you are breastfeeding for the first time, you are going to find it so painful, especially in the first few weeks postpartum. Your nipples will be sore from hours and hours of breastfeeding, especially when your baby is cluster-feeding during growth spurts. Apart from feeling your nipples might fall off, it is likely that your breasts will feel engorged. Your body is still learning how much milk your baby requires, and as soon as the baby unlatches, it will fill up quickly again. This might make your breasts rock hard. Have cold lettuce ready, when it hurts, just place the cold lettuce on your breasts and think of it as a little spa for those hardworking, milk-making boobs of yours.
2. Milk Production Works On A Demand and Supply System
If you are looking at the dozens of ads coming your way about buying lactation cookies, lactation oats, mother’s milk, fenugreek supplements, etc. you might be starting to wonder if breastfeeding is going to be a costly affair. Thankfully, you don’t need these supplements. Milk production works on a demand and supply system — the more milk that’s drawn out from your body, the more milk your body will make. Our bodies are wonderfully made to meet our babies’ needs. Of course, these lactation supplements could help increase milk supply by giving you enough calories and confidence to keep it going.
3. Getting the Latch Right is a Skill
Babies need time to master the art of latching. I used to think that as long as I stuffed my boob into my son’s mouth, the milk will naturally flow. However, this is not the case. I wish I knew how to ensure that he got a proper latch with lips flanged out and covering the whole areola, and gave him (and myself) more grace to learn the skill. You can visit Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding for wonderful video resources on how to ensure that babies are latching well.
4. Babies Falling Asleep at the Breast is Completely Normal
When you are in an intensely sleep-deprived state and wondering when this never-ending long night will end, you might start to wonder if breastfeeding is a bad habit. Babies seem to fall asleep instantly at the breast, and if you try to remove them, they might wake up screaming. However, it is biologically normal that babies will fall asleep at the breast. It doesn’t mean they are not taking enough milk. It doesn’t also make this a bad habit. Your arms cradling their whole being provides so much warmth, comfort and safety. You are not nurturing a bad habit. You are nurturing your child. Those long nights will soon pass.
5. Mastering the Side-Latch Will Give You More Sleep
After my son turned 4 months, I figured that if I continued to pick him up from the crib, force myself to stay awake before gently putting him down again, I might die. I soon learned that there is a technique many mothers used — the side latch. It is a life-saver. I moved to co-sleeping with my son, giving ourselves a week to master the side-latch, and now even though I still get woken up about 6–8 times a night, we both fall back to sleep pretty quickly once he finds his way to the boob.
6. Hand Expression is a Skill Worth Learning
I thought I could get by with those fancy electric pumps, whenever I was away from my son. Little did I know that learning to hand express is an essential skill! Apart from being a life-saver when you left your pump at home, hand expressing can also save you from a terrible bout of mastitis. Although there are many different ways of learning hand-expressing, I found that this particular video was one of the best in teaching me how to do it myself.
7. Breastfeeding Does Not Define You as a Mother
The most important thing I wish I knew about breastfeeding was this — it does not define me as a mother. There were so many days and nights that I fretted, feeling a pang of guilt whenever I had to feed my son formula milk. I worried that I was not a good mother because I could not meet his demand for milk until he turned 3 months old. This stress drove me into postpartum depression, and I wish I had been gentler on myself. I spent 3 months dreading our breastfeeding relationship, worrying about milk, and ended up missing the joys of his newborn days. If these thoughts ever hit you, remember, no child grows up angry at his/her mum for not breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is exhausting and exhilarating all at once. I just wished I knew these 7 things so that it could be more enjoyable rather than a source of stress. Hang in there mamas, you are doing a great job!