Like most pregnant women, I was peppered with questions for nine long months. Would I breastfeed? How did I feel about natural birth? Would I consider co-sleeping? Would I do the “cry it out” method of sleep training? Was I planning to start giving her solid food at four months, or would I wait until six?
My answer to all of the above was “I don’t know,” and looking back, I think not putting too much planning into what that first year would look like was a good move for me from a mental health perspective. I didn’t know how I would feel, and I didn’t want to plan for something only to have it not work out and feel like I’d messed something up.
So I went into breastfeeding with the mentality that if it was natural for both of us, we’d do it. If it wasn’t, I was open to formula. I was lucky: My daughter Emma latched on easily, and my milk came in within a few days. Breastfeeding was a breeze!
… Except it wasn’t. I won’t get into too many details, but it was painful. Every time Emma latched on, I would wince in pain. You’re supposed to feed the baby every two to three hours in those early weeks, which meant I was in a constant state of dread. I started pumping so I didn’t have to feed her as much, and I cried a lot.
It all worked out: My daughter is now a year old, and we’re still at it. But I wish I’d had a little more guidance around breastfeeding in those early days, so here’s a guide to help make your breastfeeding journey just a tad easier than mine was.
Have The Phone Number Of A Lactation Consultant Before Your Baby Is Born
If you plan to make breastfeeding a game-time decision like I did, have the number of a lactation consultant should you need it. I did a virtual visit that was covered by my insurance (and these were in pre-COVID times!) and it made a world of difference.
In just 45 minutes, the lactation consultant informed me that Emma had a shallow latch, which was what was causing all the pain, and gave me advice for teaching her how to open her mouth wider. She showed me how to position her so my shoulders and back didn’t ache, and gave me advice on how long to feed her each time to ensure she was getting enough milk. I cannot recommend this more.
Stock Up On Gear
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I literally fantasize about what I would do now if someone were to say SHIT about me breastfeeding 😍 Maybe I make a scene? Maybe I unleash a biblical hellfire verbal assault? There’s no many options! Would I stand up, never disrupting my little angel’s meal, and approach them? I only need one arm to nurse and if I have my sling on? Shittttt both arms are free to square up. You’re telling me you wouldn’t back down if a mom went from lovingly feeding her baby in her arms to tightening her sling so she could bitch slap you TWICE without ever unlatching?! Ain’t no way. So I patiently await the day I witness a nursing mother getting slack. I will do that weird anime floating pose shit and fly on over with the light of a thousand suns. HADOU-CUNT ☄️
Although it has a ridiculous name, the My Brest Friend pillow acted as the perfect little shelf for Emma when she was tiny and helped get her in the right position. I was even able to prop my laptop on there and get a little work done in those early days when she tended to fall asleep while breastfeeding!
While this was by far the most helpful product for me, Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC, and Lactation Director, Motif Medical recommends a few others as well.
“Cotton, reusable breast pads are always on my list,” she says. “These are great to include as gifts for baby showers, as moms sometimes leak colostrum before the birth, and will almost always leak afterward. The second must-have for any lactating mom would be a good nipple balm. Something that melts nicely into the skin to protect the skin barrier from frequent pumping and nursing sessions, but also with an antifungal property to protect from inflammation and thrush.”
And while you’ll probably have an electric pump covered by your insurance, Georgakopoulos recommends a hand pump as well. “Hand pumps are a smart investment. They can help relieve clogs, and fit into the diaper bag or purse in case an unexpected expression is needed.”
I personally loved the Haakaa hand pump, which is great for catching extra milk.
Breastfeeding Might Be Uncomfortable, But It Shouldn’t Be Mind-Numbingly Painful.
While wincing in pain every time your baby latches on doesn’t mean you won’t figure it out eventually, it isn’t normal. “Pain, as in wincing and visible damage happening-type pain, is not something that just goes away or improves without help,” says Georgakopoulos. “Lactation professionals, preferably an IBCLC credential, will be crucial in navigating that, along with helping achieve optimal comfort with positioning. Rocks in the shoe happen. What’s not normal is leaving the rock in the shoe.”
Your Baby Will Need To Breastfeed A Lot. I Mean, A lot.
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Feeding the baby every two or three hours doesn’t sound too bad, and it isn’t—but the reality is that they often need to eat even more than that at the very beginning. My daughter would go through growth spurts where all she wanted to do was nurse, and I had to just go with the flow.
“When we hear or read things like, ‘infants feed every 2-3 hours,’ we tend to want to schedule things out to that, not realizing that it’s an average, and certainly doesn’t account for cluster feedings that normally occur,” Georgakopoulos says.
The most important thing to keep in mind on your breastfeeding journey? It will all be okay. I’ll never forget the most helpful thing my lactation consultant said when I met with her, and it had nothing to do with breastfeeding positioning or latching advice: “A year from now, you’ll be celebrating her first birthday and this will all just be a distant memory.”
She was right. And as hard as breastfeeding was at the beginning, I’m so glad I stuck with it—because it ended up being just fine.
Images: Dave Clubb / Unsplash; betchesmoms, nottheworstmom / Instagram