10 things I wish I knew before I started breastfeeding
There may be a bit of pain.
This is probably not what you want to hear, but whether this is your first or fourth baby, it will most likely hurt a bit. The pain is not just in your breasts, either; during the first week or so post-birth, breastfeeding can cause the uterus to contract, which can be quite painful. Pain can also be felt in your back; however, this will subside once your uterus shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size. Hang in there and push through the pain. Within four to six weeks, your body will adjust.
Be prepared to be hungry… and thirsty.
Grab a snack and a bottle full of water when breastfeeding your baby. During the first couple of weeks, you’re going to be very hungry and thirsty. This is due to your hormones (oxytocin and prolactin) being released when breastfeeding. Drinking water while you’re breastfeeding can also help to keep the milk flowing.
Know what accessories to bring along.
When breastfeeding, your favourite pillow will be your best friend. A pillow can not only make breastfeeding easier and more comfortable for you, but will also help position your newborn in the right spot so they’re more comfortable too. Placing the pillow on your lap and laying your baby on it will save you the strenuous task of holding their weight, which can hurt your back and arms. Special breastfeeding pillows which hug your torso can also be a godsend. Also, have an extra shirt handy! This is a big one to remember. Once your milk comes in, your opposite breast may leak while you’re feeding on one side, causing you to soak through your nursing bra, top, and even the bedsheets. Breast pads are handy for this too but in those early days, prepare for leakage .
It’ll be hard to get time to yourself.
Although you are already dedicating what feels like all your time to your baby, breastfeeding means you might not have any time to yourself for quite a while. It is time-consuming and needs to be done numerous times during the day, and just when you feel like you’re getting into a routine, your baby’s needs will change and you’ll find yourself feeding even more. This isn’t something you realise until you’re in the throes of it. Not only is the physical task of breastfeeding time-consuming, but the added chores of getting settled into a comfortable spot, burping your baby between sides, changing a nappy in the middle of the feed, expressing milk, washing bottles, etc will also add minutes to the clock!
Expressing might not produce as much milk as your breasts.
If you’re expressing breast milk, you might find it more difficult than breastfeeding. There will be times when you look at the bottle and think, “Is that all I’ve got?” But the amount of milk you can pump is not indicative of the amount of milk your baby is receiving when they are feeding. Even if you are only producing a few millilitres of milk with a breast pump, don’t worry that your baby is only getting that much from the breast. Babies have a stronger ability to suck milk straight from the breast than a pump, and some mums can’t get any milk at all from trying to express. Your baby’s physical cues, like their weight gain, temperament, behaviour, alertness, and settled sleep will give you a better idea of how well your baby is being satisfied by breastfeeding. However, if anything worries you, or if your baby seems dehydrated, lethargic, is sleeping a lot and is difficult to rouse, contact your LMC or GP straightaway.
Be wary of red blotches!
Something you don’t really hear about until it happens to you is red blotches on your breasts. If you see red blotches and they are hot to the touch, get in touch with your LMC or GP. This is more than likely a sign of a breast infection called mastitis. If this is the case, you need the help of a medical professional to quickly and aggressively attack the infection before more infections can occur and milk supply can diminish. Don’t leave this alone hoping it will get better on its own – seek medical advice.
If you can, get to know a lactation consultant.
Hospitals and birthing centres have lactation consultants on staff, and it’s a great idea to ask to see them as soon as possible when your baby is born, and even beforehand as they can give you some great help to prepare for breastfeeding. Your midwife is also a great source of help with breastfeeding, but lactation consultants are specialists, so don’t hesitate to ask to see one – even if you think you’ve got the hang of it or this isn’t your first baby, they can still have great ideas and advice.
Stock up on nipple cream.
Nipple cream is a must-have! If you don’t have some in your labour bag, pop to your local chemist and get some before your baby arrives. Gently pat it on to your nipple after each feed to help reduce the likelihood of getting sore, red, cracked nipples. Make sure to get a brand that is safe for your baby (as some need to be wiped off – you want one that you can just put on and leave on). And be aware that nipple cream can stain your bra and clothing, so wear breast pads or clothes you don’t mind eventually throwing out.
Good things take time.
Your milk can take up to five days to come in. Don’t stress if you think your little one is not getting enough milk if you are only seeing small droplets of milk on your nipples. In the first few days, your baby will receive colostrum, and soon enough it will turn to breast milk. Your baby’s tummy is very small during these first days and, in turn, can’t hold much – so don’t expect to be feeding them huge amounts of milk. If you get to five days and your milk still hasn’t come in, or you’re worried your baby isn’t getting enough hydration, talk to your LMC.
Antenatal classes can freak you out.
Antenatal classes may give you false expectations of what to expect after having your baby is born, particularly as many of them focus more on labour and birth than on the actuality of having a newborn at home (and the adjustment this takes). Although antenatal classes are there to help and provide information while making you feel better about this journey you are about to take, you need to remember that each experience is different. Some of the phrases you’ll hear are “Best for baby”, “It shouldn’t hurt”, “Do this”, “Don’t do that”, “Cradle hold”, “Proper latch”, and more. If things aren’t going the way they “should”, give yourself some time to adjust, and talk to your LMC or Plunket nurse for help – you aren’t a failure! You both have to learn how to breastfeed, and it helps if you’re trying to enjoy it rather than focusing on what you think you’re doing wrong.