With all the breastfeeding misinformation pregnant woman hear, reality is bound to bring you some breastfeeding surprises! Here are the 7 things that completely shocked me when I started nursing my first baby.
1. Breastfeeding REALLY hurt in the beginning- but not where you think.
Based on everything I had heard and read about breastfeeding, I was expecting my nipples to be cracked, sore, and bleeding once I started breastfeeding. For me this turned out to be completely untrue, even with my second baby who was tongue tied. I used lanolin on my nipples for the first few days each time, but they never cracked or bled and they barely hurt at all.
This is largely because my babies had a good latch, so you want to make sure you get that checked early on by a lactation consultant. If the baby has a bad latch it will almost certainly lead to nipple damage and pain.
Anyway, back on track. Where did I feel pain the first couple days of breastfeeding? In my uterus.
The pain felt very similar to labor contractions but was actually even MORE painful at times.
Prior to giving birth I had never even heard of this, but apparently when you breastfeed, your body releases the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin has several reproductive functions, but after birth it’s job is to stimulate your uterus to contract back down to size.
They say the pain is more if it’s your second (or more) birth, but I had serious pain even with my first baby. I was writhing in pain every time I nursed her in the hospital and had to request extra pain meds because of it.
Other moms I’ve talked to said it didn’t hurt them as much, so this can vary from person to person. But don’t be surprised if you have contractions as bad as labor contractions for the first couple days (and yes, it does completely stop after the first few days).
2. You don’t actually make breastmilk for the first few days.
Ok so maybe I was a little unprepared going into breastfeeding. I did take a class, but I must have been spacing out during the part where they talk about colostrum.
(By the way, if you are looking for an amazing breastfeeding class you can do from home on your own time, I can’t recommend this course from Milkology enough. I took it after breastfeeding two children and still learned things I didn’t know!)
So after you first give birth, when your baby nurses he is getting colostrum. It’s like a condensed antibody-rich super version of breastmilk. It is perfect because your baby’s stomach at birth is only the size of a marble, so the way they get a huge boost of immunity while taking in very little.
Colostrum tends to be thick and yellowish, so don’t be alarmed if you see it and don’t think it looks like breastmilk.
It also has a laxative affect to help babies have their first bowel movement and flush out jaundice. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
You will be even more amazed a few days later when you wake up with ENORMOUS, firm and sore breasts. Ta-da, your milk has come in!
Honestly, take whatever mental picture you’re imagining of how big your breasts will be and just double it. That’s how big they will be at first. Your body starts out thinking you’re feeding triplets and makes that much! With time it will settle down and regulate to the amount your baby is actually taking.
3. You don’t really have to drink gallons of water.
I’ve never been a big water drinker, and people had me thinking I’d need to choke down a gallon an hour in order to successfully breastfeed. It seriously had me scared that I’d never be able to do it.
Yes, your body will need more water than it did before. But lack of water is rarely the reason for having low supply. I’m pretty sure water intake is one of those easy scapegoats people jump to whenever there is a supply issue or other nursing problem.
When you feel thirsty, drink. When you think you might be hungry but it mayyyybe could actually be that you’re thirsty, drink. Don’t make it something to obsess over and drive yourself crazy about.
The official guideline for drinking water when breastfeeding is 100 oz per day, up from the normal 64 oz per day (not that I ever, EVER drank that much pre-pregnancy, but yeah, that’s what the rules say). 100 ounces roughly equates to 3/4 of a gallon, which is not impossible but still could be challenging for some people.
Here is my UNOFFICIAL guideline for drinking water when breastfeeding:
- When you wake up in the morning, before drinking a coffee (more on that later) drink a glass of water
- Make it a habit that anytime you sit down to nurse, you bring a glass of water with you and try to drink it while you’re sitting there mostly distraction-free
- Any other time you happen to find yourself thirsty (or dizzy/sluggish), of course drink some water
- Keep up a healthy diet including lots of fruits and vegetables, which are mostly made up of water
That’s it. No need to measure ounces and beat yourself up over water. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
4. Your breastmilk is not the same as it was 10 minutes ago.
That is to say, the milk that comes out at the beginning of a feeding is not the same milk that comes out at the end.
When you begin a nursing session, the milk that comes out is known as foremilk. It is lighter in color and contains less fat. This can be thought of as more watery milk, to quench baby’s thirst.
Gradually during the feeding, the fat content of the milk changes. The milk produced at the end of the feeding is called hindmilk, and it has a high fat content which helps baby feel full.
The properties of foremilk vs. hindmilk isn’t something most nursing mothers need to concern themselves with. (Yes, if you pump all the milk will get mixed together and that is totally fine.) The only reason for knowing the distinction is to understand why you should NOT switch sides until baby fully empties one breast.
Do not take misguided advice of timing the feeding and switching sides after some arbitrarily determined time. You want to make sure the baby empties the first breast to get the fatty hindmilk before switching.
You will know it’s time to switch sides when baby stops actively nursing on that side. They may continue to suck on an empty breast, but you will be able to tell when they are no longer swallowing. At that point it’s fine to switch sides and offer them the other breast.
5. You can successfully breastfeed using just ONE breast!
At around 4 months old, my daughter went through a phase of preferring the right side only. Luckily, it didn’t last too long and I was able to get her back to eating on both sides, but during that time I did lots of frantic research about one-sided nursing.
It turns out tons of people have managed to do it! Remember that breastfeeding is regulated by supply and demand, so if one side is getting all the demand that side will produce the supply. The other side will dry out!
For the record, I was able to solve my problem with some baby trickery. I positioned her the way I would if I were going to feed her on the right, but twisted my body and offered her the left. This would eventually bother my back, so slowly during the feeding I’d scoot her over to a left side football hold.
6. You do NOT need to quit drinking coffee while breastfeeding.
It is a common myth that drinking coffee or other sources of caffeine will negatively affect your baby when breastfeeding.
While caffeine does pass through to breastmilk, it is at a rate of about 1%.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and La Leche League confirm nursing moms can drink up to 3 cups of coffee per day. There have been studies that show drinking 5 or more cups per day can cause irritability in babies, so stick to 3 or less to be safe.
This is great news for all the breastfeeding moms who are being woken up every 2-3 hours all night and REALLY need their coffee!
7. Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be hard.
I wanted to end on this positive note because I feel like the common dialogue pregnant moms hear about breastfeeding is always that it’s going to be SO DIFFICULT. Don’t get me wrong, for some people it really is. But for a lot of people, it actually does go smoothly.
It takes effort and commitment to breastfeed, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be hard. And if you have the support and knowledge, I truly don’t think it will be hard.
I can boil it down to three things:
- your family being supportive of your desire to breastfeed, especially your husband/partner
- having at least one close friend (or female family member) who is breastfeeding or has in the past
- arming yourself with in-depth knowledge about breastfeeding
Read as much as you can about breastfeeding. A good motto is hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. You may not have any problems at all, but if you do, you need the support and knowledge to find a solution. You don’t need a partner who is going to say “just give him formula” the first time you encounter a problem.
There is tremendous value to feeling knowledgeable and confident at the start of your breastfeeding journey. Taking a class through the LLL or the hospital you plan to give birth at is a great plan. If you find the class times or locations are a hinderance for you (or if you just prefer to learn at home in your PJs), The Ultimate Breastfeeding Class is the best one I’ve found on the internet. And at $19 it’s very reasonable for the value you’ll get out of it.
What are your burning breastfeeding questions?
I am happy to answer any questions you have about breastfeeding, either here in the comments or in another blog post. Just let me know what you’d like to learn more about!