During pregnancy, you are constantly bombarded with information from friends, family members, doctors, books, the media, etc. There are plenty of things that everyone tells you about breastfeeding, but there are also quite a few things that people do not tell you.
Breast is not best. I was always under the assumption that breast was best, but then I learned differently. After reading two different posts, one from the Alpha Parent and another from the Analytical Armadillo (both wonderful blogs if you have not heard of them), I realized that breast is not really best. Breast is normal, it is natural. When we say that "breast is best," we put breastfeeding up on a pedestal. We make it seem as though breastfeeding is a bonus and something extra special. This allows others to say that formula is OK and a great alternative. Formula is generally considered safe and provides all the nutrients, so it isn't top notch, who cares, it is good enough. We need to focus on breastfeeding being the norm and the acceptable way to feed our babies. Breastfeeding should be viewed as the regular way to feed a baby, not something extra special. It is the way nature designed us to feed our babies.
It might hurt. There are actually a few points I want to make about nipple pain. The first is that it can be normal to feel pain when the baby first latches on and begins nursing. The concern is if the pain becomes extreme, is accompanied by other symptoms, or if it persists. Pain during the first few days is normal, but pain that lasts longer than the first week or so is not normal. The most common result of pain is an improper latch, which occurs when the baby is not positioned correctly. Another cause of pain is vasospasm, which occurs when the nipple appears blanched or white after a feeding. Thrush can also be a source of shooting pains in the nipples or breasts. Mastitis can also be a cause of pain. Women should be told that they may have some pain in the first few days, but if it persists then there may be a problem. Pain after the first few days is not normal, and I dislike hearing when women are told to "toughen up." There are reasons a woman may be having nipple pain if it persists past the first few days after birth, and all underlying factors need to be addressed. The baby may have a tongue tie or may not be latched on correctly. The most important thing, in my opinion, is for the mom to receive help from a professional Lactation Consultant or breastfeeding counselor, not a peer counselor or someone with two days of breastfeeding training. Nothing against those that have done the weekend peer counselor training, but there are certain situations they are just not equipped to handle. I do think peer counselors who have done the weekend training type seminars can be great resources for when a mom needs a quick tip or just some encouragement, but in most cases, a new mom with pain should be referred to someone with more experience and education.
It doesn't always come naturally. Breastfeeding is natural, but that does not mean it will come to you naturally. It is a learning experience, both for the baby and the new mother. You need to learn how to latch the baby on correctly. The baby needs to learn how to nurse properly. Although, there is more of a learning curve for the mother than the baby. Babies do instinctively know what they need to do, but some babies will need help opening their mouth wide enough to get a proper latch.
Your baby may nurse around the clock. This is not another point to dissuade mothers from breastfeeding, but I do think it is important that new mothers know what may happen. Some babies fall into a routine, and will nurse every two hours. Some babies seem to have no routine, and will need to nurse every hour. Breast milk is easily digestible, so it does not sit in the baby's stomach as long as formula. Babies find comfort from nursing, so it is much more than just a source of nourishment. If a baby needs to nurse every hour during those first early weeks at home, it does not mean that you have a low supply. Your baby truly needs to eat that much, and your little one may also need comfort. It is a strange new world for the baby; full of people, bright lights, and plenty of noise. Your baby finds comfort and solace in you. Your little one thinks that you are the most amazing person in the world, and you breastfeeding him or her gives your little one an ultimate feeling of comfort. It may seem tiring or downright exhausting, but your little one does need you. It does get easier as your baby starts to take in more milk and begins exploring the outside world, but for now, you are the one person that can provide all the nourishment and comfort the baby needs.
You may leak, a lot. During those first few early weeks, your breasts may leak. They may slightly leak, or there may be times that you lift your shirt to nurse your baby or change your clothes and milk actually sprays across the room. There may also be times you leak unexpectedly, such as when you hear your baby cry. During that time, nursing pads are very helpful and it can also help to
have a clean storage container or washcloth nearby before nursing your
baby. With one of my children, I did experience a forceful let down. So, I would usually catch the milk in a washcloth before latching my little one on, so my baby wasn't overwhelmed with too much milk at once. When I had my first child, I was pretty shocked and surprised with the amount of leaking I experienced, but I did learn that it is normal and usually stops once your supply has regulated, which is usually around 12 weeks. Some women do continue to leak, but it usually lessens after this time.
Breastfeeding creates a special bond. So, this one may be something that a lot of breastfeeding women may tell you. Some women find that the early days are overwhelming and incredibly tiring, but then one moment may happen when you look down at your baby and he or she will happily smile after feeding or snuggle up next to you while nursing and you will feel a special bond. I am not saying that formula feeding moms can't bond with their babies, because of course they can, but there is something special during those moments when you realize that you are providing your baby with all the comfort and nourishment he or she needs, and that baby is completely content because of you.
For more information about Vasospasms visit this link. Kelly Bonyata, Nipple Blanching and Vasospasm, 2011, Retrieved from: http://www.kellymom.com/bf/concerns/mom/nipple-blanching.html