Before I had my first child, I was blissfully naive about, well, a lot of things. Many moms-to-be have an overly romanticized version of motherhood BEFORE having their first child. No one thinks it will be easy, but new parenthood is way more intense than anyone expects. The realities of breastfeeding was one I was not prepared for. It’s entirely possible the struggles were mentioned to (pregnant) me but passed by my ears without being absorbed. There’s a lot of information thrown at you when preparing for a baby. Plus, I read a book. I took a class. I was prepared. Which obviously meant I would effortlessly transition into my role as a magical goddess of nourishment, right? I innocently believed that breastfeeding was natural so I would just do it.
Here are seven realities of breastfeeding I wish we would talk about more. It would make it easier on a new mama.
1. Breastfeeding is work.
In retrospect, this seems so obvious. It takes [time + patience] x (infinity). Sometimes you’ll feel like you literally sit for hours just trying to keep this tiny human satisfied. It’s not uncommon to feel like a zombie…a cow zombie.
I hear there are ways to wear the baby while nursing them. Whose magic do I have to steal to get that superpower?
2. Breastfeeding isn’t natural.
Okay, that came out wrong.
What I mean is the mechanics of breastfeeding aren’t instinctual. It takes practice and experimentation. Holding a newborn that needs neck support while (wo)manhandling an atypically large, leaking breast isn’t as straightforward as the book led me to believe (go figure).
3. If it hurts, you need to troubleshoot.
Another one of the realities of breastfeeding I found is when you are new to nursing, the sensation of your child suckling can feel weird or mildly uncomfortable. But if it starts to hurt, that’s where you need help (cue a good lactation consultant, which many facilities have on-site). No mom deserves chapped or bleeding nipples and if there are any issues, it’s best to troubleshoot early.
4. There’s a milk-drenched learning curve.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a baby pull away once my let down starts, spraying milk all over myself, the baby, and any nearby furniture. Also, there is so much leaking with breastfeeding…just in general.
5. You will be ravenous.
When you are lactating, your body needs extra calories to compensate. I was unprepared for my desire to consume ALL THE THINGS! Seriously, my postpartum levels of hanger were no joke. I wanted all the noms, tasty or otherwise. The realities of breastfeeding dictate you may eat an entire salmon while out for sushi.
6. Put your own health before your expectations.
So many mamas (myself included) suffer from guilt about breastfeeding. When I went back to work, I tried to keep up by pumping and I was constantly stressed out. My husband convinced me it would be a good idea to start supplementing with formula. I struggled with this decision, but once we started, it was a total game changer.
Why was it so hard for me to make a decision about supplementing? Formula isn’t bad, it’s actually pretty great. Many of my fellow mom friends have also voiced feeling conflicted about their decisions around feeding. Let me be as clear as I can: your well-being is important and valid in this decision. Try to be kind to yourself.
7. Pumping, while necessary, is a drag.
It’s not the worst, but it is extra work. The amount of time it takes to put parts together, take them apart, and sterilize them (this in addition to the actual pumping) is another one of the realities of breastfeeding I wasn’t prepared for. I know it’s necessary for a variety of reasons so to all you pumping mamas out there, I salute you!
Fed is best and the way you feed your baby does not have to be an all or nothing situation. You need to do what works for you, your family, and your personal situation. There are enough things in the world of motherhood that trigger guilt. Feeding your baby shouldn’t be one of them. As long as you are providing the nutrients needed for them to grow and develop, you are doing the right thing.