What I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Breastfeeding…

Yep, I’m the one who suggested we write about breastfeeding for a few days. I know Beracah, Kelsey and myself have all had very different breastfeeding journeys, and I thought it would be interesting to share from our various perspectives. (Sorry to the men that I know have been reading… Dad, I excuse you this week.)

I am currently breastfeeding a four-month-old, and we are going through a bit of a rough patch. The other day as I was wrestling with her, trying to convince her that eating is a good idea, I told myself over and over that difficulty nursing at this age is normal. My baby is learning about the world around her. She wants to see what her siblings are doing, investigate the fascinating picture on the wall, talk to me, watch the ceiling fan, etc. etc. etc.

I suddenly found myself making a list in my head of all the things I wish I had known before I ever started breastfeeding. This is my third baby, and I’ve learned a ton since that first time my son latched in the hospital. I was completely unprepared and – worse – didn’t know I was unprepared.

The reality is, breastfeeding is natural, and that makes people assume it should be easy… but wow, it is not. It’s hard work for a lot of women. But, as they say, knowledge is power… and while this list is far from comprehensive, it is four simple things I wish I had known and that could have saved us from a lot of struggles over the past three and a half years.

1. A little pain is normal, but it should not be excruciating or last more than a couple weeks.
When my son ate, it hurt. And that pain lasted through our entire breastfeeding relationship (three months). I still don’t know what to contribute it to, but I know now that it was abnormal. The first lactation consultant I saw said that everything was normal and his latch was “beautiful”, and I wish now that I would have gotten a second opinion.

My second child was fine. My third child (the four month old that I am currently breastfeeding)… feeding her was excruciating. I cried almost every time I had to feed her. I had nightmares about feeding her as I was sleeping, and I would wake up in a cold sweat with dread weighing down my body so heavily that I could hardly pick her up to feed her. Ultimately, she had a tongue tie, but it took a while to get that all sorted out… which brings me to number two.

2. There is nothing more powerful than a mom’s instincts.
Seriously; if you feel like something is wrong, then it probably is. If you have multiple people – even if they are in the medical field – tell you it’s all fine, but your gut disagrees, follow your gut. A lactation consultant (a different one than I saw with my first child) suggested that I take my baby to a pediatric dentist to be evaluated for a tongue tie. I did, as quickly as possible, and he told me that she was fine. But I walked out of his office, went home, and could barely feed her that night. I knew he was wrong.

I am a researcher, and I proceeded to spend countless hours researching as I sat up in the night feeding her. Within 48 hours I presented it all to my husband: I was pretty sure she had a posterior tongue tie (a tie behind the mucous layer of the tongue that is hard to diagnose), there was a pediatric dentist a couple hours away from us that specialized in ties, and I could get an appointment with him in three days where he could correct it with a laser and I could nurse immediately. My wonderful husband said “GO!” without hesitation, and we went.

When, on day 16 of her life, the doctor looked in my daughter’s mouth and said “good instincts, Mom, she definitely has a posterior tie,” I wanted to curl up on the floor and cry in relief. I am a pretty determined person, but I feel confident in saying that we were mere days from ending our breastfeeding relationship. I could not carry on as we had been doing; your mind should not race with panic every time your baby shows hunger cues and you shouldn’t end a nursing session feeling like you’d just fought a dragon and won.

They revised her tie, brought her to me where she latched on and I, once again, cried. It was like nursing a different baby. Feeding her has been pain free since then (well, since all the damage she had done to certain parts of my body healed). Let me just say, getting a baby’s tongue/lip/cheek ties revised is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make if you are a breastfeeding mom.

But if we hadn’t been able to figure it out, and I’d had to swap to formula? It would have been okay. Because of number three.

3. It really really really is okay to not breastfeed.
Thanks to the “Mom Wars” and social media and everything else out there, some of us feel guilty when we have to use formula, which stinks. My milk supply dried up by the time my son was three months old. He basically plummeted from 50% to 3% on the growth chart, and we had no choice but to go to formula. At the time, I was devastated, but I didn’t realize how much stress it was causing me until it was over. Sometimes, formula just is the best option. For my mental health, my baby’s physical health, and my poor husband’s sanity, it was right for us in that case. As a result, I went into feeding my second baby more open-minded to the idea of formula. I wanted to breastfeed her (and I was able to), but we agreed in advance that if she started to show the same signs of failure to thrive that he was, we would go to formula and not look back.

4. Breastfeeding is not a “one size fits all” situation.
Some women create insane amounts of milk immediately (I have a friend who is basically a Jersey cow, and I am highly envious of her milk-making abilities). Some of us struggle to have enough to even keep our child fed, much less have extra to pump so we can go on a date with our husband occasionally. When you go to the internet with the question “how do I make more milk for my baby?”, though, you will get about a million answers… and some will work for you, but some will not.

My second baby did not cause pain when she ate, but the entire year I breastfed her was a fierce battle to keep my supply adequate. Fenugreek helps a lot of women increase their supply, but it did NOTHING for me. I heard stories of Plexus doing wonders for some, but when I tried it, it didn’t make much of a difference. I’m fairly sure I’ve tried it all… power pumping, fennel, oatmeal, brewer’s yeast, eating more calories, eating all the good fats, drinking a gallon a day, drinking a gallon a day plus Gatorade, Mother’s Milk tea, skin-to-skin, etc etc etc. I finally found what worked for me (which is an herb called Moringa that I can take any time my supply begins to dip and does wonders), but it doesn’t work for everyone. Do your research and find what works for you and your baby; nothing is a wonder pill. Some of us just eat lactation cookies because they taste good, not because they actually help. 😉 (*I should note that some of these things – like eating plenty of calories and drinking a lot of water – are really important to breastfeeding success. I was already a pretty healthy eater and drank a TON already, so adjusting that didn’t help me much. If that’s something that could use improvement in your life and you’re struggling, though, that’s a good place to start.)

Some good resources to help with breastfeeding:
La Leche League
Kelly Mom
…literally any mom in your community who breastfeeds. Whether they’ve been there and done it or are in the throes of it now alongside you, people that are actually “real” people in your life (not internet strangers) are invaluable. I could not have done any of it without my tribe.

Happy feeding!

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