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Breastfeeding is a special and amazing experience. I actually love it. . . Now. But no one really tells you EVERYTHING you need to know about breastfeeding. There is always something someone leaves out that would have been super helpful if you had known before hand.
So here is my attempt at providing you with a comprehensive resource of the things no one tells you about breastfeeding that you really ought to know.
Breastfeeding for one year is approximately 1,800 hours. A full-time job with 3 weeks vacation is 1,960 hours.Motherly.com
Yup, that’s how much work breastfeeding is! This quote really brings to light how much time you will be spending with that baby attached to your boob.
If you have any concerns be sure to seek out medical attention either from your doctor or a lactation consultant.
Breastfeeding Immediately After Birth
They say breastfeeding is so natural, that the baby just knows what to do and so will you. So many lies. Maybe these lies are true for some, but from personal experience, so many new breastfeeding mom’s opinions, and lots of research, I’ve learned that breastfeeding is very much a learned skill, both for you and the baby.
Ever the lactation nurse at the hospital agrees with me.
Natural. . . Bah!
Think about it. The baby has never breastfed before. You have never breastfed a baby before. Why would you know how to do it right away?
It’s natural for humans to walk too, but little humans have to LEARN to do that as well, right?
Don’t feel bad if it doesn’t feel natural at first. Once you and your baby get used to it, it will feel like second nature.
It hurts. Plain and simple. A lot.
Even if you latched correctly, that baby has some serious suction power.
Your nipples need to go through a sort of transformation if you will. So you really want to do this breastfeeding thing? You need to hold on for dear life for the next 2 weeks, because you are in for some boobie hell!
But don’t worry too much, it’s kinda like your nipples go numb afterwards. All of a sudden, one day, it just stops hurting so much.
Granted, it takes a lot of blistering, peeling, swelling, and some bleeding before it gets to that point. But you will get through it. I did, twice.
And yes, it happens AGAIN for the next baby too. My boys are just under 2 years apart. My breasts only had a 6 month break in between and it STILL happened again!
Oh the horror! I almost gave up with the second one, then I remembered ‘2 weeks, Jen’ and pushed through the pain.
Lots of tears. If you ask my husband, he’ll say I looked a little like a crazy person, balling my eyes out and grimacing in pain while trying to feed my newborn baby.
Just remember. . . 2 weeks. YOU CAN DO IT!
In layman’s terms, it is when your milk ‘comes in.’
Contrary to what I previously believed (pre-babies), I thought the breast was sort of like a spill proof baby bottle where the milk would be stored in the breast and would come out with some sucking action. Not so.
I know, how is she a nurse? Don’t judge me. No one told me, you don’t learn it in nursing school, and I didn’t think to google breast milk production pathophysiology at the time.
With the stimulation of the baby sucking, hormones get released that tell your smooth muscle cells in your body to basically contract, causing your breasts (on the inside) to sort of squeeze the milk out of the tiny ducts in your nipples.
You know, that scene in the movie, ‘Bad Neighbors’ where the milk is spraying like a mini fire hose out of her boobies (great movie for new parents by the way, super funny). Like that.
I have an entire post on What No One Tells You About Your Let Down Reflex that goes into super detail with useful tips and tricks you can check out here. But here is a shorter rundown:
Side Effects of Letdown
Remember I mentioned smooth muscle cell contraction to squeeze the milk out of the boobies? Stay with me here. The hormones that cause this contraction do not target only the breast tissue.
It works on ALL sorts of different areas of your entire body.
Obviously, you milk comes in, right? But that doesn’t seem so bad, Jen.
Oh, But it is. . . especially if you are not used to it yet.
Your breasts are basically filling with milk and contracting as hard as they can. Contract, remember contractions when you were in labor? Okay, not that bad, but in a way similar.
The contracting makes your breasts hard, tight, and hot. I was so surprised when it first happened, that I thought something was wrong with me.
First it was a hot flash, just in my chest area, then the pressure of them filling, and immediately after the tightness of the contraction with the milk coming out. When it first happens, it is SUPER intense!
As time goes on, you won’t feel so sensitive to it. Some people even tell me that they don’t feel anything at all after a while. Not in my case, I can still feel the tightening, but with zero pain.
So your body is basically a genius in it’s own right.
It has found a way to help shrink that enlarged, wobbly uterus back to it’s original size and shape, and get all that extra bleeding and gunk out.
Weird, right! I know, but it’s true. Those hormones that get released with the breast milk let down work on your uterus as well!
Great, right? Sort-of. The problem is that when this let down occurs, you feel two very unexpected things. Pain and a bleeding. At first it is quite a bit of pain and bleeding.
I thought that I was in labor again! That’s how painful it was in the beginning. Tears were welling up in my eyes because I was hurting so badly.
The last thing you want to be reminded of right after you are done giving birth are labor pains. But that is exactly what happens when you are breastfeeding for goodness sake!
Not only that, a gush of blood comes out while your uterus is contracting. To the point where you feel like you had an ‘accident’ all of a sudden.
Some postpartum nurses will inform you that these uterine symptoms will occur when you start breastfeeding, but they tend to just skim over it real quick. Not all that helpful.
Now you know why those huge diaper-like pads are used right after you give birth.
Your Digestive Tract
The hormones also work on your gut and can make some people nauseated.
I am super sensitive, so of course I get a wave of nausea every time my milk lets down. Hey, at least I knew within 5-10 seconds when my milk will be coming in for baby.
Nausea. . . Gag. . . 5-10 seconds later- letdown.
My babies appreciate me letting them know because my letdown is pretty forceful and it gave them time to get ready for it or let go if they were full.
They say that the nausea is supposed to go away after the first couple of months. Mine did get better over time, but never went away completely.
Let down makes you poop. I was yanking my boob out of my baby’s mouth and RUNNING to the bathroom to go #2 when my letdown would happen.
To circumvent potential issues (pooping my pants), if I felt the slightest possibility of a bowel movement coming in the near future, I would just feed the baby on the toilet.
Gross, but there were too many super close calls, okay. . .
Oxytocin is the cause of most of the symptoms you experience with breastfeeding and letdown. It has a real effect on your brain.
One, it makes you fall in love with your baby over and over again. Oxytocin is known as the love hormone.
Two, when you aren’t used to it yet, it can make you SUPER sleepy pretty much instantly.
To give you an idea, I was feeding my baby in the NICU sitting up on a recliner chair with my newborn in my lap feeding him when my milk let down. About 5 seconds after ALL the above symptoms occurred, I almost dropped him because I practically knocked out.
Luckily my husband was close by and the nurse was right there to brace him before he rolled off my lap.
Breastfeeding the Newborn
In this stage, your breast milk is no so much milk as it is a serum like substance. This substance is called colostrum.
Colostrum is a thick, yellowish (but can be practically an color), sticky substance made of nutrients and antibodies and lasts only a few days after giving birth.
Your baby is still not used to digesting. The only thing they have been drinking in the womb is the amniotic fluid. Colostrum is the perfect food for them. It’s thick texture helps to coat babies vulnerable stomach, keeping germs at bay.
Giving your baby this precious ‘milk’
The reason why breastfeeding for the first time is so difficult is that you and your newborn are learning how to do it together. Like the blind leading the blind.
Your second time around may be a bit easier, but still, your baby doesn’t know how to do it.
Between tongue tie, inverted nipples, clogged milk ducts, a bad latch, and much more, there are so many issues that can occur while trying to breastfeed.
If you decided you want to breastfeed, don’t let these obstacles get in your way. Practically every other breastfeeding mama has been through at least half of these issues.
Breastfeeding the Infant
Breast milk is MIRACULOUS! No, it really is! Did you know it changes as your baby grows older and adjusts to their needs? CRAZY!
As your baby grows, your breast milk changes consistency. In the beginning, your milk has a higher percentage of water to keep them hydrated. Eventually it becomes more dense and fattier as they get older and need more calories.
As an infant, it feels like babies have growth spurts ALL. . . THE. . . TIME. . .
Growth spurts mean MORE feedings. A lot more feedings. Sometimes it feels like they are on the boob constantly. Nothing seems to satisfy them unless they are on the boob.
This too shall pass, Mommy. Growth spurts usually don’t last longer than a couple days. Then all of a sudden, they go back to their regular feeding schedule.
What helps me through it is to keep reminding myself that “Oh, this must be another growth spurt.” Knowing that it is not going to last forever and that your baby needs the extra nutrition really helps give you a more positive mindset during this challenging phase.
They can still bite with no teeth
No one tells you that these toothless, seemingly angelic infant babies have the hardest gums of all time. They may as well have teeth.
When they ‘bite down’ (and they will because they don’t know what they are doing at first), their gums do just about everything but break skin.
They will clamp down, or worse, clamp down and scrape while you are trying to take your nipple out. When you are finished, stick your little finger in the corner of their mouths to break the seal. Then make sure to pry your finger in between their gums so that they can’t bite down on your nipple on the way out.
Be careful, their gummy bite can hurt your finger too!
Breastfeeding the Toddler
At this stage, don’t worry if you think that your milk supply is going down, especially if your baby is still steadily gaining weight.
Your milk changes consistency and gets denser as your baby gets older. They need more calories, so your milk provides more by making a more concentrated version.
Toddlers are beginning to have better control over their bodies at this point, making them believe they are some sort of acrobat. They come up with very creative ways to breastfeed.
Mine likes to breastfeed standing up on my lap, hunched over, and sort-of burrow his way in with his feet, like a linebacker trying block. Needless to say, super unpleasant at times.
Another strange thing he does is that he lays on top of me (his back on my belly/chest), turns his head, pulls my breast towards him, and somehow drinks like that. Lying on his back, on top of me. Seems physically impossible, but he manages to do it somehow.
Sideways, backwards, upside down, however they can get to it, they will do it. Only now, you will be ready for all the shenanigans.
Side Effects of Breastfeeding
There are good side effects and bad side effects of breast feeding. I like to start with the bad so I can end on a good note.
The not so good side effects of breastfeeding
This is DEFINITELY something no one tells you about breastfeeding. I think people must forget, or they don’t want to freak you out by telling you, just in case you are one of the lucky ones it doesn’t happen to.
A milk blister is the beginning stage of mastitis. One of the ducts gets clogged from a thin piece of skin covering the opening on your nipple.
At first you may only notice one nipple is starting to get a little sore or hurt more than the other one. It could look a little red. After a while it will get tender to touch only one small spot on your nipple.
Then, all of a sudden one section (kind of like a quadrant) of your boob behind your sore part of your nipple will feel extra full, extra warm (sometimes hot), with lots of pressure behind it. It may even turn slightly red in just that section and you could start feeling feverish.
The milk is backing up in that section! It can’t come out of your duct. That overgrowth of skin is blocking it. You will definitely experience pain at this point.
There are MANY so called remedies for this but the ONLY thing that has ever helped me is to basically peel off that overgrowth of skin on your nipple.
Sometimes I have even had to use a sterilized needle to peel the skin off, but most of the time I can use my nails to pinch and peel it off in the shower or seriously take an exfoliater to it. Once you open that piece of skin up, the milk will just start shooting out of that duct!
But you aren’t done yet, you still have to massage down and squeeze your boob (in a hot shower is best but not necessary) until no more milk comes out of that duct.
It hurts, a lot. But it is worth it. You will feel INSTANTLY better. It you let this get any worse you WILL get mastitis. And you don’t want mastitis.
You are so very welcome. . .
Working in the emergency room as a nurse for 13 years, you come across a lot. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen breastfeeding mom’s come in for mastitis.
It is an inflammation and/or an infection of the breast. This condition is SUPER painful and needs to be treated with antibiotics. Every once in a while, a patient would have to get admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics.
Mastitis can be very dangerous. The infection can sometimes spread to your entire body if left untreated causing something called sepsis (a potentially life threatening infection).
Do not ignore the symptoms: breast pain, swelling, redness in a wedge shaped pattern, and/or fever. Go see your doctor right away.
This is a medical emergency. Go to the
Exactly what it sounds like. Shooting pains usually from your armpit to your nipple. Surprising, and painful to boot.
Some people experience this because of something called nipple blanching and vasospasm.
I would get it when milk was starting to get backed up from a milk blister.
Other times I would feel it after a feeding, like a spasming of my duct emptying.
Every once in a while it would happen when my breast seemed like it was making milk.
Needless to say, it can happen often. Just take a deep breath and it will pass after a few seconds.
The good side effects of breastfeeding
I know I like to always inform you about the not so good side of things, but I love sharing the wonderful side of things too!
People also don’t emphasize enough the good parts of breastfeeding. I hear “It’s so wonderful” or “I just love the bond I feel when I breastfeed” a lot. But I am the type of person that likes to really understand what they mean by these generic phrases.
Like I said, everyone tells you about this bond, so should I include it in this post? YES! Absolutely, YES!
Even though everyone tells you about this part of breastfeeding, it is still important to drive the point home.
There really is nothing like the bond you can experience with your breastfed baby. You almost have no choice but to bond with your baby.
Everything is working to help foster that bond. All the happy and love hormones are flowing freely, your baby is so soft and cuddly, nothing smells as good as a new yummy little baby, and they want/need so badly what only you can provide for them.
Talk about co-dependent relationship! No, but really, at times it feels like you are the only one this little human wants and needs. And technically you are. Nothing else in the world feels like this.
It is something that I would do all over again even after knowing all the not so good/painful parts of breastfeeding.
Pumping is hard. It just does not feel ‘natural’. If I could do without pumping, I would be a happy camper.
That being said, it really does help for when you go back to work, for when you are engorged, for building up a freezer supply. It’s not all bad. Some of it is really good. It’s just not that much fun.
Pumped Breast Milk
Here is a chart showing how long pumped breast milk will keep:
“Freshly expressed or pumped milk can be stored: At room temperature (77°F or colder) for up to 4 hours. In the refrigerator for up to 4 days. In the freezer for about 6 months is best; up to 12 months is acceptable.”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
But after 6 weeks in the freezer, pumped breast milk develops an iron like smell and taste. Yuck! And my babies let me know it was yuck. They just wouldn’t take it.
I couldn’t bring myself to taste it, but I smelled it. And with my super sense of smell, I noticed it smelled A LOT like iron!
There are things you can do to help combat this, but it is not worth my time, or energy to be doing all that.
I just started pumping less so that my baby wouldn’t have to drink ‘older’ milk from the freezer. Of course, I didn’t have as much of a buffer in my freezer, but it’s much better than wasted breast milk.
To Pump or Not to Pump
Building up a supply of milk is a lot of extra work. And a ton of pumping. Usually you only need to build up a weeks worth of milk, even if you go back to work.
Not a Fan of Pumping? Me Either.
For my second baby I did not pump for practically the entire first year (maybe once or twice a month just for when I had to go somewhere).
And guess what? It was SO much EASIER! I was able to stay home with my kids for his entire first year of life, so I was always available. And I knew better than to try and build up my frozen milk supply again. That was a nightmare the first time around.
Breastfeeding without pumping feels like it’s a more natural way to breastfeed.
I am definitely not a fan of anything cumbersome (hence my difficult transition into motherhood). And pumping is EXACTLY that, cumbersome. The parts are a pain to clean EVERY SINGLE TIME.
You always have to wait for the parts to dry too, you can’t just put it away after you are done cleaning them. It is just way to hard to dry in between all the crevices. If you are the type that likes things put away, this part will irk you a bit.
You can always get 2 sets of pump parts, but since my pump was free from insurance, I did not want to pay for anything ‘pumping’ because in my mind, it should be free. I would just make due.
But pumping is often necessary
All in all, sometimes, you really do need a pump.
If you go back to work, you will definitely need it. If you happen to have a good sleeper (lucky you), you may have to wake up and pump to help relieve the pressure or to keep up your supply.
When I am super full and my baby is not around, I am super thankful for my Medela Pump!
Weaning from Breastfeeding
I will say this again and again. EVERY BABY IS DIFFERENT!
I know you can force a baby to get used to a certain way of life or a schedule (they are quite resilient and can be very adaptable). But some babies just aren’t ready when you feel ready.
My first one was able to wean gradually over 2 months:
- 1st month: “Baby, boobies are just for nap-time and bed-time.”
- 2nd month: “Baby, boobies are just for bedtime.”
- At the end of month 2: “Baby, boobies are just for little babies that don’t eat food yet.”
Of course there was some push back, but it only lasted a couple of days each month, and it wasn’t terrible at all. No mastitis, no fighting, no problem.
He was 18 months when we finished weaning.
Now my second one is currently 18 months and shows NO SIGN of stopping anytime soon. We tried the above technique at least 3 times with no success.
I will update you with the technique that works for this one. I have a sneaky suspicion that it may just have to be the cold turkey method. We’ll see. . .
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can I still Breastfeed when I am sick?
PLEASE, breastfeed while you are sick! Your body is making extra antibodies while you are sick. If you continue to breastfeed while you are sick, you are passing along these antibodies to your baby to help protect them against this specific sickness.
Just try not to sneeze in their face when you are feeding them.
How do I clean and maintain the tubing for my pump?
Moisture can build up in the tubing that connects to your machine. Moisture means the possibility of developing mold. You can easily prevent this by leaving the machine on for a couple minutes after you are done pumping in the ‘let down’ setting.
You can usually press a ‘let down’ button for this setting. It is the setting that is trying to mimic baby’s quick sucking patterns to initiate let down. Basically the one that makes the machine sound like it’s going faster rather than slow and steady.
I just take the flanges off my breasts, disconnect the tube from the bottles, and push the let down button and let the machine run while I put the milk away. This keeps the tubes dry and prevents any mold from building up.
If you have to clean the tubing, take the tubing out, wash in warm soapy water, rinse with cool water, and hang dry.
But they don’t tell you that hang dry doesn’t work! The best way is to take the tubing in your hand, hold it over your head, and swing it around as fast as you can like a cowboy. Careful not to hit anyone, or yourself.
If it is still not completely dry, attach it to the machine and use the let down setting until it is bone dry.
If the tubing develops mold, toss the tubing and get replacement tubing.
I’m pumping pink milk. Is it okay to feed my baby?
This milk is affectionately called ‘strawberry milk’ and yes, it is okay to give to your baby.
Your milk is pink because you are bleeding into your milk. Gross, I know. But if you weren’t pumping, and just breastfeeding, you most likely wouldn’t even notice that it is happening.
Don’t worry. It is perfectly fine to give this milk to your baby. There are many reasons why this is happening but usually it resolves on its own. Still, inform your doctor on your next visit so they are aware and can assess your breast properly.
Is it Okay to Supplement?
OMG, YES! It’s okay! The WORST thing is a hungry baby. There are so many factors that influence breast milk production. Many that are NOT YOUR FAULT.
‘Breast is Best’ but thank goodness that there is something relatively comparable to breast milk now. Formula has come a long way.
I really don’t even know what they would do back in the day when there was no formula. . . I think it was wet nursing and diluted cows milk with sugar.
Do not let anyone make you feel bad about having to supplement. They are NOT in your exact situation. They are not experiencing what you are experiencing. And they do NOT know better.
YOU are your baby’s Mommy. You will come to realize that there is a very powerful motherly instinct that adapts to your specific situation and for your specific baby needs. So as long as you are in your right mind (link to my post on PPD), only you will know what is BEST for your baby.
Breast Milk is Amazing!
Breast Milk is a Custom germ fighting Elixir
Did you know that there are studies that basically say that when your baby feeds at your breast, their saliva triggers in your body what they need from you? Whether it is more anti-bodies, or more fat, or more water, your body custom designs breast milk specific to your baby’s needs. CRAZY!
There are photos circulating the internet of breast milk literally fighting off colonized bacteria in petri dishes!
Breast milk changes during growth spurts
Babies grow, obviously. And there are times when they have spurts of growth, usually lasting a couple of days. During these times, the frequent feedings trigger breast milk to change in quantity and consistency to help baby get the nutrition they need during this time.
Final Note on Breastfeeding
This post reveals the cold hard truth about breastfeeding, but it is not meant to dissuade you from doing it. This post is meant to help you cope with all the symptoms and side effect by helping you be more informed, and in that way, more prepared.
If I had know all this information beforehand, I still would have breastfed anyway. For the benefit of my baby (of course), and just to see if I could do it. I’m a little stubborn that way. But none of this information would have stopped me from trying.
I truly feel like it would have helped me enjoy my breastfeeding journey. I know that for my second time around, I had a ten-fold easier time than with my first one, just because I knew exactly what to expect.
My hope is that I have provided that ‘know what to expect’ knowledge to you here so that you are able to grow from just SURVIVING breastfeeding to THRIVING as a proud and happy breastfeeding Mommy.
Ask me anything at all if you have any questions, or tell me about your breastfeeding journey and what you’ve learned. I’m here to help and would love to here all about it. Email me or leave me a comment below!
All the love!