There is so much breastfeeding information out there. There is no way you can read it all before baby comes, and truthfully, after baby comes, everything is so overwhelming that even if you did read it all, you wouldn't remember it. I've learned a lot in the last 7 years and narrowed it down a bit. Here are 15 things I wish I'd known before I started breastfeeding. (and 1 bonus!)
1. Breastfeeding can be hard. It's natural, I know. But it can be HARD! It's a brand new skill for you and for this other being that just joined the world. Don't beat yourself up if it doesn't come naturally the first time you try. Get help.
Remember: Help is available 24 hours a day!
2. Sometimes it hurts. It's not supposed to, but it does. If it hurts, do what you need to do to get through that feeding then get help. Real help that will fix the problem, not put a band-aid on it. It's not supposed to hurt, so if you work to fix the problem, then it will get better.
3. Some babies are really efficient and drink for a very short time, and others like to take longer. If it feels like its to short, or to long, get help. Trust your mama gut. If it feels off, long or short, maybe it is. There is nothing wrong with asking for help to see if its right. Check in with a professional or go to a support group and check in.
4. The second night SUCKS! (sometimes its the third night, sometimes the first, but usually, it's the second night). Babies sort of 'wake up' during the second night of their lives. They basically realize that they are no longer floating in a happy baby bubble surrounded by warm fluid and everything they could ever need right their. They need you to teach them that they still have access to everything they could ever need as long as they ask for it.
The thing is, they tend to figure out how to ask for it pretty quickly and then they test that it works. So yah. The second night SUCKS.
Practice side lying if you can, safely. And sleep during the day.
(this one isn't exclusive of breastfeeding babies either. All babies do this - regardless of how they're fed)
5. At the beginning, babies don't need very much food, so it's okay that you don't make very much. The more they suck, the more you'll make, so don't worry about that either. But remember, at the beginning (like the first couple of days) babies need to be on the breast so that your body learns to make the milk. It's a system that only works if all the pieces are in place. If you don't tell your body to make milk early and often, you might run into problems later. If there is some reason that you can't have your baby at the breast and feeding, make sure you're still telling your body that you need to make milk, either by pumping or hand expressing.
6. It takes a village. Parenting I mean. Not breastfeeding specifically. although the village can help with breastfeeding. You need a village so you can text someone and say 'Does this diaper look normal?' or, so that you have someone who can hold your hand as your baby goes through a ticky sleep period and can tell you there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
(There is always a light, but sometimes it's so far down the tunnel that you need someone to remind you it's there.)
7. Setting a goal at the beginning can be really frustrating for many reasons. Saying you want to breastfeed for a year, or 3 months, or 6 months or longer then having trouble just feels like you're failing. Keep it short and simple. Plan to breastfeed for this feed, then the next one. And never give up during the current feed or in the middle of the night. Before you know it, it will be second nature. (If it feels like it's taking to long to get to that point? Get help!)
8. If you struggle at the beginning, it doesn't mean you'll struggle until the end. Babies changes, and so will you. Being told you have to supplement at the beginning doesn't mean you've failed - AT ALL! Nor does it mean that you'll be supplementing until you decide to stop. All it means is that you'll be supplementing for now.
9. Even if things go well at the beginning, it doesn't mean they will go well until you're done. Babies change and your body will go through changes. It's all interconnected and sometimes things that we do on purpose (or not) can change how the breastfeeding relationship is going. If something feels like it's not going well, get help. It could be a really simple fix, but you won't know until you ask!
(see a common theme here? ;-)
10. Doctors and health professionals mean well. They really do. They're not trying to steer you wrong. Having said that, one of my instructors is fond of saying that the eductation he got surrounding breastfeeding in medical school included two points. Breastfeeding is good because it comes in pretty packages and it's always the right temperature. Just like you would seek a specialist for help with any other problem, seek help from someone who's trained in breastfeeding.
11. There is A LOT of information out there. If you look hard enough you can find information on why you shouldn't eat or drink certain things, on why your baby needs to eat a certain number of times or a certain number of minutes in a day, or pretty much anything else. If someone gives you advice that doesn't sit right, get a second (or third or fourth) opiinion. If someone tells you you need to cut something from your diet or you can't eat something, ask where they got their information. It might be based on their own experience and there may be another (easier!) way to fix the issue you're dealing with.
12. We are learning more about breastfeeding every day. A lot of the information out there is a guess because we don't know or we didn't know something. A lot of what we're told as mothers is just to cover for the fact that we don't (or didn't) know the answer.
13. Every time you feed your baby, the quantity and composition of your breastmilk changes. This feed baby may be hungrier and need more fat, or protein, the next feed baby may need more 'thirst quenching'. It changes, EVERY TIME!
14. Not all help is created equal. International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC's) are the best place to go for help with breastfeeding and even then there is a wide range of advice available. If you can't find a solution - don't give up! Someone else might have another idea that works for you. Ask around. See someone else.
15. Breastfeeding is about so much more then food. It's a way to stay connected to your baby. It's a way for your baby to connect to you. Its comfort, and love and touch and pain relief, and so many things. Enjoy it!
16. (Bonus!) It might change your life. For me it did!