Please note that while we strive to be as inclusive as possible, throughout this article you’ll hear the term breastfeeding, chest feeding, milk feeding, human milk or nursing. Breastfeeding is the term we use to describe our personal experiences and for those that express milk by pumping, we also hope you feel validated in this article.
“The problem with breastfeeding is not a problem of trying to motivate mothers so that they want to breastfeed. The problem with breastfeeding is how to prevent mothers from being disappointed in a situation when they desired to breastfeed but were faced with difficulties and obstacles or were told that in their situation they “cannot” breastfeed even though they wanted to.”
On the surface it seems like nursing should be simple. You make milk, your baby drinks that milk. End of story, right?
Well, Jess has a 3″ textbook that’s dedicated to breastfeeding! It covers a lot. Sometimes breastfeeding is simple, but sometimes it gets complicated! The best way to prepare yourself is to learn about some of the more common situations and challenges.
Hearing the Breastfeeding Stories
When I (Jess) was pregnant I read every birth story I could. Since each one is unique, and the process of labouring is not always textbook, I wanted to prepare myself by hearing as many stories as possible! Some birth stories were beautiful and awe-inspiring, while others were tinged with sadness as things didn’t go as the mother had hoped. But each story was valuable. It was helpful to hear the good, the hurt, and everything in between.
It should be the same way for breastfeeding! We need to share our stories… to learn from one another. We need to hear the good, the challenges, and everything in between!
So, while researching this article, we put out a call to mothers who had intended on milk feeding, even if it hadn’t become a reality for them. We asked them for their stories and what specific things they wished they had known about nursing before they birthed their babies. We’ve included these stories in each section, so you can hear what they want you to know, to have the best chance for success!
1) Like all relationships, each nursing relationship is unique.
Breastfeeding isn’t just a way of feeding a baby. It’s a type of relationship! The breastfeeding relationship you form with each child will be different and completely unique!
Think of breastfeeding as a dance: each partner has their role to play. Sometimes you’re in sync and you feel as though you’re gliding. Sometimes you feel like you’re stepping on each others’ feet! But you and your baby will move along together to find your own unique positioning and rhythm.
“I wish I had really understood that it was a skill that both of you had to learn and having support lined up is really helpful.” – Kim
“I wish I knew that just because I breastfed baby #1 for 21 months, didn’t mean that I wouldn’t have issues breastfeeding my second. I had done it before but my baby hadn’t, she still had to learn how to breastfeed and I needed to learn to breastfeed her.” – Lisa
2) Nursing is natural, but it’s also a learned behaviour.
When I first learned about chest/breastfeeding difficulties, I remember being surprised and thinking “isn’t breastfeeding a natural instinct?” In the absence of medical challenges, I didn’t understand why the baby didn’t just feed automatically.
Since then I’ve had a lot more interaction with new moms (in my friend circles, through community members at @happyhealthyeaters and from working in public health). I’ve since realized how normal it is to have breastfeeding challenges!
This is partly because nursing is a learned skill. Yes, a baby is born with several instincts that help them to breastfeed, but it’s still a skill that both mom and baby need to learn.
A good analogy is walking. It’s very natural for humans to walk. We have the anatomy and biomechanics to be able to walk on two feet, but we still have to learn how to do it! It takes practice, and we fall a lot while we learn!
One way that babies learn how to walk is by mimicking those around them. It’s the same with breastfeeding! We need to know about and see other women nursing their babies.
I heard the following story during my lactation consultant course and it stuck with me:
At a zoo there was a lone female chimpanzee. The zoo people decided to have her mated. As a result, she became pregnant and birthed a healthy baby chimp. The zookeepers watched and expected her to nurse her baby. But she never did! Eventually the zookeepers had to take the baby and feed it with a bottle.
A while later they decided to mate the chimpanzee again. But the zookeepers wanted her to nurse her baby, so they tried something new. While the chimpanzee was pregnant they would bring lactating human moms and ask them to breastfeed in front of the chimpanzee. This time, when the baby was born, the chimpanzee knew what to do and put the baby to her breast!
In traditional cultures women are given a “lying in” period of 40 days to spend exclusively with their newborn baby. Someone else looks after any older children, and the mother is relieved of any duties such as cooking or cleaning. Her time is dedicated 100% to the newborn baby!
Historically, people have recognized that milk feeding takes time to establish. It’s good to know this ahead of time and expect there to be a bit of a learning curve!
“I wish someone told me it is a skill that both you and babe learn….there is nothing [“automatic”] about it!” – Jen
“I wish I had known that….. it really is a learning curve, takes a lot of time, especially until their little mouths grow a bit, and that each baby is different!” -Alicia
“I wish I had known that while breastfeeding is natural in itself, the process of it doesn’t always come completely natural to baby, or mom. While establishing myself as a new mom, establishing my relationship with my new baby, I also had to establish our breastfeeding relationship. With some guidance from a lactation consultant, help from my mom, patience and time we were able to establish that relationship and continue on for the first full year of my daughter’s life.” -Laurel
3) It might feel awkward or painful at first.
The first time Nita nursed her baby, it was a little awkward. She had seen photos and videos of it, but when it’s all on you in real time it’s definitely strange.
When she nursed Luksh, she experienced a lot of pain. Luckily, being resourceful was helpful. She eventually worked with a breastfeeding doctor who discovered she likely had Raynaud’s Syndrome, this is when blood flow in the breast is reduced resulting in spasms in the tissue. For her, it was more painful than birth itself!
But even still, for many lactating people who don’t have additional complications like Nita did, nursing can initially be painful. Your nipples are constantly being stimulated which can result in some discomfort.
Just remember, breastfeeding is something totally new that you’ve never done before!
Soooo many of you said that if you could go back and give your pregnant self some advice, it would be something along the lines of “give yourself grace, it’s not easy, it takes practice!”
“It’s okay if it doesn’t come naturally – it take a lot of work” -Anon
It also might be a bit painful! We’ve heard the rhetoric so many times that “if the latch is painful, there’s something wrong,” but this isn’t always the case.
Yes, pain is one of the red flags that baby’s latch could use some adjustment but also, it’s completely normal to experience a certain level of pain as your body is getting used to doing a new thing!
We posted an informal poll on our Instagram stories asking only those of you who didn’t have any issues initiating breastfeeding to answer and only 10% of you said that you didn’t experience any pain.
4) Seek help ASAP! Connect with breastfeeding support while you’re still pregnant.
You will probably do a lot of reading and research into preparing yourself for labour and delivery. Put just as much effort into learning about milk feeding and the supports available to you! We live in a fascinating time where we can seek support online, via telephone and in person!
We don’t want to sound alarmist or put anyone into a panic, but the first 2-3 weeks are very important for building up your milk supply. If things aren’t going smoothly or you have any concerns at all, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
While you’re pregnant, do a bit of research. What kind of help is available to you locally? For example, in our city there are:
- breastfeeding clinics around the city on each day of the work week
- public health nurses and midwives who can make home visits (although not all of them have specialized training in breastfeeding
- La Leche League groups that meet about once a month
- services like a breastfeeding hotline or paid private breastfeeding help
If you live in Manitoba which is where we’re from, here are some resources. This list is not by any means exhaustive:
- Milk Mentors – Here volunteer mentors offer parents support via phone, email or text, or in-person
- Winnipeg Breastfeeding Centre – this is operated by a team of physicians who are also IBCLC’s
- Winnipeg Lactation – an IBCLC
- Cindy Maitland Rogers – an IBCLC
- If you are really struggling, having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, or are in crisis look out for resources here
Make a plan! You probably already know who will be with you for the delivery, but have you decided who you will share your breastfeeding journey with? There will be ups and downs, and it’s good to have a support network to help you!
Include both professional and personal relationships in your support network. Make sure you can call on a good friend or relative who will be willing to listen to your breastfeeding journey.
“Some of the best advice I received (from my midwife) was to spend just as much time reading up on breastfeeding and what to expect as I did reading about birth. I felt well-informed for the journey ahead. I also attended a breastfeeding support group before having my daughter and then became part of that community afterwards.” – Lindsay from Prince George, BC
” I had a midwife for both of my deliveries. One of the biggest benefits are the long prenatal appointments where she prepared me and the postpartum home visits where I could ask (and show!) her anything! I was also one of the last in my social circle to have kids. I am so grateful that my friends talked about all the good and bad that come with labour, delivery, breastfeeding and postpartum bowel movements (yes, even those). So, I felt quite prepared to breastfeed when the time came.” – Lindsay from Saskatchewan
“With my second, I hired a private lactation consultant (who comes to your home!) near the end of my pregnancy so I knew I had someone to call if I had issues again. That made all the difference, and because of it, we were able to establish a good breastfeeding relationship right from the start.” -Kelsey
” I wish I’d known sooner about breastfeeding clinics and as much as I didn’t feel I could leave the house with baby how I shoulda gone earlier. I also wish I’d known that supplementing with a bottle would not mean the end of my breastfeeding – if breastfeeding is an issue and your baby is losing weight it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to breastfeed. We gave a bottle for a 24 hr period (while first trying to feed) and it got her back on track for weight before starting with an SNS (supplementary nursing system) again and I felt sooo awful about it, yet it relieved stress and then later on we still had to pump and supplement for awhile before exclusive breastfeeding and it was all worth it!” -Cheryl from Winnipeg
” I wish I took better advantage of nursing clinics in the city, and felt less pressure to downplay the struggle!” -Kimberly
“I was successful at breastfeeding my sons each for about 9 months. However, what I wish I had known or what I would strongly advise other moms with the intentions of breastfeeding is to get help AS SOON AS YOU CAN if you are having troubles. My youngest son would feed efficiently but when he unlatched he pulled hard on my nipple and within hours I was chapped. The lactation consultant in the hospital was able to see me immediately and gave me some techniques to try which immediately remedied the situation such that I was able to breastfeed him easily and successfully” – Heather from Ontario
“I wish I knew beforehand how and where to find good lactation consultants in my community.” – Leslie
“The one place I ended up getting so much support was from the La Leche League. I had heard, while pregnant, that they were extreme breastfeeding advocates who would push you to nurse, no matter what. After one meeting, I realized that this was the furthest thing from reality.” – Kate from Winnipeg
5) You will probably have enough milk to feed your baby.
The most common reason a mother will stop breastfeeding is the perceived lack of milk. I emphasize ‘perceived’ because most women CAN make enough milk to feed their babies exclusively!
Of course, some adjustments might need to be made, but you should feel empowered! There’s no need to fear that you won’t be able to make enough milk for your baby!
Medical conditions such as PCOS, thyroid dysfunction, Raynaud’s syndrome, or a history of breast surgery could mean that you might have more of a challenge making enough milk. In order to prepare yourself, ask your prenatal provider whether there’s any medical reason why you may not be able to create an adequate supply.
Here are some common reasons why a mom may not be making enough milk:
- Not feeding often or long enough. Before I took my breastfeeding course I had the impression that babies need to feed every 3 hours and that each feed shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. As it turns out, that’s leftover ideology from bottle feeding norms. There isn’t really a “normal” when it comes to breastfeeding! Let’s say you need to drink 8 cups of water a day. You could use a 1 cup glass and refill it 8 times. Or you could use a 1/2 cup glass and refill it 16 times. Or you could use a 2 cup glass and refill it 4 times. In each scenario you’re always getting 8 cups of water a day. It’s the same with breastfeeding! Some women have a larger supply of milk that they can keep in their breasts at one time. Others have a smaller supply and those babies need to drink more frequently in order to get enough milk around the clock. And no, your milk “cup” isn’t correlated with your bra cup size! You can’t assume that a woman with large breasts will then have a large cup of milk inside.
- Not having a good latch. Your baby’s latch is KEY to a lot of things, one of which is making enough milk! When the baby is latched on well and milk is transferring well, then the mother’s body responds by making more milk. Dr. Jack Newman is a pediatrician who has an amazing clinic in Toronto, Ontario, and has helped countless women achieve success when faced with breastfeeding obstacles. His website is a fountain of knowledge for women to know whether their babies are latched on well. His info is so helpful.
- Baby having a tongue/lip tie. This is one significant reason a baby may not have a good latch. It’s worth mentioning because so many women have waited so long before their babies were finally diagnosed (which requires a qualified expert). While a baby is developing in the womb the tongue should separate from the skin of the mouth, but this doesn’t always happen completely. While a baby is breastfeeding it needs to be able to stick its tongue out of its mouth to get a good latch. If the tongue is still “tied back” the latch will be affected.
So as you can see, there are several things that can be done to ensure your baby is getting enough milk from you! This list is not exhaustive. If breastfeeding is important to you, please know that you can get help to figure out if a slight adjustment, such as correcting a latch, could help you make more milk! You don’t need to assume that you simply don’t have enough milk!
And if you’re somebody who just could not make enough milk, we are so so sorry this was the case for you. We are, in no way, wanting to make someone feel bad for their milk feeding experience.
So let’s clear some things up:
- yes, some folks simply don’t make enough milk (a diagnosis called insufficient glandular tissue) but this is more rare than women are led to believe.
- this is not caused by a lack of trying! If effort was the only thing we needed to make enough milk then we don’t think there would be a woman on earth who didn’t have an adequate supply! Part of the problem is that, unfortunately, a lot of women receive bad breastfeeding help.
- for various reasons, women are often taught to hate or mistrust their bodies. This spills over into one’s breastfeeding experience and these internalized messages can lead a woman to feel defeated rather quickly and simply feel as though her body is letting her down once again. I want women to feel empowered about the amazing things their bodies are capable of doing!
“I wish I’d known about lip and tongue ties and how they can impair a baby’s ability to remove milk from the breast, thus affecting milk supply. With my first, I had a “low supply” that was treated with domperidone for 9 months, which seemed to help but I did still have to supplement with formula and pump often. He was (much later) diagnosed with a significant tongue tie but by then, breastfeeding was well established and he was already on solids so I didn’t think it mattered.” – Danielle
“I wish I had known how common breastfeeding problems are. I didn’t for a second think that I would have any issues as most women in my family nursed and got along just fine.” – Bethany from PEI
“I loved breastfeeding but wish I knew that, yes, there can be pain. From painful latching until you and babe figure out what you’re doing to crazy toe curling after birth pains whenever you nurse for the first week. Everyone always says there’s no pain if you’re doing it right, but for me and friends, there is at the beginning. And please seek out support if you’re struggling. And if it’s not working, don’t feel guilted by anyone if you don’t nurse.” – Liesel from Red Deer, Alberta
6) Babies don't always feed on a schedule.
Due to a lingering culture that pushed bottle feeding for decades, we have this idea in society that babies only feed every 3-4 hours. While this may be the case for some breastfeeding babies, their feeding “schedules” can be all over the map… especially at the beginning!
The first few days: There are three stages of lactation. Your body produces a substance called colostrum during pregnancy and the first few days after birth. You only make a small amount of it at a time, but that’s okay! In those early days your baby’s stomach is only the size of a cherry! It doesn’t take much for her to be satisfied.
By the same token, it doesn’t take long for her stomach to empty and need to be refilled again! Frequent feeding in this period encourages the next stage to arrive….
After the first few days: The second stage of lactation arrives, this is called lactogenesis two, and your body starts to produce mature milk. It can happen suddenly and you might be surprised by how heavy, full, and tight your breasts become!
The first four weeks: Due to the hormones involved, your body becomes more responsive to increasing your total milk supply (ie. the total amount of milk your breast can store at one given time). The best way to increase milk supply is frequent feeding!
So yes, be prepared to dedicate those first two or three weeks entirely to nursing. Follow your baby’s cues and feed often. If at all possible, gather a good support crew who will feed you, keep your house clean, and look after any other children/pets so that you can focus on establishing your milk supply.
Later on: Sometimes babies will go through a time of “cluster feeding.” Instead of pacing feeds out every few hours, they’ll choose a few hours of the day (often in the evening) and feed (and feed and feed) the whole time! This is entirely normal and could indicate that (A) baby is going through a growth spurt or (B) is making up for some time you’ve been separated. Separation happens if baby is sleeping for a longer chunk of time (yay!) or if you’ve had to return to work and are pumping during that time. Babies often prefer to feed from the source and will just use you when you’re available 🙂
“I wish I had known that the ‘cluster feeding’ they talk about shortly after birth was more like ’36-48 hrs of nonstop feeding,’ and that once milk comes in it becomes more regular.” – Brooke from Saskatoon
“I wish I’d known my baby would eat constantly at first…that the colostrum isn’t satisfying, and there would be no rest for the weary until that blessed milk would come in! I was so sleep-deprived, that when it finally came in, I called my husband from the hospital!'” – Robyn from Winnipeg
“I wish that I knew that (if feeding on demand) you basically breastfeed non stop for the first 6 weeks – so get a comfy spot on the couch!” – Colleen from Alberta
7) Like labor, milk feeding can be hard but it's also rewarding (and gets easier!).
In traditional cultures, mothers are given the first 40 days after a baby is born to dedicate her time exclusively to her newborn. Nita is familiar with this: after giving birth to her son, she lived temporarily at her maternal home for 5 weeks post partum. This is because establishing a milk supply is hard work! We often don’t “see” this part of nursing. We only see the latter part in public, when it’s already established, and it’s relatively easy.
I’m sure you’re expecting labor and delivery to be hard, since that’s what it’s known for! But we do it because there’s a sweet reward of a newborn baby waiting at the end. Think of nursing in the same way! It may be difficult at first. You may be stuck with your baby at your breast for the first couple of weeks. But, if milk feeding is important to you, please know that it does get easier! It gets easier with time and practice, but it can also be helped by good breastfeeding advice! (see above).
“As a first time mom who was a huge breastfeeding supporter/advocate before doing it myself, I had NO idea how MUCH some babies feed! Or how hard it can be to get the correct latch. My mother had no breastfeeding challenges herself, so I’d never heard how hard it could be. I had not expected how physically/emotionally demanding it would be. Things got easier over time, and I am now breastfeeding an almost-2 year old. It was truly a battle of will (and accessing the right resources), but I’m so glad we made it!” – Megan from Newfoundland
“I wished I had known that with breastfeeding, extreme hunger, extreme thirst and bouts of anxiety with every letdown were going to consume me whole. I wish I had known the difference between plugged ducts and mastitis, or even thrush. I wish I had known how to lessen or cope with the pain. I wish I had known how bad an imperfect latch could damage my nipples, and the crushing fear and anxiety that would come with the 15 feedings per day, gritting my teeth in fear of the pain to come. But, to this day after swallowing only half my pride in seeking help from YouTube videos and learning two great techniques that were not taught in the hospital of nose-to-nipple and the sandwich hold, there was a short period of healing and the most amazing bond I could have ever formed with a single soul on this planet. The beaming little but gorgeous brown eyes looking up at me as to say “I love you Mama, thank you for providing me this comfort and nourishment.” – Candice
“I wish I knew how hard it would be (or could be), so I was better prepared. I also wish I knew that supplementary formula feeding, while breastfeeding is being established, is sometimes needed and can be done in ways that do not jeopardize breastfeeding (e.g. supplemental nutrition system)” – Kim from London, Ontario
“I wish I had known how difficult breastfeeding is both mentally and physically. I also wish I had known just how painful it can be and that it’s worth finding support and help and even though it’s an intimate action between mother and baby, you aren’t alone and don’t need to struggle in isolation.” – Lisa from Manitoba
“I never imagined how difficult breastfeeding could be. It has never been easy for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were and still are many wonderful moments and I’m happy I did/am doing it, but there were many hard bumps along the road. I think I saw every lactation consultant in the city! Lol.” – Jill from New Brunswick
“I wish I had known how long it would take before things became easier. For us, it wasn’t until after 3 months, and that fourth trimester was HARD. Babe was gaining but there was so much difficulty at the breast – lots on and off and crying – maybe a lip tie? Maybe forceful let down? Maybe “colic” or temperament? Never did figure out why, but it settled down, finally, and it got better. But it was not the beautiful bonding experience I had imagined! And I needed so much support, more validation than anything else really, and we probably only continued out of my sheer stubbornness. I’m glad we did, but the experience has made me a whole lot more empathetic to all the mamas out there” – Lise from Terrace, BC
“I wasn’t expecting the challenges in the beginning. Being a dietitian I was extremely determined to breastfeed but I had a lot of nipple pain for the first few weeks where I cringed every time my girls fed. I also didn’t expect feeding on demand to be as often as it was, especially during growth spurts. But, I also know that it gets better fairly quickly and it does get way easier.” – Angela from Nova Scotia
8) Follow your instincts.
Your instincts are there for a reason; so go ahead and trust them! As mentioned before, nursing is like a dance between two people. Trust your instincts to find your rhythm. Yes, it may feel a bit awkward at first, like you have two left feet. Listen to your body and position yourself and your baby in a way that feels comfortable for you! There’s a “new technique” in breastfeeding culture called biological nursing or laidback nursing. Essentially it’s a throwback to times when moms simply found a position that was comfortable for them and their babies. A lot of breastfeeding “help” will have you follow a million steps and positions to get everything “just right” but this can do more harm than good.
When my (Jessica’s) first baby was born and after he had a bit of time skin-to-skin on my chest, the midwife pronounced it was time to feed! She grabbed the baby with one hand and my breast with the other and went to put them together like she was plugging a cord into an outlet! I love my midwife and I know she had the best of intentions but it just felt so wrong! I needed to pause, re-group, and follow my instincts to what I felt would work best for me and my baby. And then… he latched!! And then never wanted to let go…. They let him nurse for an hour but then decided it was probably time to weigh him, wipe him down, etc.
So follow your intuition when figuring out a good position. Follow your intuition if you feel like a healthcare provider’s, family member’s, or friend’s advice isn’t right for your situation. And most importantly, follow your intuition if you think that something isn’t quite right! There is good breastfeeding help out there. Sometimes it takes a bit of searching but it’s there!
“The one thing I wish I had known about breastfeeding the first time was how to relax with babe and know how to position myself to be comfortable for a feed. My first took awhile to get a decent latch and so I was always leaning into her to help…Wrecking my back!” – Melissa from Winkler, Manitoba
” I also wish I had been encouraged to trust my intuition to do what is best for my baby, myself, and my family (and to trust that I am the expert on that). Not every baby or mother or season of life is the same, and there is great freedom in being encouraged to embrace what works best for your own situation.” -Ashleigh
“My daughter completely refused to latch right from birth and despite having all the knowledge, support, and resources you could ask for we still could not make nursing work. It was definitely one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever had. I was lucky to have LCs involved from the start and good advice on pumping right away so I established a good milk supply and at 7 weeks decided to stop trying to get my daughter to latch and stick with exclusively pumping and bottle feeding. I wish I made that decision earlier. Listen to what your baby is telling you and trust your own inner wisdom!! There’s lots of textbook and general advice out there on breastfeeding, especially when trying to work through struggles – but what I needed most was to worry less about all of that and follow what felt right for my baby and me” – Beth
9) Gently say "no".....to too many visitors!
Everyone you know and love will want to meet your new baby. You’ll probably be proud and excited to show the newborn off! As good-intentioned as you and your visitors may be, a flood of visitors may not be in the best interest of establishing your breastfeeding relationship.
We know this isn’t always easy, and will depend on your living situation too. In Nita’s culture, visiting the new mom and baby is seen as being ceremonial. Families want to offer their blessings and prayers–if you have the capacity to set some boundaries, do it or get help with this because postpartum is such a vulnerable time in your life.
Here is an alternative plan to balance your need to establish breastfeeding, your household’s need for the necessities of life, and your desire to have your family and friends share this time with you.
What to do: create a visitation schedule
People will often want to bring food and help out the family of a newborn baby. Instead of being flooded with a bunch of people all at once, create a schedule! Even better, designate someone close to you to create one on your behalf, since babies don’t exactly arrive when predicted and you’ll be busy as soon as the baby is born. Let everyone know ahead of time who to contact to sign up!
In exchange for meeting a cute baby, ask your visitors to do three things:
- Bring a meal: an easy way to organize the schedule is to use the Meal Train website. Your designated person can create a schedule for the first couple of weeks and include any dietary restrictions/meal preferences for your family.
- Complete a cleaning task: I heard about this tip when I worked in public health. No doubt you’ll start to notice things around your house that you wish you could do: maybe it’s the dishes, or cleaning the washroom, sweeping the entrance, doing a load of cloth diaper laundry, etc. Keep a pad of paper nearby and write each of these things down as you notice them. Then when a visitor comes they can just look at the list and choose something to help you out. That way you don’t have to directly ask someone to do something, which undoubtedly can feel awkward for a lot of people!
- Supervise your baby while you rest, take a shower or do something to fill your cup: it’s hard to nap when the baby naps…trust us, we know. But if you have a community of people who are willing to offer some help, let them supervise your baby while you’re nearby so that you can execute a bit of self care for yourself. This could look like a power nap, rest period, stretching, taking a bath or shower.
Just remember, people will WANT to help you, so don’t feel bad about asking for some help with meals/cleaning and the time you need to work on feeding.
“[don’t] let yourself be overwhelmed with visitors (this is where I needed my husband to say no for us). Apart from the first two days of very limited visitors, we kept the rest of the week to ourselves. No visitors. No outings. No extra stress. Really, really wish I would have done that with my first.” – Kelsey
“I wish I had known that, during the newborn phase when you’re working hard to establish breastfeeding, it’s totally ok to choose not to go to this family gathering or that social event, and to arrange time boundaries with visitors. There was this pressure to let everyone see the baby and to be out and about. With my second, we chose to nest the first couple of weeks and limit who could come for how long, and that helped me to be more relaxed in establishing breastfeeding. Choosing to have visitors who were life-giving, and to say no to those who are draining helped me in that newborn nursing time. It helped a lot to give myself permission to embrace the nesting and not rush past that alternate reality of life with a newborn.” – Ashleigh
10) You will drink copious amounts of water.
Since a lot of fluid will go towards making milk, your fluid needs are going to skyrocket! Make sure you have a water bottle you can use with one hand close by at all times!
“Place bottles of water everywhere you might nurse. Everywhere. Don’t be out of reach of water. I couldn’t go a full feeding without drinking.” – Lisa
“[I wish I knew] how STICKY me and baby would be! Maybe it’s just us, but with coming on/off the breast to burp, and leaking breasts, it’s unreal how sticky we get. – Kaila
11) Above all, breastfeeding doesn't trump a mother's mental health.
A Statistics Canada survey shows that 91% of mothers initiate breastfeeding, but only 56% of mothers are exclusively breastfeeding at 4 months, and 34% at 6 months.
Our motivation for writing this series on breastfeeding is to help those 91% of women who would like to milk feed but end up coming against obstacles that they didn’t expect. Knowledge is key!
However, as Nita, wrote in her breastfeeding story, nursing doesn’t trump a mother’s mental health! Sometimes breastfeeding success comes with hard work and a lot of time. Some women are fortunate and have a wonderful support network that allows them the luxury to dedicate their time and effort to establish breastfeeding when obstacles arise. Other women may not. Some women experience postpartum depression and bottle feeding may be in their best interest. Some women simply choose to feed formula. Others return to work very soon after their baby is born. Some have profound trauma around this part of their body. And, this conversation isn’t complete without recognizing the cruel racialized trauma against enslaved black mothers who were used as wet nurses. For many groups of people, the right to feed their baby was taken and reclaiming this may be painful. We’ve learned a lot from the @infodoula about this topic and look forward to learning from Black Breastfeeding Week .
There are a myriad of reasons for choosing the best way to feed your baby. Your value and worth as a mother does not depend on whether you breastfeed!
“Breastfeeding doesn’t define if you’re a good mother or not. How much milk you have isn’t a scale of how great a mom you are either. The love you have and grow in for your child is way more important than how your baby gets fed. As a mom of 5 with varying degrees of breastfeeding and a massive milk supply, I had no reason not to feel like a “good mom” based on that but I still didn’t feel like a great mom.” – Mandy from Manitoba
“It’s always good to keep in mind and be prepared that not every goal we want to do for our newborns will necessarily be a reality and to know its okay if it doesn’t happen and that you’re not alone and not to beat yourself up over it, as there is always other options that are very good for them too! As much as I still wish my son was a breastfed baby he is still the most healthy, smart and energetic little bundle of joy and definitely is my world!” – Lindsay
“I wish I felt less pressure to breastfeed. I couldn’t get my second to take a bottle at all and felt trapped by her (harsh maybe). At 6 mo her growth slowed, I was losing weight (below pre-pregnancy) and she was refusing solids from me. I was super stressed. Ended up going on a mental health vacation (hospital) and she was transitioned cold turkey to formula. She and I are doing well now but I wish I hadn’t been so set on breastfeeding. I breastfed my 1st to 11 mo no issues… every kid is different!” – Jessica
“I wish I had known that not everyone feels that breastfeeding is a positive bonding experience. I breastfed both my boys, but didn’t enjoy it the way I thought I “should”. It created feelings of guilt and resentment. I’m still glad I did it, but I wish that my expectations about the experience had been lower” – Natalie
“I wish my midwife would have told me that formula feeding could have been an option. They didn’t even mention it… like it would be toxic or something.” -Anonymous
12) To end with a little humour... breastfeeding can be chaotic!
“I wish I would have known that breastfeeding can be messy and chaotic. You usually see pics of mom and baby latched and nestled in a chair, all is calm. I have had many moments like that but there are also many moments where my 2 babes wriggled, kicked and at times fought the feeding. Milk would be dripping and spraying everywhere. And with the second child (who is currently 6m) they get distracted by the older child or you are chasing after the older child while trying to feed. Can be chaotic at times!” – Orysha
Well, we hope the advice and stories here have left you feeling more prepared and empowered to take on the role of nursing your baby! If it’s important to you, it’s totally worth it to explore all the help you can get if you’re faced with challenges. The way you feed your baby doesn’t define or limit your ability to bond with your baby, nor does it determine whether you’re a good mom. No matter the outcome, what’s important is a nourished baby who knows their mama loves them.
Both Jess and Nita breastfed their babies and while it wasn’t without challenges, we both count it as one of our top life experiences! To read our stories, check out these articles:
Breastfeeding is F*cking Hard – Nita’s story with her first baby
Breastfeeding is Still Hard – Nita’s story with her second baby
Breastfeeding is Time Consuming – Jessica’s story with her first baby
Breastfeeding is Confusing – Jessica’s story with her second baby