Inside: Here are 20 helpful things to know about breastfeeding for new moms. Learn the challenges and upsides to breastfeeding, plus important tips you need to be successful!
After I had my first baby and stepped into the shower about 1 week postpartum, I had no idea the pain that was in store.
The jets of water on my sore, cracked nipples felt almost as painful as the contractions I was having every time I breastfed my baby!
I had no idea how challenging nursing a baby could be.
As a first time mom or a mom who’s trying breastfeeding for the first time, you might not know what to expect.
I’ve listed all the surprising things to know about breastfeeding and how to deal with them below.
(I’ve breastfed three babies and I didn’t know some of the things listed below, so it’s worth a read for even the most experienced mom!)
RELATED: First Time Mom? Here’s Everything You Need to Know!
Surprising Things to Know About Breastfeeding
Here are some of the unexpected and sometimes unpleasant aspects of breastfeeding you need to know and advice for how to manage.
1. It might not be for you, and that’s OK
Breastfeeding is not for everyone.
Some mothers are unable to nurse their babies for mental or physical reasons. If breastfeeding is too stressful or uncomfortable for you, it’s important to give yourself permission to stop.
New mothers typically need at least a few weeks to figure everything out because breastfeeding is a huge adjustment with a pretty big learning curve.
And, if the initial discomfort of breastfeeding doesn’t wear off it may begin to affect your mental health.
If you’ve given it some time and nursing is still putting your anxiety over the edge, it may be time to try something different.
It’s so much better for your baby to have a healthy mother than to be exclusively breastfed!
Some mothers are not physically able to produce enough milk for baby or may have other physical limitations that make nursing impractical or even impossible.
This can be really hard to accept, especially if it’s an experience you were looking forward to. But remember that “fed is best” regardless of the method! There are lots of moms out there with these same struggles and support communities you can join, too!
There are other special ways you can learn to bond with your baby and he or she will love you just the same!
2. You may experience painful contractions
If you thought you were done with contractions after delivery, you might be wrong! In the early stages of nursing, you may continue to experience contractions when you breastfeed.
Breastfeeding releases the hormone, oxytocin, which helps you bond with baby and might improve your mood, but it also cues your body to contract your uterus.
While these afterpains don’t feel welcome, they are necessary to shrink your uterus to its normal size.
Thankfully, as with most painful breastfeeding symptoms, they don’t last forever! Just be sure to stay on top of your pain meds to help ease any discomfort.
3. It may take a few days for your milk to come in
Once you’ve delivered your baby, you might expect to breastfeed right away. But, there are usually 2-3 days before your body will start to produce milk.
Some mothers may even have to wait closer to a week.
In the meantime, you can start pumping to get your body used to it. And you may be able to pump some colostrum (the first stage of breastmilk) which is really beneficial for baby!
4. You’ll probably be sore
Breast soreness is not a fun part of nursing, but it doesn’t last forever. It’s surprising how quickly you “toughen up”!
In those first few days and weeks of nursing, you’ll want to keep plenty of nipple cream and cold/warm compresses on hand.
You’ll also want to make sure your baby has a proper latch to avoid lipstick nipple. If not, you may get open sores on top of the general soreness. Make sure to use your hospital’s lactation specialist for tips and advice on a good latch for baby.
I was shocked to realize just how much of the breast baby should be latched onto for optimal nursing!
If you’re still sore after a week of exclusively breastfeeding, talk to your baby’s pediatrician at their 2-week appointment to make sure baby doesn’t have a tongue-tie or misplaced jaw.
Both of those things can make it difficult for baby to latch and can cause problems if not treated properly.
5. You may experience engorgement
Engorgement is another uncomfortable, but temporary breastfeeding experience.
Your body produces breastmilk based on supply and demand. In those first days (or weeks) of nursing, you will need to give your body time to regulate based on your baby’s hunger cues.
It can be very tempting to want to pump or hand express the extra milk in your breasts to relieve some of the pressure, but that can actually make the engorgement last longer.
You can use a warm/cold compress to relieve the pain. It’s incredibly uncomfortable but it doesn’t last forever!
6. You might get clogged ducts
Clogged ducts are no fun and can lead to infection if not treated quickly. Clogged ducts happen when your milk backs up, often from overproduction or under-nursing.
If you get clogged ducts, your best tool is your baby. Let them nurse for as long as they’ll stay latched, and usually, you’ll get that needed relief. You can massage the spot that’s sore and tough while they nurse to help unclog the duct.
You can also try a hot shower, or doctor-approved anti-inflammation medicine.
To prevent clogged ducts, be sure to nurse regularly and first thing in the morning.
7. You’ll leak everywhere
Ah, leaking . . . another rite of passage! It’s normal for your breasts to leak throughout the day in the early stages of nursing and even throughout.
You might leak on one side while baby nurses on the other, when baby sleeps longer than usual, or if you miss a feeding.
Be sure to have plenty of nursing pads on hand and consider using a hands-free collection pump like the Haaka on the side you’re not nursing on to catch any letdown.
Also, be careful when you’re removing those nursing pads because they can stick to your nipples and hurt if you pull them off with force!
8. You might lactate when baby cries
Yes, your crying baby can actually trigger your body to “drop” your milk. You can feel your milk drop when your body has produced milk that is ready for your baby.
This usually happens on a regular schedule based on your baby’s feeding cues. It may be painful, but some mothers describe it as a pleasant feeling like a rush of dopamine!
You can also lactate while having sex. Fair warning!
9. You might change shape and size
You probably noticed your breast size increase during pregnancy. After pregnancy is a different story.
Breastfeeding can change the shape and size of your breasts . . . for good!
After making room for all that milk, you may not be as “perky” or full as before.
For lots of moms, this isn’t a big deal. But, if it’s a concern for you, make sure to get a good bra for support. This will help with sagging and soreness in your back. You should also avoid nursing while laying down!
10. Breastmilk changes during a feed
The first milk baby gets when they start sucking is usually more watery. Once you have your letdown, the ‘hind milk’ is richer and higher in fat.
Your baby can control the type of milk they’re getting by how they are sucking and how long they eat.
11. Some babies won’t drink thawed breast milk because of excess lipase
Lipases are enzymes found in all milks. They help break down the fat to provide nutrients.
However, when lipase activity is extra high in pumped milk the process can cause a fishy or soapy taste that babies don’t like.
You can fix this by scalding your breastmilk BEFORE you freeze it.
If you plan on pumping and storing milk, first test to see if your baby is sensitive to the lipase by freezing a sample for 7 days, then try to bottle feed.
If they won’t take it, scald before freezing!
12. You can still have your period and get pregnant while breastfeeding
This is different for every mom, but it is still possible to have your period, ovulate, and get pregnant while breastfeeding.
Nursing a baby is not a reliable source of birth control, so make sure you’re taking proper precautions if you’re not ready to have another baby yet.
13. Inverted nipples should not discourage you from breastfeeding
Some women have inverted nipples, but it’s still possible to nurse despite this issue.
Breastfeeding may even help correct the issue depending on the severity.
Be sure to speak with your doctor and a lactation consultant for extra advice and tips on how to have success breastfeeding if you have inverted nipples.
14. The output you get from pumping is not a direct indication of how much you are actually producing
Some women do not respond well to a pump, so you shouldn’t feel discouraged if you’re not seeing a lot of milk after a session.
The best indicator that you are making enough milk and your baby is getting enough to eat is how many wet/dirty diapers they have in a 24 hour period and if they are gaining weight.
15. Your breastmilk changes at night
Your evening milk contains melatonin which is helpful for getting baby to sleep at night.
If you’re pumping, you’ll want to be sure to label your evening milk so you don’t give it to baby during the day or they may be extra sleepy!
16. You may experience Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex
Some women experience feelings of numbness, depression, and emptiness before every letdown. This is called D-MER.
These feelings should only last for a few minutes, but can be especially discouraging for new moms.
If you think you’re experiencing D-MER, be sure to contact your doctor for advice and treatment.
17. You’ll need to lookout for mastitis
Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast and happens when a clogged milk duct doesn’t clear on it’s own.
It’s very painful and can lead to an infection if not treated properly.
If your breast is red, hot, and swollen and you have flu-like symptoms, is best to call your doctor to get help.
While mastitis can be painful for mom, it’s not harmful for baby. They can still continue to drink your breastmilk while you wait for the infection to pass.
The Brightside of Breastfeeding
Some of these things to know about breastfeeding might seem like a bummer, BUT there are so many great things about breastfeeding, too!
1. It’s a great way to bond with baby
As mentioned above, you produce oxytocin, or “love hormone”, as you breastfeed (or with skin-to-skin) and this helps baby attach to you and you to her.
Feeding time can be a special break in your regular routine to just sit and be with baby.
You’ll share eye contact, smiles and quiet time.
2. For some women, breastfeeding and skin to skin is good for PPD
If you’re worried about or have experienced Post Partum Depression, breastfeeding is one way to help with those symptoms.
Those feel-good hormones can help shake the baby blues, but you should always seek the help of your doctor, too if you’re feeling down, depressed, or angry.
3. Your breastmilk provides antibodies for baby
Breastmilk is filled with all sorts of goodies from mom.
Your body has worked hard to produce antibodies over the years each time you’ve had a cold or virus and those get passed on to your baby through breastfeeding.
Nursing will help protect your baby from illness as he or she starts to build their own immune system.
4. It can help you lose the baby weight
Yay, for help with weight loss!
Breastfeeding moms tend to lose more weight than those who don’t.
When you breastfeed, your body pulls from your fat stores to produce nutrients for your baby as well as calories from the food you eat.
If you still have weight to lose or you want to lose weight faster while breastfeeding, I’ve got some great tips for how to lose weight while breastfeeding without jeopardizing your milk supply.
Don’t get discouraged if you’re not losing any weight while you’re nursing. Some women drop 10+ pounds once they stop. Every woman is different!
What are things you shouldn’t do while breastfeeding?
You may think you’re in the clear once you’ve given birth, but there are still some precautions you need to take when you’re breastfeeding.
You should keep the healthy habits your doctor gave you when you were pregnant and avoid harmful substances like tobacco and excess alcohol. You should also stay away from any medication (even over-the-counter) that isn’t approved by your doctor.
One big one is aspirin. You’ll want to continue using Tylenol (Acetaminophen) until you are done breastfeeding.
Here are some other foods you should avoid or limit:
- Foods high in mercury like fish
- Foods your baby is sensitive to or allergic to that cause your baby to be extra fussy, develop a rash, diarrhea or lose sleep
Contrary to popular belief you can still have drinks like coffee, soda, and even alcohol in moderation when you’re breastfeeding.
You’ll want to be sure to follow the recommendations in this article if you are consuming those beverages on a regular basis.
What foods help produce breastmilk?
On the other hand, here are the foods you should be eating to help produce breastmilk:
- Oatmeal or oat milk contains iron which nursing mothers need
- Fennel seeds a licorice flavored seed that contains estrogen-like compounds
- Lean meat or poultry
You can try these lactation cookies if you’re looking for a yummy snack that can help with milk production.
As with everything baby, breastfeeding will take some getting used to. Be patient with yourself, your body and your baby. The bad things won’t last forever and the good memories are so worth it!
With these tips, I hope you’ll be able to soak in all those baby cuddles, be prepared for the unexpected and enjoy the bright side of nursing, too!
RELATED: Try These Clever Newborn Baby Hacks if You’re a Mom to Be!
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Which of these things to know about breastfeeding surprised you the most? Are there any breastfeeding tips you think I should add?
Let me know in the comments!