4 years ago

3 Things No One Told Me About Breastfeeding.

Bf post title page

I have done it!

After a first-timer breastfeeding fail with our firstborn, involving the typical “formula supplementation” and subsequent “Nursing Strike,” I was frustrated and saddened by my own lack of breastfeeding knowledge.  After a week of tearful battling with my tiny 3 month old, who would arch his back and scream every time I offered the breast, I gave up: rejected, empty, and angry.   I dedicated my future self to learning and striving with military-like zeal to breastfeed our future babies successfully.

I went on to breastfeed Emmett for 10 months. The soul reason I weaned him was because I was asked to be a bridesmaid in a wedding. I had tried to graciously decline, explaining to my friend I could not give her the attention a bride deserves, due to financial struggles, but mostly, fretting over how I was supposed to spend an entire day away from my Emmett who I had fought so hard to exclusively breastfeed.  But my dear friend, through no fault of her own (for how could she have known?), insisted that I be her bridesmaid. She is a dear friend, and I couldn’t flat out tell her no.  It was her wedding day, and she wanted me to be a part of it!  Just one day!  I felt selfish to say, “No, I don’t want to leave my baby.”  So the month before the wedding, thinking I had no other choice, I weaned Emmett. I weaned him so that I could be away from him for one day.

I have been breastfeeding our third baby for his first year of life (and counting!) outside of the womb, but it has been far from easy.

I asked myself recently, “What do you wish you’d have been taught about breastfeeding?”

Three things:

1. You’ll be required to practice more patience than you’ve ever exerted in your entire life.

“Oh, he hasn’t eaten in 4 hours…what’s wrong?”
“He’s eating EVERY HALF HOUR, what’s wrong?! How am I supposed to get anything done?”

Breastfeeding requires a change in how we view this fast-paced life.  You’ve got to make yourself slow down.  Trying to adhere to a pre-planned “schedule” limits your intuitive, listening mom-heart, and it demands the regulation of a newborn’s stomach: newborn human being, who knows nothing of clocks and schedules and plans.  Anyone who tells you that an infant is manipulating you needs to be manipulated in the rear end, with boot.

So we slow down. We listen and watch for the cues of our baby.

Did you know that babies have “nursing personalities”?  

Emmett BF Post
I think the rolls speak for themselves.
  • Collin, “The Rester” (Breastfed 13 months, and still truckin’ on!)

    rester bf post
    Snooze fest mcgee.

Now that I think about it, these nursing personalities are even reflected in the little people they are today! Each of these personalities presents a different challenge. It’s important to recognize them so that Momma can anticipate how nursing sessions are likely to continue.

Collin, the rester, would fall asleep while he was eating.  I would think “okay he’s done” but as I tried to gently unlatch so I could get up for a shower, he’d rouse and attack the breast in a manner of saying “HEY WAIT, I WASN’T DONE YET!”
And so, I remained unbathed. For a very, very long time.

2.  Although “Breast is Best” and the most natural thing for a baby, breastfeeding doesn’t come easy.

Please, say it out loud: Breastfeeding is difficult. 

I’m not declaring this in a pompous way to congratulate the hard work I’ve put into breastfeeding. No.  While I am brimming with joy at the accomplishment, it took one enlightened day of me staring at a bleak wall, nappy hair, and sunken eyes while my baby sleep-nursed, that I suddenly mumbled, “THIS. IS. SO. HARD.”
It’s the first step in realizing an absolute truth about Breastfeeding that no one tells you. It’s hard. 
There, it’s done. Let’s move on. Let’s help each other through this.

Why so difficult? The reasons are vast.  Each mother is different: from her medical needs to her emotional needs, to her personality!  And just as important is the very unique personality of her baby.  Mix those things together, and there’s got to be a learning curve. For some moms, a few adjustments in the environment or how she positions baby, and it’s a snap. For others, it takes longer. Some Moms have a paid job they have to return to. Some moms had a traumatic birth and are trying recuperate on top of fussing with a correct latch.

There is a reason the La Leche League exists. There is a reason that annoying (and to a first time mom, intrusive) Lactation Consultant bounces into your hospital room after giving birth. For a first time breastfeeder, a momma needs guidance!

But we feel silly for not knowing. We feel insufficient. We feel like if we have to admit “Am I doing this wrong? Why does it hurt? Is this normal? This is really difficult.” then we must not be cut out for breastfeeding.

This is a misguided belief.  There used to be a time in the world where mothers raised their daughters to learn about child rearing. Where women were passed on this motherly knowledge of birthing, of breastfeeding, of parenting. But our culture has changed and so has it’s opinions and importance on all of these things.  Breastfeeding works.  It has always worked. The human race, in it’s present-day-advanced-medicine form, would not exist, if women did not, from the very beginning of time, breastfeed their babies.  As women, we are literally built for this task.  From environmental pressures, cultural pressures, family pressures, financial pressures, and simply getting the mechanics down pat, it is hard.  But in spite of all of these pressures, it is rewarding to persist.

It does get easier. The older baby gets, the shorter the feedings and more efficient he becomes at suckin down the leche. You gain confidence as a nursing mother and feel like there might really be life on Mars (anywhere outside of your home), and you might actually be able to take one small step for man –your man, he needs toilet paper– to the grocery store, and the thought of feeding your baby in the car before or after picking up some TP ain’t no thang.

3.  “Are You Making Enough Milk for Your Baby?” is the most scare-tactical, subversive to new moms headline ever.

First of all, unless you are taking a medication that affects your milk production, or have a medical issue, trust your body.

pumped milk BF post

Measure the weight of your baby, not the ounces coming out of your breast. Pumping is not as efficient at extracting breast milk as your baby is.  Your baby tells the tale. If he’s gaining weight and is healthy, you needn’t worry about supply issues. Even so, perhaps the cause to baby’s slow weight gain or loss is a different problem you’re not seeing.

If I’d not known about breastfeeding personalities, nor changed my mentality about breasfeeding, I can easily imagine that with Collin, my Rester, I would have been too impatient to allow him to snooze as he nursed.  I might have unlatched him in the middle of his feedings and let him cry. His weight would suffer, not because I wasn’t making enough milk for him, but because I wasn’t allowing him to eat until satisfied!

collin2 BF post
Wearing Mr. Eat-Snooze-Eat has saved my sanity. In a baby carrier, I am able to nurse him, hands free.

Worrying about supply issues seems to be a misunderstood topic amongst first-time breastfeeding mommas. I worried, too.  How could I not, when we have an obese culture hounding us, questioning whether or not exclusively breastfeeding your baby is “enough”? (“pssst! fill his bottle with empty rice cereal calories to make him sleep through the night!”) It wasn’t until Collin that I learned to, um… go with the flow?

 Breast milk supply fluctuates over the course of a year.

When I found myself worrying over my milk supply, it was always during a fluctuation period:

  • Baby goes through growth spurts- wants to nurse a lot, causing a milk production increase.
  • Wants to sleep a lot and nurse not so much, and milk production slows after possible engorgement.
  • Baby starts teething and nursing is his comfort for pain, production increases again.
  • Mommy starts her menstrual cycle. When Mommy ovulates, her milk supply drops slightly, and nursing is a bit uncomfortable.
  • Baby starts walking and starts to get so caught up in playing that he drops one of his usual feedings
  • Baby gets sick and nurses less or more frequently

Truck on through it. The human body is amazing: a mother’s body will always provide what baby needs.

I’m not a doctor, of course.  If you have breastfeeding concerns, contact your baby’s pediatrician, and then I encourage lactating moms with questions to call LLLI.  This group has helped me when facing Lexington’s “Breastfeeding Strike”.  I’ve even called my local consultant simply asking what I might expect after nursing for a whole year.  The La Leche League consultants are an enormous network of women across America and throughout the world, who make themselves available, in your local area, to be called or emailed with questions and concerns at nearly any time of the day.  Visit the site, and you should be able to find a few numbers near you.

my people bf post
Breastfed and bottle fed, they all like their fruit.

I know dedicated mommy friends who work full-time and still manage to breastfeed their babies.  I have one courageous mommy friend who actually did have problems with milk supply, who received donor breast milk and while breastfeeding, fed her baby donor milk through a tiny tube placed at her breast.

Do not be pressured by doctors, by family members, by friends, by strangers giving you a disgusted look while breastfeeding in public, to go against your breastfeeding wishes as a mother.  This is not selfish. This is the most important nourishment you can give your baby.

I warmly encourage any mom, new or experienced, who has struggled with breastfeeding, not to feel guilty over her choices or circumstances, but to learn from them, better herself if she can, and help to inform others.

Share your stories with me!
Which breastfeeding challenges have you overcome?
What are/were your babies’ breastfeeding personalities?
Who are the people that encouraged/helped you?

Major influences for me: 
My husband, Craig.
My little sister, Kate.
My best friend, Heather, and her sister-in-law, Kristen.
My encouraging mother,
My prayer warrior Cathso sisters,
Dr. Sears.


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  1. At six months I now consider breastfeeding a breeze. Wellllllll, besides the teeth coming in…. Ouch! We’re working on that. Anyhow, I still love reading everything I can on personal experiences with breastfeeding. As the oldest of five I watched all my siblings breastfeed until at least age one. So I never questioned whether or not I’d breastfeed. With the birth of my first child I was told every three hours 15 minutes on each side. And like the good little type A mommy/woman I WAS, I obeyed. Until my daughter and breastfeeding taught me the true meaning of patience and selflessness. I’m so thankful for the role breastfeeding has had in my life. I honestly thought I’d quit after my daughter introduced me to around the clock cluster feeding for weeks. I hated breastfeeding. I cried while feeding her from sleep deprivation, pain, insecurities of feeding in public, cluster feeds, etc. I would tell myself one more week and eventually, by six weeks, I didn’t have to just get through the week anymore. I still won’t say I love breastfeeding, but I do love what breastfeeding my little, comfort nurser has taught me.

  2. Great post! My first fed like a champ, and I made it through mastitis and thrush, thankfully. My second also nursed well, with no problems. My third has been a struggle. He had tongue and lip ties, and was born with gallstones. It’s gotten easier, but still harder than the other two.

    And while talking to your doc about concerns is fine, it’s good to remember that few doctors are knowledgeable about breastfeeding. The first ENT said to just give a bottle, as he wasn’t going to clip the ties and the problem was my low supply (which was caused by the ties). The second ENT clipped them and my supply went back up. The ped told me I need to cut back his feeds so he’ll gain more, even though breastmilk is calorie rich and easier for him to digest. A nurse told me night nursing would decay his teeth, which isn’t true. A GP told me I should arbitrarily wean at a certain age. The Kellymom website has really helped a lot.

    1. Thank you so much for visiting– your story is exactly what new moms need to hear.
      This misguiding from doctors is frustrating to me and has given me a trust issue with them! Why don’t they know!?
      I think the problem is that -again- as a culture we rely to heavily on the “professional” and ignore our own instincts because a) we are told to do what the doctor says, no questions, and b) asking questions means thinking a little harder and maybe working harder.
      Neither of those are easy.

  3. This is a great post! You are absolutely right that it’s hard; I always say breastfeeding is a commitment. I have not offered formula substitutions thus far for my boys, and I work full time. I was inspired by my mom to make breastfeeding a priority. With my first born, my husband was concerned that he was so small and thought I must not be producing enough. I was concerned, but I persisted and later we realized that he’s just small. He is 3 years old now, and of course eating regular food, and he’s still small. We have a great pediatrician fortunately that could see that he was proportional and healthy, and he never expressed concerns about my son’s size. My second son also is low on the percentiles, but he’s still a chunker (just not tall), but this time we knew not to worry. Anyway, good for you in persisting through your breastfeeding hurdles. What a great gift you have given your son.

  4. I breastfed four–the youngest now almost two. #1: barracuda. #2: Down syndrome. Whole different world. With low muscle tone I was told she probably wouldn’t nurse, and almost certainly not exclusively. Let me say this clearly: They. Were. Wrong. It was a huge sacrifice for me, because nursing Julianna meant latching and relatching continuously. But she nursed all the way to 16 months. (Can I shamelessly self-promote? Because I went into that in great detail here: http://bit.ly/16VrvzB).

    By the time I got to #4 I felt like a complete loser for having to go to the lactation consultant, but he’d been in the NICU for 10 days and didn’t nurse at all until he was about 8 days old, and it was awful. I was crying and thinking things like “how much milk do I have pumped in the freezer, and how many months will it last?” I felt so stupid, but I needed help, even after nursing three–and one of them with Downs.

  5. Deborah Frederick October 16, 2013, 8:46 pm

    Carolyn’s mom here – I had little advice to give to Carolyn and Kate, I breast fed Carolyn for 6ish months until I became pregnant with Kate. Kate only got 3 months of me. Philip, poor boy, got formula. My girls have made the journey through breast feeding on their own and I’m more than proud!!
    This is a wonderful and heartfelt articl, my Carolyn.
    I have had so many moments in my life that are like – “if I die today, I am happy”. These moments are a gift from God but have come through my two daughters. Two heroic women, two Mom’s. I marvel at their brave opposition to “popular views” that society communicates through every form of media. They are my most wonderful daughters my girlies, my hearts, flesh of my flesh. Job well done my Carolyn and my Kate – I Lu, my heart is bursting”

  6. With child number uno I found it easy and very natural. He was definitely a goulper. But because I was young and allowed others to change my mind to easy… After 4 months and never leaving the house I quit. I allowed what others thought of public breast feeding embarrass me so much I wouldn’t breast feed him any other place but home. With baby number 2, I was pro breast feeding and I didn’t care what anyone else thought. After many sleepless nights and the child who snacked every 15-30 min it finally smoothed out and she successfully Breast fed for 15 months. Baby number 3 my eat fast let’s play child was so easy it almost made me wonder why anyone could not do it. I never had pain all of them knew just how to latch on from birth. I pumped and breast fed him for 10 months when I realized that without any warning signs of fertility returning I was pregnant with baby number four. He was breast fed for 2 months before I returned to work and realized that my over demanding residents and other three children wouldn’t give me the time I needed to either pump or breast feed. So after using all the frozen Breast milk baby number four was a formula baby. What no one ever told me about breast feeding?? That there is more to it then just feeding baby. Its more a planning and adjusting your daily schedule until baby is old enough to go more then 2- 3 hours without eating. Like opening Christmas presents with family, trying to take pics of the others excitement with baby screaming at the too of her lungs cause she just can’t wait one more min

    1. I also went through a spout of mastitis with baby number 3…. On antibiotic and pumping for days until it cleared. I was deffentily not a large breasted girl prior to breast feeding but I had more milk then I knew what to do with when lauren was born, so after stacking the babysitters freezer full I donated a TON to b north

    2. Hi Tonya! You are amazing! You’re right, you definitely sacrifice things and moments you’d otherwise never realize are near luxuries… haha like taking pictures of your family members! But even a bottle fed baby wants his little bottle NOW. Balance finally comes back, it always seems overbearingly hectic in the middle of it, though. Thank you for giving us your voice :)

  7. First, I want to ask you ladies who read my comment: Where do you get your nursing clothes?

    This is such a wonderful article! Thank you so much – it’s so important that women know this. These points are so helpful!

    If you don’t mind, I would like to share a few things to help encourage other women who may be dealing with seemingly insurmountable problems: I’m 7 weeks into baby number 2 and the real question is, “What nursing problems *haven’t* I overcome?!” With my first (“The Vacuum”), I nursed for 19 months until I was pregnant and too tired to desire to continue. With him, he was born with a clenched jaw and wouldn’t open his mouth to nurse, so it was excruciating and caused all kinds of cracks and blisters. He lost weight because I didn’t like the feeling of excruciating pain, so I didn’t nurse him all the time. I had to pump for a couple weeks and bottle feed him to keep track of ounces and make sure he gained weight. Because of his clenched jaw, I nursed for about 4-5 months with a nipple shield before he would finally nurse normally. After that, it was smooth sailing until mastitis, thrush, lots of clogged ducts, and a new 36 E chest size – woof! Once my son started eating apples (well after he had his first teeth), he bit down on my breast like an apple and those little razors caused me to let out a loud scream! Not only did I have two nipples that were nearly bitten off, he was so traumatized by the scream, that for about two weeks, he would start to nurse and remember he hurt me, then pull away crying. I thought he would never nurse again and I went back to pumping! I had to trick him into nursing while he was half-asleep. I never actually nursed in public, for a lot of reasons, mostly because I didn’t (don’t) own any nursing clothing, so I never feel that comfortable (Not to mention that large-breasted ladies tend to smother their babies while nursing and nursing covers make it hard to keep track of a baby’s nose.) So, I pumped daily to keep a bottle always ready in the fridge or had to hide in my car. On the plus side, I ended up producing so much milk, I was able to be a pumping wet-nurse for a little girl whose mom couldn’t produce milk.

    So far with my 7-week-old (“Miss Particular”), it’s been 2 bouts of mastitis, subsequent thrush, nipple blisters, and 36 F chest size… About a week and a half after delivery, I pumped 5 ounces out of each breast in about 2.5 minutes per breast. You can imagine, after seeing the photo of the size of a one-week-old’s stomach, that every time she nursed for more than 1.5 minutes, she would projectile vomit all the milk. She won’t take a binky, so she’s just a fussy baby who wants to suck for comfort. The amount of milk I produce and her inability to drain my breast has led to clogged ducts and mastitis :( I am back to pumping once a day and I feel much better! This also means I really can’t wear any bras (yet) that offer support, so with no support and a (now) 36 F chest, my wardrobe is completely useless – I can’t help but be frumpy looking….

    HOWEVER, I am so thankful to have had people tell me that nursing was going to be hard and encouraged me to work through the first three months of nursing. It got SO much easier and I began to love nursing. It is so gratifying to see a tiny little head, grow so much bigger and know that your body has provided that nourishment. I am so thankful nursed my son so long and am determined to nurse my daughter over a year, as well!

    Thank you to Carolyn for being one of those “people” to help encourage other tired, hurting, frustrated women to “truck on”! (And thank you for letting me post such a long comment).

    1. I love your contribution! It’s important for ladies to see the vast diversity of breastfeeding mommas and their challenges.
      I’ve gone through clogged milks ducts and they are excruciating. Never mastitis, though, but I hear it’s THE WORST.

      Teresa, thank you for such an awesome comment!

    2. My mother says “nursing clothes” = loose shirts that can be pulled up. My sister gave me a few things that were nursing clothes, but after the fourth I gave up and said my mom was right. :)

      Plugged ducts are MISERY. Lecithin. Soy lecithin. World changer.

      1. :) Thanks, Kathleen! Your mom’s suggestion is what I’ve always worn for nursing clothing, but I don’t feel very comfortable nursing in public with my side exposed (no nursing cover every really seems to cover that). Since writing this, I actually got a nursing bra that is a tank top, and not only has it stopped my clogged ducts (Hallelujah!!!), but it keeps my sides covered and makes me more comfortable to nursing in pubic ;) Thanks be to God!!!

  8. Boy can I relate to this post. I wish I would have read up more before my son was born on breastfeeding. I thought “gee it’s so natural, it can’t be THAT hard”. I was blasted with reality by the second week haha. We had to do some supplementing, hours of pumping and a month’s worth of plugged ducts every single day.

    We got through it and I was able to wean him off supplement and get back to just breastfeeding. But it was a lot of work and a lot of tears. Thank goodness for LLL. I still go to those meetings even though my son is a year old. Gotta love the advice and companionship of those ladies :-)

    1. Wow- you went from breast, to bottle, back to breast! That is such a hard thing to do. Yeah… I should have mentioned plugged milk ducts!! No one told me to expect that and I definitely did!

      1. I was still breastfeeding during the supplementing. I actually gave him a bottle once, he had major nipple confusion so we stopped the bottle I gave him the 3oz/feeding via eye dropper every 2 hours. BUT, all that extra work meant we were able to get back to just breastfeeding once his weight was up. So it was very worth it :-)


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