This post is sponsored by Hancock Regional Hospital as part of their empowering women and children site. All thoughts, experiences, and opinions are my own. Be sure to check out their site for additional resources and support. This post contains affiliate links.
If I'm honest, I don't know what I expected when it came to breastfeeding. While pregnant, there were moments I thought for sure I needed to take a breastfeeding class or read all the books. Ultimately, I decided to wing it since I had watched many friends struggle who had done everything imaginable to prepare for their breastfeeding journeys. For me, it seemed like the type of thing I'd do better with by just showing up and learning as I went. Some moms who struggled told me that taking the classes and reading the books were a huge help for them even though they ended up having a bit of a bumpy ride. That's my way of saying: every person is different. Do whatever makes sense for you. Trust your intuition since you are the only one who knows what's best for yourself and baby.
In this post, I compiled a list of of things that I as a breastfeeding mom want you to know, plus some things from other breastfeeding moms. We hope this list allows you to feel less alone in navigating your own breastfeeding journey or maybe understand a loved one who is breastfeeding (or trying to) in their experience.
Not into reading? You can watch the abbreviated version of this post here:
13 Breastfeeding Tips & Things Moms Want You To Know
*These are in no particular order
#1 Breastfeeding Tip: You don't actually have breastmilk in the first couple of days
When your baby is first born, your body produces colostrum. It's a thick almost caramel like substance, rich with antibodies that comes in before your actual milk does. It's exactly what your newborn needs the first couple of days of life. Depending on how much your newborn is cluster feeding in those first few days, your actual milk supply may come in between a day or five days. When your milk supply comes in, it can feel like a bit of a shock…
#2 Breastfeeding Tip: It can hurt
This was the one that I really didn't want to hear/believe. I truly believed that it was just going to be a new sensation; but boy was I wrong. The discomfort for me was real! It does vary from person to person though. Some areas most women report discomfort include:
Milk coming in / the let down: My daughter nursed around the clock in the early days so my milk came in very quick. Like, the next day. I was so confused and freaked out by what was happening. My breasts were engorged, hard, and painful. I couldn't figure out why or how they hurt so much since she never stopped nursing. I thought, “how are they never empty?!” The nurses at the hospital shared that the sensation was actually just my milk coming in and the “let down” sensation. All of this balanced out in the first month, but they were new sensations which probably seemed more painful in my mind because they just came out of nowhere and felt like such a shock.
Nipples: If you read my entire personal breastfeeding journey post, you know that I struggled with several issues that led to excruciating nipple pain for weeks. This isn't everyone's experience, but it was mine. Using the gel pads I got at the hospital, frequent applications of breast milk, and going topless as often as possible helped me through this.
Uterus: Another type of discomfort that a lot of women experience is cramping in their uterus. When you nurse, the body releases the hormone oxytocin. Postpartum its job is to stimulate your uterus to contract back down in size. This is typically just a mild discomfort but can take some women by surprise.
#3 Breastfeeding Tip: You'll be ravenous
Our birth story was quite unique… I was in denial that I was in labor for most of the day, got to the hospital at 3:15 and had my daughter in my arms an hour and a half later. I begged the staff to let us go home from the hospital that day or the next day, but had to stay for a full 48 hours for some medical reasons (read our birth story here). Well, let me tell you, I'm SO happy we had to stay in the hospital for two reasons:
1) because my daughter turned blue that second night in the hospital due to a colostrum build up/thickening in the back of her throat (it cleared on it's own but was a very scary 10 seconds) and
2) I WAS RAVENOUS and the hospital had amazing food. Seriously, each meal being catered was a massive serving and felt like heaven on earth. I housed pancakes and cookies and all the free juice boxes I could get my hands on! Color me happy! One we got home, I had prepped some freezer meals and friends dropped off giant casseroles. Fortunately we were well fed the first month and didn't have to worry about cooking!
#4 Breastfeeding Tip: You'll likely have to pump at some point
GET THE INSURANCE PUMP! I can't stress this enough, you should be able to get a pump for free from your insurance company – get it. Even if you have no plans on using it, get it. I don't think I've met a mom who hasn't pumped at least once. When we started having my husband give a bottle first thing in the morning so I could sleep longer, I needed to pump. At one point, my nipples were so cracked I just needed 24 hrs off, I had to pump. When my daughter refused to nurse at 7 pm everyday for a few weeks randomly, I had to pump.
#5 Breastfeeding Tip: Your baby won't always latch
I've talked around it and loosely mentioned it in the previous descriptions, but wanted to highlight it per several requests from women I polled: your baby won't always latch. My daughter struggled with her first latch on the right side and again later on a couple of different times on when she had some complications. One woman shared her baby didn't latch for the first three weeks but then got it! Another friend's baby started off latching, but then refused to latch all together after a few months. Latching is an ever evolving process. The best you can do is to continually offer the breast and be patient. On the flip side of latch issues: there are breastfeeding mamas out there who would LOVE to give a bottle for one feeding a day, but the baby won't take anything than the breast, no matter how many different bottle nipples they try. Again, just keep offering until you reach whatever goals work for you.
#6 Breastfeeding Tip: You have options
On the note of pumping: some women can't breastfeed but can pump. Exclusively pumping is 100% an option. Supplementing with formula is 100% an option. And obviously giving formula only is an option, but since this post is about breastfeeding, I wanted to highlight the latter options because we often feel shame if we need to give formula. With all of these, you can still bond with your baby. Yes, the benefits of breastfeeding are endless, when your baby's lips touch your breast is actually changes the chemistry of your breastmilk to meet their needs I've heard! It's wild!
However, your sanity and happiness are more important than you realize. Finding an option that works for you is key, because your baby needs you to feel great and at the end of the day, fed is best in whatever way works for everyone's sanity. I always said I didn't want to force breastfeeding if it meant I was becoming resentful because I didn't want my baby to pick up on my energy, and in turn become fussy. My mental health and the example I'm setting for my daughter started in the womb and still matter throughout the breastfeeding journey.
#7 Breastfeeding Tip: Lots of things can affect your supply
Not enough water or food? Too much exercise? Going back on hormonal birth control? All these things and more can negatively impact your milk supply. On the flip side, hot water and massages can increase your milk supply. I'm not a lactation expert, so if you're struggling with this definitely seek help. I put it here because I really had no idea how easily impacted our milk supply can be in those early weeks especially. When I was trying to relieve a blocked duct in the first couple of weeks, I used hot water and massage… only that stimulated my milk production a ton and led me to panic about releasing the blockage (read how I released it here).
#8 Breastfeeding Tip: Nursing isn't free
I remember when I saw my friend tweet this and thought: PREACH GIRL! Seriously, looking back I was so naive to think that breastfeeding would be free! I thought about how much time and money it'd save on formula and bottles or having to run to the store to pick things up. However, I didn't realize how much time and money would go into breastfeeding.
COST: With breastfeeding I'd put the expenses into a couple of camps: wants/nice to haves and medical expenses. So the wants and nice to haves are things like nursing bras (super helpful) or nipple creams (personally felt like this was a waste, and that rubbing breast milk on the nipple helped the most but many women love it).
Now medical expenses are an entirely different beast. These are the unexpected expenses that come up if you develop mastitis or needing to go in to the doctor for a plugged duct. Also lactation consultations can add up. I share about this in my detailed personal breastfeeding post here, but we chose a pediatrician with an in-house lactation consultant and can't recommend doing this enough! We met with our private lactation consultant for the cost of our daughter's copay.
TIME: I shared in great detail my personal breastfeeding journey about the time, but for quick reference: the first few weeks, I spent upwards of 14 hours a day with a baby latched onto me. Yes, you read that right: FOURTEEN HOURS A DAY. I wasn't exhausted from lack of sleep. I was exhausted from my body truly not being mine (pregnancy had NOTHING on this). Several friends of mine have also spent hours nursing or bottling feeding their baby, only to pump for 40 minutes afterwards in order to increase their supply. With that said, I do want to note, that after the fourth trimester ended, I began only spending about an hour to an hour and a half nursing my baby each day, so it does get better.
#9 Breastfeeding Tip: You will go down DEEP Googling rabbit holes and worry about things you didn't know existed
Oh those middle of the night feedings will take you down some interesting Google searches. This is probably where and when I worked myself up the most about the struggles I was experiencing. I had every thought under the sun during this time like…
Can’t I just give them a pacifier or bottle? Especially the bottle, just this one time. My nipples need the break
Will she ever stop eating?!?
I can’t do this. I can't do this. I can't do this. I’ve been here all night! Oh it’s only been an hour…. why does this feel so long?!
…Oh that’s right because here she goes again
I can’t believe I’m feeding her from my body. I can’t believe I have a baby
But seriously will she stop eating
Can I just sleep?
This isn’t that bad. I got this. She’s so cute. Omg look at her
Is she pinching me!? Or am I just bruised?
OW. This really hurts. Do I unlatch her? Okay, this feels better. Wait, nope this hurts.
She's done! Time for some sleep! OMG wait, did I just hear her?! Is she stirring? *looks over and she's sound asleep* …okay right, sleep. Repeat for 1 hour, fall asleep for 30 minutes and she's up ready to do it again!
#10 Breastfeeding Tip: Not all milk is created equal: Foremilk vs. Hindmilk
Breast milk is comprised of foremilk and hindmilk. Foremilk is the lighter more watery milk that comes out at the start of the feeding. Hindmilk is usually towards the back. It's richer, creamier, and gives your milk that golden tinge. It's where the bulk of the nutrients lie. A foremilk / hindmilk imbalance can result in a fussy baby and unusually colored poops. Most women will experience an imbalance in the early days as your milk supply is adjusting to your baby. If your baby continues to have an imbalance, talk to a professional.
#11 Breastfeeding Tip: There can be a lot of shame involved
This comes at you from every angle. There's internal shame if you aren't producing enough milk and you feel like your body has betrayed you or your failing at being a “woman.” There's also shame “because you CAN breastfeed” while others can't as one of my Instagram friends pointed out. Personally, I felt the latter firsthand.
I know so many people who struggled with their supply, that I felt like my personal breastfeeding issues didn't matter as much because at the end of the day, I still could feed my daughter. I felt ashamed to speak up and share my story for a long time or even just talk about my struggle with friends. When we say #NormalizeBreastfeeding, I think it needs to cover the entire spectrum of breastfeeding: from nursing in public, to an under and over supply, to resentments around the time and energy it takes and lack of freedom, and so on.
#12 Breastfeeding Tip: Most women don't have a freezer stash
I mentioned this in my personal breastfeeding journey post, but pumping seriously stinks. It's time consuming, inconvenient and uncomfortable and not nearly as efficient as your baby. In fact, many women can only pump enough to feed their baby and many need to supplement on top of that. There's this idea out there that every woman should easily be able to produce enough milk to build up a freezer supply for when they go back to work or to carry them past the “year” mark but that simply isn't the case. In fact, I know several people who actually purchase breast milk in order to feed their babies.
If you are looking to try to build up a freezer stash, what I found to personally work the best for me, is using the Haakaa. I think it's probably the best low stress option out there since it just “catches” the milk when the let down occurs and you don't have to sit there trying to pump. It's a casual way to see if you can build up a supply without putting pressure on yourself. Start using it as soon as you get home from the hospital to increase your chances of being able to build up a supply.
I put it on my unused boob while she starts nursing the first side and let it “catch” the let down from that boob. It's not a pump, just a drip drip, so it still leaves plenty (for me personally) for her to nurse on that side once she's finished with the first. Once she's finished with the first, I switch the Haakaa over to the boob she just finished and catch whatever is left.
I do want to note: I did have an oversupply in the early days because my daughter cluster fed for her entire first week of life basically, but I did this after every single feeding towards the end of the first month and it seemed to help keep my supply up once it regulated and I was able to build a small stash in case of an emergency without the hassle of pulling out my actual pump and sitting there for 15+ minutes at a time.
#13 Breastfeeding Tip: It doesn't have to be difficult
You choose your breastfeeding experience. There were days where it just hurt too much or she was too fussy to nurse. So my husband gave her a bottle while I pumped. I have friends who supplemented with formula. Others kept drinking coffee or would have a glass of wine. When you're struggling with breastfeeding it can be easy to keep hearing negative remarks or get sucked into others struggles too. After all, we relate to them. However, I want to point out that every journey is different. Breastfeeding isn't difficult for everyone; and even if there are challenging moments, it doesn't mean it will be difficult forever.
There may be challenging times, but find ways to adjust and meet your needs. Block out the negativity. Remember that you don't have to be perfect. It's okay to supplement. It's okay to ask for help. The amount of time, particularly in the early days, you spend nursing your baby can be exhausting. At three weeks, my husband started to give my daughter a bottle of breastmilk around 6 am so I could sleep longer. I just pumped when I woke up and that became her bottle for the next morning. If something is bothering you, find a solution to it. I had a lot of problems and struggles early on in my journey (you can read the full details of it here) but it ended up being the best experience! It was a rough first month or so, but now, nearly six months later, I spend less time and money nursing than if I fed my daughter any other way.
Hancock Regional Hospital's lactation consultant also wrote this letter on What I Wish Every Mom Knew About Breastfeeding.
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List of 13 Breastfeeding Tips & Things Moms Want You To Know
You don't actually have breastmilk in the first couple of days
It can hurt
You'll be ravenous
You'll likely have to pump at some point
Your baby won't always latch
You have options
Lots of things can affect your supply
Nursing isn't free
You will go down DEEP Googling rabbit holes and worry about things you didn't know existed
Not all milk is created equal: Foremilk vs. hindmilk
There can be a lot of shame involved
Most women don't have a freezer stash
It doesn't have to be difficult