When I was into my third trimester, I felt like an expert at giving birth already. I watched YouTube videos, read articles, and searched through blogs to get my birth plan together so that I would feel “ready”. Little did I know (as you’ve witnessed from my previous posts about my daughter’s birth), that I could never be ready for what giving birth entailed. Although I can look back and say I did my best to prepare, what really caught me off guard was how little homework I did about the moments (and lifetime) after that last push. Don’t worry, there’s an app for that and plenty of people to give you advice. Or so I thought.
I think there was a total of three tips I got from people when it came to feeding my baby naturally. 1. It’s second nature, you’ll just know what to do. 2. If you’re doing it right, it doesn’t hurt. 3. Make sure you have all of the accessories that go along with breastfeeding (a good pump, and a good nursing bra). No one really made a big deal about it, so neither did I. I certainly didn’t expect the whirlwind that was about to hit me.
I’m not sure if you’re days away from your due date, searching for anyone out there to help you through breastfeeding because you think you’re going insane, or maybe a reader that just happened upon my site. Whoever you may be, I welcome you to breastfeeding.
What happens after you hold your bundle for the first time?
Let’s flash back to the hospital and the nurse placing our baby girl on my chest for the first time. Was it magical? Yes it was. My daughter latched on right away and knew what she was doing only minutes after delivery. (Check out this article on breast crawling. If you are taught anything other than doing this with your brand new baby, you are being taught wrong.) This was going to be so easy, but where was my milk? I had heard of women starting to leak colostrum from their nipples days or even months before they went into labor. That didn’t happen for me, but I was so sure it would be coming in any minute.
It did not.
Hours after she was born, my daughter was starting to get frustrated by not getting any food from my body, and I had no idea what to do. The nurses kept telling me to breastfeed and I wanted to scream because nothing was coming out. They tried warm compresses, squeezing the life out of my boobs, and playing the waiting game. I know this now, but apparently it can take a few days before your milk comes in. I felt doomed, and I just wanted to give my baby food.
While we were in the hospital, I gave her formula and she slurped it up. It wasn’t until the day we left the hospital (two days after she was born) that my milk finally decided to show up. I was praising God and thanking Jesus. I honestly didn’t know what to do if it never came because breastfeeding was something I always knew I would do for my kids. Every mother is different, and makes the best choices for her family. And my choice was to nurse.
Since my daughter was already used to the bottle, once I did start to nurse again, she would cry and pull away (I’m guessing it was her PTSD from knowing nothing would come out). We had to trick her and put sugar water on my nipples so that she would latch. Once she latched in the hospital and realized food was coming out, we were truly on our way in our breastfeeding journey. I did ask for a few bottles of formula to take home incase I needed them, but I ended up not having to use them.
I was very confident in what I was doing by the time I got home and scoured the internet for breastfeeding articles to make sure I didn’t have the only velcro baby in the world. What most people don’t tell you before you have a baby (due to lack of knowledge or just not thinking to bring it up) is that you might as well camp out on the couch with your baby, nursing pillow, and some snacks. Not all newborns are the same, but most of them nurse pretty much nonstop unless they are sleeping. This is building up your supply and that takes about a month. I researched non-stop and found helpful information on several websites from various moms and doctors. (Kelly Mom is amazing by the way!)
Is my baby’s feeding schedule normal?
No, it’s not. And yes, it is. There is no normal feeding pattern, and all babies have different appetites and metabolisms. Also, time of day will usually depict how often your baby feeds. Evenings and growth spurts are usually when they cluster feed. Petra has always been petite, but her appetite has always been huge even to this day. She was also very efficient at nursing, so she would gulp down her milk to get back to playtime. She would feed for 10-15mins every 2-3 hours. When she was going through a growth spurt, it would be as often as every hour unless she was sleeping. We also co-slept so she was nursing on demand throughout the night.
I knew she was getting enough because she was consistently gaining weight and height, also outputting a great amount of wet and soiled diapers. Another thing that helped to know how much I was producing was pumping from time to time for date night. I consistently made about 24oz a day at the least. Only you know your body and how much you are producing and there are so many signs to be in tune to for breastfeeding mothers.
Even kids from the same parents can have vastly different eating schedules. One might feed every thirty minutes while the other eats every four hours. Also, if you formula fed your first and are planning to breastfeed the second time around, everything will be different. You’re basically starting from scratch as experts agree you cannot compare the two. Even if you pump and bottle feed, most likely the amount your baby eats at a time will not vary much after they are a month old, unlike a formula fed baby where it changes with age.
You may think your babies cries mean they are hungry, but there are so many reasons for their tears. Being gassy, over-tired, meeting a new milestone, needing comfort, or being overwhelmed are just a few. Of course talk to your child’s pediatrician if you are concerned about their food intake.
Everyone has an opinion, and apparently everyone knows better than you (the mom!).
Let’s move on to the wonderful world of judging. I’ve never heard of the term “Mom shaming” until I had my daughter. It’s absolutely insane the things people will judge you for as a mother. I became so used to being criticized that it made me question every single decision I made. There are generations of mothers who were told different information, and now there are new articles saying this or that about practically everything. I’ve had people look at me weird for nursing in public with a nursing cover. Some family members told me I was breastfeeding wrong and that babies shouldn’t be nursing that often. I’ve had other people just ask me why I would breastfeed because formula is better.
My favorite (not really) moment was when my in-laws came to visit us at home to see the baby for the first time. I just finished nursing her, but she was tired so when I brought her out from under the nursing cover, she had a frown on her face. My mother-in-law quickly informed me that I was not producing enough milk and that’s why my daughter was upset. Minutes later, we actually found out that she didn’t breastfeed any of her children and didn’t actually know how it worked. Even though people may not have ever done what you are trying to do, they will apparently know better than you. Get used to brushing it off. Over a year later, and I’m finally at the point where I’ve given up caring about what other people think about my baby and my parenting skills.
If you do decide to nurse, it’s very helpful to find a pediatrician that supports your choice to breastfeed, but also research on your own about: the benefits of breastfeeding, signs to look for to make sure your baby is eating enough, knowing that you’re getting enough calories and water, how to deal with the pain that comes in the beginning stages of nursing, etc. Above all, make sure you have support! If I didn’t have my husband, a few other friends who were breastfeeding, as well as my mom who breastfed her children, I don’t know if I would have made it this far.
What if it hurts?
Remember the advice I got about it not hurting if you’re doing it right? Some women experience no pain, but most women do. I would describe the pain as lightning whenever my daughter latched on. I had to brace myself and hold my breath before every nursing session, wondering if my body would ever get used to this. I didn’t have the wealth of knowledge I have now, so my daughter getting used to the bottle during our hospital stay, using the wrong nursing position, or a variant of other things could have caused this. I used breast milk or coconut oil for the nipple pain and both helped.
While your uterus is shrinking, it’s common to have intense cramps. Mine felt kind of like being pinched on the inside. It was more of a sharp pain and not the intense cramps I was used to having during my cycle. The only other pain I had was from plugged ducts every once in a while. Those can hurt pretty bad, but using some helpful techniques I found online usually got rid of them within a day.
All in all, I would say the pain subsided after a few weeks of nursing. I still nurse my daughter 14 months later and it’s completely painless and second nature at this point. I believe if you can make it a month, you can make it two years (my goal). However, if you can’t, don’t be discouraged. You can even set longer and longer goals as you go. I know plenty of women who tried for a few days, then a few weeks, then a few months, and up to years.
Should I have visitors?
This pertains to breastfeeding because you are still getting used to nursing and the baby might be on the boob all day going through a growth spurt. Visitors may get upset (even though they shouldn’t) if you’re nursing the entire time or the baby is sleeping on your chest covered by a blanket for privacy.
It is completely up to you and how you’re feeling. I didn’t make any commitments ahead of time because I wasn’t sure how I would feel. I’m glad I did that. Whenever a friend would ask to come to the hospital to see the baby, or to come by the house I would tell them “I’ll let you know when I feel up to having company.” You don’t owe an explanation or a visit to anyone. I did have an open door policy with family members though because they usually understood that I might need to send them away and that I might need to look like a wreck. And they usually brought food!
I was offered by friends to set up a meal train, but I also declined that. I didn’t want people scheduled to come by and I was in the middle of sleeping (or a breakdown). I joke about having people leave food at the door the next time I have a newborn. I’m only kind of joking. Some people set a 30 min limit for visitors or they come up with a code word that means “make these people leave”. Your friends and family will have plenty of time to see your babe, and remember their immune system is still fragile at this point.
What do I do while I’m stuck at home?
Your social life slowly comes to a crawl when you are sitting on the couch with baby on your breast for hours at a time. I remember being envious of some of my friends who were already going out and wearing cute clothes because their babies were bottle fed (by formula or pumped milk). Being isolated really started to wear on me, especially on the days where my husband worked long hours. I simply did not have the energy to go out, and I didn’t have the patience for having company over just yet. Not to mention, if I did have the baby in the car to drive somewhere, she would most likely scream…the entire time.
I know people will tell you to enjoy your baby because this newborn stage passes by so quickly. I will not tell you that because for most of us it kinda sucks a majority of the time if you aren’t knowledgeable about what will happen. I will however share my experience in the hopes that it will make you feel less crazy.
After birth, your hormones are going wild. Breastfeeding adds to the rollercoaster. I remember crying my eyes out because I was at home alone, I was sore, I was tired, my baby was crying and I didn’t know why. Many new mothers will tell you about the “baby blues”, and you may or may not regret having a child. You may or may not want to run away and never come back. Those feelings will go away over the next few weeks. (If it gets too bad or you are having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, please seek help!)
Your experience may be entirely different. You may have around the clock assistance and meals that are prepared for you. I wish I had requested more help, but in the thick of it, I wasn’t thinking clearly. Half the time I didn’t even know what I needed.
Be mindful that this is the time your body needs to recover. This is the time you should be doing nothing but bonding with your sweet angel. We want to rush right back into the swing of things because that’s what we think we see other mamas doing. Your house doesn’t need to be tidy, and it doesn’t matter if your hair is washed. Use this time to get caught up on Netflix and have movie marathons. Eat what you want and take advantage of the extra calories your baby is helping you burn. (Sometimes that extra scoop of ice cream is what got me through the day!) Soon enough you’ll be watching your kid’s favorite shows, and chasing them around every park in your city.
When will my period return?
Every woman’s body is different, so the answer to this is completely up to your ovaries. Even though I was nursing on demand, my cycle returned just before my daughter turned six months old. I’ve met other women whose period didn’t come back until they stopped nursing.
If your period does come back while you are still breastfeeding, it may affect your supply. I noticed a decrease in milk when I would ovulate, so I looked into solutions online. I started taking a calcium/magnesium supplement and noticed a huge difference. Ovulation might also affect the sensitivity of your nipples. It was–and still is–uncomfortable to nurse during that time.
What do I wear when I go out?
I didn’t buy any nursing clothing, but I did invest in four nursing bras from H&M (their prices are very reasonable and the quality is great). I’m so glad I did! They are super convenient and make nursing prep much more efficient. Nursing clothing can get pretty expensive if you plan to update your whole wardrobe. I was able to mostly use clothing I already had, and if I bought something new, I just kept in mind that I needed quick access to breastfeed.
Some great items to nurse in are v-neck t-shirts, stretchy tanks, wrap dresses, button-up blouses, and low cut tops. Some moms will wear a loose shirt and a tank top so they can pull down the tank top,and use the shirt to cover the baby’s head. You can also do this with scarves. I always felt more comfortable using a nursing cover, but sometimes it’s a real hassle to pull that out of the diaper bag, or the weather may be really hot that day.
Keep in mind that you can also start building a supply of breast milk in your freezer to prepare for the days you want to bottle feed and wear whatever you want. Sometimes I wanted to put on one of my favorite dresses, or simply did not feel up to undressing in public when my daughter was hungry.
Let’s wrap this up.
Now, doesn’t this sound like fun! I know this is a lot of information coming your way and it’s not the beautiful “me and my baby lay by the river and she nurses on me and we both have halos over our heads” scenario, but I want you to be more prepared than I was. I’ve also included links to some of the other information I’ve found helpful on my journey. I hope this blesses you, and I’ll see you soon in my next post. If you have any questions, please comment below! xoxo
More info on nursing positions and how to tell if they are effective.
More info on the benefits of breastfeeding.
More info on how much milk breastfed babies need from birth to six months.
A guide to baby’s feeding schedule. (Remember all babies are different.)
What is cluster feeding and how long does it last?
A guide to growth spurts.
H&M nursing fashion.
Amazing article on the challenges and solutions of learning to breastfeed.
How to tell if baby is getting enough milk in the first several weeks.
Common misconception on the “human pacifier” myth.
What are plugged ducts and mastitis and how to you treat them?
Solutions to soothe sore nipples.
Do you need to change your diet to avoid a gassy or colicky baby?
What you can do if your period affects your milk supply.