Huffpost Women
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Maria Rodale Headshot

The Truth about Breastfeeding

Posted: Updated:

Let's agree up front that it's true that breastfeeding is better for Baby and Mother. There is no question about that. Ever. However, having done it three times, I think it's time to tell the truth about it so moms know what they are getting into. There are a lot of women out there, young and old, who may have a romanticized view of what it involves and what happens, and it seems to me that most of the info out there is sterilized and glosses over the reality of it. This may have all been talked about in excess on those "mommy blogs" one hears about, but I haven't spent any time there, so this is my version.

The recent birth of my grand-niece reminded me that so many moms enter motherhood not sure what to expect, which makes it easy to waste energy worrying or feeling like a failure. So Linda, this one is for you! I was once a young mother, too, who didn't know what to expect, and with each child the exact same thing happened. So here we go, the unvarnished, unfiltered truth about breastfeeding:

  1. Your milk will not "come in" for two to four days after the baby is born. The baby will suck and suck and it will seem like nothing is happening. Don't panic. And don't let the baby over-suck. Your baby is getting precious "colostrum" which is an extremely condensed magic formula essential for the baby's future health. Trust me, even if it seems like nothing is happening, something very, very important is happening.
  2. Be careful what you wish for because when your milk finally does "come in," it will come in with a vengeance, and it will hurt like hell for two to three days and your boobs will feel like giant rocks and you may even want to cry. The best remedy for this is to wear a super-supportive bra. You will want to sleep in it, too.
  3. You will start to leak. And you will leak for months, or maybe even years if you are one of those mothers who keep on breastfeeding into toddlerhood (I was not). There is nothing you can do to prevent it. The only thing you can do is be prepared by wearing pads between your boobs and your bra. And yes, you will need to change them a few times a day, just like a diaper.
  4. Your nipples will probably hurt. A LOT. For a good two to three weeks. The pain will mostly be right as they "latch on" and start sucking. It's a pain that seems unbearable. And then, slowly, gradually, it becomes bearable. And then, eventually, all the pain goes away.
  5. Once the pain goes away, breastfeeding feels good. Yes, all sorts of people like sucking on nipples, and it does feel the same whether it's a baby or a lover. Although you will probably be in a different frame of mind when it's your baby. Truly, once the pain goes away, it is a pleasure in many respects...so hang in there, it's worth it!
  6. Once the pain goes away, it is totally easier. No messy bottles. No mixing. No heating and potential burning of tongues and wrists. If you have a willing partner, you don't even have to get out of bed, either. Seriously, this is the part that makes it worthwhile, so keep at it, enjoy it, and do it for as long as possible.
  7. Don't use soap on your nipples. It takes away the important natural oils that keep your nipples healthy as you breastfeed. Hot water in the shower is fine and clean enough. No need to "sterilize" anything.
  8. Invest in or borrow a good pump. A good pump is like wearing cashmere. A bad pump is like wearing burlap. Trust me, cashmere is much more comfortable.
  9. Don't expect using a pump to keep your milk flowing. I personally found that once I went back to work and started pumping, it was a lot harder to keep my milk flowing freely. Partly, I'm sure, because I started to substitute a few bottles of organic formula (only available for my third child!) as time went on. Anyway, if you want to keep breastfeeding for a long time, you really have to stay committed to it.
  10. Remember, breastfeeding is free. Truly, it doesn't cost anything. And I don't believe any of those old wives' tales about avoiding certain foods (except alcohol, which I avoid anyway). Eat well (nutritiously, organically, and healthfully) for yourself and you will feed your baby well.  But things you put on and in your body WILL go through to your milk to your baby, so avoid anything toxic and things like plastic for your food. But, your own dirty toxins are better than whatever mystery is in formula and plastic bottles (I always used glass bottles).
  11. Finally, one day your boobs will return to normal size, and even though the shape might have changed and they might sag a bit more, they will still be beautiful and loved by all the people in your life who loved your breasts to begin with. After all, now that you've had a baby, you must know how they are made, right?
Mothers, have I forgotten anything?

For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com