I never planned on breastfeeding my kids.
In all honesty, I never even imagined myself becoming a mother. My teen years and early 20s were spent just trying to get my act together. I had an anxiety disorder, depression and was married and divorced from my first husband by the time I was 23 years old.
But once I met my husband, Ivan, everything changed. I was in love with him, and in love with the idea of making a family with him. And so we did.
In the end, I decided that I’d give breastfeeding a try, just to say I did. It turned out to be one of the bravest, best decisions of my life.
Now I have a brand new, super adorable baby; bringing our grand total of kids to three. That means that, in the end, these old boobs will have fed and nurtured babies for more than four years. You could say that my breasts have earned a bachelor’s degree in breastfeeding.
But that doesn’t mean it was easy. In fact, each of my babies presented new challenges when it came to feeding, things I wish I’d known before I started. And so I share with you ten things nobody tells you about breastfeeding (that I wish someone had told me years ago).
1. Babies don’t know how to breastfeed, and neither do you (at first).
Sure, it’s “natural.” But at first, most newborns don’t know that they need to open their mouths wide, and they don’t know when they’re latched on correctly.
And you don’t know how to coordinate getting the baby to open her mouth wide while you jam your nipple (which will look HUGE next to that tiny baby’s mouth) inside. Some newborns don’t even realize they’re hungry for a few days, while others will cry and cry for more milk. It’s wild.
None of this makes you bad at breastfeeding, it makes you totally normal. Keep trying, ask for help from the nurses, and call in a lactation consultant (LC) if you need to. You’ll both learn what you need to know, and soon enough you’ll have a system and a style that works for you.
2. Some of the nurses and aides in the postpartum department (where you go after you’ve delivered) aren’t great at helping you learn to breastfeed.
Everyone told me that the nurses would teach me how to breastfeed. And while the labor and delivery nurses were great at getting us started, I ended up seeing lactation consultants with all three babies. They’re the ones who really helped.
Nothing against those nurses, but LCs literally spend all day, every day helping new parents figure out how to feed effectively and with less pain.
Just know that it’s OK to ask for the LC, you won’t offend your nurses. In fact, a lot of insurance companies will only pay for an appointment with the LC when you’re still in the hospital, so take advantage of the opportunity if you’re in that boat (like I was).
Once you get home, if visiting a lactation consultant isn’t an option, you can visit a breastfeeding support group, like one by La Leche League, for advice. Groups like this can be a lifesaver.
3. You might encounter trauma triggers from breastfeeding.
Anyone who lives with PTSD or is a survivor of trauma can tell you that triggers are often unpredictable. But many trauma survivors (particularly survivors of abuse) will go through their entire pregnancy and delivery without anyone talking with them about potential triggers.
For some survivors, breastfeeding can evoke memories of having been abused, or trigger the “GET OFF ME” feeling that may be all too familiar.
It’s important to know that you’re not alone, and you’re still a good parent if breastfeeding is simply not going to work for you. And you don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why.
It may be reassuring to know that lots and lots of abuse and trauma survivors breastfeed just fine, and some even find it to be a healing process. We’re all different, and you’ll find a way to feed your baby that works for you both.
This is a good time to remind people that asking, “Why aren’t you breastfeeding your baby?” is never appropriate. There are infinite reasons why people feed their babies formula, and none of them are your business.
4. The second night is the worst.
Nobody told me this, but when you’re exclusively breastfeeding, the second (and sometimes third) night with your newborn is the worst!
That’s because your milk hasn’t come in yet. You’ve only got colostrum, that yellow pre-milk that’s loaded with nutrients and antibodies and other good stuff, and your baby may not have gotten the memo.
I remember the second night home with my daughter was so frustrating and I was terrified. I was nursing her as much as I possibly could, but she couldn’t sleep and seemed so hungry and uncomfortable.
The next day, my milk came in and she settled into my breast and just chugged away. Then she slept a four-hour block and I almost cried with joy.
It’s a frustrating process, but it doesn’t harm the baby (as long as they’re peeing and pooping enough, which your nurses will help you track). Just breathe and remember that what milk your baby is getting is the best milk for them at that time and soon enough your boobs will be massive and you’ll probably be soaking through your bra.
5. Newborns don’t breastfeed like big babies do.
With newborns, the whole process can take a really long time. Like, an hour at each feeding.
It is also a lot of work getting a newborn to eat. You may have to try to latch five or six times, so that they attach correctly. The proper latch is everything ― it’ll make your boobs hurt less and your baby will get more food.
You’ll probably also want pillows under your arms and a pillow at your back. You’ll want a big glass of water, your phone, and the TV remote or a book before you settle in to nursing a newborn, because you’ll be there a while.
If you accept that this is how it happens, you can just relax and enjoy the process. Find a great show to binge-watch. I watched every episode of ”Call the Midwife” on Netflix with my new baby and loved every second of it.
Once your baby gets bigger, you can feed her anytime, any place. I remember chasing my toddler across a public park with my second baby firmly attached to my boob, his legs bouncing up and down as I ran. The baby just kept on feeding, even when I scooped the toddler up under the other arm and dragged him away from the parking lot, back to safety.
Sure, my postpartum belly was hanging out and probably two dozen people witnessed the event (and saw my boobs), but that’s life with little ones. Good thing breastfeeding in public is now legal in all 50 states!
6. The tip of your nipple might turn white, blue, or even black.
This sounds terrifying, I know, but it doesn’t mean your nip is about to die and fall off. It just means that the blood flow to your nipple is decreased, often from what’s called a vasospasm. But don’t worry. It’s temporary and can be totally harmless.
This happens to me both when I’m feeding and when I’m pumping, and honestly I don’t know why. I like to call them my Zombie Nips and freak my husband out by making him look at them. But it doesn’t hurt and my baby gets enough food. They go back to the normal color soon after.
If this happens to you and your nipples hurt, it can be a sign of a poor latch. That’s a good time to see the LC or visit a breastfeeding support group.
If it hurts and it’s not the latch, black or blue nipples can be a sign of Raynaud Syndrome, but it doesn’t mean you can’t continue nursing. Lots of moms with this condition breastfeed just fine.
7. If it hurts when you pump, you’re probably using the wrong size of flanges.
At my baby’s four-week checkup, the doctor noticed she hadn’t gained enough weight and I was sent off to the lactation consultant to figure out why.
When I got the awful news that I’d need to pump after every feeding to get my supply up, I groaned. After all, pumping had always been miserable for me, and I only did it when absolutely necessary.
Imagine my surprise when the LC told me I was probably using the wrong size flanges (also known as breastshields). I didn’t even know what flanges were, let alone that there are different sizes!
Flanges are the part of the pump that you press against your boobs to pump, and there are many different sizes, from 15 mm to 36 mm ― one for every size of nipple on the glorious scale. Now I’m able to pump without pain, which was super helpful as I worked to get my supply up.
8. Your boobs are going to change, but that’s not necessarily terrible.
All I’d ever heard about breastfeeding was that it ruins your boobs. TV and movie writers love to crack jokes about deflated boobs and giant nipples. And this may happen to you, too. I don’t know you and I don’t know your boobs.
But it also might not! Some women’s boobs end up totally fine after they’ve fed their babies, and some women end up with bigger boobs that they absolutely love.
My point is, you won’t know until you’re done, so it’s not worth worrying about at the beginning.
9. Target’s nursing bras are just as good as the ones you buy at the fancy boutiques.
When my baby was a month old, I spent 50 bucks on a lightly padded nursing bra. I was fitted for it by a professional and it worked great. I was super glad to have it, and the wireless soft nursing bras that got me through pregnancy and the first weeks home.
A week after spending way too much money on the fancy nursing bra, I discovered that a near-identical bra was being sold at Target for $12.99. I bought the cheap one, assuming it would fall apart or somehow otherwise suck compared to the pricey one.
Nope. They’ve held up the same.
Lesson? If they stock your size, go ahead and buy those Target nursing bras. As far as I can tell, there’s no real difference. You won’t get fitted for them by a wise older lady with a measuring tape, but you can just take a big pile with you into the dressing room and find your dream bra.
10. You may end up absolutely loving breastfeeding.
With my oldest, I didn’t particularly like nursing. I did it because I felt it was the right thing to do, but I had a low supply and he was a finicky eater, only taking one boob (which grew huge while the other one deflated).
With my second baby, I had to pump to keep my supply up and he couldn’t latch onto my left boob without a nipple shield, which I had to keep with me at all times.
But with my third baby, I love breastfeeding. Maybe that’s because she’s better at it than either of my boys. She nurses from both sides great, no nipple shield required. Or maybe I love it because I know she’s my last baby, and I want to treasure these moments.
Regardless of the reason, feeding her has been my absolute joy. She looks in my eyes and we both smile, and I feel incredibly bonded with her.
You don’t know what your experience with breastfeeding is going to be until you get there, but it might be one of the best things you’ve ever done.