Ah breastfeeding! It was the best of times, it was the worst of times — or that’s how I remember it at least. And it sure took a while to get to the good times.
Because that wonderful, life-giving, nurturing, bonding experience you’re sold in on can also be the biggest mind f*ck you are likely ever to experience in your life. While there is so much focus on pregnancy and giving birth, breastfeeding can often be the thing that absolutely throws you for six as a new mum.
Mothers need to feel empowered through education, compassionate support, and guidance to make the best decisions for themselves and their baby. Because by now, we already know that our boobs are making solid liquid gold in there (there’s no disputing the goodness) but we need mums to know that alone is not enough. Our supply, breasts, nipples, baby, baby’s lips, baby’s belly and more — all need to align in order for it to happen.
Sure, it’s the most natural thing in the world to feed your child from your body. It’s wonderful for them, for you, for your bond etc etc. But don’t let anybody fool you; it’s also one of the hardest, most demanding, emotional, and at times, isolating things you will ever do — as wonderful as it is (did we say that already).
So let’s normalise how bloody hard it is! Sore, cracked nipples, trying to get the latch, the supply worries ( not enough or too much), breastfeeding in public, leaking nipples, engorged boobs, mastitis, emotions (ALL the emotions), and of course, knowing when it’s just not working out. Let’s support each other in getting our babies fed.
To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, here are 18 things that no one tells you about breastfeeding, that we know all mamas will relate to in some way, shape, or form.
1. Breastfeeding is just as much emotional as it is physical
No matter how prepared you think you are, nothing can prepare you for having a tiny human sucking on your nipple, and the emotions (and social pressure) of feeding your baby from your body. You will experience both intense highs and low lows — often within the same breath.
2. Your boobs no longer belong to you (at least temporarily anyway)
Right now they are purely functional, and you will suddenly find yourself being poked and prodded and grabbed by nurses and midwives who want to show you the “perfect latch” by yanking you in all sorts of directions, and a little gummy shark who just wants to be fed by any means necessary.
3. The word ‘LATCH’ will be like nails on a chalkboard to you
If I never hear the word latch again it will be too soon. Those midwives (god love them) all really think they’ve got the best way of doing it — one usually completely different to the one who was just showing you five minutes ago.
4. The pain, oh the pain!
Even if you’re doing it right, in those early days it bloody hurts. People will try and tell you that it shouldn’t hurt. HA. Your once soft, supple nipples who’ve lived a pretty easy life up until now are suddenly being sucked on for dear life near 24/7 and so they’re going to go into shock mode. They will be sore, tender, and very likely cracked. Take care of them — lots of TLC between feeds and they will adapt.
That said, if you do suffer intense pain or pain that doesn’t subside, you should definitely let your midwife or GP know.
5. Cluster feeding — whaaaaat?
Cluster feeding? More like cluster you know what!! This is in the early weeks when your baby will seem like they’re permanently attached to your boob. Typically this seems to happen in the late afternoon/early evening and can last into the night. Hello, witching hour(s). It might feel like something is going wrong and your baby is upset, but this is actually a good thing because this is your baby and your body working together to build that milk supply and get the good stuff flowing. Doesn’t make it easier though, we know, so lower the bar during this time and repeat after me: this too shall pass!
6. Engorgement party
Yeah sorry, that’s a lie. There’s nothing fun or celebratory about engorgement… Well, I guess it means you’ve got milk in there, which is good, but still the reality is it hurts, they leak (you’ll find yourself waking up soaked in milk), and you suddenly look like an after photo in a plastic surgery magazine but not in a good way.
Tip: A warm compress on your breasts before feeding and a cold compress on them after a feed can help.
7. Mastitis. The mother of all evil.
The word on the street is that mastitis is more painful than childbirth, and anyone who’s had it can attest to this. It is believed around 20 percent of mums will experience mastitis — but 100% of us live in fear of it.
8. The not-so-subtle hum of the breast pump
Is there a worse sound than that of a breast pump? It literally sounds like a cow dying, and I mean, it’s fitting because you feel like a cow being milked… Thankfully though, there are quieter ones on the market these days and some great manual breast pumps too.
But anyone who has pumped for any length of time will know how tiresome and tedious it is, especially when you’re doing it in the dead of the night and it either wakes the baby or you can’t hear your old Sex and the City re-runs over it — LET ALONE if you need to do it in public or at the office.
9. Breastfeeding in public
Some people are all for it and have the confidence to pull it off seamlessly, some just whip their boob out and don’t care who sees, and then some people struggle trying to do it under a feeding-friendly top or tangled between layers of muslin wraps (either way, it’s the mother’s choice how she wants to do it and that is that).
10. Feeding on the go
Navigating the world of feeding on the go can be tough… But unless you love your house and never want to leave its four walls, at some point you’re going to be somewhere and your baby is going to scream bloody murder until you get that boob in their mouth.
11. Heading out sans baby
NO really, it can be done. But almost every breastfeeding mum has a story here — whether their boobs got so full of milk they ripped their top, they heard another baby crying and threw their own wet t-shirt competition, or had to rush to a bathroom to express some milk to ease the pain only to accidentally squirt milk all over the toilet cubicle.
12. It’s messy
Have you ever woken up in a pool of your own breastmilk? In those early weeks, while you are establishing your supply, you will find yourself leaking everywhere (and those with oversupply may continue to do so), so make sure you stock up on breast pads and take a spare top with you.
13. A lesson in a patience
Breastfeeding is a skill that takes time for you and your baby to master, and this is something that is often overlooked. And it may change from day to day — your baby might feed wonderfully one day but be unsettled and struggle to latch the next, and vice versa. Remember that each feed is a new chance to try again.
14. Hungry, thirsty
So many mums start breastfeeding and then wonder, “Why do I get thirsty as soon as I start breastfeeding?” It’s because breastfeeding will have you burning through your body’s supplies like no one’s business to produce all the liquid gold for your baby, so you will find yourself constantly thirsty —and hungry. So keep water and healthy breastfeeding-friendly snacks at the ready at all times.
And don’t forget there are some breastfeeding foods to avoid such as alcohol, caffeine, fish that is high in mercury, and heavily processed foods. You should, however, always talk to your healthcare provider about any specific dietary requirements relating to you and your baby’s needs.
15. Feeling pressure and isolation are normal
It’s a lot of pressure feeding another human from your body and it’s completely normal to feel the weight of that pressure, especially in the early days when you are feeding around the clock. Isolation can also strike when you are not comfortable feeding in front of other people so you have to go into another room, or when your baby will only feed in a quiet or dark space.
16. You don’t have to love it
Some mums say a wave of love washed over them the moment they felt their baby on their breast, but for many of us, it’s a love/hate relationship — and that’s ok. Hopefully, in time, it will become more love! And if it doesn’t and it’s getting you down, then speak to someone about how you’re feeling and consider what other options might work for you.
17. If it’s not working out, that’s ok
Or if you choose not to do it at all, that’s ok too! Your mental health is paramount and your baby needs you to be healthy and well to care for them. So if breastfeeding is impacting that in any way, then there is no shame — but rather strength — in making the choice not to do it.
18. Seek (and accept) help
There is so much support out there, from friends and family to your local health services and online support. So whether it’s someone to watch your toddler while you figure out feeding baby number two, a lactation consultant to sit with you and talk you through it, a postpartum doula to care for you emotionally and physically while you navigate this stage, or a friend to drop off a hot meal and lend an ear — don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Breastfeeding is full of ups and downs, emotional highs and crippling lows. For some, it will be a time they look back on fondly and will struggle with letting go; for others, they will grapple with guilt over making the decision to stop; and for the rest, the decision will be made for them.
Either way, know that your baby doesn’t care where their milk is coming from, just that it’s your arms that are wrapped around them and it’s your eyes they’re looking into.
For more information on breastfeeding and support you can reach out to The Australian Breastfeeding Association National Breastfeeding Helpline: 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268)
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