9 Things I Didn’t Expect To Happen When Breastfeeding (But They Did)
At the mere mention of breastfeeding, you’ll have a whole heap of women (ourselves included) who have stories, opinions and anecdotes about it. You’ll also have a whole heap of women (ourselves included) who get really excited to talk about it and celebrate it! Despite all of this talk, there were still a few things that I didn’t expect to happen when breastfeeding that actually did.
Every woman’s breastfeeding experience is different. For some it comes easily and naturally, for others it’s hard work and takes a lot of effort, some women find it difficult to talk about and feel it’s still quite a taboo topic, and others will be open and happy to discuss every aspect.
We firmly believe that talking about breastfeeding leads to empowerment and therefore want to share a few things that I experienced while breastfeeding.
1 – I Absolutely Loved It
I guess I had never really thought about it from an emotional side of things before I started, for me, it was entirely practical – I was feeding my baby. My first baby was a NICU baby, I knew in advance he would need surgery and that I wouldn’t be able to feed him right away – therefore I pumped exclusively for his first 9 weeks. It was unknown as to whether or not he would take to being breastfed after not initiating it straight away, so I didn’t have high expectations of what was going to happen.
From the first latch and his first feed, I was hooked. I loved it. The ability to hold my baby so close, the ability for my body to nourish and feed him, it felt like such a massive achievement for us.
We went on to breastfeed until 15 months and, while at times we had our frustrating moments, I still loved it.
With my second baby, it wasn’t a question, I knew I’d be breastfeeding her and aim to continue to do so inline with the World Health Organisation recommendations of doing so until she is at least two years old. We are currently 7 months in and still going strong.
2 – There Is No Singular ‘Right Way’ To Do It
I believed that if I was going to be successful at breastfeeding I had to do it the ‘right’ way. I sat with Lactation Consultants (who are amazing) to make sure I was doing everything the right way, I read about how to hold my baby, how to get him to latch properly, how to do everything ‘right’.
During one of my sessions with a beautiful Lactation Consultant, I was becoming disheartened because my baby wouldn’t stay latched. He was on and off and on and off and I just couldn’t get into the groove. She lovingly placed her hand on my shoulder and said ‘forget about the ‘right’ way to do it. Take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, and just do what feels right’. So I did. And my baby latched and stayed latched.
I was so focused on doing what everyone said the ‘right way’ to feed was, that I wasn’t listening to my body and my natural mama instincts. My baby wasn’t comfortable with how I was holding him and could sense my stress. As soon as I relaxed and let my body do what it was designed to do, we fell into sync and it made the whole experience far easier.
Your body is an amazing powerhouse that is capable of doing incredible things without us trying to control every aspect. Lean into that natural Mama instinct and follow what feels right for you.
3 – It Makes Me Cry Sometimes
Breastfeeding can be incredibly emotional, especially right at the start. Your body is so full of all kinds of hormones, you’re adjusting to a new life and a new sleep (or lack of) routine and you’re more than likely feeling super loved up. So many emotions, so many feels.
During the first few weeks of breastfeeding my daughter, I would find myself looking down at her and I’d just cry, completely overcome with joy. Even now I find myself 7 months in and still having these little teary moments. It is truly such a beautiful experience.
4 – It Can Be Really Boring
Despite all that high emotion, beautifully loved up experience I just described, it can also be really, really boring. Babies can feed for a long time, like anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour per feeding session. When you’re doing that a lot throughout the day it starts to lack excitement (there’s only so much you can look down at your baby feeding before you’ll be needing daily neck massages).
During this time I tend to binge watch Netflix, catch up on business work, spend way too much time on Facebook or get lost in a Pinterest rabbit hole. Don’t’ feel guilty for not wanting to stare dotingly at your feeding baby all the time, it’s just not possible.
5 – At Times It’s Really Easy, And At Times It’s Really Tough
There are times when breastfeeding has come really easily to me, and times when it didn’t. When my son started feeding in NICU, all in all he took to it really well and I found it quite easy, especially after I relaxed into it. I thought becuase I had breastfed before, that starting the breastfeeding relationship with my daughter would be easy. But it was so far from it.
Even after we found our groove and settled into our little routine, there are still times when it becomes difficult. When my baby girl is teething she wants to comfort feed constantly, which is fantastic because I can comfort her easily and she feels better, but it also means my nipples feel like they’re on fire and I feel like I’m ‘over touched’. Thankfully any rough period passes and we get back to the calm fairly quickly.
If you do find that things aren’t working for you though, and breastfeeding is a lot harder for you than you think it should be, please, please seek help from a Lactation Consultant. They are amazing and can help diagnose potential issues (such as tongue and lip tie) and can give you directions and reassurance when you need it.
6 – The Post Coital ‘Let Down’
The hormone that triggers your ‘let down’ (what helps your milk flow out of your nipples) is the same one that is present after sex – oxytocin. It’s also known as the ‘cuddle’ or ‘love’ hormone and makes us feel a deeper connection with those we love.
Unfortunately our boobs go a little big rogue sometimes and because your ‘let down’ is an involuntary response, you can’t control when it happens. Naturally, after a bit of lovin’ with your husband your oxytocin spikes, and therefore can trigger a let down. This isn’t the same for everyone, so don’t fear if you don’t get it, but it can happen.
Also, your rogue let down may occur when you’re shopping and hear another baby crying, when you’re thinking about your beautiful babe or when you’re away from your little one showing off photos and thinking about how much you love their little smooshy face.
7 – It Forces You To Look After Yourself
I learnt very quickly when my son was in NICU that the amount of milk I produced relied heavily on how well I looked after myself. It’s natures inbuilt way of ensuring we take care of ourselves as Mama’s so we can adequately take care of our young. Think of the whole ‘put your own mask on first before helping others’ in an aeroplane. You cannot take care of others if you don’t first take care of yourself.
Simple things like getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and ensuring you eat well can all have an impact on your milk supply. So does stress. So take time to look after yourself, take time to relax, and take time to focus on you because your baby relies on it.
8 – I Love The Sweet Milky Smell
Another thing I didn’t really think about was how my milk would smell. I guess unless someone specifically mentions it, it’s not exactly the kind of thing you’d think of. But when I realised my milk had this sweet smell that kind of emanated through my baby’s skin I was hooked. Oh my gosh my baby smelt amazing. I just wanted to breathe him in deep and keep that smell forever.
Now with my daughter, I smell it too. I love the way her breath smells and I love that even when I’m not with her, I can still smell her (and my milk).
9 – I Felt Empowered
I had read over and over again about women who had been shamed for breastfeeding in public. Either they were confronted by someone who felt uncomfortable with what they were doing (feeding their baby) or they were asked to leave and feed somewhere in private. Because of this I decided to really get to know my rights and the rights of my baby. I became all clued up on where I was entitled to feed my baby and in what way and had planned responses for anyone who wanted to say otherwise.
But (so far) I haven’t had to use them. Which is great! But what it has done is allowed me to feel empowered about feeding my baby. I know I can (and do) walk through a shopping centre while feeding my baby girl and not have to even think about it.
It also makes me want to high five any Mama I see breastfeeding their baby in public but my husband tells me that would probably be inappropriate to high five total strangers, and would likely scare their baby. Point taken.
The thing is, empowerment comes in many forms. Simply feeding my baby makes me feel empowered, like my body is responsible for nourishing her and every time I see her little chubby thighs or we go for a check-up at the doctor and she is growing perfectly it’s like a big thumbs up that I’m doing okay. Knowing my rights to feed her makes me feel empowered. Having my husband’s support and the support of my family and friends makes me feel empowered. And it’s something I didn’t expect to happen with breastfeeding.
Whatever your experience is with breastfeeding, and no matter how researched you may be, there will always be things pop up that you don’t expect. It’s such a personal and individual experience and I hope you’re able to embrace your breastfeeding story and find power in it too.