This is breastfeeding 101! Your pregnancy is a great opportunity to prepare yourself and maximize your breastfeeding success. Learn from a breastfeeding expert, and hear from experienced moms who wish they knew this before they started breastfeeding. Read part 1 here and part 3!
6) Babies don’t always feed on a schedule
Due to a lingering culture that pushed bottle feeding for decades, we have this idea in society that babies only feed every 3-4 hours. While this may be the case for some breastfeeding babies, their feeding “schedules” can be all over the map… especially at the beginning!
The first few days: There are two stages of lactation. Your body produces a substance called colostrum during pregnancy and the first few days after birth. You only make a small amount of it at a time, but that’s okay! In those early days your baby’s stomach is only the size of a cherry! It doesn’t take much for her to be satisfied.
By the same token, it doesn’t take long for her stomach to empty and need to be refilled again! Frequent feeding in this period encourages the next stage to arrive….
After the first few days: The second stage of lactation arrives and your body starts to produce mature breastmilk. It can happen suddenly and you might be surprised by how heavy, full, and tight your breasts become! It’s helpful if you’ve been practicing hand expression, because you need to release some of the pressure before baby can latch onto one of those beach balls!
The first two weeks: Due to the hormones involved, your body becomes more responsive to increasing your total milk supply (ie. the total amount of milk your breast can store at one given time). The best way to increase milk supply is frequent feeding!
So yes, be prepared to dedicate those first two or three weeks entirely to nursing. Follow your baby’s cues and feed often. If at all possible, gather a good support crew who will feed you, keep your house clean, and look after any other children/pets so that you can focus on establishing your milk supply.
Later on: Sometimes babies will go through a time of “cluster feeding.” Instead of pacing feeds out every few hours, they’ll choose a few hours of the day (often in the evening) and feed (and feed and feed) the whole time! This is entirely normal and could indicate that (A) baby is going through a growth spurt or (B) is making up for some time you’ve been separated. Separation happens if baby is sleeping for a longer chunk of time (yay!) or if you’ve had to return to work and are pumping during that time. Babies often prefer to feed at the breast and will just use you when you’re available 🙂
“I wish I had known that the ‘cluster feeding’ they talk about shortly after birth was more like ’36-48 hrs of nonstop feeding,’ and that once milk comes in it becomes more regular.” – Brooke from Saskatoon
“I wish I’d known my baby would eat constantly at first…that the colostrum isn’t satisfying, and there would be no rest for the weary until that blessed milk would come in! I was so sleep-deprived, that when it finally came in, I called my husband from the hospital!'” – Robyn from Winnipeg
“I wish that I knew that (if feeding on demand) you basically breastfeed non stop for the first 6 weeks – so get a comfy spot on the couch!” – Colleen from Alberta
7) Like labor, breastfeeding can be hard but it’s also rewarding (and gets easier!)
In traditional cultures, mothers are given the first 40 days after a baby is born to dedicate her time exclusively to her newborn. This is because establishing breastfeeding is hard work! We often don’t “see” this part of breastfeeding. We only see the latter part in public, when it’s already established, and it’s relatively easy.
I’m sure you’re expecting labor and delivery to be hard, since that’s what it’s known for! But we do it because there’s a sweet reward of a newborn baby waiting at the end. Think of breastfeeding in the same way! It may be difficult at first. You may be stuck with your baby at your breast for the first couple of weeks. But, if breastfeeding is important to you, please know that it does get easier! It gets easier with time and practice, but it can also be helped by good breastfeeding advice! (see above).
“As a first time mom who was a huge breastfeeding supporter/advocate before doing it myself, i had NO idea how MUCH some babies feed! Or how hard it can be to get the correct latch. My mother had no breastfeeding challenges herself, so I’d never heard how hard it could be. I had not expected how physically/emotionally demanding it would be. Things got easier over time, and i am now breastfeeding an almost-2 year old. It was truly a battle of will (and accessing the right resources), but I’m so glad we made it!” – Megan from Newfoundland
“I wished I had known that with breastfeeding, extreme hunger, extreme thirst and bouts of anxiety with every letdown were going to consume me whole. I wish I had known the difference between plugged ducts and mastitis, or even thrush. I wish I had known how to lessen or cope with the pain. I wish I had known how bad an imperfect latch could damage my nipples, and the crushing fear and anxiety that would come with the 15 feedings per day, gritting my teeth in fear of the pain to come. But, to this day after swallowing only half my pride in seeking help from YouTube videos and learning two great techniques that were not taught in the hospital of nose-to-nipple and the sandwich hold, there was a short period of healing and the most amazing bond I could have ever formed with a single soul on this planet. The beaming little but gorgeous brown eyes looking up at me as to say “I love you Mama, thank you for providing me this comfort and nourishment.” – Candice
“The duration of the feeds will shorten, just push through and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” – Nita
“I wish I knew how hard it would be (or could be), so I was better prepared. I also wish I knew that supplementary formula feeding, while breastfeeding is being established, is sometimes needed and can be done in ways that do not jeopardize breastfeeding (e.g. supplemental nutrition system)” – Kim from London, Ontario
“I wish I had known how difficult breastfeeding is both mentally and physically. I also wish I had known just how painful it can be and that it’s worth finding support and help and even though it’s an intimate action between mother and baby, you aren’t alone and don’t need to struggle in isolation.” – Lisa from Manitoba
“I never imagined how difficult breastfeeding could be. It has never been easy for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were and still are many wonderful moments and I’m happy I did/am doing it, but there were many hard bumps along the road. I think I saw every lactation consultant in the city! Lol.” – Jill from New Brunswick
“I wish I had known how long it would take before things became easier. For us, it wasn’t until after 3 months, and that fourth trimester was HARD. Babe was gaining but there was so much difficulty at the breast – lots on and off and crying – maybe a lip tie? Maybe forceful let down? Maybe “colic” or temperament? Never did figure out why, but it settled down, finally, and it got better. But it was not the beautiful bonding experience I had imagined! And I needed so much support, more validation than anything else really, and we probably only continued out of my sheer stubbornness. I’m glad we did, but the experience has made me a whole lot more empathetic to all the mamas out there” – Lise from Terrace, BC
“I wasn’t expecting the challenges in the beginning. Being a dietitian I was extremely determined to breastfeed but I had a lot of nipple pain for the first few weeks where I cringed every time my girls fed. I also didn’t expect feeding on demand to be as often as it was, especially during growth spurts. But, I also know that it gets better fairly quickly and it does get way easier.” – Angela from Nova Scotia
“[I wish I had known] to be patient with yourself and your baby, and you are more resilient than you give yourself credit for! There were so many times I wanted to quit breastfeeding, but connecting with multiple lactation consultants (different consultants offer new techniques) helped. I had an awful experience of painful, cracked, bleeding nipples. It took me 4 months with a lot of support to get through, and it didn’t feel ‘natural’ until about 6 months.” – Samantha from Saskatoon
“What really helped me through the first month (had to pump a lot and then switched to a nipple shield which felt like failure) was knowing that as long as you keep up your milk supply you will eventually succeed, even if it’s a month – or three! – later. I also found the help of a professional was essential because my midwife encouraged a lot of old-school techniques.” – Susannah
8) Follow your instincts
Your mama instincts are there for a reason; so go ahead and trust them! As mentioned before, breastfeeding is like a dance between two people. Trust your instincts to find your rhythm. Yes, breastfeeding may feel a bit awkward at first, like you have two left feet. Listen to your body and position yourself and your baby in a way that feels comfortable for you! There’s a “new technique” in breastfeeding culture called biological nursing or laidback nursing. Essentially it’s a throwback to times when moms simply found a position that was comfortable for them and their babies. A lot of breastfeeding “help” will have you follow a million steps and positions to get everything “just right” but this can do more harm than good.
When my first baby was born and after he had a bit of time skin-to-skin on my chest, the midwife pronounced it was time to feed! She grabbed the baby with one hand and my breast with the other and went to put them together like she was plugging a cord into an outlet! I love my midwife and I know she had the best of intentions but it just felt so wrong! I needed to pause, re-group, and follow my instincts to what I felt would work best for me and my baby. And then… he latched!! And then never wanted to let go…. They let him nurse for an hour but then decided it was probably time to weigh him, wipe him down, etc.
So follow your intuition when figuring out a good position. Follow your intuition if you feel like a healthcare provider’s, family member’s, for friend’s advice isn’t right for your situation. And most importantly, follow your intuition if you think that something isn’t quite right! There is good breastfeeding help out there. Sometimes it takes a bit of searching but it’s there!
“I wish I knew about the back pain! Figure out some strategies for good positions/posture.” – Kaila
“The one thing I wish I had known about breastfeeding the first time was how to relax with babe and know how to position myself to be comfortable for a feed. My first took awhile to get a decent latch and so I was always leaning into her to help…Wrecking my back!” – Melissa from Winkler, Manitoba
“While the process came quite easily for my first, I wish I had known about how to treat blocked ducts. But the biggest thing that I wish I’d known was that just because it was easy the first time didn’t mean it would be easy again. I really struggled with one of the twins and it took a long time before I trusted my own instincts and sought out a solution for what ended up being lip tie.” -Janelle from Calgary
” I didn’t realize that a baby could actually be allergic to his mothers milk (more precisely proteins from what she eats in her milk). Despite feeding very well, my son was not gaining weight and was miserable for months. I was able to continue breastfeeding if I didn’t eat what he was allergic to, but ultimately chose to switch to formula at 6 months with no regrets! If it seems like more than a regular fussy baby, talk to your pediatrician!” -Candice
” I also wish I had been encouraged to trust my intuition to do what is best for my baby, myself, and my family (and to trust that I am the expert on that). Not every baby or mother or season of life is the same, and there is great freedom in being encouraged to embrace what works best for your own situation.” -Ashleigh
“My daughter completely refused to latch right from birth and despite having all the knowledge, support, and resources you could ask for we still could not make nursing work. It was definitely one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever had. I was lucky to have LCs involved from the start and good advice on pumping right away so I established a good milk supply and at 7 weeks decided to stop trying to get my daughter to latch and stick with exclusively pumping and bottle feeding. I wish I made that decision earlier. Listen to what your baby is telling you and trust your own inner wisdom!! There’s lots of textbook and general advice out there on breastfeeding, especially when trying to work through struggles – but what I needed most was to worry less about all of that and follow what felt right for my baby and me” – Beth
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