Little man and I have made it 17 months breastfeeding! I counted and this brings me to a total of 26 months of loaning my body to another human being. LOL! I wouldn’t trade it for the world, though, and it led to some reflecting on our breastfeeding journey. I thought back to the times when I didn’t think we would make it past that day. I thought back to the times when I couldn’t imagine being anywhere in the world but in that rocking chair with little man latched onto me. Seventeen months is a long time, but it’s not, too. It’s really long when your nipples are blistered and you try to hold back tears every time it’s nursing time. But seventeen months is really short when little man starts nursing less frequently during the day and you start to imagine the day that he’ll wean himself. (Cue the waterworks.)
To celebrate breastfeeding, and specifically extended breastfeeding, I talked with several mamas about things they wish they would have known. I took all of their stories and combined them with my story and came up with this list. These are the 10 things mamas wish we would have known about breastfeeding before we had our littles! I hope these can help mamas-to-be and new mamas who don’t know if they’re losing their mind. (You probably are – that’s what motherhood is.)
10 Things I Wish I Would Have Known About Breastfeeding
1. There’s no one-sized-fits-all method.
Breast milk is breast milk. No matter what position you feed baby in or if the milk is in a bottle, you’re still feeding baby. There’s not a certain way you have to do everything or else you’re a bad mom (even if trolls on the internet tell you you are). Every mother and child’s breastfeeding journey is unique to them. It is beautiful and messy and exhausting and painful (see below), but it is YOUR journey. Are there things that we need to look out for to make sure baby is getting the right amount of milk? Yes! (If their diaper output is consistent, they are getting enough milk. You don’t have to top off or supplement regardless of who tells you that you do.) But it’s your time to figure your baby out and establish a nursing relationship that works for the both of you. If that means baby needs to be held and nursed for hours, that’s what you do. If that means that you have to feed off of both sides to satisfy your babe, that’s what you do. Follow your instincts and ask questions when you’re not sure.
2. Your breast milk is tailor made for baby.
This is probably one of my favorite things about breastfeeding. Your milk literally changes to fit your baby’s need EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Isn’t that insane? Here’s how it works: every time babe latches on, his or her saliva enters your nipple and triggers the milk production system to alter the milk to help baby thrive. This means that if either of you have a cold, your body will produce the antibodies needed to keep baby healthy for that specific virus. Your body produces your milk in such a way that meets all of your baby’s needs right now. It is such an incredible concept.
3. It hurts but the pain doesn’t last. If it does, something isn’t right.
Breastfeeding hurts in the beginning. It just does. Every mom will describe the pain a little differently (stinging, pinching, burning, etc.). Think about it – one of the more sensitive parts of your body is now being suckled with a force that is not usual for you for long periods of time. It’s naturally going to be, at the least, uncomfortable, if not painful. What’s important to note is that the pain should go away. If baby latches properly and there are no issues with infections or clogged ducts, the rawness should subside within the first week or two. If the pain is not subsiding, you need to seek help to ensure that there is a proper latch and there aren’t any lip or tongue ties, etc. We loved using a nipple shield for the first 3 months. It saved my sanity!
4. It is legal to breastfeed publicly in 49 states.
Know your rights! You are allowed to breastfeed wherever you are legally allowed to be. Except in Idaho. So instead of uncomfortably covering baby or going to the car or bathroom, rest assured that you have the right to breastfeed wherever you are! If you want to cover, that’s okay too. But you don’t HAVE to. Check out the law by state here.
5. Clusterfeeding is real. And exhausting. But it’s okay.
Luckily, little man only clusterfed a few times over the past 17 months but oh my gosh – it was EXHAUSTING! For many people, clusterfeeding happens soon after birth and can last for days, weeks, or months. Clusterfeeding is when baby seems to constantly need to nurse despite just nursing minutes before. This can be very confusing and tiring and overwhelming. What’s important to know is that THIS IS NORMAL. Clusterfeeding helps establish your nursing relationship and supply. Remember, breastfeeding isn’t just about food. It’s comfort, a sleep aid and safety. So even though it seems like your baby JUST ATE, rest assured that it’s okay to continue nursing. Grab some snacks, a big jug of water and sleep in between the nursing sessions.
6. Baby doesn’t have to wean at 3 or 6 or 12 (or whatever number you’ve been told) months.
There’s a common misconception that babies have to be weaned by a certain age. Like all of a sudden at 6 or 12 months, their bodies do this crazy change to not need breastmilk. This is not true. There are lots of studies that demonstrate the benefits of nursing your baby to 12 months and beyond! Check out these fact sheets. Even if you feel pressured from friends or family to wean, don’t feel like you have to. There is so much misunderstanding when it comes to extended breastfeeding, and unfortunately, many people still sexualize the nursing relationship once baby gets a little older. The World Health Organization recommends that all children be breastfed until at least the age of two. The average world weaning age is between 4-7 years old. Do what works best for you and your baby!
7. You don’t have to pump and dump.
Another misconception about breastfeeding is how to nurse and enjoy a drink or two. You don’t have to pump and dump out the milk when you have a drink. Alcohol typically metabolizes within 30-90 minutes and the amount that is in your milk is minuscule. KellyMom has great guidelines that you can follow when you want to have a night out with the girls or (more realistically) drink some wine at the end of the day when you’re pulling your hair out.
8. But what you eat & drink does matter.
While we’re on the topic of consuming things while breastfeeding, it is important to note that what you do eat and drink does matter. Your baby does get nutrients from things you eat, so the healthier you eat, the better it is for your baby. The more diversity you incorporate into your diet allows your baby to experience more flavors and decreases the chances you’ll have a picky eater. Granted this isn’t a guarantee, but I’ve noticed with little man that he loves to try lots of different flavors and I tend to eat all sorts of colors in my diet!
9. A good pump is key and there are different sizes to the flanges.
Not every pump is created equal. I personally love the Medela Pump in Style. I got mine free through insurance so check which brands are covered through your insurance! I have friends who love the Spectra and others who prefer hand pumps! Part of which pump you use is limited by what your insurance covers, but do your research so you know what works best for you. There are so many helpful breastfeeding support groups on Facebook that you can use for guidance! (Search: Milky Mommas, Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy, Breastfeeding Older Babies & Beyond)
The size of the flange also matters! This was something I didn’t know about until I joined several Facebook groups. Check with your pump brand and see what size is best for you. The suction of the pump should bring your nipple into the flange with just enough space so that your nipple is not being squished and not too much space that there’s not a strong enough suction.
10. It goes way faster than you think!
Soak up every second of it, mama. Even the times where you swear you’re going to lose your shit. It goes so freakin’ fast so cherish the moments while they last. This too shall pass.
What other tips or interesting facts would you add to this list?
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