As a first-time mama, breastfeeding provided me with quite the rude awakening. For some reason, I just assumed it would come naturally, so I didn't spend much thought or effort preparing for it. Aside from the two hour breastfeeding class I took during pregnancy, I went into it flying blind. I figured women had been nursing their babies for ages before me, so surely I would be able to "just to figure it out."
Well, I was wrong. So wrong.
It was hard and I was definitely unprepared. Here are a few things that I wish I had known about breastfeeding before having my first baby.
1. A good lactation consultant is worth their weight in gold
If there is one tip I could give to every breastfeeding mama out there, it would be to have a good lactation consultant lined up—even before giving birth. This is not to say that the lactation consultants at your hospital or birthing center won't be great, because they very well could be. They could also be not so great. I ended up getting a recommendation for a great consultant from a friend and her advice was the most valuable part of my breastfeeding journey. The hands-on education was exactly what I needed and it made such a difference in my nursing experience.
2. Nursing will be your new full-time job for awhile
Babies really like to eat. A LOT. The books will tell you that newborns need to nurse every 1.5 to 3 hours, but for some babies (especially if you are having an issue with under-supply) it will be more than that. During that first week of breastfeeding, I stressed myself out trying to follow a schedule. I remember thinking, "There's no way she could be hungry again. I fed her less than an hour ago!" and then waiting until it had been a bit longer to satisfy my self-imposed feeding schedule, all while trying to console a wailing baby. With newborns, on-demand feeding is the way to go until they get into a groove. It will feel like being a 24/7 vending machine is your new full-time job, but take heart, it gets better.
3. Stock up on supplies ahead of time
I wish I had thought to have ice packs and nipple cream and nursing pads at my disposal before bringing my baby home. A little bit of forethought would've saved me from having to send my sleep-deprived husband out for them once the baby arrived. Having all the nursing essentials stocked and in a designated nursing area is SO helpful!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in the beginning, nursing is just kind of painful.
4. Don't stress! It can be hard on your supply!
Nursing can sometimes be a stressful business, especially if you're struggling to keep up your supply. I had a hard time and my body never made quite enough milk and I remember feeling stressed basically all the time. The irony of that is that stress can cause your supply to suffer. It's like a vicious cycle. Reminding myself to relax a little about nursing would've made the experience much more pleasant.
5. It will probably hurt.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in the beginning, nursing is just kind of painful. I remember that during the prenatal breastfeeding class I attended the teacher told us that if nursing hurts then you aren't doing it right. She told us that it meant our babies weren't latched properly and we would need to figure out a proper latch. I quickly found out that this teacher was right... but also totally wrong. Pain during nursing can actually mean that your baby isn't latched properly, but in the early days when your nipples are still just getting used to being a human pacifier, it will still just hurt. Even the world's most perfect latch will feel painful on sore, chapped nipples until they get "worn in." It will get easier, but there will definitely be some discomfort initially.
6. Consider your wardrobe and invest in nursing-friendly styles
I spent literally ZERO time considering my postpartum/nursing wardrobe after having my first baby. Having a couple of nursing friendly tops on hand would've made those first weeks much less frustrating when I spent far too much time digging through my closet to find something (ANYTHING) that would work for my new body and nursing needs. I highly recommend a few nursing tanks (or regular tanks that can be pulled down easily) and some long, loose, cotton tops that can be easily lifted for breastfeeding. You'll be so glad you at least have a couple of wardrobe options at your disposal!