the top 5 things I wish I knew about breastfeeding (before I decided to breastfeed)
As much as there are things I absolutely love about breastfeeding, the intense bonding, the convenience of being a walking milk bar, the calories it supposedly burns, the truth is I didn’t actually know what I was signing up for. Not that knowing the challenges would have changed my decision to breastfeed – just saying a little heads up might have been nice.
Here are the top 5 things I wish I had known (or at least had a bit of a heads up about).
1. Breastfeeding is a full-time job.
While I knew that newborns fed roughly every two hours, what I didn’t know was that it was every two hours from the start of the feed. Meaning, that if it took an hour and a half to feed my baby, I was feeding her again in thirty minutes. And then forget the actual feeding time – what about all the time spent making sure the baby was feeding and not falling asleep on the boob? I’m talking about the hours of mid-feed feet tickling, diaper changing, even cheeky wet wipes to the face. Anything to keep her awake and fed. Eventually I came to understand that it’s all part of the very full-on full-time job that is breastfeeding. A full-time job with zero vacation pay, sick or mental health days. Yes, there are benefits, like all the trashy TV you feel entitled to watch during those marathon feeding sessions. Or the completely unnecessary 3am Amazon purchases like that avocado slicer and pancake pen I plan to use one of these days, but even with all those benefits – plus the actual benefits, like the nutritional value of breastmilk – it is still worth stressing to mamas to be that in the beginning, at least, it will take up all of your time.
2. I would receive conflicting Information.
Before I even left the hospital I was bombarded with a dizzying number of nurses, midwives and lactation consultants giving me advice – most of it conflicting. One midwife told me to aggressively shmoosh my baby’s face into my breast, while another midwife was adamant I had to gently line up her nose with my nipple and let her find her way from there. I hired two different private lactation consultants: the first told me I had to express after every feed to keep up my milk supply, while the other one told me not to express after each feed or I’d produce too much milk and risk giving myself a blocked milk duct or the dreaded mastitis, which is like the death knell of breastfeeding. In all, I had to try my best to drown out the noise and come to accept that there really wasn’t a one size fits all when it came to breastfeeding. Or nipple shields.
3. I’d worry about the quality and quantity of my milk.
“Is my baby getting enough milk?” and “Is my baby allergic to my milk?” must be the two most frequently searched questions for all breastfeeding mothers, myself included. When I Googled if my baby was getting enough milk, the internet told me to watch for six to eight wet diapers a day. The problem was my bub did have enough wet diapers but still didn’t seem satiated. She would scream and cry before, during and after all feeds. Was this normal? I didn’t know and nobody, not my doctor or pediatrician or friends could say for sure. So naturally, I turned to the internet and fell boobs first down a leaky and engorged rabbit hole. When I finally emerged, I had found out that my baby had a severe undiagnosed tongue-tie that was making latching and drinking difficult for her. Somehow out of all the million things I was told at the hospital, nobody seemed to mention the possibility of a tongue-tie (insert face palm emoji here).
4. That pumping and dumping isn’t a thing.
I couldn’t wait to guzzle down a nice glass of vino (or three) after abstaining for nine long months. “I’ll just pump and dump,” I thought. That is, until I started hearing from various people (and that pesky internet) that pumping out my milk after drinking wouldn’t affect the amount of alcohol in my system. However, the consensus seemed to be that a couple drinks a week was not going to alter my breastmilk enough to negatively affect my baby, especially if I managed to wait a couple hours after having a drink to feed. Still, knowing it wasn’t as simple as pumping and dumping has made me rethink my decision to drink at all while breastfeeding. Thanks a lot internet.
5. It really is a journey.
The first time I heard the term “breastfeeding journey” I thought, really? Could the momisphere be any more precious? Didn’t you just offer your baby your breast and presto, it all worked out? Not quite. After dealing with tongue ties, false alarm food allergies, an oversupply followed by an under supply, breast preferences, breast refusals, (I could go on), I understood why it’s called a journey. Though I still stand behind the momisphere being annoying.
Challenges and surprises aside, I find it amazing that my body can nourish and provide comfort to my daughter. And like most things in life, it’s been a learning experience. And hopefully, in a couple of years I’ll forget about the hardships and only remember those heart-melting moments when my baby girl took a feeding break to look up and give me a cheeky little grin before happily vomiting most of it right back up.
Amelia Wasserman is a freelance mother and a full-time television producer and writer. Or possibly the other way around. She’s tired. You can find her on Instagram @ameliarwasserman
It’s World Breastfeeding Week (1st-7th August, 2021)! World Breastfeeding Week is a global campaign to raise awareness and galvanise action on themes related to breastfeeding. Click here for more information.