I thought I was completely prepared for breastfeeding. I read the books, even attended a class. I knew that breastfeeding often doesn’t come naturally, requiring learning from both mother and baby. I’d even seen The Magical Hour and let our birth team know that we were planning to let our baby take her time to find the breast on her own.
But breastfeeding is complex. Expecting to be completely ready for it before baby is a bit like expecting to be fully competent at a new job the second you walk in. And we all know that’s not the case!
Here are some things I learned along the way that I wish I had known ahead of time.
- Breastfeeding a baby to sleep is ok! This was a long lesson for me. I had to unlearn a lot of unconscious messages about “allowing” Sweet Pea to fall asleep at the breast and especially to *gasp* intentionally use breastfeeding to get her to sleep.
- Breastfeeding naturally makes baby relaxed and sleepy. Breastmilk, especially at night, has components that help baby sleep. If you try to keep them from falling asleep at the breast, you are fighting nature. Even if it usually works for you, don’t feel bad when it sometimes doesn’t. (It never worked for us at all. I finally stopped feeling bad about it.)
- Signs that tongue ties are negatively impacting breastfeeding. We really struggled with reflux starting about 3 weeks after Sweet Pea was born. Later I discovered that SweetPea’s reflux, along with her marathon nursing sessions, frequent nursing, poor sleep, inability to take a pacifier or bottle, and the occasional burning sensation in my nipples all could be attributed to tongue tie. KellyMom has great resources for tongue-tied babies.
- There’s no such thing as a “sucky” baby. Thank goodness for lactation consulatants! I was at a breastfeeding support group and mentioned that out of curiosity, I decided to see how long SweetPea would nurse if I didn’t take her off the breast and that after 2 hours, I decided to stop her, even though she would have been content to keep right on. The lactation consultant right away turned this to a teaching moment. She said if a baby is still firmly attached, they are still hungry. I attribute this single piece of advice (along with feeding on demand) with helping SweetPea gain well despite a severe tongue tie.
- It’s important to watch or listen for signs that baby is actually swallowing. This goes right along with “no sucky baby.” Just because baby is sucking, doesn’t mean he’s getting milk. If you are not hearing or seeing baby swallow at least every few sucks, he’s not effectively nursing. You can use breast compression or switch sides to help baby access the milk better.
- Local breastfeeding support groups are lifesavers! I wish I had gone to a few breastfeeding support groups while I was still pregnant! After SweetPea was born, it was a few weeks before I got around to looking up the groups in our area, and then I had to try several different groups until I found one that I really liked. By that time SweetPea was already a few months old. I sometimes wonder if our problems would have gotten fixed sooner had I been more settled into a good group and had been more vocal about our experiences.
If you are still pregnant, what fears or concerns do you have about breastfeeding? If you are already a parent, what do you wish you would have known ahead of time?