My introduction to breastfeeding came with the birth of my twins. There was a lot to figure out, and quickly. Some of what I needed to know pertained to nursing twins, but there was plenty of information I would have needed with "only" one baby.
That sink-or-swim experience made breastfeeding my next two children who arrived one at a time, a couple of years apart, seem like a breeze.
If some of the following sounds more extreme or more intense than what you've gone through, it may be due to the twin factor of my first nursing experiences.
Here are just a few of the things I didn't know when I embarked on this journey.
1) Introduction to the nursing relationship can be awkward.
Not all infants will latch on quickly and easily right from the start. Baby may have a little trouble figuring out what to do. And Mom's own lack of experience can make her feel all thumbs, so to speak.
But fear not, a little initial fumbling won't doom your nursing relationship.
2) Nursing a baby can be painful.
When a baby is trying to feed and Mom hasn't been drinking enough water, especially in the beginning, those strong little jaws and those hard little gums can be quite a shock. But you will both get better at things with a little experience.
I learned that drinking plenty of liquids would create a free-flowing river of nourishment for my baby. And when Baby doesn't have to work so hard to get milk, it's less painful for Mommy.
3) Milk will let down unexpectedly at times.
And I didn't know that this letdown could soak my clothes in no time flat. Nor did I know that I could fully expect it to let down when one of my babies cried — or when I merely thought about my baby crying or being hungry — especially in the early days.
4) I had never heard of breast pads.
Then, when I did learn of them I didn't think they mattered. But that was before I had my babies. See the aforementioned unexpected letdown of milk. I learned why many women swear by these little treasures. Because otherwise they'd be soaking wet most of the time.
5) I would be able to gauge when my baby was hungry by how I felt.
The baby isn't the only one feeling it when it's time for a feeding. Mom gets to feeling pretty full and tight. Eventually, I would know it was time for a nursing session by how "ready" I was feeling. Invariably, there was a very hungry baby on the same schedule.
6) Breasts change size and shape all the time.
I didn't know that breasts can and do change all day and all night long, depending on when the last feeding was, when the next one is due, and when a baby cries.
Good to keep in mind when buying clothes. It helps to wear tops that aren't too snug for reasons that will quickly become apparent. I also went for vests, as well as tops with lots of pintucks and pockets, to hide effects somewhat.
7) Lanolin on sore nipples can backfire.
I didn't know that applying lanolin on sore nipples will make someone with a wool sensitivity even more sore. I learned this one the hard way.
I solved my problem by ditching the lanolin and upping my fluid intake instead. Baby didn't have to work so hard, and things flowed nicely.
8) You can get clothes that are specially designed for nursing mothers.
I thought that was clever and amazing. Bras, dresses, tops, nightgowns and pyjamas are made with camouflaged slits in them for nursing mothers.
Lots of mothers prefer to stick with clothes that pull up, or down instead, and that's fine too. If this type of camouflage clothing works best for you, though, they are definitely worth the investment. You'll only need them for a short time, but they can definitely change your life.
9) Sometimes a baby develops a preference for one side.
This can cause an assortment of problems — being lopsided is the first one that comes to mind — but there are ways around it.
Keep offering both sides, and maybe the troublesome preference will be a temporary fad. If that doesn't work, you can hold your baby in a different position, facing in your preferred direction but at the other breast.
For instance, if you usually hold your child in the classic position, cradled before your bosom, try arranging your infant at your side rather than in front. Usually the baby won't notice the difference but you will find blessed relief.
10) Some people are really bothered by nursing mothers.
I didn't know how put out some people get about a woman quietly nursing her baby.
My first experience with breastfeeding was 30 years ago, and you would expect that things to have changed a great deal in that time. But really ... no, they haven't.
The type of outrage I see these days directed at some nursing mothers is actually worse than what I saw three decades ago. It makes me shake my head at the lack of progress in this area.
I think maybe there are more women who are less inclined to play along, and maybe that is why the backlash has become so extreme. Women are not cooperating with being shunted aside like we used to.
In the olden days, I and many other women I knew were willing to sit in a closet or bathroom stall or the car, and make ourselves as invisible as possible.
Breastfeeding an infant is so basic and important. It is a right for nursing moms, and a right to every nursing baby to be able to be fed and nourished without interference from onlookers. It's not something to be ashamed of and hidden away in a corner.
Nursing mothers, you are upholding and fulfilling an age-old function, of nurturing your children. Be proud of taking part in this legacy.
And enjoy this brief period in the relationship with your child. Though it may seem sometimes to be lasting forever, when you look back you will be astonished by just how short that time with each baby really is.