10 Things I Didn’t Know About Breast-feeding

Three months in, and there's only one thing I know for certain: I'm no expert.
Breastfeeding 315

The day after our daughter was born, a lactation consultant visited our hospital room at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem. She watched Avery nurse to ensure she was latching properly and gave suggestions on nursing positions, how to handle sore nipples, and so on and so forth. I listened to her advice but felt confident that nothing she told me was anything I didn’t already know.

I had read all the books. I had taken the breast-feeding class. I had this breast-feeding thing in the bag. But, as the lactation consultant was walking out the door, she left us with a warning: "Go ahead and get some sleep now because most babies spend their second night cluster feeding."

Cluster feeding? Yeah, yeah, I got this.

That evening after the visitors left, my husband made up his sofa bed, the lights were dimmed, I nursed the baby, and we all settled in for a nice long rest. Then, the baby woke up. And just as the lactation consultant had predicted, she wanted to eat. And eat, and eat, and eat, and eat. She sucked, only pausing long enough for me to switch her to the other breast. She nursed for the next four hours. Four hours.

It was the single most exhausting experience of my life (and having given birth the previous day didn’t help the situation). I felt like I had run a marathon. When Avery finally finished and fell asleep in my arms, I felt that together we had accomplished something truly great.

And, I was proud of us. Very proud.

What I know now is that she wasn’t really eating — she was sucking so that my milk would come in. And, two days later, it did — just like I read in all the books. What the experience taught me that the books didn’t was that even though breast-feeding is a very intuitive process, it doesn’t come without putting in the work.

As it turns out, there were a lot of things I didn’t know about breast-feeding. I’ll offer this list of 1- with a disclaimer: My daughter is only 12 weeks old. We’ve come a long way on our personal breast-feeding journey, but there’s still a lot to come (such as teething, yikes!). As with all baby advice, take this as one person’s experience, which — like every baby — is unique.

1. Newborn babies don’t eat on a schedule.
Sometimes babies go three hours between feedings. Sometimes they go an hour and a half. Sometimes they want to eat right after they just ate. There is no way of predicting it. If I had stopped looking at the clock sooner, I would have prevented a lot of frustration on both of our parts. 

2. On some days, it will be all you do. 
I’ll admit that there have been days when my husband comes home from work, and I am still in my pajamas, sitting in the exact same place I was when he left. When he asks what I did all day, sometimes I can’t say for sure — maybe I unloaded the dishwasher? Or, maybe I didn’t. The truth is that some days, it will feel like all you do is feed your baby.

3. Breast-feeding makes you extremely hungry. 
It was a struggle, but I managed to keep on top of my appetite throughout my pregnancy. But as soon as my daughter was born, I couldn’t control it. I was ravenous all the time. It turns out that whereas you need 300 extra calories a day to make a baby, you need 500 extra calories a day to make milk. Go figure. 

4. Stretch marks don’t end with pregnancy.
Think you can put away the coco butter now that your belly has stopped expanding? Not so fast. Unless, of course, you want stretch marks on your boobs. Your breasts undergo rapid changes when your milk comes in and as your body adjusts to how much milk it should make. My best advice to avoid stretch marks is to treat your boobs like you did your belly.

5. Breast-fed babies spit up just as much as bottle-fed babies.
My mother laughed when I told her that I didn’t need to buy bibs because breast-fed babies don’t spit up. Who told me that? She knew the truth. I didn’t. Some breast-fed babies do spit up. A lot. Mine happens to be quite the pro. 

6. Breast-feeding protects your baby from illness.
Over the holidays, I was hit with a terrible, highly contagious stomach bug. It was the sickest I have been in the past 10 years. I was terrified of how this sickness would affect my newborn baby if (and when) she got it. I had no other choice but to keep nursing and hope for the best. Despite being in constant, close contact, she never got sick. The antibodies my immune system produced were passed on to her through my breast milk. There are 101 reasons why breast-feeding is beneficial: This one is on the very top of my list.

7. Some babies don’t like bottles.
Mine doesn’t. Hate is a strong word, but I’ll use it here — she hates bottles. We were told to introduce a bottle a day starting when Avery was 3 weeks old. It didn’t work. We were told to try different nipples and bottles. It didn’t work. We were told that I needed to leave the house and have someone else give the bottle. It didn’t work. We’ve tried every tip I can find in every book and on every website. It’s still not working. But, we’re going to keep trying. (Suggestions? I’ll take them: esdavis@piedmontparent.com.) 

8. Your body still isn’t yours.
A lot is made of the things you are supposed to avoid when you are pregnant, such as caffeine and alcohol. Little did I know that, although these are not completely off limits when breast-feeding, you still have to watch your intake. Theoretically, you can indulge in that extra glass of wine (or two) guilt-free if you have a bottle of expressed milk in the refrigerator. But, wait a second, that only works if your baby will take a bottle. 

9. You are not in charge, not even a little bit.
Never has the phrase, "You can take a horse to water but, you can’t make him drink," been more appropriate. The bottom line is that the baby will eat when the baby wants to eat, and the baby won’t eat when she doesn’t want to eat. My husband and I joke that Avery could want nothing to do with nursing but, if I make a sandwich or get into the bathtub, all of a sudden, she is hungry. 

10. Breast-feeding is empowering.
Sometimes I think about what would happen if Avery and I got stuck in an elevator or stranded on the side of the road. Guess what? We would be just fine because all she needs to survive is my two bosoms. That’s pretty cool. It is really one of the most amazing things women can do — we are literally making all the food our children need with our own bodies. I love this, and I love knowing that one day Avery will be empowered with this same special gift. 

Eleanor-Scott Davis is the associate editor of Piedmont Parent, a sister publication of Carolina Parent in the Triangle and Charlotte Parent.