As much as you research, go to classes, and talk with others, nothing can really prepare you for becoming a parent. And one of the most natural parts of early parenthood—feeding your baby—can turn out to be more of a struggle than parents expect. For National Breastfeeding Month, HelloGiggles spoke with 16 women to find out what real moms wish they knew about breastfeeding before their children arrived. We hope their advice not only helps women who plan to breastfeed or are currently breastfeeding, but also sheds some light on what it’s really like to breastfeed—because we could all use more education (and a lot less shame).
Many people know about the health benefits of breastfeeding and how it’s a natural way for a mom to provide nourishment to her children. But that doesn’t mean breastfeeding should be considered simple or easy by any means. While you don’t know how your child will respond to your breast until they arrive, these 16 moms have shared their own experiences to help make the world a better breastfeeding place.
So for National Breastfeeding Month, learn what these moms wish they had known before their babies were here and hungry. Hopefully their advice will help you feel less alone in your own breastfeeding journey.
1It’s so difficult in the beginning.
“I just recently had my first child—he’s almost 5 months old. I’ve been breastfeeding from the minute he was delivered and it’s been rough. Luckily, my son latched great from the start and my supply has always been amazing, but all of the classes and articles to read can’t really prepare you for how difficult it is in the beginning.
I wish I had known that it gets so much easier after about the first two months. Before that, there is a lot of discomfort and endless hours nursing. When newborns nurse in the beginning, sometimes they nurse for a long time each feeding. Sometimes my son would be on my breast for almost an hour. It was draining. Now, he nurses for about 5-10 minutes and he’s done. He still eats about every hour and a half to two and a half hours, but the ease of it makes it less draining. I would encourage moms to reach out to a lactation consultant. I requested to speak to one in the hospital after delivering and she is still in our lives. If it wasn’t for her support and guidance, I’m not sure I would still be nursing my son.”
— Ashley, 31, Connecticut
2It’s a full-time job.
“Before giving birth, I wish I knew that breastfeeding would occupy that vast majority of my time for the first few months as a mother. I didn’t realize babies eat so often and for so long! I also wish I knew I might still be exclusively breastfeeding past six months. No one told me that some babies aren’t ready for solids until closer to a year. Breastfeeding is a full-time job!”
— Malorie, 22, California, creator of Healing Malorie
3I wish I’d know what cluster feeding is.
“One thing I wish I knew about breastfeeding before becoming a parent was what cluster feeding was and that it is totally normal. When my baby went through her first growth spurt around 10 days and wanted to nurse for hours on end, I really doubted my ability to keep up. I now know that this is completely normal behavior, and actually crucial for building supply. Supplementing [with formula] during a cluster-feed session can be really counterproductive. No one warned me about this!”
– Alli, 29, Massachusetts, blogger for Mom Smart Not Hard
4What resources are available.
“When I was expecting my first baby, my mother and grandmother kept telling me how natural and beautiful breastfeeding was. To them, it was one of their favorite parts of the baby stage. What they didn’t tell me is how hard or painful it could be! I went into it thinking it would be rainbows and unicorns…a couple weeks and two sore nipples later I realized there was a lot more to it. I wish I’d known about the resources that are now available for breastfeeding moms, like La Leche League and lactation consultants, that can help you get to the point where it is a beautiful experience.”
— McKinzie, 26, Utah, creator of Today Mommy
5It may take some time for baby to latch.
“Breastfeeding isn’t as easy as you think. It took 10 days for my first baby to latch and truly nurse. It took having a lactation consultant come to my home to diagnose him with torticollis, which meant his neck hurt when I tried to nurse him. He would cry constantly and we were all just exhausted. While nursing is nice and definitely bonding, it does put a lot of the work of feeding on the mother as she is the sole feeder (unless you pump and bottle feed) for at least the first few weeks, which are the most exhausting. I would get a snack and remember to drink a glass of water when I nursed as it forced me to sit down, relax, and focus on my baby. Also, if you don’t introduce the bottle early enough, there is a chance your baby will reject the bottle and you will have to nurse without being able to bottle feed. (This happened with my second child.)”
— Elaine, 49, California
6It shouldn’t be really painful.
“I had my first child 14 months ago. I felt extremely prepared about breastfeeding and had access to incredible resources. So although I was aware of it, I do not think all are aware that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. If it hurts (irritation and mild soreness aside), there is something wrong. Lip tie and tongue tie is now becoming commonplace. I only randomly heard about this before giving birth and am so thankful I did. I knew exactly what signs to be on the lookout for: ‘Lipstick’-shaped nipple after feeding (instead of a gum drop), a baby who doesn’t seem satisfied after nursing for a long time, pain. I wish more people were aware of this as many cause damage to themselves or push through and have a painful experience when there could be a lip tie or tongue tie issue.”
— Kristin, 37, Massachusetts
7I wish I’d known how to break the suction.
“Be sure to use your finger to break the suction—placing it between your baby’s gums to loosen its hold—before you remove the baby from your breast! In other words, don’t attempt to rip a suckling baby off your breast. Three weeks into breastfeeding, my breasts were so red and sore I felt I couldn’t continue breastfeeding and was very upset about it. I called La Leche League and they arranged for a quick consultation after which my problem was solved.
It may sound simple, but I was both a licensed psychotherapist and an MBA at the time I was breastfeeding and yet, I didn’t know this relatively simple solution. Breastfeeding was a wonderful experience for me and my baby and I’d hate for anyone to miss out on doing so because of what may be a common misconception about how to end a feeding. Using a finger to painlessly break the suction is so crucial to a long and successful breastfeeding experience.”
— Arlene, 50s, Florida, author of Let Go Of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food
8It’s normal to struggle.
“I wish I would have known how difficult it can be for some and that it’s 100% normal to struggle with breastfeeding. My son had a hard time latching and I felt like I was a failure. The lactation consultants were so helpful and supportive. I went to a breastfeeding support group weekly for quite a while, and it was wonderful to meet other women and to just share stories, listen, and support each other.”
— Bri, 30, Michigan, co-owner of Better Body Image Conference
9Your body will be physically impacted.
“Your nipples will crack and bleed as you learn how to position properly to get a better latch. It’s normal for your nipples to feel a bit tender the first few days as they accustom to breastfeeding and the skin toughens. But breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. I had to see a lactation nurse because my nipples were badly cracked: a sign of an improper latch.
Your breasts will feel beaten and swollen as they engorge with milk and then empty out after feedings. Your breasts will begin producing mature milk around the third or fourth day after birth. The milk will increase in volume and will appear thinner and whiter (opaquer) in color compared to the earlier thick, yellow colostrum. When the milk does finally arrive, you just know. Your breasts become rock hard and they start to ache until baby nurses.
Squeezing your breasts to release some of the buildup will feel as good as peeing after keeping a full bladder for an abdominal ultrasound. The feeling as baby starts relieving some of that engorgement is like a dark sky opening and sunlight streaming through. It feels like a balloon that’s about to burst; suddenly some air is released and it doesn’t pop after all.”
— Maria, 43, Canada, author of Oh Baby! A Mom’s Self-Care Survival Guide for the First Year
10I wish I’d known which psychiatric medications can impact the baby.
“I wish I knew [which] psychiatric medications were safe for nursing and what the risks were. I also wish I knew not to listen to people who pushed formula on me in the hospital.”
— Sarah, 38, Oregon, CEO of Eliezer Tristan Publishing
11Saliva affects the nipples.
“Saliva is used in the breaking down of food, so if left on the breast, saliva can make nipples sore. Wiping the breast thoroughly with a damp cloth after feedings, and drying them completely, will discourage sore nipples. (Do not use a cloth that has harmful soap or detergent on it.)
Also, coolness (cold showers) may discourage milk production in some moms, while applying heat or warmth to breasts may encourage milk production in some moms. To prevent sore nipples, hold the baby in the proper position during nursing. The nipple should not rub on any part of the inside of the baby’s mouth when nursing. And some moms (like me) may have difficulty achieving ‘let down’ (when the nerves in your breast send signals to release the milk in your milk ducts) without actual contact with the baby, making pumping difficult.”
— Tangela, 48, Florida, founder of Simply Necessary, Inc.
12You can successfully nurse after hospitalization—and with twins.
“Hospitalization or NICU time does not mean you can’t successfully breastfeed once your baby(ies) become healthy enough to do so. Before becoming a parent, I read all the breastfeeding books and they all emphasized how important it was for immediate skin-to-skin [contact], as well as not using any bottles (especially formula ones!) at the start so as to avoid nipple confusion. However, when my twins were born five weeks early, they were whisked away from me and immediately given bottles of formula due to medical issues. I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to have the breastfeeding journey I wanted with them due to not having hardly any contact after their birth. Thankfully, after many patient attempts, I was able to first start nursing them in the NICU and we are still breastfeeding successfully.
Nursing twins is also not as hard as it seems, it just takes a little more work. After nursing my [first] son for 18 months, I was really nervous about how I’d make enough milk for two babies. I almost didn’t even try to nurse them because of how intimidating it seemed—how do you hold two babies to your breast at the same time anyway? Thankfully, I found guidance on the internet and we have managed to breastfeed for over a year now.”
— Stacy, 28, Wyoming, creator of The Crazy Outdoor Mama
13Other people’s experiences won’t be the same as yours.
“I wish I had known how different breastfeeding can be for different mother/baby duos. Some people I know picked up breastfeeding with no problem. For others, it just never worked. Don’t let other people’s experiences create rosy expectations or instill unnecessary anxiety before your baby is born. You’ll have plenty of time to learn together once he or she is here.”
— Janelle, 30, Texas, creator of Route to Health and Wealth
14I wish I’d known how much milk to expect.
“Your milk often comes in all of a sudden, and it can be way more than your baby can drink. I wish I had known that first and had arranged to have a breast pump available right away so that I could have pumped and frozen some of the extra to have on hand when I went back to work or for nighttime feedings with my husband, etc. I assumed that while I was home with the baby there would never be a need to pump, and that was simply not the case.
I also have some tips for breastfeeding if/when you return to work:
- Pre-plan. Before you go on leave, talk to HR or your boss or other moms where you work about where you will pump.
- Remember to schedule pumping. With my first child, I did not understand or take into account the fact that when you breastfeed, your breasts are on a schedule. They do not care if you have back-to-back meetings or a plane to catch. There are very few experiences more embarrassing than being in a meeting and having your boobs leak.
- Buy and use a hands-free pumping bustier. It is undeniably a ridiculous-looking and absurdly bizarre contraption, but amazingly effective for hands-free pumping.”
—Amy, 40s, Illinois, CEO of Jugl
15You will feel exhausted, but it’s worth it.
“I’m a working mom and have been breastfeeding exclusively, on demand, for 10 months. In my experience, you will probably get blocked milk ducts at some point—for which you’ll try everything from homeopathy to putting lettuce in your bra to dunking your boobs in warm water in 60 seconds intervals to unblock the duct.
You’ll probably experience bloody bite marks when baby’s teeth come in and every possible thing going wrong if pumping—from forgetting your pump at work, forgetting one valve and the entire pump not working, tubes breaking on vacation, etc.
Your baby (or a pump) will be attached to you at 3-5 hour intervals (shorter in the beginning) and you’ll plan your entire life around those intervals. You’ll be washing pump parts around the clock and be mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted, and there will be times when you want to give up. But the bond you form with your baby over all of those moments will make it all worth it. Breastfeeding will teach you what you’re really made of and probably be one of the proudest accomplishments in your life.”
—Lauren, 28, California, part of the founding team at Ritual
16That it might not work—and that’s okay.
“It might not work, and that’s not your fault. My first [baby] could not breastfeed. He dropped so much weight and I was so depressed that our doctor advised us to switch to formula. My second was a champ. They are both healthy, they are both attached, and they are both perfect.”
— Dani, 41, California
These interviews have been edited and condensed.