When I was younger I wasn't exposed to people breastfeeding, I don't think I ever saw anyone breastfeed in person. I knew women did it but my lack of first hand exposure set me up for a big shock when I finally educated myself on the subject while pregnant with little miss.
I took the breastfeeding class offered by Kaiser (3hrs of nothing!), I read the literature, and I even checked out websites so I could get some idea of what I was in for. Unfortunately, NONE of that prepared me even a little bit. All I heard a billion times was how good for my baby it was, which clearly I knew, I was in the freaking class trying to learn HOW not WHY. They droned on and on saying "breastfeeding shouldn't hurt" and "latch" but without any in-person demonstration the pictures and talks didn't help me understand. I should have hit up YouTube, I'm sure they have helpful tutorials, I just didn't think of it at the time. They also failed to mention anything remotely useful:
2. Problem Solving
3. Funny anecdotes about what it is really like
4. Time commitment (I asked questions about this repeatedly and was only given vague answers)
What I should have done was talk to my fellow mom's who had some breastfeeding experience, not only did they understand the learning curve but they are the types of women who won't sugar coat/lie to you. So, I will share with you all what I have learned as if you were asking me while drinking tea in my living room.
Not having any first hand experience made what I have now learned shocking but it also gave me a ton of perspective about choices we have as parents. I was formula fed, so was my husband, and tons of my friends were as well. I don't think it impacted us negatively in any way, not even a little bit. So, you want to know how I decided on breastfeeding? Simple, the experience of making bottles. I helped make bottles for my younger siblings and it sucked. There always seemed to be a bottle that hid, somehow, with just enough milk in the bottom to stink up a whole room. Add in the mixing formula, making the right amount for their tummy size, and washing/disinfecting them, carrying around the ingredients on outings...whew! I'm exhausted just listing that stuff! The second reason? I'm frugal. You already knew that one right? That is pretty much all that went into my decision, cheap and lazy. But, remember how I told you I was in for a shock? Yeah...it turns out breastfeeding is not so easy either, at first, and then there is a short window of easy and then your baby is too distracted all the time.
Initial Breastfeeding pain:
What the classes say: It should NEVER hurt.
What the reality is: It hurts in the beginning and can for a little while (for me it took 6 weeks before it was comfortable, I've heard similar time frames from my breastfeeding friends) Without anything being "wrong" breastfeeding CAN HURT. Like CRAZY HURT even when you aren't nursing. Want to know why? Because a newborn eats every 2-3hrs (sometimes more frequently) and that clock starts at the BEGINNING of the feeding. So, if your little one nurses for 1 hour, then in another hour your baby will likely be hungry AGAIN. So, imagine your nipples being sucked really hard for several hours a day. Yup, you are damn straight that hurts! It takes some serious getting use to. You also have to adjust to your breasts feeling full and achy. Do those stupid classes and literature tell you how to cope with the adjustment period? NO. They just preach how breast is best (whatever) and leave you to feel incompetent when you struggle, jerks.
My Advice: Have ibuprofen and nipple cream in abundance. My list of suggestions/links at the bottom can help with almost any issue.
11 Months later: Breastfeeding pain is non-existent and has been for months and months even on days when my little hungry hippo eats every hour.
Breastfeeding class: your body will produce the exact right amount. They tell you nothing else.
Reality: There are medical conditions that can inhibit milk production (genetic and physical) and some women produce too much milk. In fact, it takes about 3 months for your body to regulate and your boobs feel normal again (not engorged and achy). But if your super lucky like me, it takes a little longer...in fact, I'll let you know when my milk supply figures out that I only have one little baby to feed.
11 Months later: I only get engorged after a full night without feeding her (those are rare, sorry). My oversupply was severe so it took until 5-6 months before it slowed. The issues with oversupply: Having engorged breasts through the whole day, your boob violently spraying your baby when they go to nurse, and finally my least favorite, having to wear little cups to catch the milk (on the non nursing breast) while feeding baby to keep from getting soaked. I hated wearing those cups because I would bend over to set the baby down and milk would pour out everywhere. I know, I'm a genius. BUT, now, I don't have those issues at all.
Breastfeeding class: They glossed over this one nicely, they just say "feed on demand"
Reality: Feeding on demand is important (feed your baby when it is hungry, duh) but they don't tell you that your baby NEEDS to be fed quite frequently in the beginning and may sleep through feedings if you let them which can lead to a low supply of milk and poor weight gain in the baby. They also fail to mention that the baby can demand food every 2-3 hrs with no end in sight.
11 Months later: Little miss still eats every 2-3 hours or so (except after bedtime) and on hot days she likes to eat every hour. I wouldn't be able to keep up with her had I gone back to work, I fully understand how lucky I am to be home with her to meet her demand and be shirtless. Luckily the more solids she eats the less boob time she demands and as we approach a year of this crazy party, that is just fine. I'm just going to follow her lead.
Reality of nursing in the beginning: little miss thinks that whenever she is awake it is time to party, this has led to "distracted" nursing, ripping off the nipple without releasing suction, fussing about nursing because she is getting sprayed in the face, and my favorite, nipple pain from a poor latch caused by an oversupply of milk that makes my boobs giant over-inflated beach balls. I very rarely feel like the beautiful peaceful mom gazing down at her precious baby while nursing in a meadow. I'm usually covered in milk, one boob spraying frantically while little miss nurses on the other and I'm desperately trying to limit the spray zone as she rips off to smile and coo at me. I can't help but laugh at what a disaster it is most of the time. Plus, no one can feed your baby because she won't take a bottle and you struggle alone with no booze to comfort you.
But, here I am, 11 months later still nursing my little one. Lazy and frugal win. I no longer have beach ball boobies. Little miss can latch on with no trouble from any angle without getting sprayed in the face. And best of all, I am not constantly drenched in milk. Added benefit, I can grab just my diaper bag and bolt out the door. No bottles, or containers of formula or wondering if I'll have enough food for her while we are out. Given how much she changes her own feeding time and frequency I can only imagine the headache this saves me.
The remaining issues:
1. Distracted nursing, if she hears anything interesting (daddy in the next room, a garbage truck driving by) or if she sees anything interesting (everything) she pops off and goes for it. It is annoying and messy.
2. Nursing while on the go, yeah, I may not have a bottle but it means pulling my breasts out in public. I'm not opposed to this. I will absolutely whip out a boob and feed my baby, but if you refer back to issue number 1, there are so many distractions in public. I usually can't feed her in a crowded restaurant or very public place because she wants to play. And, there are VERY FEW clean comfortable places you can feed a baby with ANY privacy or quiet. I mostly just need somewhere distraction free.
A few places I can nurse peacefully in public: dressing rooms, my car, Nordstrom seating area, the Honest Co nursing room in the food court.
That being said, I have nursed my baby in absurd places. A church parking lot (no car), in a park in the middle of an outdoor concert, on the couch in the middle of a JCrew store, on a bench in front of a BJ's Brewhouse, in numerous restaurants while I was also eating...the list goes on but I won't. Hey, if she is hungry enough there is no distraction in the world that can interrupt her meal! Also, I have never been approached before, during, or after a feeding session by a stranger with an opinion of any kind so if you are feeling nervous about that behavior I'd say it is uncommon from my own experience.
Here are my tips and the products I swear by if you are also not a meadow nursing, perfect supply, nursing goddess. (Please note, these are purely endorsed out of usage/experience, these companies have no idea who I am and are absolutely not paying for my recommendation.)
1. Ibuprofen (it helps with the achy in-between feedings and nipple tenderness) I took the full recommended dosage of prescribed (800mg) ibuprofen over 24hrs.
2. Lactation consultants can help, Kaiser offers them for free-Use them, it is hands on learning with your baby.
3. Nipple cream, it helps so much. I used Lansinoh and it is great it worked better than ANYTHING.
4. Nipple shields: if it gets real (and it may) these are lifesavers to allow continued healing
5. Breastfeeding pillow, I used the "brestfriend" it helped to position for a good latch even in the middle of the night. Plus it saves your back, keeps baby off c-section incision.
6. Soothies Gel Pads, these help SO SO SO SO SO much, I wouldn't have survived without them. SERIOUSLY. They were cooling, allowed my nipples to have zero friction between feedings and helped heal. Toss them in the fridge for extra magic healing. (Note: you have to wash your nipples after using them before feeding the baby)
7. Medela Soft Shells-These are so good (I used them for 5~6 months), they catch the extra milk spraying from your other boob while baby nurses. Plus they are a dome around the nipple so again, no friction!
8. A pump of ANY kind -If your supply is low, pump after feedings (nurse baby, then immediately pump for a few minutes each side). If you have an oversupply and your little one can't latch, pump just a smidgen to soften the breast a little and viola! no nipple pain, no fire hydrant spray in your baby's face and we are both better off for it. I have a small hand pump for the middle of the night and an electric pump for making bottles she won't take. I've frozen all my milk immediately after pumping and since my freezer is full, I am looking into donating it. (Many insurance companies include a pump rental right after birth, use this! it is medical grade and really helps during those supply forming days)
I have used ALL of the above to get me to this point and I'm glad I stuck with it. I know, hard to believe right? I actually enjoy feeding her now, it's the only time of day she isn't trying to take over the world. Plus, I get to play with her cute little feet. It turns out feeding a baby, no matter how you chose to do it, has its ups and downs. Do whatever it takes to survive parents. I feel your pain, I know your burden and I know the pure bliss of a happily fed baby no matter how they eat. Feed on people.