Expect the unexpected.
I don't know about you but I feel like this has become my entire life motto ever since I found out I was pregnant with my first baby. From the beginning, nothing went as I expected it to and it hasn't ever really stopped. My babies are now 9, 6.5 and 4.5 (because we can't forget how important those halves are) and I'm met with unexpected parenting joys and hurdles every day. I could talk about being a mom all day, but we're here today to talk about the biggest unexpected experience: breastfeeding.
When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my babies. I remember my mom talking about how beautiful her experience was—how she said it was the closest you can get to another human—I mean, with that endorsement, how could I not want to? I ended up breastfeeding all three of my kids and each one came with unexpected surprises and challenges. I hope that sharing them with you will help you feel a little less alone on this crazy journey, reassure you that you are not broken if you just can't do it and if you want to quit, that's okay. These were the top 10 breastfeeding challenges I faced.
- It didn't feel "natural" to me
- My baby just couldn't seem to latch
- I had a low milk supply
- My baby was super gassy
- I couldn't find the right position
- My nipples hurt too much
- My baby was fussy when my milk wouldn't let down
- My baby didn't seem to be eating/growing enough
- I felt like a failure
- I wanted to give up
1. It didn't feel natural to me
Wow. A lot to unpack here. There's this myth that you're just supposed to know what to do. Sometimes I felt that way but most times it felt clunky and unnatural to figure out. Working with my lactation consultant and even my midwife and mom really helped me realize that I needed help figuring it out! And, more importantly, that needing help (and asking for it) was okay. I wasn't supposed to have it all figured out and that it would take a few weeks to feel like I had the hang of it.
2. My baby just couldn't seem to latch
This. 100% every time one of my babies was born. Each of their little mouths were sooooo different. My oldest just didn't seem to want to open his mouth so I had to figure out this whole system of tricking him to get him to open his mouth and then pulling his lip out so he could get his whole mouth around my nipple to feed. My second felt like a hoover compared to my first. He took awhile to get a good latch but once he did, he emptied each boob in about 8 minutes flat as a newborn! By the time my third came around, I was prepared for anything. Her latch and desired position was different every single time we sat down to nurse. I worked with a lactation consultant all three times because each baby is different and your milk is different each time, too!
3. I had a low milk supply
Ooh boy. I had to go back to work when my oldest was 8 weeks old and that might have been the most challenging time of my life. I was, quite literally, a walking zombie. He nursed for 45 minutes on each side every 2 hours. I was exhausted, stressed, overwhelmed and the mom guilt for leaving him so soon was all encompassing. I was the first woman at my job to have a baby so I was setting the precedence, right? Well, let's just say every mistake was made with me. Short maternity leave, jokes about when my water would break, putting an "On Air" sign on my door so everyone would know when I was pumping, sending me messages while I'm pumping asking me when I'd be done and that I needed to get to work earlier or stay later to make up for the time I pumped. To say that my milk supply took a nosedive was an understatement. What helped, you might ask? Fenugreek, blessed thistle, rubbing fennel essential oils on my breasts, drinking barley water every day and pumping in the middle of the night in between feedings to tell my body to make more. When that stopped working, I reached out to one of my best friends whose son was 1 week younger than mine and she donated tons of her frozen breast milk to me. It was a true gift. Once I knew I had enough to get my son through a couple of weeks, I was able to relax and my supply increased. And when he got older, I got raw goat's milk from a trusted local farm!
4. My baby was super gassy
This is a really common issue that not many people talk about. Your baby's tummy has only ever gotten nutrition through the umbilical cord, so it's learning how to digest all of that goodness. Try cutting back on cruciferous veggies like cauliflower and broccoli, remove things like dairy and gluten from your diet and see how things improve. If that doesn't work, talk to your pediatrician and check for lip or tongue ties. Sometimes if they can't get a good latch, they'll swallow too much air, upsetting their tummies. Or see if you have a pediatric chiropractor around your area. I had my second son's soft palette on the roof of his mouth adjusted and it made a huge difference!
5. I couldn't find the right position
I tried all sorts of different nursing pillows, but none of them really helped make it easier for me. He was too low, I couldn't get the pillow around my postpartum belly, my back hurt, I felt like he was going to roll right off, I couldn't get comfortable nursing lying on my side, etc. I knew there had to be a better option. The only problem was, it didn't exist. That's when we made the Niche Nursing Pillow and it honestly made things so much easier. It's supportive, comfortable, has a square design, making it easier to use and it's machine washable for all of those spit up messes! I didn't have the Niche for my first but we had it once my second and third came around and I don't know how the rest of my nursing journey would've gone without the Niche and, honestly, I don't really want to think about it. Having a nursing pillow that truly helped me every step of the way made me worry less and gave me more time to actually bond with my babies. Whether you're nursing, bottle feeding, pumping or just looking for that perfect side sleeping pillow, the Niche has you covered.
6. My nipples hurt too much
The best advice I can give on this front is to check your baby's latch. That's the main reason for extended nipple soreness. Listen, I'll be real with you, your nipples will be sore in the beginning. My lifesaver were these awesome silver shields called Silverettes. The healing silver helped my nipples from being chapped during that first couple of weeks.
7. My baby was fussy when my milk wouldn't let down
If you're experiencing this, I'm so sorry. It's one of the worst feelings to look down at your crying and hungry baby, feeling like you can't give him what he needs. My advice? Prime those babies! Pump a little bit before you feed your baby so your milk is ready to go. Less stress and guilt for you and instant satisfaction for your baby!
8. My baby didn't seem to be eating/growing enough
I'm not a doctor, so always defer to your pediatrician to ensure your baby is thriving. That said, trust your mom instinct. In my experience, it's never proven me wrong. Babies go through growth spurts. My youngest was 8 lbs. 6 oz. at birth and she went through ups and downs in her weight. During one trip to our pediatrician, he said that she was "failing to thrive" which sent me into a tailspin, feeling like I needed to nurse her around the clock again, worrying that she wasn't getting enough. After a few days, I called the doctor back and asked some more questions: "If she's sleeping through the night and isn't waking up hungry, that should mean she's full, right?" (Right.) "If she's meeting her milestones and is a happy baby, she seems to be on track, right?" (Right.) "If she's finishing nursing and there's still milk on one side, she's telling me she's full, right?" (Right.) "So how is she failing to thrive?" (Because the charts say so.) "Well, I'm only 5' 2" and she may just be on the smaller side, so before we try anything too drastic, let's see how she looks at her next visit." (Sounds like a plan.) The moral is, there's sooooooo much to worry about as a mom and there's so much information available to us, but our gut instinct is a pretty powerful thing. When in doubt, get a second opinion and don't be afraid to ask for more answers.
9. I felt like a failure
When my milk supply ran low and my baby boy was wailing at my breast, waiting for milk, I couldn't get a latch to work, my back was hurting, my nipples were chaffed, my baby wasn't growing fast enough, I wasn't pumping enough to keep up, etc. etc. etc. I felt like a complete failure. This was what my body was SUPPOSED to do. This was what my body was MADE to do. Why wasn't it working? If you feel like this, know you're not alone and it's completely normal. If you feel like a failure, please know that you are not a failure. Not even in the slightest. Sometimes it just doesn't work and that's okay. Find a support group, take to Instagram. You'd be surprised at how many people are in the same boat as you, ready to show you some love.
10. I wanted to give up
I have yet to meet a new (or seasoned) mom who hasn't felt like giving up on her breastfeeding journey. It's a lot to ask of someone. We're basically agreeing to give up our bodies for another long period of time. We just gave it up to grow a human for 10 months, after all! We forego autonomy, schedules, freedoms, our bodies are being borrowed multiple times a day. Our boobs are inflating and deflating nonstop. Everything we eat and drink is now scrutinized in a new and completely different way. Wanting to give up is part of the entire process. And, guess what? If you want to give up, give up. Just promise me one thing: don't call it giving up. Call it, "I tried my hardest, I did the best job I could do and I'm proud of myself."
No matter what your journey looks like, we're here to support you every step of the way.