I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t expect guys to read this post. And if you do, I won’t blame you if you never want to look me in the eye again, much less quit following my blog.
Another preface: I know that my experiences are mine alone, so there is no way that what I say can be universally applied. You might have a totally different experience. That being said, let’s begin.
This one’s for the ladies that are expecting, who are planning to nurse, and who have no idea what to expect (because how could you?). Or who think they do but have only heard how it’s “magical” or “easy” OR “not worth it” or anything else. Because I heard all of that and more, and I had never been through it either 6 months ago.
But make sure you read all of it, because if you just read the first month, you might never start. 😉
The First Month
The first month of nursing sucks. At least, for me it did. I don’t know if it gets easier with each child or not.
But I was told that “the first two weeks are hard, and then it gets better.”
I found myself nursing one night, tears rolling down my face, as Tom ate dinner, and Josey ate dinner, and my dinner was getting cold beside me. I was in pain, and I was hungry, and I was tired.
It was very frustrating, and Tom asked me what was wrong.
“I HATE THIS! I HATE nursing. I hate it. I hate how much it hurts. I hate that I’m STARVING and can’t ever seem to both make a meal AND eat it before I need to nurse again. I hate how long it takes! I hate that everyone told me I would be a natural at being a mom because I’ve got so much experience with kids, but I feel like I can’t do this! I don’t blame women for giving up on nursing! NURSING SUCKS! It’s been FOUR WEEKS! Why does this still hurt?? It was supposed to stop two weeks ago! I don’t know if I can do this!”
To which, a slightly stunned Tom replied, “Then don’t. We can use formula.”
“NO! I DO have to do this! It’s the one thing about her coming into this world that I still have any control over. My birthing experience was taken away by that STUPID c-section, and I know I had to have it, but I DON’T have to use formula, and I’m NOT giving this up too!”
To which Tom said, “Okay. Is there anything I can do?”
I was tempted to tell him to feed me my dinner, but I knew I was already coming off as somewhat unhinged, so I said no and tried to cry a little more quietly.
One week later, I realized it didn’t hurt anymore. God bless my stubborn streak, because if I’d given up then, I would have stopped nursing right before it got easy.
So why did it hurt?
All Jacked Up
Well, I wasn’t used to it, for starters. As soon as they handed her to me in the hospital, she started to nurse. And then every 2 hours from then until she was a month old.
You hear about women cracking, bleeding, blistering, etc? Well, it’s true. I went though all of that. I have never been so grossed out by my boobs. And they hurt so much it felt like they were sunburned. Any fabric going over me when I dressed or water hitting me in the shower even hurt.
I suggest you own some lanolin if you plan to nurse. (This stuff will stain your clothes, so be careful about what you let it touch.)
I also experienced engorgement a few different times. It is incredibly uncomfortable, and you feel like there’s a huge sign flashing “check out my ridiculously big, rock hard hooters!” I hope it’s not as noticeable to others as I felt like it was, but I was just highly aware of the issue when I was experiencing it.
Basically, your milk production is more than your baby is emptying you, so you get over-full. Then you have to pump to empty yourself to a point where you are comfortable again.
The really stupid thing is, at first, your baby will nurse for what feels like ages (Jo would nurse an hour per feeding the first month), then you will pump too. And all that you get out is something like an ounce or less of milk.
As the baby grows and needs more, you produce more. I have no idea how that tiny amount of milk made me engorged, but it did, and it’s a common issue.
Plugged Milk Duct
And then there was the joy of having a blocked milk duct. I found this about 5 weeks in when I woke up to feed Josey in the middle of the night and the side of my boob hurt. It was red and hot to the touch and sensitive all in one spot. I knew that could lead to mastitis, so I was slightly panicked about getting it unblocked.
After feeding Josey, I changed her and put her back down, then I went downstairs and pumped, trying to unplug the duct. Then, for the next 48 hours, I would nurse Josey in a different position every time, rotating positions. Turns out that if you can change where they are latched on each time, it pulls on different ducts more than others. That gives them all a chance to get emptied more.
After two days of that, the problem was resolved without turning into an infection. I was SO grateful.
All that to say, it is going to be hard, but it is also going to be worth it. If you can stick it out the first 4-5 weeks, you can probably do it for as long as you want.
These months are pretty easy (by comparison), but demanding. I was nursing every 3 hours, and that meant I rarely left the house. Josey would nurse for a long time, but from what I hear, most babies get faster and faster.
She kind of did. She went from nursing an hour per feeding to 40 minutes. Then to 30. Then to 20 then to 12. Then back to 20 and sometimes 30 minutes.
Most babies will fuss to be fed sooner than they normally do and nurse for longer during growth spurts. In these two months, it seemed like Josey had about 3 different growth spurts, so that was kind of tough. But when we saw her weight and height at her 4 month check up, it all made sense!
This period is also great, because if your baby is on a schedule, this is often when they start sleeping through the night. Josey did, and it changed my life! haha
The way it works is that their bodies learn to regulate their blood/sugar level when they have to go certain lengths of time between feedings during the day. As their body learns to do this, it allows them to sleep for longer stretches at night.
By the end of four months, Josey was sleeping about 8-10 hours at night.
Josey got moved to nursing every 4 hours when she was four months old, and that made life a bit easier. She had been sleeping through the night, but now started to stretch from 8-10 hour nights to 10-12 hour nights.
I finally get more done in my day. She nurses about 10 minutes per side, which isn’t particularly fast, but it’s not an hour!
She does nurse longer in the morning at her first feeding of the day, but I get her from her crib and lay in bed while she lays beside me to nurse for that feeding, so it’s not so bad.
This is also when we were told it was okay to start feeding her baby food and rice cereal for breakfast and dinner after she had nursed.
I mix her rice cereal with breast milk, so I had to start pumping every night 4 hours after her last feeding in order to have enough of a supply for that plus the occasional bottle (she gets one at church and when we go on dates or I have a Transit event).
The challenge this time is that she is starting to teethe…and has begun to attack my left side with a viciousness I don’t appreciate. It’s ONLY that side, and I don’t really get why.
It reminds me of the misery of the first month…cracking, bleeding, scabbing, and blistering. Ultra-sensitive, and just not fun. But there are tips all over the internet about dealing with teething nursers, and I would suggest you read up!
Around now, you’ll want to find that lanolin you were using in the first month.
This is also the age that they start to really get distracted by EVERYTHING while they nurse. A show on tv, a book page turning, a cell phone beep. A voice talking to you, a door closing, a fan on the ceiling, or even your nursing cover.
Josey particularly makes an effort to rip my nursing cover off everytime I nurse in public. We both end up sweating and frustrated, as she tries to uncover herself and I try to not flash everyone. I might just start nursing in private no matter what to make life easier.
Other Stuff About Nursing
Take Advantage of the Nursing Specialists at your hospital!!! Seriously, these women know all about nursing, will show you what you’re doing well and what you could be doing better, how to pop the baby off without hurting yourself, how to know they are latched on properly, etc. They are God’s gift to nursing mothers. Use their knowledge!!
Finally, you get done being pregnant and think, “This is it- no more crazy hormones.” And then your boobs are all, “Oh yeah? I don’t think so. Take this, lady!”
And then they punch you right in your pituitary gland (which has to do with breast milk production, and I’ve heard has to do with hormones).
When you nurse, hormones are released that help you bond with your baby.The first month, they completely knock you out. I mean, head lolling to the side, snoring while nursing, OUT.
So make sure you don’t nurse somewhere that you might drop the baby. I had to have Tom wake up and sit beside me at night in the hospital when I would nurse to make sure Josey didn’t fall off the bed.
Another effect is that it makes you HUNGRY. I am always hungry. I had heard about so many women who got to be skinnier than before they were pregnant by nursing alone, but I am not one of them.
I lost a lot of weight at first, but I still had weight to lose. Then the hunger kicked in, and I could eat around the clock. I don’t think I will be able to get down to a weight I really like until I am done nursing.
Oh, and another effect that has occurred for me is hot flashes. This seems to make guys really uncomfortable to hear for some reason, but I always think, “is that grosser than me just sweating randomly for no reason?” I guess it is.
Anyway, the hormones will sometimes make me SO incredibly hot. It’s almost a heat that makes you angry because you just cannot get comfortable.
I feel like the sun is radiating from inside of my body. That’s the best I can describe it. It comes out of no where and goes away just as randomly.
You might get lucky and skip the melt-your-face-off heat that I get to enjoy.
You Can Do It…Because You’ve Got No Choice.
One hard thing about nursing is that it is ALL on you. You can pump, so someone else can give a bottle every now and then, but generally, you are the one getting up in the middle of the night or going to find a quiet place to nurse during vacation or a party.
So, I recommend you get a smart phone, if you don’t have one. It’s nice to be able to scroll through facebook, send a text or email, or check twitter when you’re feeling isolated.
I also recommend you nap if you are a stay at home mom. I’m not very good about following that advice, but every now and then, I lay down while she naps, and it makes a big difference. Since you’re the only one able to get up at night, you need to get sleep when you can.
Don’t Be A Milk Snob
It’s true that breastmilk is naturally made for babies and is therefore the best option if you can do it.
BUT it’s also worth noting that even if you want to nurse, stick it out, and are doing all you can (eating enough, staying healthy, etc.), sometimes nursing just isn’t an option.
Some women don’t produce enough milk, dry up, or produce more of the foremilk than the hindmilk, which is the thicker, fatty milk that helps your baby grow. It just happens.
Other women are just prone to mastitis or have breasts that make nursing next to impossible. Pumping might work, but if not, your pediatrician can recommend a formula.
And honestly, you never know why a person isn’t nursing, so don’t make them feel judged. Nursing can be HARD.
There are times that it’s sweet and calm and beautiful, but there are often times it’s not. Whether a person can’t or just doesn’t want to, it’s important to respect their choices.
And because gosh darn it, being a mom requires a lot of you, and whether or not you nurse is no yardstick by which to measure someone’s love of their baby.
So I’m done with my soapbox now, but I needed to say that.
And that’s where I am right now.
I’ll come back and update more as I progress through the rest of her first year of life. I hope this is helpful to you and doesn’t just scare you away from nursing.
It can be tough. But it’s also very worth it. If you aren’t prepared for reality, it makes it harder. I don’t regret sticking it out, and Josey is a great nurser (most of the time), for which I can take very little (if any) credit.
If you have already been there/done that with nursing, I am sure you have something to share that would be of value to all of us, so please feel free to comment below. Any tips/encouragement for moms would be great!