October 11

Breastfeeding for the First Time: 5 Things I Wish I Knew

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I think everyone who struggles with breastfeeding went into it with the belief that it would be easy. Second nature. At least I did.

A little over a year ago, I made it through breastfeedîng for about the first month of our first baby’s life. It’s a fuzzy memory of milk spilling everywhere in the middle of the night while a small, unsatisfied person screamed at a sleep-deprived me.

It’s going much better the second time around with baby Emma. Here are 5 lessons I figured out the second time:

1. Learn What You Can About Breastfeeding While Still Pregnant

During my first pregnancy, I visited a lactation consultant and got a one-hour crash course on breasfeeding. This woman was incredibly knowledgeable and a lot of it went over my head, but I was proud of myself for at least getting some exposure to the world of breastfeeding. As helpful as she was, I could have benefited from reading about other people’s real life experiences. It might have sunk in better. One of the real life lessons I probably would have benefited from learning ahead of time was:

Don’t Let Anyone Pinch Your Nipples!

It isn’t necessary! I think my consultant had briefly talked about how to help get the milk out and showed me a video (sans nipple pinching), but having never done it before she might as well have been speaking a different language. When about 14 different nurses pinched me unnecessarily during our first hospital stay, I didn’t know any better to tell them to stop (without crying).

This time around, I liked our first postpartum nurse, and she seemed like a sensible person, so I asked her to help me – she did the same thing! As soon as she went for the nipple pinch, I told her I didn’t need any help and figured out how to get the colostrum out by myself. I was proud of myself and increasing my breastfeeding confidence already.

2. Prioritize Skin-to-Skin Time in the First Hour

Plan to have your baby skin-to-skin for at least the first hour following birth. I had heard about the importance of this hour before giving birth to our first baby, but wanted my husband, Michael, to get the chance to hold her right away too. I handed her off and didn’t stay focused on getting her to breastfeed and have always wondered how that might have influenced our breastfeeding success.

I made sure Emma remained on my chest during the first hour after her birth. I had discussed this with Michael throughout my pregnancy, and he agreed that anything we could do to improve my success with breastfeeding this time would be well worth it. And it paid off! Emma got in a full feeding right away in the delivery room. I felt relieved that it seemed to be working out this time.

3. Don’t Get Discouraged in the First 24 to 48 Hours

I was so proud of that first feeding, but then didn’t have it so easy the rest of our hospital stay. One nurse commented that this is common with newborns. They have the energy right after birth to feed, but then are so sleepy within the first 24 hours that breastfeeding may not go so well initially. I now know that this isn’t necessarily a predictor of breastfeeding success.

It also clicked for me this time that I don’t even have milk yet so of course the baby isn’t going to be feeding like a champ during those first days. It’s a lot of work to get out a teeny bit of colostrum and if they are dozing every 5 minutes there isn’t much time to get the motivation to keep going. I told myself that I would keep the faith until there was actual milk and sure enough she caught on right around that time (a few days after we got home from the hospital).

4. Pumping at the Hospital May Not be Necessary

I am by no means a lactation expert, so I probably have no idea what I’m talking about, and I know that each situation is different. Some women have a medical need to pump for their babies while in the hospital. But for my situation, I discovered that it wasn’t necessary.

I brought my own pump this time. I had this on my hospital bag checklist because the hospital uses the Medela brand, but my Spectra brand is more gentle.

I attempted to breastfeed Emma each time, then if I was unsuccessful my plan was to pump and give her formula if necessary. I ended up pumping once during our hospital stay. After producing one whole whopping milliliter after 30 minutes (that basically stuck to the sides of the pump parts and bottle anyway), I realized that it wasn’t worth the effort.

On our last day, a hospital lactation consultant confirmed that hand expression is more effective than pumping during those first days. I was piecing together that our hospital was more into teaching us about what feeding options existed than being upfront about the reality of the limitations during those first days. I was glad that I had figured it out on my own this time!

5. Formula isn’t Evil

Giving your baby formula in the hospital does not ruin your breastfeeding chances. Although we had never discussed it, both Michael and I had this same idea in mind that our first baby wasn’t going to get formula. We were both so terrified that if we gave her a bottle she would for sure never latch, and I think we got this from hearing snippets of friends’ experiences.

We decided that next time we would rely on formula if breastfeeding wasn’t working that great initially, and agreed that this didn’t mean we were giving up on breastfeeding. Emma did get formula in the hospital and I asked if I could take home extra bottles in case we needed them. She hasn’t gotten a sip of formula since we got home because we haven’t had to rely on it. But if we end up giving her formula at some point again, we are fine with that.

Breastfeeding is Personal

Breastfeeding is a personal experience that goes public. EVERYONE has an opinion about it! And if it works out, you might be doing it while walking through the airport one of these days. I will always, always, always remember my number one favorite piece of advice from a friend while I was pregnant for the first time:

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You How to Be a Mom

I will admit that I haven’t followed this advice as strongly as I would have liked, but it has been the best, most empowering thing I ever heard. And I needed to hear it, because I have received advice and criticism that I never would have expected or dreamed I would.

As for breastfeeding: I am happy to report that it’s working out so far for me and Emma. And if we get to the point where it’s no longer working out, I’m okay with that. And if I see a mom giving her baby formula, I will understand that she has reasons that I may not be aware of and that she is doing the best she can for her baby (and it’s simply none of my business anyway!).

Do you have any breastfeeding wisdom to share? I’d love to hear it!
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  1. So much truth to all of these. I was rushed into emergency surgery right after having my son, so he was formula fed for the first week while I was in the ICU. I was so discouraged about him having formula, and that I didn’t get to have skin to skin the first few days. It really got our breastfeeding journey off to a rocky start. It took a while, but he became a prod. When I had my daughter, I was able to do everything I couldn’t with my son. Skin to skin made a world of difference!

    1. Wow I can’t imagine how tough that must have been! It’s encouraging to hear that you were still able to breastfeed after all <3

  2. I 100% always suggest a breastfeeding class prior to birth for first time moms. My husband and I both went to the class, and it was so helpful. There were times after the birth of my first that I was struggling with the latch and having my husband there to help was a lifesaver. At first, he was actually better than I was at getting our baby to latch!

    Also, skin to skin was so important for us. We really highlighted our desire for that time to our doctors, nurses, etc., and I think it really helped to get that immediate bonding and first nursing session underway.

  3. Most important – breastfeeding is personal! It is different for everyone, means something different for everyone, and is different with every baby!

  4. I’ve been nursing every day since I had my oldest kid in Feb 2014! I feel like a human cow most days but I am so thankful for the bond it creates. I’m so glad things are going well with baby 2! ❤️❤️❤️

  5. I wish I had read this when I was pregnant! I had put so much pressure on myself to breastfeed exclusively and was shocked when it did not come naturally. I luckily made it through the first stressful few days and breastfed for 18 months, but it was overwhelming starting out!

    1. Yes I definitely wished I had read more real life breastfeeding advice, but I was so focused on the labor and delivery I hadn’t really thought that far ahead! Sounds like we had similar experiences starting out. That’s amazing you went for 18 months!

  6. Yea the hand expressing was ugh for me too. I think my wisdom is to not give up and to increase your time spent nursing to increase your milk. Your body will realize you need to make more for baby and it will do that.

  7. Very simple yet effective advice for first time moms. I wish I had something like this to look at when I was pregnant with our first and having struggles with nursing. After a lot of tears I was able to nurse for a good full year!

    1. Hahaha! Well it definitely felt like pinching 🙂 I suppose squeezing is a more apporpriate term but either way – no thanks!

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