Let me start out by saying that I completely believe that “fed is best”. I happened to find breastfeeding pretty easy most of the time. I read a book or two beforehand and had a little help from a lactation consultant with my first baby, but that was it. These are my experiences through some of the unexpected challenges I faced while breastfeeding and a few myths I encountered in the process. Babies are hard work no matter how you feed them.
Challenge #1: Hungry Newborn, No Milk Yet
My first 3 babies drank my milk when it came in, but things were a little different with #4 and #5. #4 had to spend a few days in the NICU, so I didn’t even hold him until he was about 12 hours old.
The doctor really wanted to make sure my son would gain weight, so I was asked if formula was okay. Without hesitation, I said, “Yes! Please give him whatever he needs. I want him to be healthy so we can go home.”
After a few days in the NICU, lots of nursing and bottles together, I took that little baby home and was able to breastfeed him for a year without problems.
My #5 kept on crying the first night at home, and it occurred to me that she was probably hungry. I got out the formula, fed her an ounce, and then enjoyed 5 hours straight of sleep. She obviously needed it. I did the same the next day until I actually had enough milk to feed her. I’m so glad I did!
Myth #1: You need to bond right away to successfully breastfeed. (Nope, didn’t hold him until he was 12 hours old, and breastfeeding him was no harder than with the others.)
Myth #2: If your baby has a bottle first, he/she will not be able to successfully breastfeed. (Again, nope. Nipple confusion is really overrated and scares a lot of new moms into thinking that a tiny bit of formula is evil.)
Challenge #2: The Occasional Pain
I didn’t expect to hurt so much the first week of breastfeeding, but it was agonizing at times. Then, it got better, and things got easy for me. The surprise for me came with baby #4 when I first got a blocked milk duct. I thought that it wouldn’t happen to me since it never before, but I was wrong! Practice does not always make perfect. 😉
Myth #3: You’ll magically get better at everything with each baby. (Ha! If only.)
Challenge #3: The Guilt From Having Smaller Children
I have heard different things about formula fed vs. breastfed babies’ sizes and growth. The only conclusion I can come to is that every child is different, and it doesn’t really matter what milk you feed them, as long as it’s enough. Some kids are big, and some are tiny. Since mine are more on the small to tiny side, I felt guilty sometimes and wondered if my breastfeeding kept them from growing as much. Then, I started feeding them solids, weaned them. . . and they stayed small! Fed babies are happy babies, not necessarily a certain size.
With baby #5, I almost switched to formula when she was 2 weeks old because she still hadn’t gained her birth weight back. (My other kids had regained that weight within a few days, even the NICU baby!) My pediatrician advised me to wait one more week, and that week ended up making the difference. However, if he had encouraged me to supplement, I would have! I wanted to breastfeed as I had with my other children, but most of all, I wanted her to grow and be healthy.
See myth #3 again. 🙂
Challenge #4: Growth Spurts and Cluster Feedings
I wasn’t prepared to be constantly feeding the baby in the evenings, but it happened a lot in those early days. I have a pretty strong TV habit thanks to that, but I suppose there are worse things.
Myth #4: You need to do something productive while feeding the baby. (Feeding the baby is already productive!)
Challenge #5: Bottle Refusal
Out of my kids, exactly 0 of them would take a bottle after about 2 months old. I don’t think I need to explain why that’s a huge pain.
Myth #5: You can train a baby to breastfeed and take bottles on command. (Maybe someone has done it, but I could never make it work!)
Challenge #6: Wacky Hormones and Extra Weight
Who wants an extra 10 pounds?
Probably no one, but from what I can gather, keeping on a few is pretty normal and SO ANNOYING since I’m not skinny at my normal weight. Oh well. Things normalize for me within a month after weaning.
I got pregnant two times while breastfeeding. Yes, it was intentional. The most annoying thing at first was that it was really hard to tell since things are bit thrown off already. My first clue was sudden, extreme fatigue.
Myth #6: Breastfeeding helps you lose weight. (Maybe not, but that’s not enough reason to avoid doing it if you really want to.)
Myth #7: Breastfeeding keeps you from getting pregnant. (It did work for me till my babies were 9 months old, but that is often not the case.)
Challenge #7: Weaning
Want to quit breastfeeding? If you do it cold turkey, you get lots of pain. Otherwise, it takes a whole month. My first 4 babies were really easy to wean, but my last was really stubborn about switching over to cow’s milk. It took two weeks of perseverance before she’d finally agree to take a bottle. I had to give up on going straight to a sippy cup, but I’ll try again when she’s a little bit older. Out of the 5, I got 2 of them to wean straight to a cup, but the other 3 had a much easier time transitioning to a bottle first.
A Couple More Myths Worth Mentioning
Myth #8: Your baby won’t get sick. (Yes, breastfeeding provides some immunities, but once your baby starts putting things in his/her mouth from the floor, sickness WILL happen.)
Myth #9: Breastfed babies don’t sleep well. (My kids have all been great sleepers!)
Despite the challenges, I’m grateful that I was able to breastfeed my children. For what it’s worth, my #1 motivation with my first child was because we were poor and I thought it sounded easy. (Ha ha.) It then became habit that I stuck with for another 4 kids. If you are able and want to, breastfeeding can be a (mostly) great experience for you and your baby!