What I Wish I’d Known About Breastfeeding

My mom works at a home for homeless pregnant women – Mary’s Mantle. These women are my sisters, right? My sisters in Christ. And when I visit them, we chat just like sisters.

They see me walk in with my entourage of kids, and they are curious. They are traveling this road to motherhood and want to know what they are in for. And they want to hear it honestly from a friend. So that’s what I try to do for them.

I’m no expert, but I have three kids. And I never want to scare anyone or “just wait” anyone. Nope. I just want to tell the good with the hard so that these moms are prepared for things that took me by surprise. Motherhood is THE BEST. But is it not surprising? Let me answer that: it’s surprising.

One of the questions I get most often from these women is, “Is breastfeeding difficult?” And, my honest answer? Yes. It is. But isn’t everything that is worth doing a bit difficult?

Ellen nursed for 14 months, Sam for 13 and Theo is going strong at three so far. I’ve learned a little along the way. So, I want to tell you everything I wish I had known about breastfeeding before I began.

And, I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I will: writing a post about a subject does not mean that I look down upon the alternatives. It’s what we chose and it’s what I know. Simple as that.

If you’re considering breastfeeding and pumping for your child, read my honest thoughts about what it has been like to breastfeed three children so far. My intention is never to scare; only to encourage and prepare! | breastfeeding photography | breastfeeding foods | breastmilk storage | breastfeeding clothes | breastfeeding foods |

© doble.d  / Dollar Photo Club

Pros

  • I never have to worry about bringing supplies to feed my babies while we’re out. I always have the equipment at the ready.
  • Breastfeeding is free. It can save you up to $4k annually.
  • Breastfed babies receive immunities from mom and tend to be sick infrequently.
  • You can apply breastmilk to cuts and infections to clear them up quickly.
  • The longer you breastfeed, the less risk you have of breast cancer.
  • Breastfeeding triggers your uterus to contract and shrink. It also helps you lose baby weight quickly (demanding up to 1000 calories a day). So, your body can recover quickly from childbirth.
  • I have a large supply, so I was able to pump and donate milk to a mom who was having trouble breastfeeding her child. You can actually share your milk with other babies.
  • You can pump and freeze your milk so other people can feed your baby while you take a break.
  • When you start a nursing session, your body releases chemicals that calm you. It’s so incredibly relaxing.
  • You don’t need to worry about how much to feed your baby because she will eat as much as she needs until she is full and then stop. If you think she’s not getting enough because she eats a lot, that’s so normal. Just feed her extra. She’s probably going through a growth spurt (they do that a lot!).

Cons

  • Breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to a lot of women. There is a learning curve. And if you can stick it out for three months, I just KNOW that you’ll have it down by then. Be patient with yourself. Ask for help.
  • While most lactation consultants will tell you it shouldn’t hurt, it will hurt a bit in the beginning. Your nipples need to get used to all of the use. But after a couple of weeks, it gets better. Try using your milk and lansinoh cream to help yourself heal quickly. Also try a nipple shield for extra protection while you get comfortable.
  • Pumping is a commitment. It may sound easy to just pump a bottle, but it’s time you take in addition to feeding your baby. But, it’s so nice to have a stock of milk in the freezer in case you want to leave the house for a longer period of time.
  • You’ll need to take your baby with you places if you don’t pump. But, that’s ok. They’re cute company!
  • Breastfed babies tend to eat more frequently. You might be getting up every two hours in the middle of the night. It’s because breastmilk is metabolized quickly. But, you’re going to be tired anyway (you knew that!) and the sleepy nighttime baby snuggles help.
  • People *might* give you weird looks. Might. I’ve never had anyone ever say anything to me about breastfeeding. I think the world is coming to its senses and realizing that breasts are for feeding babies. But, you may get an occasional old person or weirdo telling you to cover up or something. But, you can just smile and laugh and shake your head and their poor, uninformed brains.
  • People will try to suck you into being militant about it. “Breast is best!!” Ok, I know there are a lot of studies out there about the health benefits of breastmilk. And I believe them. BUT, those studies don’t take into account many other factors that might make formula a better choice for some families. So, you breastfeed and do what is best for your family, and let other mamas do what is best for theirs.
  • You will probably be super thirsty and hungry, but, um, more food!

What else would you add to these lists? What do you want your sister-moms-to-be to know about choosing to breastfeed?

More on Mary’s Mantle

If you’re considering breastfeeding and pumping for your child, read my honest thoughts about what it has been like to breastfeed three children so far. My intention is never to scare; only to encourage and prepare! | breastfeeding photography | breastfeeding foods | breastmilk storage | breastfeeding clothes | breastfeeding foods |

And, if you want to help me in supporting the women of Mary’s Mantle, you can find out more about their home here. In short, it’s a Catholic home for homeless pregnant women. All faiths are welcome. This house is not just a place to crash either. It’s a program where women learn life and mothering skills, are helped in the job and house hunt, and receive life-long assistance in the after-care program.

In recent Mary’s Mantle news, they have a new house to better serve these life-choosing women! If you would like to directly support that project, they have set up a Go Fund Me page.

Help support their general mission by using their donation page.

And, I am always very careful about where my money goes. If you are like me, please check out this full, second party disclosure of all of Mary’s Mantle’s funds and expenses.

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  1. says

    Well, now, this is good. How I’d love to tag along with you to Mary’s Mantle and chat about feeding babies. Because I hate breastfeeding. I appreciate it. But I hate it. And I so wish I’d had the loving support like this back when I was struggling through this the first go-round (child
    #3 is now going strong at 2-years-old, and I shake my head wondering how I got to this place!)

  2. anonymous says

    Very beautifully written. I was a resident at MM. I love this story, I live the program, and of course I live your parents! Both of them!

  3. says

    What an awesome space for moms! Great commentary on breastfeeding. The only thing I would add that I’ve learned by now, nursing my third, is that it’s important for the nursing relationship to work for the mom too. If her mental or physical health is ailing as a result of it, she shouldn’t feel ashamed to supplement or transition to bottle. I always thought women either chose to bfeed or didn’t, but I think hearing more moms’ stories, there’s such a gray zone for us! Thanks for your support and wisdom!

  4. mbmom7 says

    One really good thing about breastfeeding is the ease of middle of the night feedings – no bottles to prep, just latch on, doze, and baby does the work! I loved that quiet time with the baby.

    Remember that breastfeeding can vary from kid to kid. Some kids are great from the get go, some get the hang of it slowly, and others might not be able to do it. It is not a reflection of your mothering ability – it’s just something that can happen.
    Mostly, my kids got the hang of it quickly. But I had one who decided it was too much trouble and slept instead. After him not gaining weight for 3 weeks, I had to supplement with him for a few months. (Watching the diapers for pee and poop will help you figure out if your baby is actually getting enough!) Then I had two who had a lot of trouble with nursing, so I just pumped and gave them bottles. It made more sense for my family. Pay attention to your baby and body to see if breast feeding is working for that kid.

    • says

      Except that nursing while lying down doesn’t always come easily. I never got the hang of it with #1. Possibly she had a latch problem. So there were a lot of sitting-up nursing sessions during the night. Fortunately, I was able to nurse while lying down w/ #2. Much better. But I could never fall asleep while she nursed.

      • mbmom7 says

        Too true! It wasn’t until #4 to figure out the nursing lying down thing. For #1,2,3, I just fell asleep in a chair often when nursing at night. Lots of kids in a few Years made me ready to doze where I could.

  5. says

    You covered so much ground with your post! The only thing I’d add is that the breast is the perfect baby cure-all, and was always the first thing I’d try.

    Fussy baby? A little nursing session is so soothing.

    Tired baby? Boobsies (as #3 calls them) nearly always knock them out cold.

    Cranky toddler after nap or at morning wake-up? It’s the baby version of morning coffee and works every time!

    Ouchies? Nursing even makes a bonk on the head feel a little better.

    Awesome post!

  6. says

    I agree with the above comment about breastfeeding being an excellent baby-soothing technique, without worrying about overfeeding. Another great thing is that because breastmilk is so easily digested, it counts as a “clear liquid,” medically speaking. Useful when baby is sick.

    One con you didn’t mention (which is really just a minor inconvenience, but good to be warned about) is leaking through your shirt now and then!

  7. says

    One of my friends gave me some good advice when I started breastfeeding my first baby: the pain shouldn’t last any longer than “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” when the baby latches on. If it does, seek some help. If not, singing the song as fast as you can under your breath is a nice distraction from the pain. :-)

  8. Rachel says

    I so needed to read this today! My second is two weeks old and I’m in the middle of the sore nipple stage. At night, when I’m on the verge of exhaustion, and having a hard time latching her on, I find myself saying I want to quit! This helped remind me it’s temporary and worth it!

  9. says

    Wow, I wish I had been able to read this post before I had my first baby! So much good advice.

    I’d love to hear more advice on pumping. I had a serious over supply issue and instead of even considering donating milk, I moaned and groaned until it leveled out around 5 months. How do/did you balance pumping and doing everything else with you newborns, toddlers, and husband? I *loathe* pumping mainly because I feel like it’s such a waste of time and I can’t seem to find time during the day while I’m watching the little one. If we are blessed with another baby and I’m able to breastfeed again, I’d love to learn more about donating my milk. Thank you!

  10. says

    I love the mission of Mary’s Mantle. Do you and the kids head there often? I’d love to go hang out there with you sometime (assuming that would be helpful/ wanted). I served for a summer in college at a Catholic Worker for women and several were pregnant- it was a really important time in my life and I miss that atmosphere.

  11. says

    Great post! I struggled way more than I ever imagined while learning to breastfeed my first. It was a major struggle with so many tears and so much pain and so many visits to the lactation consultant that I’m still paying for. We eventually got the hang of it and I appreciate all the benefits that it offers…but I can honestly stay that I really don’t enjoy it. It is totally not the bonding experience I thought it would be — more of a “keeping my child alive” sort of feeling. I hope that when number two comes around it may be different! Until then…I’m counting down the months till we’re done with the whole thing. Thanks for the post! Love hearing from other mothers!

  12. says

    This is a GREAT summary! I would add that let down can be uncomfortable. I find it’s a pins and needles type of sensation and not horribly painful but not comfortable either. Also, when you’re engorged, breast milk can shoot far ;)

  13. Tamara says

    This is such needed news. I wish I’d heard those words before I started breast feeding. I think I still would have tried it anyway but when I had all the trouble that I did maybe I wouldn’t have felt so frustrated and disappointed and guilty about it all. I had nothing but heartache trying to do it. Several LC consultations and 3 months of trying, persisting, mastitis, nipple shields and weird blister things lol and every time we had a couple of weeks of success something else went wrong :-( We were just going good (again) when at 3 months bub had only put 60g on in a month and I put him onto the bottle. I gave him a good start and my main concern is that he’s happy healthy and well fed. I just wish I had known it all before. The people who run breastfeeding classes at my hospital did not mention ANY of this. Would have been nice to know before hand 😊 thanks for sharing.

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