Breastfeeding has many benefits for babies and moms.
Breast milk is easy to digest, high in nutrients, and may protect your baby from diseases and infections. Breastfeeding may help your body return to its pre-pregnancy condition and lower your risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure, ovarian cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
But breastfeeding doesn’t always go as expected. We asked moms what they wish they knew before they started. They also share tips for smoother sailing.
At First, You May Not Know What to Do
Breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally. It may take time for you and your baby to get the hang of it. Your baby may need help latching onto your breast the right way. You may need to try different positions and angles that work for your baby and feel comfortable for you.
“Before I had my baby, I thought my instinct would kick in and I’d know what to do,” says Stephanie Mantilla, a 36-year-old mom from Houston. That couldn’t have been further from the truth.
She didn’t know how to hold her baby at the right angle, and her baby didn’t know the right way to position his mouth. It was a struggle for both. But after trying different techniques, they found a groove.
The First Few Weeks May Be Challenging
You may feel like giving up at first. But many moms find that once they get over the hump, it’s smooth sailing.
“When I started nursing, the pain was intense,” says Kim McGraw, a mom of three girls. She almost gave up, until she remembered a friend’s advice.
“She told me it gets better after the second week, so I gave it another week. Sure enough, the third week was a night-and-day difference. I’m so thankful I didn’t give it up. It was a really great experience from that point on,” she says.
Learning to Latch On Is a Process
A good latch is key to successful breastfeeding. It prevents sore nipples and helps with milk supply. But many babies need help learning the right way to latch onto your breast. It may take trial and error. And you might need help figuring out the best way to do it.
Pain is usually a sign that your baby isn’t latching on properly. You may need to position your nipple differently or hold your baby at a different angle.
“I wish I’d been warned that a bad latch can cause a lot of pain for the mom,” says Chelsea Roller, of Overland Park, KS. At first, her nipples were painful and bleeding. Then she joined a lactation support group and realized her baby wasn’t getting a good latch.
A Lactation Consultant Can Help
“My best tip is to get the help of a lactation consultant — early and frequently,” Mantilla says. “I had one come to my room in the hospital. She showed me how to help my baby position his mouth so his tongue was sucking effectively and it wasn’t painful.”
To find a lactation consultant, ask your doctor or other moms. Or go online to the United States Lactation Consultant Association (USLCA) or the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA).
“Most hospitals have lactation support. Take it!” says Jill Ernst, of Crystal Lake, IL. “It can save you lots of money. And their job is breasts, so they’re used to it. Even if you’re modest, let them help you.”
Your Nipples Might Get Sore
When you start breastfeeding, you may have sore nipples.
Try nipple cream or nipple shields to soothe and protect them, says Monica Greco, of Auckland, New Zealand.
“Breast milk can heal cracked, sore nipples,” says Tonya Mickelson, of Detroit Lakes, MN. “Just apply a little bit and let it air dry.”
Don’t Feel Guilty About Giving Your Baby a Bottle
“I wish someone told me to introduce a bottle sooner,” says Maria Leonard Olsen, an author and attorney in Washington, DC. With her first baby, she waited. Whenever she or a babysitter tried to use a bottle, the baby cried.
With the second baby, she introduced a bottle before leaving the hospital. “This gave me so much more flexibility and allowed a caregiver to feed my son more easily when I had to be at work or somewhere else,” she says.
It’s OK to Supplement With Formula
Some moms choose to breastfeed only, but there are other choices.
Some babies do better with a combination of breast milk and formula. “My first baby struggled to gain weight through breastfeeding,” says Jaime Bliss, a mom in Glastonbury, CT. “After we tried supplemental feeding, he grew stronger and breastfeeding became easier.”
“I really wish I wasn’t so hard on myself. I would’ve breastfed longer and enjoyed it more if I had allowed myself to supplement,” says Kelley Kitley, a psychotherapist and mom of four in Chicago.
You Could Get Pregnant
Breastfeeding isn’t a reliable form of birth control. Talk to your doctor about other options.
It’s Important to Take Care of Yourself
LaNika Nichelle, of Florence, SC, says one thing she wish people had said to her was, “Eat!”
“I was so worried about weight gain from carrying twins that I wasn’t eating as I should,” she says. She had low energy and didn’t feel well. “I talked to my doctor, and he said I needed to eat more.”
Do What Works for You and Your Baby
“So many people have so many opinions,” Bliss says. It’s a personal decision whether or not to breastfeed and how to do it.
Use formula if you want — or don’t. It’s OK if you breastfeed one baby for 2 months and your other baby for 2 years.
“The most important thing is that you and your baby are healthy, happy, and bonding. There are many ways to get there,” Bliss says.
It May Be More Rewarding Than You Expect
“When I first decided to breastfeed, I was definitely sold on the nutritional benefits,” says Sabrina Greene, a parent who breastfed three kids.
What she didn’t expect were the emotional benefits. “I love the closeness and bonding,” she says. “If I get pregnant again, I’ll definitely keep breastfeeding.”