The first thing you will feel and have to get used to is the soreness of your breasts and nipples.
During the first week that I was breastfeeding, I cried so much. It hurt every time she put her tiny mouth on me. It hurt to think about the next feed, it hurt all the time. So, I decided that I was going to pump instead, which by the way, still hurt. 3 weeks later, I missed the latching and went back to it. Also because it felt like so much work each time we went out and I was sick of constantly washing bottles and pump parts.
After a while, the soreness went away. For some mommies it takes a matter of days to get used to it, for others like myself, a month and for some, beyond that. If you are determined to continue nursing, just remember that the pain is so temporary and fleeting, you're going to nurse one day and not even realise it's gone. From there, all you can focus on is that cute little face.
Quick tip: slather on that nipple balm after every feed!
In addition to the soreness, you might experience some aches (I told you it was tough!). You might feel a sharp ache in your breast when your milk is "refilling". You might feel aches alike to cramps from your uterus shrinking. You might feel aches in your back from nursing or feeding the baby. While the first 2 aches do go away, remember to be careful with your back.
Quick tip: While they are little, get a nursing pillow to support your back and maintain a good nursing position. Personally, we got a "my breast friend" pillow which my husband also used when he fed her from the bottle and it helped!
The thing about breastfeeding is that your baby's intake is basically unmeasurable. Your baby will feed as much, as little or as often as she wants. This varies from feed to feed until you and baby find your "feeding rhythm". Someone, somewhere, sometime will remind you that baby is crying because she is hungry and you might feel guilty. But don't! As long as baby is producing the suggested number of pees & poos in a day, be confident that you're doing okay!
Quick tip: How else can you know how much baby is drinking? I used a baby app to time how long mwb nurses and how long in between her sleep/cries as a gauge. If mwb feeds on (each) boob for 20 mins and only starts crying 3 hours later, I'll know that 20 mins of latching is good enough. Likewise, if mwb feeds for 10 mins and starts crying 1h 30mins later, it isn't a long enough feed. Knowing how long each feed should last can help you to encourage your bub to feed longer (especially during the night when they tend to fall asleep during the feed). We used to change her diaper in between boobs to "wake" her and continue the feed. Also, it will help to take note of when baby is actually nursing and when baby is suckling for comfort which might reduce the "unnecessary" latching time. With mwb, the sound and motion of her swallowing was pretty obvious.
While I enjoy nursing mwb most of the time, there are days when I wished I could just pass boob duty on to my husband. Just to get away from longer than 3 hours (our scheduled feeding interval) at a time. I felt like mwb was an extension of my breasts. On the contrary, my husband would tell me how he felt like he was missing out on this great bonding experience I was entitled to as a mother. This reminder helps me to appreciate the ability to nurse whenever I feel weighed down by this responsibility.
No quick tips for this one. Just a contradictory fact that I also felt like I had a lot of "freedom" to take mwb out with me wherever, whenever because everything I needed to feed her with was already on me.
Whether you're breastfeeding or not, your life has changed drastically. You now have a little person completely reliant on you for everything. This little person is going to cry and you are going to cry. From the soreness, from the new physical and emotional demands you will experience, from fatigue. The first couple of months will feel like forever, but I promise you, it will pass. You will get sleep again. 3 months in and mwb was sleeping through the night in her crib, in her room.
Quick tip: We never woke mwb up for feeds when we started to "sleep train" her. We felt like this helped her transition into sleeping through the night smoothly.
With so much happening so fast, these will happen even without you noticing. You might notice that your baby has a preferred side, and your boob is going to get bigger on that side. You'll notice how perky and round your breasts will be before a feed and how soft and saggy they become after. The veins on your breasts might become impossible to miss (along with your once pretty little nipples). Along with this comes the stench of breast milk. The milk that leaks from one side while your baby is nursing on the other, the breast milk that soaks through your clothes when you experience an uncontrolled let down. This plagued me for months!
Quick tip: Wear a bra with good support just to help the girls out a little with the sagging. Hardwired bras are almost too uncomfortable when I was nursing, so I stocked up on good bralettes! To deal with let downs, I first wore breast pads but they weren't enough. Eventually I wore milk savers every time I went out (for the first 3- 4 months). Really uncomfortable but they saved me the embarrassment of wet patches on my clothes.
Don't be fooled into thinking you've settled into the routine and have nothing left to worry about. Maybe one day, baby doesn't empty your breasts while nursing. Maybe you're too lazy to pump afterward. Maybe the milk builds up and you've got clogged ducts. Maybe you'll get mastitis. For the good of your breasts health, you can't afford to drop the ball with nursing. Many mommy friends and I learned that the hard way. It happens.
Quick tip: Feel around and give yourself frequent breast massages after your feeds or during a warm shower. I've learnt from the lactation consultants that a lot of what we think are breast tissue are actually clogged up milk ducts. Glide your hand over and feel for "ridges" which might mean clogging. Don't be afraid to empty your breasts after feeds. Trust that your body will produce sufficient milk for the next feed.
As if breastfeeding wasn't already so much work, it creates additional chores like constant laundry from your milk stained and stenched clothes. You will be washing pump parts & bottles (if you're using them) all the time.
For some of us, at some point baby starts infant care. This means having to prepare packets of milk for baby to be bottle-fed by someone else. As you get used to a new routine with baby further from you, your supply may deplete. This also happens when you fall ill. While you may not touch your stash for months and worry about possibly waste, they do come in handy in the above-mentioned situations.
Quick tip: The best time to do this is at the start, when your supply is usually more than baby's demands. Once your body starts to get use to baby, you'll be producing almost only as much as baby needs and it'll be more challenging to increase your supply then.
When you are done loving & hating this amazing ability you have to sustain another life, the time will come to wean. Emotionally, you might miss that feeling of holding you little one, skin to skin, watching his little hands clasps your bosoms and those little eyes looking back at you. Physically, remember to go slowly. Sudden weaning could cause mean engorgement or blocked ducts. Drop one feed/pump at a time, every few days. If you're transitioning to formula, you might want to do this at the same time. Mwb resisted the change, refusing to drink any milk altogether. It took time and a lot of work on our part along with her carers at infant care to get her back on track.
Quick tip: Continue making sure you're emptying your breasts fully after each feed!
I was lucky to have a lot of support from my partner and friends when I started breastfeeding, reminding me that it is a journey with many good and bad days. But if you've chosen not to, it doesn't make you better or worse mom. It really is a personal choice and one that I enjoyed despite the difficulties along the way.
Have a great tip on breastfeeding to share? For any feedback, topic suggestions or questions, drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org