What I wish I’d known about breastfeeding

boobs for webI wanna talk about something near and dear to my heart today! Literally. Boobs! Specifically, breastfeeding.

Note: This is not in any way about breast vs. formula – huge respect to every mama and papa, doing their best, doing what they’re doing. This is just about the experience of breastfeeding, for those that choose to/are able to take that route.

I did breastfeed, and in my experience, the early days of babe are fully Boobsville: The Muscial. An epic drama. Boobs become a major big deal. A source of pain and pride and nourishment and stress and generally constant concern. I thought about them so much, I started seeing boobs. Fruit. Jewellery. Light fixtures. Boobs, boobs, boobs.

It all worked out in the end, but in the beginning I found breastfeeding super duper challenging. Painful, emotional, exhausting, and really just so, so hard. My sister Johanna is having a similar experience at the moment. Luckily, things do seem to be on the up and up, but a week in, really she’s still in the throes of it. So it’s all boobs all the time, here! I did a little week-one new mom interview with her yesterday and we ended up talking about breastfeeding a lot. I’ve put together a few points that we think are really important for new moms looking to breastfeed. Honestly, these are the things I wish I’d known coming into the game.

blue boobs

Breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily come naturally. I do have a cousin who found that it did. Lucky! Not my experience. For Johanna and I, it’s taken a lot of help to figure out… I feel like in the past, breastfeeding woulda been one of those “it takes a village” things – all the aunties and grandmothers and sisters helping the new mama and babe get things going. My first few weeks with J were full of youtube videos, websites, midwives, other moms, a lactation consultant, books… Johanna has so far gotten help from her midwives, me, two lactation consultants and a book. It takes serious tenacity! I think this is so important to know, because it can make a new mama feel ridiculously guilty and inadequate to struggle so much with something that is supposed to be “natural.”

blue boobs small

No, breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt that much. Johanna and I both felt like the message we got for the most part was that since babe was gaining well, everything was fine and our pain was normal. Part of the gig. But then, after days of tears, toe-curling and gritting our teeth we found our way to better technique that was way, way less painful. Fact is, it’s just hard for anyone else to gauge how much pain you are feeling. Please, don’t discount your pain! Or let others discount it. A baby can gain nicely, and still have too shallow a latch, or you might have yeast, or vasospasm, or, or, or… Honestly – if it hurts like crazy, something really might be up. Get to the bottom of it.

red boobs

The same expert advice doesn’t work for everyone. I’m so grateful for the access I had to a few professionals, they were so helpful for some things. But not every expert technique works for everybody! It’s so important to trust yourself. Here is an example of what I mean. A lot of expert folks suggest making a “breast sandwich” to get babe on boob nicely. It’s all over the internets. It basically means squeezing your boob kinda flat so that baby’s little mouth can get a good munch. Sounds logical, but it so did not work for me. Rather, one of my midwives – a mom of four – watched what I was doing and together we figured out that if I held my boob totally the opposite way – perpendicular to a breast sandwich, so I could sort of catch his bottom lip with it to help him open his mouth wider – I had way more success! But I can’t find that anywhere on the internet. I’m not necessarily advocating for that technique – boob sandwich obv works for lots of ladies. My point is that there is so much advice swirling around out there, and it just won’t all work for everyone! Our boobs and babes are each delightfully different. Try it out, give it a good go, but ultimately trust yourself and get some more support or move on if something isn’t working.

In the end, breastfeeding was great and fully worth it for me. I definitely hope to do it again with this babe. And man, I really, really hope it won’t kill me as much in the beginning. But if it does, fine. I just won’t be quietly sucking it up while my nipples get destroyed, waiting 10 long, emotional days to see a lactation consultant this time! I’m gonna trust myself something fierce and take it like a wild Mama bear, knocking down midwives’ doors, sending my husband on epic research missions, whatever!

And that’s that! Lol, I never thought I’d be talking so much about boobs in such a public way! Ahh, that’s sisterhood. 🙂 I so hope this is helpful to you or someone you know!


14 thoughts on “What I wish I’d known about breastfeeding

  1. Alison Logan

    I L.O.V.E this post.
    I could go onnnnn and onnnnnn about all the lessons I had to learn along the way.
    I definitely did not find anything about breastfeeding natural until about 12 weeks in, once milk supply started to sort itself out, got over my intense fear of getting mastitis, until baby’s latch became what it was going to be, until we got on somewhat of a routine for feeds, until I realized that the shields on my pump came in different sizes (why didn’t I know this!!?? This caused me so much pain that I blamed on baby!) and I found the breastpads that worked so I could leave the house for an hour and not soak myself….etc.

    I contemplated giving up soooo many distressful times in those first 12 weeks. Ultimately, I am happy that I stuck it out and things did smooth out for sure. It did become easy, natural, and dare I say, even comfortable!

    But you are so right. It is not magical or easy, does not come natural, and requires so much strength and perserverence for most of us ladies.

    Nobody should be misconceived- they should be armed with real women’s experiences like yours and be prepared to seek assistance from the right places asap to avoid the guilt, anguish, stress, and exhaustion that generally comes along with breastfeeding.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Elena

      Alison, what an awesome, helpful comment! YOU should blog! This is what I’ve dreamed of for this blog – women sharing experiences and info and supporting each other… Awesome. I would never have thought of there being different sizes of pump shields either! I wonder if mine could have been more comfortable? I always found that thing awwwful. And now that I think of it, I wonder if nipple shields come in different sizes as well? It would make sense, but who knows. You probably have to check out different brands… although they’re come a long way, it seems like breastfeeding accoutrements are still somewhat in the realm of the 1950s bra: Not a ton of variety, despite the vast variety of boobs. So much of it comes down to fierce tenacity and perseverance in the end, doesn’t it!? Thanks again, so much, for your comment, Alison.

  2. Megarrah

    I just want to say that breastfeeding was awesome and terrible and painful and stressful. My experience started off horrible. One, I had midwives who bullied me because Hunter was losing a lot of weight. My midwives literally threatened me when Hunter hadn’t regained his birth weight in less than 2 weeks. (For the record, it took him just over 3 weeks, but he has always underweight, until just recently). People need to talk about the fact that not all babies are the same. And it doesn’t always mean “failure to thrive”. Hunter ate TONS from the breast (the lactation consultant could prove this) and that’s where we decided to fire our midwives and transferred care to a paediatrician at St. Jo’s. Best decision we ever made. The paediatrician could see that Hunter was extremely tall and growing way faster than usual. The charts aren’t always that important; he helped us see that. I think new mommas need to know that they need to surround themselves with people who are building them up and to always trust your gut.

    At about 10 weeks my supply dropped massively and I ended up having to take domperidone the rest of the first year. Sometimes you need assistance (fenugreek & blessed thistle did NOT work for me). And mommas need to know that that’s ok. And you aren’t a failure because you can’t produce enough milk.

    1. Elena

      Oh my GOSH, Megarrah!! What a harrowing experience! Wow, good for you for being such a good self advocate, although is so sad that you had to be. That must have been so stressful. I’m so glad you commented and shared your experience though – so, so important, like you said, to trust yourself and find real support! You are amazing! Xo

  3. Maja Lynn

    Haven’t had the pleasure yet, but I do love your boob art, very much. The red nipples are very telling. They remind me of the time I helped my sister pump her milk through blood, scabs and a lot of tears…

    1. Elena

      Thanks, Maja! I am considering making a boob poster from this graphic – what do you think?

      And I actually recall that story about your sister so vividly although you told it to me probably almost a decade ago – you know, it was actually one of maybe two experiences I’d heard of before having Jonah on the challenges around breastfeeding. Can you believe that?? That’s why it’s so important that we talk about these things! So much less isolating.

  4. Tamara

    Yup, my first 48 hours was pretty brutal. My wee babe decided he wanted to come out mouth first (poor kid had a bruised face which made latching painful for him) and I have flat nipples (which made said baby not want to latch even more). After several hours of baby screaming non-stop and several nurses and midwives doing the “baby face shove into breast” technique, a lactation specialist recommended a nipple sheild. It saved my sanity that first day, and made breast feeding less convenient (couldn’t breast feed while I was sleeping), however after about 5 months he weaned himself off. Now at 14 months and we are still going strong! Don’t be afraid of little “helpers” like a nipple sheild if you’ve run out of natural options!

    1. Elena

      Thank goodness for those little helpers, my gosh. Jack Newman’s APNO was totally my saving grace! Sometimes within the breastfeeding community we seem to get a lot of messages that are aimed at BEST CASE SCENARIO, but the reality is so, so much more complex than that and I really believe that kids – like your little one, weaning himself of the shields – are so resilient and they can adapt and adjust an incredible amount. Helpers are great! I’m with you, don’t be afraid to use what helps! Thanks so much for your comment, Tamara!

  5. Sonya

    Hey Lena,

    It’s so good to have friends (and sisters) like you, leading the way and sharing your experience. I’m sure I will need to call on you for more of this one day!


  6. Sigrid

    Thanks for this post Elana. I’m glad I found it! I haven’t had the pleasure, but I’m due in July and haven’t quite figured out how to “get started” with breastfeeding. There are a lot of resources, a lot of bad ones, and it’s overwhelming. I appreciate the honesty in your post and it’s the first thing I’ve read that I feel is actually helpful. So thanks!

    1. Elena

      Oh, Sigrid! Congratulations! Thank you for you comment and it is so good to hear that you’ve found the post helpful. Remember to just trust yourself and be tenacious in getting the support you need! I’d say beyond that, the best thing to do in advance is figure out where you’ll be able to turn for that support – professional, personal, etc. if you end up needing it. Good luck, we’re with you! xo

  7. Bianca

    Good article and lots of helpful info. I had a feeling breastfeeding wouldn’t be plesant just due to the painful engorgement during my periods when I can’t stand not wearing a bra. Definetly gonna rely on my mom, Josh’s mom and all the help I can get from qualified personnel.
    Thank you Elena and all the best to your sister and her newborn baby! 🙂

    1. Elena

      Thanks for your comment, Bianca! To be fair, in my experience it did indeed become quite pleasant later on, and thank goodness, after a couple of months wasn’t painful at all, but oh yes those initial days can be trying! A good support network means the world. xo


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