Sometimes it's hard to remember a time when nursing was really, really hard. Not that it wasn't because it damn near broke my soul in the first week of my son's life, and continued to challenge me for several weeks thereafter. Eventually, though, things went pretty smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that between two children I nursed for three years and six months. So my last memories of nursing are those of a rambunctious toddler using full sentences to ask to nurse, and not of those first few months of breastfeeding. However, if I look back and really dig through the mommy haze of the past five years, I can begin to feel those at-the-ready baby gums, seemingly set on destroying my nipples.
Full disclosure: breastfeeding goes a bit differently for everyone, so I can really speak to what I personally wen through here. That said, I have a lot of experience in this particular area, and breasts and babies usually work in pretty similar ways. If I could give but one piece of advice on the first few months of breastfeeding it would be this: you're not alone, and you're not crazy in thinking this is really tough, because even under the best conditions this is not easy. There's a lot to figure out, get used to, and juggle. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to make it a little bit easier on yourself, including the following:
Eat And Drink As Much As You Need
Speaking from my own experience, you will be voracious and thirsty as hell. Some people will tell you to get yourself a reusable water bottle to keep with you at all times. I say save yourself the refill time and purchase a 20 gallon fish tank and a large straw, because you'll probably go through about that much per day. (OK maybe that's not entirely accurate, but it feels like it.) I also ate every time my baby did, which was every 1-3 hours. It takes a lot to get your body into breastfeeding mode: calories, effort, water, blood, sweat, and tears. Make sure you're fueling yourself accordingly.
Don't Even Think About Losing "Baby Weight"
Breastfeeding makes your body just as weirdly unpredictable as pregnancy, in some cases. Hormones are all over the place, eating habits are weird, and of course, you're still recovering from childbirth. Some women will lose all their "baby weight," and then some, just through breastfeeding in their baby's first few months. Others will hang on to most of their "baby weight" for as long as they nurse.
In many cases, it has nothing to do with diet, activity, or anything else. It's blind, stupid luck. That's not to say there's nothing you can do about weight loss or weight gain after you pop out a kid. You totally can (if you want; it is hardly a requirement). But if you want to make a go of breastfeeding, try not to get too preoccupied with shedding pounds right away, because your body has enough on its plate at the moment.
(Also, can we ditch the term "baby weight," please? You lose the "baby weight" when you lose the baby. So, like, as soon as you give birth, the baby weight is gone. OK, glad we could straighten that out.)
Don't Freak Out About Breast Appearance
Your boobs are going to be insane. From size to shape to color, to nipple size, shape, and color, they will surprise you with their myriad changes. Be assured: most of these changes are not permanent. In fact, particularly when it comes to size, that can vary from hour to hour.
I was once at a party when a friend's partner looked down and said, "Um, is it time to pump?" Sure enough I'd gone from tasteful party cleavage to "17th century courtesan" cleavage within an hour arrival. This happened regularly the first few months of nursing, but once my body found its groove it wasn't nearly as dramatic as time went on.
Talk To A Lactation Consultant
Seriously: these badasses know what they're talking about and have the knowledge and resources to help you out.
Talk To Other Nursing Moms
This is basically how moms learned how to breastfeed for thousands of years. Talking to and observing the other women in your family and community can not only give you some really great pointers and ideas, but can really help you not feel so alone in this mess. Sure, breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn't come naturally; it's something you learn with time, patience, and guidance.
Don't Go Crazy With Your Pump
While everyone's needs and specific medical advice may be different, in general, under typical circumstances, lactation consultants recommend letting your baby's feeding schedule "teach" your body how much milk to produce. Pumping in addition to regular feedings too early can lead to oversupply, which is not fun. If you need to build a freezer stash to feed your baby when you go back to work, try to put it off for a bit to enable your body to regulate itself. (Of course if you're exclusively pumping, like pumping for a baby in the NICU, this is going to complicate matters.)
Try To Mentally Prepare For Interrupted, Horrible Sleep
Like, this is kind of a cruel thing to suggest, because there's no real way you can prepare yourself for the kind of sleep you get with a breastfed infant in the house (also known as sleeping maybe three hours at a time), but I guess this is my way of saying, "It sucks and it's draining, but it's normal, so don't get too freaked out, because you will get through it." Courage, mama.
Learn To Tune Out Bullsh*t
Because people are so full of it sometimes. There will be naysayers who tell you to just give up breastfeeding and go with formula. There will be the lactivists who look down on any complaints whatsoever. There will be weird old grandmas who give you some bizarre advice from her village about newt tails and full moons. Try not to let them get you down (or in the case of grandma, weird you out) too much. They may be speaking from their own experience, but that's just their experience. Talk to your care providers, get all the information you can (with a grain of salt, of course) and do what you feel is best for you and your family.
Ask For Help
From your friends who are constantly asking what they can bring over to help you out (food), to your partner who may need some guidance on how they can be most helpful, to your family members who want to spend a couple weeks with you to help you "settle in" and find your new normal; take whatever help you can get and don't feel bad about accepting it for an instant.
Again, women aren't designed to do this sort of thing alone. We build support systems throughout our lives to help us in these moments of challenge. It doesn't make you weak or "less than." It makes you a human who is smart enough to realize when she could use a hand.
Be Kind To Yourself
A lot of women I've known have felt like they can't "just sit there" in their babies first few months. They have to do laundry or clean or cook or tend to their other children or a million other things that could actually really be put off or done by someone else for a little while. Remember, resting your body and healing is doing something, and its going to be clutch in successful breastfeeding.
Also, remember that this nursing business is hard: if it's not working out right away or especially well, don't take it personally. Remember you are magnificent.
Believe In Yourself
You can do it. No, seriously, you can. You're a badass.