After a ton of reading and learning about breastfeeding, a healthy, full-term pregnancy, and a successful unmedicated birth at home, I kinda expected my son to just magically latch onto my breast without a hitch (perhaps accompanied by harps or little singing nature sprites or something). So imagine my surprise when he totally didn't. "I'm Earth Momming so hard right now, little man! Get it together, what are you doing?" Turns out, there are plenty of not-so-idyllic things that definitely happen the first time you breastfeed, no matter what you imagined beforehand, or how smoothly your birth experience went. (This is also why I think we shouldn't constantly talk about how "natural" breastfeeding is, because the image "natural" suggests is usually so different from what most moms actually experience in real life.)
Though we're still nursing every day and nearly two years after I gave birth to him, the first time my son and I breastfed was nothing like what I imagined it would be. We both felt clunky and awkward, not at all peaceful and still and effortlessly gorgeous like all the images of nursing moms I'd seen before. My breast was actually bigger than his head when we first started, and I was low-key afraid I might suffocate him. He was super hangry, and flailing around with his terrifying little baby claws each time he tried to latch on. Once he actually did (and fell off, and then latched again), I couldn't tell if he was actually getting anything to eat, 'cause it's not like boobs have convenient little markings that let you see how much liquid is inside, like bottles do. I knew I wanted to keep going with breastfeeding, but I had no idea exactly how we would do that.
Fortunately, I had lots of knowledgeable folks — themselves moms who'd nursed their own children — around to support me, including a midwife who showed me how to hand express milk so I could at least see that something was in there, a pediatrician who supports breastfeeding moms and affirmed that everything we were doing and experiencing was totally normal, and a lactation consultant who showed me some tricks to help him get a nice deep latch every time.
If most or all of the following things happen to you the first time you breastfeed, don't take the challenging bits as a sign that you're not cut out to nurse. Know you're yet another of the billions of nursing moms through the ages who've been in the exact same place, yet went on to nurse their babies for months or even years after that.
You'll Struggle To Help Them Latch On…
"Breastfeeding looked so natural and easy in all the pamphlets I read before you were born. What am I doing wrong?"
...Or They’ll Latch Perfectly, And You'll Have No Idea How To Get Them To Do It That Way Again
"Oh, wow! We are mother and baby angels, nursing just as God and nature and evolution and Ceiling Cat intended. Oh, sh*t you fell off, how do I get you back on?"
You'll Wonder If They're Actually Getting Anything
If only boobs and baby cheeks were transparent. (#ProTip: watch the baby's jaw and throat for motion, and listen for small swallowing sounds. Colostrum isn't as voluminous as mature milk, but there's something in there. Their diapers should confirm that soon thereafter.)
You'll Feel Weird Sensations
If you've never breastfed a baby before, there are lots of new sensations in your boobs to get used to the first time — and for a few days or weeks after that, too. You might feel something moving through your breasts, or tingling, or a sharp sensation when your baby first latches that goes away within a minute or so.
It Might Hurt
"How can a toothless mouth cause so much pain?" you'll probably (read: definitely) wonder. If baby doesn't have a deep enough latch, then their hard palate will be grinding against your nipple (aka the most sensitive part of your breast) while they suckle. Ouch. That's how raw, cracked nipples happen.
Don't suffer or let your baby learn bad habits. Break the latch and start over if they're not latching deeply enough. They need to be latched onto your areola, not the tip of your nipple. You'll both figure it out with practice (and help from a lactation consultant, hopefully).
You’ll Examine Their Mouth Constantly
"Are your lips flanged out like a fish, like the baby in the video?" — Every first-time breastfeeding mom ever
You’ll Stare At Them In Wonder
Once your baby is latched on and suckling away, you'll probably be overcome with some emotions — love, awe, anxiety, curiosity, you name it.
You’ll Feel Like This Is Taking Forever
After a few minutes, of course, you'll start to wonder less at the miracle of the new life you created, and more at the clock. "How long have we been doing this, anyway?"
It Will Take Forever
Early breastfeeding sessions take a while — like 20 to 45 minutes for many new babies, every couple of hours. Don't worry: it won't always be like that. They get way more efficient as they get a little older and more experienced. In the meantime, pick some shows to binge and get comfy. Y'all are gonna be in your nursing spot for a while.
You'll Realize You're Super Thirsty...
I always felt instantly thirsty as soon as my son latched in the early days. Fortunately, during pregnancy I made a habit of always having a full water bottle by my side. I tell every new nursing mom I know to keep that going, too.
"How long have they been latched? And how long ago was my last meal?" Just like the water bottle, always having snacks on hand is a major must, especially when you're exclusively breastfeeding your baby. Keep nutritious snacks handy wherever you nurse the most, especially in those early days when nursing sessions take a long time.
You’ll Marvel At The Fact That Your Body Can Make Food
Not only did you make a person, but your body is now making food (and antibodies, and all sorts of other stuff) to keep that person alive. Will wonders never, ever cease?