I had two pivotal moments in my breastfeeding relationship with my son. The first was in the hospital, where some inexperienced and over zealous nurses pushed, squeezed and prodded my breasts, positioning and constantly re-positioning my new baby while repeatedly asking, “How does that feel?” (Hint: not great). They gave me exercises to do and regimes to follow and I felt like I was missing something. It wasn't clear if either of us were doing it right, but I was sure this wasn’t how it was supposed to feel when breastfeeding for the first time.
A few days later, I was feeling desperate, my breasts hurt, my baby didn’t seem to be getting any milk (we were supplementing with formula) and my ability to continue breastfeeding seemed to be slipping away. So I went to see a lactation consultant and had my first “real” experience breastfeeding my sweet baby. She sat me down on a rocking chair in a dimly lit room, had both me and my son undress, laid him on my tummy, and we watched him crawl up to my breast, where she quickly popped on a nipple shield and he latched on, nursing immediately.
It was like no other feeling I have experienced; an immediate release of tension that was both emotional and relaxing; a true bonding moment, as we looked into each other's eyes and he hungrily drank while stroking my skin with his tiny free hand. It was magical and my mom (who had come for moral support) and I both had a good cry. It was such a relief to see my son latched on properly.
If one mother and one baby can have such drastically opposing breastfeeding experiences in just a few days time, I can only imagine how diverse the first-time breastfeeding experiences are of women who, you know, aren't me. So, I asked a group of moms to share their recollections of breastfeeding for the first time, and these are their responses:
"Dear Lord! Why is milk going everywhere?! Is it supposed to spray like this? Where is that coming from? OMG, should my boob be larger than his head?! Am I going to suffocate him?!"
"I remember how floppy my babies were with no muscle tone at all, it seemed so awkward to lift them up to the right spot. It was a pretty surreal experience being skin-to-skin with this person I had just met outside of me.
With my second child, I found her latch was barely noticeable compared to nursing a toddler. I was looking for lip and tongue ties before we even started, due to my experience with my first which I'm glad I did, since she had anterior and posterior tongue ties. Prior knowledge makes all the difference."
"Ow! OK, that hurts more than I was expecting! I also remember feeling really pleased that, after a labor where nothing had gone according to plan, I was finally doing something right!"
"First feeds were horrendous! But I breastfed my son for three years, so it did get better."
"Er, yuk, I don't get what all the fuss is about, it was a weird feeling. Then I called for formula.”
"It went too quickly but it was amazing. Every feed since has also been amazing. The feeds did hurt a little in the beginning when [my daughter] first latched on, but it only ever lasted a few seconds.
The memory of her looking up at me for the first time whilst feeding is one I will never forget.”
"My baby was in the NICU and she wouldn't latch unless I was wearing a nipple shield, it was just awkward. When it fell off and she latched perfectly without it, I cried with tears of relief, joy, and a sense of accomplishment. Physically it was weird, but I was so excited she finally 'got it,' so I didn't mind it. We are still nursing to this day."
"I was expecting it to be a bit more natural than it actually felt. Her latch was wrong for the first few times and it was quite uncomfortable and painful (kind of like razor blades). I remember thinking that I didn't realize how powerful a newborn's suck could be.
I also remember feeling upset that maybe something was wrong with us because, wasn't this supposed to be a natural instinct? But after a few days it got better and I knew how to get her to open her mouth wider for a better latch, it felt much more natural as time went on."
"It was complicated; both incredibly rewarding knowing, that my body could continue to feed and sustain my baby even after he was born, but devastating when he developed jaundice, because my milk was slow coming in.
It was physically painful when my nipples cracked and bled for 2 weeks, and it was empowering every time I breastfed in public without a cover, I was making a positive statement for all women showing that there is nothing to be ashamed of."
"My baby gave me a giant hickey, he totally missed the nipple right after delivery and I was a bit preoccupied. I was so shocked with how strong his suckling reflex was!"
"Unpleasant! I'd get a physical stress response every time I tried nursing [my daughter], especially with an audience. I'd get hot, sweaty, anxious, and so frustrated. She'd fuss, flail, and milk would spray. I pretty much just gave up and exclusively pumped. Eventually we seemed to switch, and after a couple of months she was back on the breast, and refusing bottles."
"I was definitely not someone who was overly comfortable with breastfeeding and didn't really like it. But a family friend told me that a baby may start rooting for the breast right after birth if laid on your chest skin-to-skin. It was the best advice I had been given.
As soon as I saw my baby starting to root, I knew exactly what to do and so did she. Our breastfeeding relationship was easy from that moment on."
"My daughter latched on a few minutes after birth and then stayed latch on like that, uninterrupted for two hours. It was amazing and surreal. I was in such awe of her. She stayed skin-to-skin with me for nearly 24 hours, and I did not want to let her go!"