My first child was born on September 3. They say a day lasts 24 hours, but that day lasted months. When you undergo such an enormous change, and you're unable to get a solid night's sleep to differentiate one day from another, you have the sensation of living one, tremendously long day. This was especially true the first week of my son's life which, in turn, made everything about it really, really hard, from generally dealing with life to breastfeeding. Yes: the first week of breastfeeding is definitely the hardest. There will be those who tell you that breastfeeding is the most "natural" thing in the world, and you have my permission to tell those people precisely where to shove it.
Let me clarify: breastfeeding is natural, meaning it occurs in nature. Just like gazelle outrunning cheetahs, penguins surviving an Antarctic winter, and single-celled organisms evolving into human beings. You see what I'm getting at here? Just because something is "natural" doesn't mean it's easy or even always possible. And when it is possible there's a whole lot of luck and trial and error at play.
So many factors work against a breastfeeding mother, even under the best of circumstances, in that first week, most of which are completely outside of a mom's realm of control. Here are just of few of the things that will very likely make the first week of breastfeeding the worst you'll face:
And why would you? That's not on you! Nevertheless, it is something you have to figure out if your goal is to keep nursing. That's a lot of pressure in the face of complete inexperience. So week one is the point where you will have the least amount of experience or practical knowledge under your belt during the duration of your breastfeeding journey. The learning curve is real.
Everyone puts all this on the mom, but the truth of the matter is that your baby needs to figure out what they're doing, too. It's not like they're born knowing what to do. They have a lot of good instincts (thank you, evolution), but they're hardly experts. They're little bundles of reflexes that require your guidance.
New moms don't pop out a baby and suddenly start making milk. First comes colostrum, which your body has actually been producing since the beginning of your second trimester. Measured in tablespoons rather than ounces, colostrum is low in fat but rich in other nutrients, as well as antibodies. It's easy to digest and is all your baby needs until your milk comes in, sometime between two and five days after birth.
That said, waiting for colostrum to make way for milk may be a source of anxiety, especially if it's on the later end of average. Many C-section moms, and some first-time moms, will find their milk comes in closer to day five than two, but it is nevertheless perfectly healthy and normal.
It's very likely that the better part of your first week as a new mom is spent in the hospital (especially if you had a C-section). While it can be tremendously comforting to be surrounded by so many people who know exactly what they're doing, it can also be awful to feel like you're the only person in the place who doesn't know what's happening or what to do. In some cases, the bedside manner of a doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant can make the difference between feeling reassured and feeling belittled.
Sometimes, either in necessity or in an abundance of caution, babies and/or moms will be monitored particularly closely after birth. Maybe baby's blood sugar is low. Maybe mom lost a lot of blood. Complications on either end might lead to separations that could make breastfeeding difficult. That tends not to be the case once you're home in the following weeks.
A lot of people attribute difficulty breastfeeding/latching/producing milk to the fact that you're only a week or so in. Generally, this isn't a bad approach, but sometimes there are factors that contribute to difficulty breastfeeding that are overlooked, such as tongue tie or production issues. It can still be frustrating to have to rule out "inexperience" before looking to other, legitimate concerns.
Either a small human came roaring out of your hoo-hoo or you were cut open and stapled back together. I don't care who you are, that's going to take more than a week of recovery. Needless to say, being in pain makes everything more difficult, including breastfeeding.
So I had no idea that babies lose weight in the first few days after birth. When I was told my son had dropped from eight pounds four ounces to seven pounds and and some change, I panicked until the nurses assured me it was normal.
While losing a few ounces after birth is normal, you want to make sure that your baby doesn't lose too much weight and that they gain it back within two weeks or so. In that period, everything that is going into and coming out of your child is monitored, scrutinized, and measured to the best of your ability. It can be very stressful (and, again, the bedside manner of medical professionals can make it a 100 times better or a million times worse).
Like... is this enough? There's pee in the diaper, but was there enough pee? Is one significantly wet diaper as good as a few moderately wet ones? Is this child getting enough milk/colostrum?! Someone give me some goddamn reassurance! Guide me!
Baby poop, especially breastfed baby poop, and especially in that first week, is unlike any other poop you've ever seen. For starters, a baby's first poop (or first couple poops) is meconium, which is something out of a goddamn nightmare. Then it moves from meconium to this, like, saffron-colored, seedy-looking paste that doesn't smell bad but doesn't smell good either. There's also so many different kinds of "normal," all of which is foreign to you, and it leaves you in a state of genuine confusion. That is not a state parents are comfortable with.
Anyone who says "breastfeeding doesn't hurt if you're doing it right" can just go ahead, pucker up, and kiss my butt. Seriously. Stop. You're not helpful and you're wrong, which you should be able to figure out using simple, mother-lovin' logic. Because are you honestly telling me that your nipples going untouched the vast majority of the time to being engaged all day long isn't going to make them just a little sore? Yes, you get used to it and it gets better, but the struggle is real, especially early on (when there might also be issues at play like improper latch which make it even worse).
And, really, you never completely get used to it, but it's the worst early on because you have mostly likely never had to endure this kind of constant waking before. It's a shock to the system to say the least.
I mean, of course everyone wants to meet the new baby. So the first week is when a lot of people get a lot of visitors. Unfortunately, this isn't always particularly conducive to concentrating on breastfeeding (or doing other things that will help you on that front, such as resting). If you can, I'd strongly recommend putting off guests until a little later. Again, if you can. It's not going to make breastfeeding easy, but it might help make it easier.
You have to learn so much all at once, while recovering and exhausted and flooded with a metric ton of postpartum hormones. These are trying conditions in which to learn anything, much less everything you need to know to keep another human being alive. This is hard, so never let anyone ever try to tell you it's not or that feeling overwhelmed is anything other than completely reasonable.
I can't promise you this will get better, but I can say that, in general, I know very few people for whom it gets worse. This first week is in many ways hellish. But, bit by bit, you will gain a better understanding of your role as a mom and what you have to do for you and your baby.
Good luck and godspeed.
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