Despite reading countless books, taking breastfeeding classes (yes, plural), joining groups on social media, and having a ton of breastfeeding friends, I was not prepared to breastfeed. Nursing my baby for the first time was not easy or natural. There's definitely a learning curve, and let's just say things didn't go as I had planned. To make matters worse, I thought it was going to be so different. Turns out, however, that there are quite a few things everyone thinks will happen the first time you breastfeed, that don't. Because, like so many other parts of parenting, your expectations don't line up with reality.
The breastfeeding advocacy movement makes breastfeeding your baby sound like a magical, wonderful experience, full of snuggles and endorphins. While it can absolutely be all of those things, no one mentions the bleeding nipples, uterine contractions, difficulty latching, undersupply and/or oversupply, and feelings of dread. So, I went into that first feeding session thinking it would be the best thing ever. For me, though, breastfeeding was painful, and I didn't feel the rush of happy love hormones everyone promised me I would feel.
Breastfeeding my baby the first time also meant being topless in front of nurses and lactation consultants, piercing nipple pain, uterine contractions, and worrying that my baby was nursing too much and not sleeping enough. Fast forward through weeks of breast milk supply issues and postpartum depression, and I can safely say that breastfeeding my daughter was not a beautiful experience. Fortunately, I've had other babies and other breastfeeding experiences, so it definitely hasn't all been bad, either. I can tell you that it isn't terrible all of the time, but it also wasn't the magical experience I expected.
You Instinctively Know What You're Doing
Thanks to all those classes I attended, not to mention the books and websites I read about breastfeeding, you'd think I would be confident. Nope. I was scared out of my mind. To make matters worse, there was nothing natural about breastfeeding for me. I tried to prop my newborn daughter up with a nursing pillow and guide her to me, but it didn't feel right. I wasn't sure if she was getting anything or if I was doing things correctly, so the pressure to successfully breastfeed started building. (The fact that everyone was staring at me definitely didn't help.)
Your Baby Has A Perfect Latch
So, if I remembered correctly, I was supposed to align my baby's nose with my nipple and smash my breast like a sandwich, but then the nurse said I should let her come to me and not the other way around. The same nurse said, "Great latch," when my daughter clamped on like a barracuda, but was it? Because, I honestly had no idea.
It Feels Good
I am going to be honest when I tell you that breastfeeding my baby the first time hurt like a mofo. It hurt my nipples, my uterus contracted (which was almost as painful as a labor contraction), and I definitely wouldn't describe it as pleasurable.
You Can Hear Your Baby Suck & Swallow
All of the websites I read told me to listen for the sounds of my daughter swallowing and look for her jaw moving to know she was getting enough breast milk, but I couldn't hear anything and couldn't really see her jaw. FML.
You Love It
It's hard to love something that hurts, that you think you suck at, and that involves strangers mashing your boobs and squeezing your nipples without your consent and while you hold a slippery newborn. Nope. Not my idea of a good time, my friend. I definitely didn't love breastfeeding the first time.
Your Baby Will Get Enough To Eat
I had no idea that it was possible for your baby to not get enough to eat. Everyone I talked to said colostrum was always enough. In my case, they were wrong, and I didn't know until five days later when my daughter had lost more than 20 percent of her birth weight. With my next baby, I knew what to look for and where to get help.
Your Baby Loves It
When my didn't get enough to eat she grew profoundly frustrated. She used me as a pacifier for hours and, when that didn't work, cried in frustration. The first time she actually seemed content was a few days later, when my partner and I decided to give her a small amount of formula at the advice of her doctor. That moment pretty much broke me. I felt like I wasn't enough. I've since learned that there's way more to being a mom than making enough breast milk.
You Bond With Your Baby
I was overwhelmed with emotion when I finally met my daughter. She was so small and beautiful. I wanted to try breastfeeding right away, and in that moment I was scared and nervous, then frustrated and tired. It didn't feel like bonding. For me, that would come much later, and I've since discovered that delayed bonding with my baby is totally OK.
I wish I had known then what I know now: you don't have to love breastfeeding the first time, the last time, or even at all to bond with your baby. You will have plenty of time to form a lasting relationship after those first moments of motherhood, and being a good mom has nothing to do with what does and does not happen the first time you breastfeed.