Breastfeeding is a tricky thing to prepare for. Like snuggling a fluffy dog, or marching with millions of other people around the world, or watching an entire season of The Bachelor from start to finish; you just have to experience it to know it. I did the best I could when it came to preparing; I listened to friends, read about breastfeeding in parenting books, and acquired a nursing pillow (and various tubes of lanolin). Still, it only got me so far. There are still plenty of things I wish I knew about exclusive breastfeeding, way before I started.
I mean, the over-prepared student in me would have gladly practiced establishing latch, figuring out supply, and mastering various nursing positions if I could have. However, not only were my breasts not ready yet (thanks a lot, nature), but I also did not have a hungry newborn just, like, hanging around for my own personal benefit. That’s just not how this stuff works, unfortunately. You have to be in the moment, jumping head-first into the proverbial deep end, to see if you'e really going to swim. Yay, motherhood.
However, now I’m on the other side of it, I can pinpoint what some of the key lessons are that I took away from breastfeeding exclusively, in hope that they’ll help someone else (and to remind myself what's in store with the next baby, because this mama isn't making the same "mistakes" twice).
I Don’t Need To Be So Hard On Myself
Am I glad I did it? For sure. Would I be glad if I'd formula fed? I mean, probably. I think I put more pressure on myself to only give my son breastmilk, no matter how challenging it got, than I needed to. And believe me, it did get really, really challenging.
A Pump Can Be Crucial From Day One
Since I wasn’t going back to work for months, I wouldn’t have to worry about a breast pump for months, right? Honestly, I don’t think the idea of having one ready even occurred to me; there were way more important things (or so I thought) so keep track of and have ready for my newborn’s arrival, like a space for him to sleep, blankets, pajamas, diapers, and all the other gear that newborns require.
However, when doctors instructed me to pump milk for my son so my supply wouldn’t be affected by latch struggles, acquiring that pump added an extra level of stress that no parent of a 3-day-old newborn should be forced to endure.
Sleep On A Towel…
I’ll spare the visuals, but just trust me here. There are enough bodily fluids to deal with when a newborn is in the picture, you don’t need to complicate things by letting yours soak your sheets and mattress.
...And Try To Avoid Your Stomach
As a loyal and committed stomach-sleeper, it pains me to say this, especially because breastfeeding moms have already forgone stomach sleeping for months to accommodate growing bellies. However, it can make you leak more (at least, in my experience), plus various message boards echo the idea that it can affect supply, too. While we have other sleeping options, it's just not the same.
Always Have Water Close By…
Not sure about you guys, but the thirst that would come over me within seconds of my letdown was the kind of thirst I imagine marathon runners endure. (I mean, I’m taking a wild guess. I’ve not run a distance even close to marathon-length so this is all speculation.)
Either way, it’s the kind of thirst that you can’t just ignore. It's the kind of thirst that you can only curb by drinking everything within reach, followed by everything that your partner will bring you from the kitchen.
...And Your Phone With Reach…
Try your hardest to keep your phone charged. Originally, I thought I’d be able to resist to allure of that glowing screen when my son was nursing, but when our struggles meant we’d spend hours on it every day, I needed an easy, subtle way to keep myself awake and somewhat entertained.
...And A Spare Shirt In The Diaper Bag
Full disclosure: the one time I relied on said shirt was after a spit-up incident that left me look like someone had splattered white paint all over me. This surely could happen to anyone, not just to moms who breastfeed exclusively. Still, given the high likelihood of leaks, I think it’s fair to consider that shirt for multiple purposes. A stocked diaper bag is never a bad thing.
Breastfeeding Can Be One Of The Toughest Parts Of Bringing Home A Baby…
I was warned, guys. I was warned so many times by friends and acquaintances and strangers on the internet. I understood that breastfeeding can be tough. However, I remained blissfully optimistic, falling back on the logic that “women everywhere have been doing this as long as there have been people, so surely I can figure it out, right?” which yes, is technically true. However, it doesn’t mean that figuring it out is easy or simple.
...But It's All Worth It
The good news? After a few weeks of some pretty intense struggles, we finally got the hang of it. My son breastfed exclusively for six months, and then he continued to breastfeed until he was 2. Had you told me in the beginning that we’d last that long (or even, that we’d last another few months), I would probably wouldn’t have believed it. But, we were lucky that it ultimately worked out, which made all the early struggles totally worth it.