As someone who spent countless hours nursing my kids, I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about all things breastfeeding. There are so many things I wish I knew when I was breastfeeding for the first time, though, and if I could go back in time man, oh man, would new-mom me benefit from the information I have gained after feeding my two kids a million times over the course of four years.
As a brand new parent I studied up on breastfeeding, and the hospital where I gave birth held a 30-minute hands-on (boobs-on?) lactation session for the new moms in the maternity ward. But none of that made me feel totally confident about nursing once I was home with my new baby. In those first few days, especially, it was hard to know if anything was coming out of me, if my newborn was crying because she was hungry or had too much to eat, and if she was going to thrive off breast milk alone.
All turned out OK, until it didn’t. At about three weeks, my daughter would suddenly break out into a hysterical fit when I would try to breastfeed her. My partner and I had no clue what it was and I was nearly apoplectic that she wasn’t eating. Her weird behavior lasted just a day, but I swear it was the longest day of my life. And then she went back to breastfeeding like nothing had happened. For days I watched her like a hawk, trying to pick up on any clues that may signal another nursing strike. Luckily, it was a one-time thing.
By the time my daughter's little brother was born, I was a bit more relaxed about the whole breastfeeding situation. But then I encountered an issue I didn’t have with my first baby: I had oversupply. It was really rough and messy and frustrating for those first six weeks of his life, and until my body found its rhythm and didn’t shoot milk in his face like a geyser every time he settled in to nurse. Just when I thought I had this whole breastfeeding thing handled, new road blocks emerged that made the entire journey anything but effortless. I am sure that would have been the case if I breastfed subsequent children, but my partner and I were done procreating after having two.
I’ve never stopped learning how to be a parent as my children grow older. And even when I think I know something, one of my kids reminds me that I am still not an expert. Here are some things I wish I knew when I was breastfeeding for the first time, now that I’ve done it twice.
I Have No Other Obligations While I Breastfeed…
Maybe it’s because I’m Type A parent, or maybe I just wasn’t used to sitting without getting things done for someone else, but I had a really hard time coming around to the idea that when it was time to breastfeed my child, there was nothing else I needed to be doing. I wish I had arrived at that conclusion the first time around, so I didn’t carry this unnecessary burden of guilt that I wasn’t doing enough. I mean, I was giving my baby life via my body. That's a big deal.
… Other Than Trimming The Baby’s Nails
The only time my infant would be still enough for me to trim her nails was when she was nursing. Though that particular act of grooming terrified me, having my newborn close to me, mostly immobile, offered the best opportunity to cut those tiny, yet freakishly sharp, nails.
I should have taken advantage of my little one being so still and serene, instead of scaring myself half to death and trying to cut her nails at any other time of the day.
I Will Probably Fall Asleep
It didn’t occur to me that sitting still with a quiet, warm infant in my arms would lull me to sleep. Every time I passed out while feeding my first baby, it caught me by surprise, and I couldn’t actually enjoy that. I was resentful, so when I nodded off during the middle-of-the-night nursing sessions with my son, I felt much more entitled to those naps (even if I wasn’t in the most comfortable position to take them).
The Baby Might Fall Asleep, Too
Something I wasn’t aware could happen the first time I was breastfeeding was that the baby could fall asleep. Really, kid? Who chooses sleep over food? Not me. But apparently that’s not a genetic attribute. My first baby frequently nodded off while nursing, and I’d have to wake her to finish a feeding session.
The second time around, I made sure my son was actively eating and not just using me as a pacifier while he slept. Although, if I had fallen asleep myself, he was much more likely to do the same.
I Should Keep The Remotes Nearby
If I was going to spend that much time on the couch, in front of the TV, I should have prepared my “breastfeeding nook” a little better. I didn’t put any thought into what I might need for me when I was breastfeeding because, well, my thoughts were all about the baby. I wish I would have known that I should be considering my needs just as much as I was considering my child’s. I was going to be participating in breastfeeding just as much as she was. And having the remote — and my phone, and a beverage, and tissues — handy would have served me well.
I Need To Ask For A Straw With My Water
Having to ask my spouse for things while I breastfed was a pretty common occurrence, but not even I could think of everything I might need before I actually needed it. Drinking a lot of water was vital for me as a breastfeeding mom, and I needed to replenish my fluids. But drinking out of a cup was challenging when you’re nursing a baby. Thankfully, by the time my second baby was born, I learned to request a straw, which made the balancing act of breastfeeding and hydrating myself a little easier.
Always Have Burp Cloths Handy
That tiny bib around my infant’s neck was not going to be useful when she spit up all the milk she just sucked out of me. It took me feeding my second child to realize just how damn messy babies are.
I Should Not Feel Lazy For Sitting So Much
I’m a New Yorker, so I’m used to running around all the time. I felt so lazy just sitting there with my first baby, though, channel surfing and whatever else helped pass the time. I tried to use my time wisely: I’d finally eat something (dropping crumbs on my baby's head), or attempt to fold laundry (with limited range of movement) or knock out some thank you notes for the baby gifts my partner and I received. This was a ridiculous way to be, though. My maternity leave flew by and the 12 weeks I was home with my first baby should not have been spent ticking off items on a never-ending new mom to-do list.
Thankfully, I learned to just be when I was breastfeeding by the time I had my second child. My time with him was limited, even more so since I also had his older sister who needed my attention at times. I didn’t squander it on chores but instead, lavished him with my presence. I just was.
I Will Miss It
My breastfeeding sessions seemed endless the first time around. I was even breastfeeding my first child into my pregnancy with my second child. I had a brief respite from nursing during my second and third trimesters, and then was back at it with my son for the next two years. I breastfed children for over four years, with barely a break. I had no idea how much I’d miss it.
I missed holding them close, especially when they were at their smallest.
I missed having them let me hold them.
I missed kissing their heads without protest.
I missed the feeling of the tiny person in my arms needing me and loving me as fiercely as I needed and loved them.
I missed feeling like I was fulfilling a destiny and nurturing children I had always imagined being a mom to.
I missed being ignorant of what the future might hold and the difficult periods all parents face in raising children as they get older, wiser, mouthier.
I missed it because I knew, deep inside, we were done having kids, and I wasn’t going to do this ever again.
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