Breastfeeding: Expectations vs RealityWhen it comes to breastfeeding; TV, movies, and even other experiences leave us with a lot of different expectations that don’t always happen.
When it comes to breastfeeding; TV, movies, and even other experiences leave us with a lot of different expectations that don’t always happen. Sometimes, the milk supply doesn’t come in or comes in weak and sometimes the baby won’t latch. Sometimes we end up with medical conditions that require unsafe medications or the baby ends up tube-fed instead of being able to take the breast at all.
While breastfeeding is said to be the most natural thing for most mothers, there are always exceptions.
What are some of the expectations that can lead to disappointment and what can you expect? Here are a few of the expectations I had after having a micro-preemie followed by a healthy pregnancy.
Expectation: Pump for micro preemie, then breastfeed when the baby is strong enough to take the breast.
If your baby comes super early, you may want to try to pump so they can still take the breast later and still get breast milk early on. Even a small amount is OK and things don’t always work out in the end. Sometimes you will find that your milk supply drops dramatically by the time your baby is stable enough. If that happens and you can’t save it, switching to formula is completely OK. Many are campaigning that breast is best, however, a fed baby is always the goal here.
Sometimes you’ll pump and have a fridge/freezer filled with milk but the doctors will switch due to weight gain issues.
Sometimes you will dry up before the baby is ready to start eating without a tube and sometimes you’ll be discouraged because the baby will need to learn to suck a bottle. Some babies have a weak sucking reflex and need to develop those muscles.
If you end up having to pump long-term and are unable to breastfeed, just know that as long as the baby gets some breastmilk, it helps. You can opt to supplement your baby with formula as exclusively pumping can be exhausting for mothers.
Expectation: The nurse will lay the baby on your chest and breastfeeding will come immediately and naturally to both of you
That doesn’t always happen. Breastfeeding can seem to come naturally but sometimes the baby will get too hungry and won’t properly latch, so they will get more frustrated and end up having to be given a bottle. Sometimes babies are born with tongue ties or other problems that prevent latching.
Babies are born with the instinct to go to the breast but it takes a while for mom and baby to learn proper latching. If you don’t get it immediately, don’t get discouraged and keep trying. You may have to start out pumping but eventually, babies do learn. On the first three days, help your baby's rooting reflex by stroking his cheek until the baby's mouth is directed to your nipples.
If you are clueless as to where to start training, a lactation specialist is the best go-to for help.
Expectation: Breastfeeding is natural, so it will be a pleasant experience for both mother and baby all the time
Breastfeeding can be frustrating. It can be painful. It can lead to tears and headaches and sometimes you can find yourself switching to bottle feeding. You will be sleep-deprived at first. It will be common for the baby to eat 8-12 times a day, you’ll likely be up every 3 hours for the first couple weeks to months and there will be cluster feedings as well but it won’t last and eventually, your baby will sleep through the night in longer stretches.
A baby naturally will have reflexes that will help them find the breast but getting a proper latch and you learning the cues will take some time. It normally isn’t something that comes fast and naturally, even if it’s not your first time.
Expectation: Baby will be exclusively breastfed from birth to two years
That doesn’t always happen, women's breastfeeding duration varies widely. Some women can keep up the flow and breastfeed exclusively into the toddler years, but there are times you will dry up. There will also be times you will need to go on medications that may interfere with milk production or you may start a new job that doesn't give you the chance to feed. You may also get tired of breastfeeding (or your toddler may choose to ween) and that is OK as well, you don't have to nurse your toddler.
Not everyone can attain their expected duration of breastfeeding as planned or hoped for.
Expectation: It will be a time filled with nothing but joy and excitement
If you go into anything with the breastfeeding expectation of it being filled with nothing but joy, you will be disappointed. Breastfeeding gives you a strong bond to the baby and it helps release hormones that help you relax and feel better but it won’t always be exciting. There will be days you dread the cry. There will be nights you hate waking up, and there will be many sleep-deprived late night feeds. Those will be normal but also they won’t last. Eventually, you and baby will get on a routine and they will finally start sleeping all night.
A lactation specialist can help you overcome the challenges brought about by breastfeeding and eventually bring the joy you have always expected. Be assured that a number of women breastfeeding their little one had gone through the same experience as yours and are thriving.
Expectation: You will end up with chaffed and bloody nipples
When you’re first starting out, latching can be confusing. Baby knows where to go and what to do but getting a proper latch takes practice. While you’re waiting to learn, you may find that you’re chafed and bleeding. Use lotion right after nursing, put a drop of breastmilk and finish off with Lanolin, that can help. Lanolin is a thicker lotion with a similar consistency to vaseline- it helps moisten and breastmilk also helps hydrate so your sore nipples won’t get as chafed.
Expectation: Your breasts will swell but will shrink once you stop lactating
One warning people get when they are planning on breastfeeding is that they will get bigger breasts while they feed, but once they dry up their breasts will shrink smaller than they were before they got pregnant. While it can be true, it’s more of a scare tactic and some women find that they not only stay the size they were, they end up bigger. There doesn’t seem to be much of a way to determine. Breast size, for the most part, seems to be a mix of genetics and weight. If you lose a lot of weight postpartum, you will end up with smaller breasts.
Expectation: Nursing will help me lose a lot of weight fast
While breastfeeding does help burn extra calories, it alone can’t help you lose weight. Lactation burns about 500 extra calories per day, but it also requires eating a little more to keep up the supply. If you mix nursing with a workout routine and healthy diet, you absolutely can lose weight while nursing but anytime you lose a lot of weight fast it isn’t healthy. The best is typically to aim for 1.5-2lbs per week and do the muscle-building exercise once your doctor has given the green light to start working out again.
With a lot of campaigns and public health interventions that encourage positive attitudes towards breastfeeding, we can't help but be overwhelmed by how breastfeeding should be like. Find a wider community for support like family and friends to help you get through. Also keep in mind that if you have the resources, it is always best to seek help from a lactation consultant to help you manage your expectations and have a pleasant breastfeeding experience.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Bethany Boggs
Bethany Boggs is a 30 something married mother of 2 kids. When she is not writing or working her day job, you can find her wrangling her 2 girls and 3 cats while sipping cold Starbucks and trying to remember why she walked into the room.