There are lots of things you may well not know about breastfeeding until you try it and at some point I will probably write a post about the things you need to know (although I’m sure that’s been covered by others already), but I wrote this post first because there were some things that caught me out. As a breastfeeder of going on 4 years’ experience now, and an experienced peer supporter I am well versed in a lot of the ins and outs of breastfeeding, but when I’m talking to first-timers (and sometimes even second and third timers) there are a few things I always try to tell them, because I remember them being a big surprise to me, or not even realising they were breastfeeding related! Number 3 in particular took me a good few weeks to work out – who knew?!
Oh – and sorry if you were expecting this yesterday. I know my posts normally come out on a Monday and Wednesday, but I thought I’d do as the bin-men do and delay it all by a day thanks to the bank holiday, so expect the next post on Thursday.
1 – i)Milk sweats
The hormone that causes your milk to come in, Prolactin, is not just responsible for that ‘baby blues’ hysterical meltdown on day 3 or 4 of breastfeeding, it also causes you to sweat profusely – like, to the point you think you have the ‘flu or something. Nighttimes can be especially bad. This is why new mamas need to drink so much damn water, not only are you bleeding, breastfeeding and crying at the drop of a hat, but you are sweating like Paula Radcliffe at the finishing line. Yuck.
It usually dies down within a few weeks (yes. Weeks.) but you may notice odd resurgences of it throughout your breastfeeding journey, like when you and baby re-unite after an abnormally long absence from each other, or your baby is screaming whilst you’re trying to drive and have no way to pull over, so you’re singing their favourite song on repeat while your boobs spurt milk and you break into a sweat the like of which you have never before known.
1)ii) – Your sweat may smell of milk. I only noticed this the second time round. Not sure if it’s universal, hence my caveat of ‘may’.
2 – TT doesn’t necessarily mean bf is hard/impossible
It’s slightly more common knowledge these days, I think, that tongue-tie is one of the biggest causes of inability to breastfeed, but here’s the thing: it’s not always the case. So much of it depends on variable factors, like the type of tongue tie, the ability of the baby to work around it and the physiology of the mother. If you have nipples like organ stops you may find you’re able to feed without pain, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you should investigate getting the tie resolved anyway.
Tongue-ties can cause inefficient nursing, even when there’s no pain, meaning the baby gets a high amount of watery, lactose-heavy milk, leading to extra weight gain, very frequent feeding, bad colic and reflux-type symptoms. It’s always worth getting an expert to check it out for you.
Even when breastfeeding is off the table, tongue-tie can cause issues with eating solid foods, as the baby or child can’t move food around their mouth effectively leading to weightloss and/or extreme food fussiness based around textures.
Tongue tie can also inhibit and delay speech and cause speech impediments at a later age. Yo NHS – it’s not about the boob y’all!
3 – Sex life can suffer
OK. so this is another effect of Prolactin. Your libido will probably drop (although the sleep deprivation and being completely touched out when you’re not actually trapped under a baby will probably have a bigger effect on your libido) but, more critically, your natural lubrication will be significantly less plentiful. This has the double effect of making sex less physically comfortable and making you and your partner feel as if you’re less ‘into’ it which can have knock-on effects on both of you. Unfortunately this is likely to continue for as long as you’re primarily breastfeeding, so roughly the first year of your baby’s life. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Once they’re more reliant on solids for their nutritional intake things will improve, but you probably won;t be entirely back to your normal until you cease breastfeeding almost entirely.
Invest in a good quality lube and just accept it. It’s not such a problem once you know what’s causing it.
4 – Doesn’t make your boobs saggy
There’s a even a whole book on this – click through via this link & you can help keep me in chocolate for a few minutes 😉 Saggy Boobs and other breastfeeding myths
Contrary to popular belief breastfeeding does not make your boobs saggy. No. Unfortunately you have the pregnancy hormones and increase/deflation to thank for that, so unless you plan to adopt there’s no real way around it. Sorry.
5 – You don’t always lose weight through bf.
I am very lucky. The common belief that breastfeeding is the best way to burn off your baby weight by burning through about 500 calories a day definitely holds true for me – thank GOD. This means that I eat, approximately, a whole cake a day and The Girl burns it off for me running around the house and growing like a weed.
Some are not so lucky, though. For a few unfortunates breastfeeding actually causes them to retain much of the pregnancy fat stores they put on and only reducing or ceasing breastfeeding will allow them to shift those stubborn pounds. If this applies to you I suppose you just have to decide whether the pros of breastfeeding outweigh the cons of needing a ‘caution, wide-load’ number plate for your backside…
6 – Injury prone
Yup. Another Prolactin-related effect. During pregnancy your ligaments relax in preparation for the seismic shifts of birth and it’s prolactin that’s responsible. This ligament relaxaction can cause clumsiness and, when you trip or fall because you’re not sure where your feet are, you’re more likely to injure yourself because you’re not held together so tightly. Those of us who continue breastfeeding will continue to experience this ligament relaxation. For me with my hyper-tense muscles and ligaments, the effect is actually quite pleasing as it means I’m a little bit bendy for the first time since puberty. For someone like my friend, who suffers from hyper-laxity, it increases the very high likelihood of dislocation, over-pronation and injury.
7 – That each baby is different.
Was it impossible to breastfeed first time around? Perhaps you found it a breeze. No matter. Baby number 2 (and no.s 3, 4 and 5 if you get that far) will be different people and it may well be a completely different experience. Be prepared.
8 – Your baby is always your baby
This one caught me out big time – I initially assumed I’d stop feeding after 6 months and that feeding older babies and toddlers was squicky and weird, but here’s the thing – your baby is your baby no matter what size they get to. Even when they ask for milk it’s not weird like it was seeing other peoples’ kids do it, because that hulking great toddler was that 7lb scrap that popped out of your womb only yesterday, right?!
9 – That you may feel sad when it stops
No matter how hard, inconvenient, unceasing and gruelling it can be to be the main source of your baby’s nutrition it can feel really really sad when it’s time to stop – whatever the reason. Hardest of all is with your last baby – after all, you’ll never do this again and it’s the end of an era.
10 – You will never see your boobs in quite the same way ever again
Yes, you will still critique them for their aesthetics (or lack thereof) but it just doesn’t have quite the same sting when you regard them as the givers of food and life and comfort. I remember being all about the cleavage when I was a teenager, hoicking them up front and centre for attention, but now I happily whip one right out in public and would really rather prefer I were ignored. Occasionally I’ll examine myself in the mirror with a critical eye, but it usually ends up with a shrug. And when your 4 year old no-longer-breastfeeding son nestles his face into them and says with a happy sigh “your boobs are so nice and squishy Mummy” you take it as the compliment it was intended for, because I’d rather they offered comfort to my family, than titillation (arf) to the masses.