12 Things No One Told You About Breastfeeding

Mother breastfeeding her baby.jpg

Becoming a new mother is a very exciting time in a woman’s life. Your mother, grandmother, aunts and friends may have given you plenty of advice about breastfeeding, but they may have left out a few things. Remember that breastfeeding is a learning process both for mom and baby. In the first few days and even weeks, it can feel like breastfeeding takes a lot of time and mental energy, but it will get easier. 

1. Breastfeeding Can Hurt

First and foremost, the first few weeks of breastfeeding can be painful. If the baby latches on to the nipple properly, the first minute is painful because the nipple and areola are being pulled into the baby’s mouth. After the first minute, the pain should begin to ease. You may need to reposition the baby if the pain continues. If the baby continually latches on incorrectly, the mother can get sore, cracked nipples. If you have excessive pain with nursing, please let your provider know, as this can signal a medical issue such as a tongue-tie.

Clogged Duct and Mastitis

Pain from breastfeeding may be the result of something else known as Mastitis. Mastitis is an infection found in the breast tissue that causes pain, redness and swelling. The majority of lactation mastitis cases occur within the first 12 weeks after birth. If you experience any of following symptoms, consult your provider:

  • Tenderness in the breast 
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Fever of 101° F or above
  • Feeling ill
  • Having body aches similar to the flu

2. Newborns Like to Nurse Often

During the first month, newborns should nurse 8-12 times per day, usually for 10-15 minutes per side. Mom’s milk usually starts to come in on the third day after baby is born.

Do you feel like you’re feeding more often? You may be. Frequent feedings happen because babies digest breast milk more easily than formula. Newborns should not go more than four hours without feeding, even during the night.

Some new mothers may experience low or high milk supply. A low milk supply may be caused by several things. Nipple pain or the baby not latching well can affect a mother’s milk production. Some women may have a hormonal or physical disorder that could also cause milk supply to be low. If your baby seems extra fussy, speak with your provider regarding supplemental formula. 

On the other hand, some women may produce large quantities of milk because of hyperlactation. A woman with hyperlactation produces more milk than her baby needs. The milk can come out quickly, in turn making it difficult for the baby to feed. Your medical team will often schedule a weight check within a few days of discharge to make sure this process is going smoothly and to monitor baby’s weight. 

How to Know if Your Baby is Getting Enough Breast Milk

3. Babies Can Reject Breastfeeding

Occasionally, babies may decide they’re not interested in breastfeeding, even if they have been successfully breastfeeding for a period of time. This can be caused by several different things, such as:

  • The baby is experiencing pain. Pain can be caused by a variety of different factors, including teething, having a cold sore, or thrush.
  • Being sick. If a baby has a cold or stuffy nose, breathing while breastfeeding can be difficult.
  • Stress. If a baby is overstimulated or there was a long separation between you and the baby, he or she may fuss and make it difficult to feed.
  • Unusual scents. Changing the soaps, perfumes or lotion you use may cause the baby to lose interest in breastfeeding.

4. Breasts Can Leak Milk

It’s normal for breasts to leak while breastfeeding. Leaking happens when a mother thinks about her baby, hears a baby cry, or sees a picture of her baby because her maternal instincts are kicking in. On the other hand, one breast may leak while the baby is nursing on the other.

Worried about leaking in public? A mother can purchase disposable nursing pads to wear in her bra to protect her wardrobe.

5. Breastfeeding Burns Calories

During pregnancy, the body builds a reserve of weight to keep both mother and baby healthy. After giving birth, breastfeeding helps lose that weight. Breastfeeding can burn between 300-500 calories per day. Why does this happen? A woman’s breast milk is composed of vitamins that will help the baby grow. A woman’s body does not normally produce some of these vitamins, meaning the body has to work harder to handle the demand. It’s important to make sure you are eating healthy meals regularly while you are breastfeeding.

Pumping Breastmilk: A Step-by-Step Guide for Working Moms

6. You May Get Uterine Cramps

After the first few days or weeks after delivery, a new mother may feel strong cramping in her uterus. The cramps may feel similar to cramps caused by menstruation, but they are caused by the uterus shrinking back to a smaller size.

7. Clothing Plays a Role in Breastfeeding

If you’re breastfeeding your infant, your clothing choice matters. Choosing clothes that are “breastfeeding” friendly allows you to feed your baby more easily. For example, it may be difficult to wear a dress if it’s not designed for nursing.

There are many bras available that are specifically for nursing. Bras made for nursing have snaps, clasps and flaps that open either in the middle of the bra or from the strap. It may take trying a few different styles of nursing bras before you find the type that is right for you.

8. Certain Food and Drinks are Limited

While breastfeeding, it’s important to consider the food and drinks you are consuming. Many children have food allergies to food products like dairy or soy, which could transfer to your baby through your breast milk.

How do you know if your baby has a food allergy while breastfeeding?

The baby could vomit, have diarrhea, be fussy during or after feedings, cry inconsolably, wheeze or cough. You may need to eat less of or stop eating the food that is bothering the baby while you’re breastfeeding. Caffeine consumption should also be monitored, as too much can cause fussiness and less sleep.

Alcohol can also be transferred through breast milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics section on Breastfeeding notes: “ingestion of alcoholic beverages should be minimized and limited to an occasional intake. Nursing should take place two hours or longer after the alcohol intake to minimize its concentration in the ingested milk.”

9. You May Experience Weight Gain or Loss

Some women lose weight when they begin to breastfeed, but that is not the case for every breastfeeding mom. Some women will gain weight, or keep their weight on for as long as they nurse. Every woman’s body is different.

10. Breastfeeding Can be Stressful

Deciding to breastfeed your baby is a major commitment, and at times, you may wish that you had decided to take another route. It can feel like you never get a break from the responsibility, but it’s important to remember that breast milk gives infants antibodies which help protect them from illness and germs.

11. It’s Okay to Breastfeed if You’re Sick

Common illnesses such as cold or diarrhea can’t be passed to the baby through breast milk. If the mother is sick, antibodies can be passed to the baby to protect the baby from getting the same illness as the mother. However, if you have the flu, you should not breastfeed and try to steer clear from your infant to prevent giving him or her influenza. Why? Because the baby can still contract the flu from airborne germs. Instead, have someone else give the baby your expressed milk until you’re healthy. In some cases, if a mother has an illness such as HIV, she should not breastfeed.

12. Medicine is Generally Okay While Breastfeeding

Most medications only pass in minute amounts through breast milk and very few can’t be used during breastfeeding. Always discuss your medications with your doctor to come up with a plan of action. It could be more detrimental to stop taking medication for a chronic condition while breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Help and Lactation Services

Breastfeeding gives your baby a healthy start. Breast milk protects the baby from illnesses and potentially protects a baby from allergies, diabetes and asthma. Breastfeeding a baby also helps create a strong emotional connection between mother and child. Another benefit of breastfeeding is that it’s free! Formula costs can quickly add up, as does the price of bottles and other necessary supplies.

Many UnityPoint Health locations offer lactation services to help with breastfeeding questions. Your area may also have breastfeeding support groups that can be a valuable resource. If you have any questions about breastfeeding or support services, contact your primary care provider or check with a location near you to learn what is available.