There are so many things I wish that I had known about breastfeeding before having my first baby.
Our breastfeeding journey lasted only but a few days, because I was unprepared and uneducated. News flash, it doesn't just come naturally. Breastfeeding is painful in the beginning. Physically and mentally.
It can be a struggle to get baby to latch, you will be engorged, leaking all over, and you'll probably get a clogged duct or two along the way.
Everyone puts breastfeeding up on a pedestal, "breast is best", they say. People (women and men!) who've never done it tell women "just breastfeed! It's easy, it's free!"
My honest opinion after two kids is "fed is best". If you're losing your marbles over trying to keep up with latching, leaking, engorgement, supply issues, combo feeding, or exclusive pumping, my experienced advice is to take a mental break. If you're not able to breastfeed, it's not the end of the world. I promise you that your baby will only care that they have a full tummy and a happy mom. Take care of yourself first.
There are so many things that new moms just don't know!
With my first baby, I didn't know that engorgement only lasted a week or so. I didn't know how to get relief from it.
I didn't know how to get a good latch every time, or how to tell if baby was getting enough.
I didn't know that the leaking stops, and I can eventually wear the same breast pads for longer than an hour.
I didn't know about hands free pumping bras, or flange sizes, and I didn't know that all those Pinterest photos of full-to-the-brim pump bottles are not from every session of the day.
I didn't know that newborns just have gas, and cry regardless of whether they're drinking breast milk or formula. I was told that my diet was causing my baby to have painful gas, and that was one of the reasons I beat myself up and gave up breastfeeding.
I didn't know that you can get thrush from wearing the same wet breast pads for too long. I didn't even know what thrush was.
I didn't know that the breast pump I got wasn't the greatest, and I thought you'd just turn it on and crank the suction and be good to go. I thought the standard flanges in the box are one size fits all, and were the same ones everyone else uses.
I didn't know that my nipples would get cracked, or chafed, or even bleed.
I spent hours on Pinterest reading about breastfeeding, but I was reading all the wrong things.
I read about power pumping, milk storage, freezer stashes, and galactagogues. I read about feeding schedules and dream feeding.
But I didn't read about how to care for my poor breasts, who would be doing all kinds of crazy things. I didn't read about how to push through and stick it out. I got engorged, leaky, and upset. I got thrush, my baby cried and had gas, and I just threw in the towel, two weeks postpartum.
I fed my baby formula for a whole year, and let me tell you, she turned out beautifully. She's a genius, and she's perfect.
But, I was always disappointed in myself, and I later found out what I could have and should have done differently, that would have made things so much easier for the both of us.
And then, I got pregnant again. This time, I was determined to redeem myself, and breastfeed this baby exclusively. I bought a great book, read it twice, and read all the right things on Pinterest and mom blogs. I knew how to deal with engorgement! I found a better breast pump, and a hands free bra! I read about supply and demand, I learned not everyone makes 6 ounce bottles from each side at every pump session! I realized that not every mom needs an entire 11 cubic foot deep freezer filled to the brim with milk bags! I gathered up all the supplies. Nursing cover, breast pads, nipple butter, milk bags, gel pads, the whole nine yards. Then she was born! I was so ready, there was no way I would fail myself again. We had an easy birth, despite us all having COVID at the time.
But she just couldn't latch. They said she had no tongue or lip tie. The lactation counselor at the hospital said "everything looks good!" though I just knew she wasn't latched, and she wasn't getting enough. News flash, Sudafed (which they gave me) dries up not only mucous membranes, but also MILK SUPPLY. I was not told that until after they gave it to me.
We left the hospital and came home, and the latching problem persisted. My little family of four all shared one bedroom, so to sit there with a screaming newborn writhing about and not able to latch wasn't great for the toddler or my husband's sleep. We started to supplement with formula just to get her eating and staying quiet for everyone else.
My stomach dropped every time I mixed a bottle. It's only one bottle, I would tell myself. After the first day, I said "no, not this time!", remembering how I felt after what happened with my first breastfeeding journey. I figured out later that the nipples for the bottles we used actually start at "0" being the slowest flow, so when I grabbed "1" in a panic and started using that, the flow was too fast for her and it gave her gas. Starting them on the number "0" is so confusing!
What was I going to do? I couldn't get this baby to latch for the life of me, and I was not gonna throw my sanity out the window a second time.
I started pumping. Every time she ate, I pumped. before I knew it I had an extra bottle in the fridge. Every two hours, I'd be pumping. By the fourth day I had a full 10 ounce mason jar in the fridge and I felt like a million bucks.
She still had gas, despite getting the proper nipple flow and being burped every time she ate. I looked over the papers that the hospital had given us and it said that newborns just GET GAS. Yet I was told again, "You're eating something that's giving her gas!" I said no, I'm not. I was told "Give her formula instead, see if it helps!" So just to prove my point, we did it. Two bottles. What happened next? She was even gassier, and then got constipated for two days. I had to use a Frida Windi to unblock the poor child. (I am not saying formula is bad, to be very clear. It is however more difficult to digest and can cause stomach upset/gas/constipation.)
That "I told you so!" felt great, by the way.
I kept pumping, every two hours, never missing a beat. Until one night, I accidentally slept for 4 hours when the baby slept. To my shock and surprise, the next day I had a small red spot on my breast, they were swollen, and super hot.
Ding dong, mastitis! My OB wrote me a prescription for antibiotics without making me drag two kids all the way down for an office visit, bless her heart. 10 days of taking antibiotics every 6 hours!
10 long days later, and what felt like a million hours pumping, I was clear of mastitis and set sail on my course. I'm now an exclusive pumper, and as I type I'm coming up on 10 months. My goal is to make it to a year before weaning baby onto cow's milk.
I pumped every two hours for the first 3 months, and then slowly went down to every 3 hours, and I don't pump overnight as my baby sleeps almost the whole night. Three breast pumps later, countless replacement parts, around 100 milk bags, and HOURS of pumping later, I'm high and mighty and I feel as though I've redeemed myself for how I disappointed myself giving up on my first journey so quickly.
I would 1000% have kept on that first journey if I had a lot more critical knowledge, if I could go back and tell myself everything I know now, I would have been over the moon! I'm hoping I can save as many other journeys as I can with the things that I've learned- including yours, dear reader!
This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase through one of my links, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep everything running! Read my full disclosure here.
Teaching Motherhood is not a medical professional, and advice on these pages should not be taken in place of proper medical advice. If you have concerns for lactation that require a medical specialist, please reach out to one. The advice of Teaching Motherhood is not credible as a lactation professional at this time. I am not an expert.
These are the things I know now, that I wish I knew the first time around.
The first few days of baby's life, they truly do not drink much in one feeding. They will feed very frequently, in small amounts. The first 24 hours is just teaspoons!
Your milk will come in around day 3 or 4, and it's not filled bottles like social media makes you think it is. You'll produce whatever baby is eating, (or whatever is removed from the breast via pumping) supply and demand style. Some moms do have production issues and can't keep up, which is totally normal. Some moms oversupply and make more than baby eats, which is also totally normal. But seeing those photos sets the standard super high, and what nobody tells you is those are not what a typical session or feeding looks like!
Once that milk comes in, you'll have rocks where your boobs used to be. You can ease this engorgement with cold compresses (heat can make it worse, but heat will help milk flow out during feeding or pumping). I love Earth Mama Organics Booby Tubes for this. They're more comfortable and pliable than other brands' gel packs, and they're made of cotton and flax seeds which are a lot better for your body, I'm sure! You can also relieve some of that pressure and save some milk with a Haakaa, a silicone pump you can suction onto the side that baby isn't eating from, and catch the letdown! Ounces add up quick, and it's great to save it instead of let it go into a pad or cloth. Ps- TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD15 will get you 15% off at Earth Mama Organics!
You're gonna have "letdowns" often, and leak milk all over the place. Disposable pads can be handy, sure, but the cost of one box is equal to the cost of one pack of reusable pads. You'll go through a lot of the disposables, especially in the first few days when you have more frequent letdowns. I went for these KeaBabies reusable pads after I spent too much money on disposables! The leaking doesn't last forever, once your body knows about what time of day you feed or pump, it'll be mostly around that time rather than randomly.
Your nipples will be sore, they can crack, and they can bleed. Especially with improper latching or a teething baby, your nipples can become chew toys very quickly! You'll want to have a good nipple cream on hand, lanolin-free is best, I've read. I like the Earth Mama Organics Nipple Butter a lot. No rinsing required, it's safe for mama and baby!
You might get a clog, which can turn into mastitis. I don't know how I survived just cold turkey switching to formula with my first baby, I went from two weeks of breastfeeding with occasional pumping to no milk removal at all, was engorged for a day or two, and then slowly it went away. Do not try that, by the way. With my second baby, I developed a clog at 9 or 10 days postpartum which quickly turned into mastitis and it SUCKED! Mastitis can get really ugly really quickly, and you have to be careful about catching and treating it right away. I actually just got it again, at almost 7 months postpartum. Both times the first thing I noticed was a red spot about the size of a dime on my breast, which very quickly brought on fatigue, confusion, soreness, tenderness, and the breasts themselves got very warm. (101 degrees Fahrenheit, warm.) A quick call to my OBGYN later I had prescriptions for antibiotics and got started immediately, and pumped every two hours without missing a beat.
If you want to keep up a good supply as an exclusive pumper, you cannot miss any sessions. I didn't plan to be an exclusive pumper, and let me tell ya, having to pump so much with mastitis actually helped push me along. I may have gotten lazy if I didn't have the fear of sepsis hanging over my head. For the first 12 or so weeks, you want to be sure you remove milk as often as possible so your body knows how much supply to keep up with.
You don't need a deep freezer full of milk, especially if you don't plan to go back to work. You see all these Pinterest pins of full deep freezers. Pins about "how I built my freezer stash in two months", "how to power pump to build a freezer stash", yada yada. News flash, if you're not going back to work or sending baby to daycare, you don't need all that. In my opinion, freeze whatever you can for an emergency (if you get sick and production tanks, or when your period returns and production tanks, or if you for whatever reason cannot produce milk or be there to feed baby) and keep it at that. Don't strive to build some huge stash that might not even need to be used. Worrying about supply only decreases your supply, just go with it and if you have extra, freeze it.
You might have high lipase in your milk. I didn't even know what that meant until I tasted some thawed frozen milk. It tastes bad, metallic in a way. My baby doesn't care, and it's perfectly safe to drink. But some babies do care, and won't touch it. Some moms have entire freezers full of milk before they even know about it, and then baby won't take it and it's all for nothing. "Lipase is naturally found in breast milk, and it's believed that an excess of this enzyme can cause the flavor of breast milk to change. When expressed milk is stored in cool temperatures, it's suspected that high levels of lipase make the fats in your milk break down more quickly, impacting the flavor and smell." via Healthline.com
You might not get to actually feed your baby directly from your breast, due to latching or other issues. You can plan all you want to exclusively breastfeed. That's what I did. My baby and I just could not get it together! It became too stressful, and I decided exclusive pumping was what we were gonna do. Did I suddenly have a ton of extra washing to do? Bottles to warm up every time? Yeah, but I don't mind. Some babies have oral ties, mine did not, according to the pediatrician. Those can be corrected and latching can be made easier.
You might need a little boost. Galactogogues are any food or drug that helps increase milk supply. There's a ton of foods that claim to help increase the supply of breastmilk. My favorites are oats, flaxseeds, sweet potatoes, brewer's yeast, and coconut water. Lactation cookies are the best! These may not give you 6 ounce pump sessions like some mom's claim- but in my opinion they do make a difference. Note that every body reacts differently to these things, and for some moms they may not work at all. Hydration is extremely important. How can you put out liquid if none comes in? Helloooo! A note on galactagogues- they are by no means a "magic pill" to give you a full supply while you pump twice a day. These are meant to be used in conjunction with frequent and proper milk removal, hydration, and nutrition. Some of these work by boosting and circulating prolactin levels, which in turn produces more milk. You can read more about this in the book Boost Your Breastmilk by Alicia Simpson.
Tip: If you're a baker, try adding any of these things to your next batch of chocolate chip cookies for a little fun. I personally would add a little bit of all of them, my favorite pre-made cookies have all but the superfood powder.
The true key to increasing milk production is actually supply and demand. If you're not actively removing milk, the body won't replace it. You can signal to your breasts, "Hey! We need a little more!" by frequent removal via direct feed or pumping. Power pumping also helps, where you pump a session, take a ten minute break, pump for ten minutes, take a ten minute break, and pump another ten minutes. This mirrors a hungry baby coming back for more milk!
You'll want a great breast pump. Even if you don't think you'll use one, you want to have one. You can't always be tethered to the wall, so if you think you'll need it, get a wall plugged pump and a portable, battery powered pump. I recommend also buying a hand pump, in the event your pump is broken, power is out, etc. They are very inexpensive and could really save you in an emergency! These are the two that I currently have, side by side. I do have an in depth review here. Update: I have been receiving more pumps from friends and buying secondhand, I will be adding those to the review as well. This post is being regularly updated, and features different pump setups (such as hacking spectra parts to pumpables, legendairy milk cups, etc.
Tip: you can get a free or discounted breast pump through your insurance. I didn't do enough research before picking mine, and I ended up hating the one I got for free. Both of these pumps I bought out of pocket. You may get replacement parts covered by insurance as well. I have used Aeroflow to get breast pumps with both of my pregnancies. They're great!
Breast pump flanges are not one size fits all!I literally assumed that everyone used the flanges that came in the box and it didn't matter to measure or wear the correct size. If you wear the wrong size, you'll experience discomfort and pain with pumping, you may even have a decrease in supply due to improper emptying! You should never experience pain with pumping. This is something very important that lots of moms may not know! As an example, the standard Spectra flanges are 24mm and 28mm. These come in the box with the pump, and are often times much larger than the size you need. I wear a 15mm, which are slightly too large for me. Can you believe I was using flanges 13mm too big? That's almost the size of a dime in difference! (A dime is 17mm, for reference) Tip: for proper measuring, I'd recommend a printable ruler. It's hard to use a tape measure! Pumpables has a great free printout and virtual fitting room to help make sure you've got the best fit possible. You may even need to remeasure every few months, I've had to downsize 3 times!
A hands free pumping bra is something you will absolutely need if you plan to pump at all. I tried going without it after having my first baby, just to save $40. Yeah, big mistake. You can't just sit there for 20+ minutes, bending your wrists the whole time to hold the flanges properly. I tried it. Now I've got two kids and need both of my hands and then some at ALL TIMES. Keep scrolling to see my recommendations!
You're gonna cry over spilled milk. Whether it's one ounce or 10, if you ever accidentally spill a bottle, or baby spits up everything they just ate, you absolutely will cry. This is where the phrase "crying over spilled milk" comes from, in my opinion. I once dropped a bottle with four ounces in it and I was inconsolable. Every drop counts!
You might want to look into the "fridge hack." This is NOT something I'm recommending that you do, especially for premature babies or babies under 3 months, in fact the CDC does not recommend it due to risk of bacterial growth. However, I personally, wash my pump parts once every 24 hours and just put them in the fridge after each use during the day. I used to wash them twice a day when I pumped every two hours (12 pumps in a day!) but now I pump 5 or 6 times and only wash them before bed. Again it's not recommended by the CDC, they say to wash after every use and sanitize daily. But some moms do it!
You're gonna be starving, and you're gonna be absolutely parched. 24/7. I always read how "the weight just falls off during breastfeeding!" Yeah, okay, sure. Breastfeeding moms do burn extra calories, up to 500 a day, depending on your body type and milk output. BUT, breastfeeding moms need extra nutrition and caloric intake to keep up that milk output! I honestly think my breastfeeding cravings have been more intense and irresponsible than my pregnancy cravings. (I swear, the chocolate tells me to eat it!)
It's so hard at first, but it gets easier. It really does. The first few weeks when baby is feeding almost hourly, feels impossible. Especially for someone who exclusively pumps, doing 8+ sessions in a day, warming up and washing bottles, pump parts, on top of everything else, is an insane amount of work. But there's light at the end of the tunnel! Slowly, baby eats less often, you don't get engorged anymore, you don't leak like a fountain, and you get the hang of things. Breastfeeding isn't forever, and when you look back later in life it'll feel like the blink of an eye.
You'll be so proud of yourself. If you breastfed for one day or one year, you still did it. Whatever works for you, whatever you've accomplished, you did an awesome job and I guarantee your baby was happy! Looking back at my "failed journey" with my first baby, I realize now that it was a learning experience, and though I seem to have given up quickly, I still did it for two weeks and that's something.
Here's a few supplies that I recommend to all first time moms who plan to breastfeed, pump, or combo feed.
1. Boob Box has literally everything you need for those first few weeks and beyond, all in one place! I love how they lay out different options for different needs. I built my own box with all the things I use as an exclusive pumper. Sidebar: Boob Box is owned and run by one mom, a true gem if I may say so myself. She's become a very good friend of mine since I found her on Instagram. The code TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD gets you 15% off a box!
these prices are reflecting a sale- not the regular prices!
Different box options from Boob Box. These are reflecting sale prices (world breastfeeding month) My Build a Box contained the Keababies breast pads, 2 Haaka silicone milk bags, Earth Mama Organics Booby Tubes and Nipple Butter, Ella Bella Lactation cookie mix, 3 Copper pearl burp cloths, and the Lumipets night light. I also got one of their Titty Totes which I use all the time! Note: she replaced the cookie mix with Bessie's Best Lactation Cookies recently and I much prefer those! I've been back to order multiple times.
2. A good breast pump is so very important. Even if you think you might not use it, you probably will! My personal favorites have been the Spectra Synergy Gold for when I can be stationary, and the Pumpables Genie Advanced for when I need to move around or chase my kids. You can get the Spectra partially covered by insurance through places like Aeroflow. I purchased mine out of pocket from Target, and used my 5% Redcard discount and 15% Baby Registry discount. The Pumpables Genie Advanced can only be purchased directly from Pumpables, but you can request a form to submit to your insurance for reimbursement. They also take HSA/FSA.
Tip: you can add this item to your baby registry (Target and Amazon should honor discount on this item, Target I know 100% does) and use your completion coupon to save a lot of money on it. A Redcard will also knock another 5% off.
You can use TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD for 10% off!
3. You'll want to have some kind of milk storage plan. In my opinion, every mama should try to make at least a small emergency supply stash. I have a supply that takes up 3/4 of the very small freezer in our 10 cubic foot mini fridge. It's not a lot, but in the event I get sick or my production tanks, I need to be able to feed my baby while I sort myself out. I use the "pitcher method"- I have 3 of these neat Dr Brown's formula mixing pitchers that I cycle in and out. I put all of the day's milk together in one pitcher, and it's portioned and served as needed the following day or two later.
4. You want a good nursing and/or pumping bra. For comfort I like to wear the Motherhood Maternity Wrap Cotton Bras, especially in the early days where you need to sleep with pads on. For pumping/daily wear, I wear these Davin and Adley Amelia Crop Camis. They also work for nursing but I don't have much experience with that, as an exclusive pumper.
TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD gets you 10% off!
5. You could try different kinds of lactation snacks or supplements. I personally love cookies, I've tried a bunch of different kinds. I'm not saying go out and spend $100 on a bunch of cookies and it'll make your supply dreams come true. It won't. These may help some moms but not everybody! I like the Boobie Superfood Protein Shakes when I'm in a pinch, hungry, and needing extra nutrients (their superfood blend is specifically formulated for nursing mothers!). For cookies, My top favorite cookies are the Munchkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip (premade available in the store) or Liquid Gold Goods (home baked by a sweet mom and shipped right to you!)
For supplements I specifically take a postnatal vitamin, vitamin D, and Boobie bears, which have ingredients to help mom with hair and nails, immunity, milk flow, and prevent clogged ducts.
Again I want to emphasize these are not magical foods that are gonna have you producing gallons a day. I personally see a difference when I combine any of these things with proper nutrition, hydration and frequent milk removal.
6. If you go out at all or often, prepare to feed baby anywhere. Hunger doesn't wait! If you directly breastfeed, you'll probably want a nursing cover unless you're one of those fearless moms who doesn't mind rocking out with a boob out. If you exclusively pump, you'll need a pumping bag, pump wipes, milk storage (like a cooler bag or bottle) at the very least. I always keep a little bit of formula and water in our bag if we're far from home just in case something were to happen to my pump and I ran out of milk. My baby can't latch like, at all. I recently started getting a ton of bags to see which one is the best and fits the most stuff. I love the Sarah wells Lizzy and Norah. Kelly is my 3rd favorite!
Save 15% with TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD15!
Using the Genie Advanced out and about is easier than trying to find a place to plug in a big pump. It fits into most bags, the flanges actually take up more space than the pump. I use Dapple pump wipes to wipe off parts after using them so that I could use them a second time while I'm out, though I'm not often out that long anyways. Now that my baby is almost 10 months old, I don't have to pump every few hours like I did when she was younger, so I can take a single bottle, some "backup milk", and if I know I'm going to pump I bring my Ceres Chill to store the fresh milk in. Tip: Since my baby cannot directly breastfeed, I always bring "backup milk" in the event the bottle is spilled or something happens where I suddenly have no milk for her. However, she is old enough to eat solids now so she wouldn't go completely hungry, but if she wants milk there is no consoling her until she gets it! When she was smaller and didn't eat solids I would bring backup milk and backup backup milk. I had to use it once or twice!
The code TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD will get you 15% off at Ceres Chill!
I hope that this list has been able to help you learn at least one thing to help improve your breastfeeding journey or make it a little bit easier for you. I know I wish I could have been told these things my first time around. Lots of people learn through mistakes and experiences firsthand and can then share that information with others to help them from going through the same things. If you are currently struggling to breastfeed or exclusive pump, hang in there. You've got this, you're doing great.
I want to repeat a point I had made in the beginning of the post for moms who are very much struggling and feel like they just can't handle breastfeeding or pumping anymore:
"Everyone puts breastfeeding up on a pedestal, "breast is best", they say. People (women and men!) who've never done it tell women "just breastfeed! It's easy, it's free!"
My honest opinion after two kids is "fed is best". If you're losing your marbles over trying to keep up with latching, leaking, engorgement, supply issues, combo feeding, or exclusive pumping, my experienced advice is to take a mental break. If you're not able to breastfeed, it's not the end of the world. I promise you that your baby will only care that they have a full tummy and a happy mom. Take care of yourself first." It is very important to know, that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Fill your cup, take care of yourself first.
Are you an exclusive pumper or thinking about starting? Check out my list of 30 essentials here!
Do you have trouble with your milk supply? You would be surprised what common mistakes can actually be hurting your supply! Check the list here. I have also been reviewing, recording specs and pros and cons, and different hacks and part hookups for different breast pumps in this post here!