I began new motherhood with the goal of breastfeeding for as long as possible. Lactation consultants visited me in the hospital and about a week after we went home. They told me to keep doing what I was doing and to call if I needed anything.
Looking back on it now, I think I had an impression that I should only call them or go to a support group if I had immediate questions.
I didn’t know that I could go to a breastfeeding support group just to be with a group of women who were also nursing their babies.
I didn’t know I could seek out a lactation consultant any time during my breastfeeding journey.
Now that I’ve been doing research into breastfeeding and pumping for various projects, I’ve learned so much more than I knew when I was a nursing mom.
Let down comes in many forms.
Every mom I’d heard talking about let down only described sensations in their breasts: pins and needles, pressure, tingling, etc. When I didn’t experience any of those, I figured I was just one of the women who didn’t have any physical signs.
I didn’t know that the cramping I had every single time I nursed was actually my body’s response to my milk letting down.
Your healthcare pros may not be lactation experts.
At my daughter’s two-month check-up, the pediatrician asked if I thought Molly was getting enough milk. I laughed, a bit unsure. “I think so; she seems satiated.”
The doctor pulled out a growth chart and started pointing at dots, noting that her weight was a little on the low end. “Maybe you should try supplementing her with a bottle of formula at bedtime, that’s when most moms say their supply is low.”
I didn’t know to ask if the growth chart she referenced was one specifically designed for breastfed babies.
I didn’t know to argue back that if my supply was low at a given time, that’s not when I should be supplementing since that wouldn’t help increase my supply.
I didn’t know to ask right then if they had an in-house lactation specialist who could help.
When babies stop latching they may not be self-weaning.
With both of my kiddos, it seemed like one day they were just done. At the time, I assumed it was because they preferred the “freedom” they’d gotten from having expressed milk from the bottle.
I didn’t know babies can forget how to latch.
I didn’t know I could get an evaluation from a lactation consultant 3 or 6 months into my breastfeeding journey.
Nipples come in different sizes.
I’m what can only be described as “super busty,” so when a well-meaning nurse at the hospital said, “Oh, you’ll need extra-large breast shields for your pump,” I took her word for it and didn’t bother to look at the sizing information provided by the manufacturer. I’d pump for what felt like hours and end up with barely anything, and the pain in my nipples was unbearable.
I didn’t know that breast size doesn’t correspond to nipple size. In researching another project recently, I stumbled on an explanation of how the nipple should look when used with the correct size shield. Imagine my shock when I realized I should have been using a small breast shield (maybe even extra-small).
Pumping is an art and a science.
I spent most of my pumping time in a conference room. I’d heard about moms who were forced to use a bathroom or cramped closet, so I thought this fairly clean, albeit uncomfortable environment was “good enough.” After all, how hard could pumping be? Put the parts together, affix to breast, turn on pump, get liquid gold. Easy, right?
I didn’t know about the techniques of hands-on pumping or power pumping.
I didn’t know my body would react to the stress of my workplace by decreasing milk production.
I didn’t know I should look at photos of my baby to help my body produce oxytocin, tricking it into producing more milk.
I didn’t know I could ask a lactation consultant to evaluate my pumping techniques.
Knowledge is Power
I have a tendency to go down rabbit holes of internet research, inspired by random conversations, silly trains of thought, or trying to remember something I was supposed to have learned in grade school. I’m not sure why that research gene didn’t kick in when I was nursing, though I suspect it’s because I had a perception that women fell into one of two categories: “breastfeeding or pumping champs” and “everyone else.”
I didn’t know that breastfeeding is learned behavior, for moms and babies alike.
Breastfeeding is still something of a mystery in our society. We know it’s good for babies, but we don’t know everything it takes to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship, and most of us don’t know what we don’t know.
If you’re breastfeeding now or you plan to someday soon, my hope for you is that you’ll find a support group and IBCLC near you. Question everything. Even if it makes you feel silly, even if you’re worried you’re the only one, and especially if you’re afraid you’ll be judged.
Find out what you don’t know so you’ll know how to get the right support when you need it.
Be you bravely,