10 Surprising Things About Breastfeeding
After I had a baby, I realised I was very clueless about breastfeeding (and, to be honest, how to look after a baby in general). I had very little experience of seeing people breastfeeding, and I don't think the 2-hour antenatal class I attended prepared me very much.
This article covers a list of 10 things I found surprising about breastfeeding:
- Breastfeeding feels good.
- You can breastfeed while lying down asleep.
- You will breastfeed continuously for several hours.
- You can breastfeed standing up while walking around.
- Breastfeeding is not just about nutrition.
- It won't always be your baby asking for a feed.
- Milk might come out of you like a fountain.
- You don't need loads of stuff.
- Breast milk tastes sweet.
- Breastfeeding is a skill (but it's easy if you can get the hang of it).
1. Breastfeeding Feels Good
Why don't more people tell you that breastfeeding feels good? You hear lots of stories about cracked nipples, engorgement and sleepless nights, but not so much about the good side. When your baby is properly latched on and all is going well, breastfeeding gives you a little buzz. Breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin. This is the same hormone that releases when you have sex.
2. You Can Breastfeed Lying Down While Asleep
I had no idea you could breastfeed and sleep at the same time, before a midwife showed me how. To do this, you lie down on your side with a pillow under your head and the baby tucked in with his head near your breast. Baby can latch on and off again while you doze.
This breastfeeding position saved my sanity after the first couple of weeks of severe sleep deprivation. This is now the way I feed nearly all the time when at home.
I recommend researching how to safely share a bed with your baby. Even if you don't intend to co-sleep, you might drift off without meaning to, and it is better to do so in a safe position. Breastfeeding releases a hormone called prolactin which makes you sleepy. Nearly all breastfeeding mums I have asked bed-share with their baby at least some of the time.
3. You Will Need to Breastfeed Continously
Guidelines say you should breastfeed 8–12 times a day to begin with. I imagined I would be breastfeeding every two hours or so at regular intervals. However, this is not how breastfeeding works. In the first few weeks, breastfeeding a baby is a continuous cycle involving feeding, nappy changes, sleep, feeding, unexplained crying (probably yours and the baby's!) and more feeding.
Your baby will sometimes want to feed continuously. This is "cluster feeding", and it often happens when babies are having a growth spurt. It is most common in the nights and evenings. Its a blur exactly how much I breastfed because those weeks were the most exhausting time I ever had in my life. It is best not to try to track or keep count of feeds or sleep. It's better not to know and go with what your baby asks for, and accept this is how things will be for a few weeks.
After about 6 weeks, everything should settle down a little. However, it is still unlikely your baby will follow a regular pattern. Also, sometimes he will want a proper long feed, but other times he will just want a snack. Very few babies settle into a routine.
4. You Can Breastfeed Standing up While Walking Around
The first time I breastfed standing up, I was mid-feed when a delivery guy rang the doorbell. Rather than unlatch the baby and risk him crying, I stood up and went with baby still attached to the door. The delivery guy seemed a little shocked but kindly slid my parcel onto the floor for me as I had my hands full.
I have since managed to breastfeed my baby a couple of times in a sling whilst walking around. Sadly, I've not properly mastered the technique to do this all the time, but it would be very handy. Many women in more traditional societies carry their babies in slings most of the day. This means mum can walk around her everyday business with baby latching on and off when they feel like it. I would love to be able to perfect this.
5. Breastfeeding Is Not Just About Nutrition
At my antenatal class, we were shown a big graph with the nutritional benefits of breast milk. Nutrition is very important, but I didn't realise that breastfeeding is not just about feeding your baby. Breastfeeding is a way to comfort, soothe and bond with your baby and help them get to sleep. It's how we humans, as mammals, were designed to feed and nurture our babies.
A lot of mums talk about how their babies use their nipple as a dummy, although, if you think about it, dummies came after nipples and are really just an attempt to recreate the nipple in plastic form without milk . . .
Breast milk also has antibacterial properties and healing powers. I was kind of surprised when a midwife suggested I dab breast milk on the wound when my baby's cord fell off, but a quick internet search reveals all sorts of stories about the healing power of breast milk. There is scientific evidence to back (at least some) of them up, too! Breast milk is magical stuff!
6. It Won't Always Be Your Baby Asking for a Feed
Responsive feeding means you look for your baby's cues and then feed them. This is the best approach to breastfeeding. (Anyone who tells you it is best to feed a new baby to a strict schedule either has never breastfed or has an unusual baby.)
However, it might not always be your baby that will be asking for a feed. Sometimes it might be YOU begging your baby to feed. If you have a longer than normal gap between feeding, you will develop heavy, uncomfortable breasts. You will be desperate for your baby to relieve the tension. I've definitely debated whether to wake my baby up from his nap a few times.
7. Milk Might Come out of You Like a Fountain
When I was pregnant, I knew I might start to leak milk. However, I did not expect that milk might occasionally cascade or shoot out from my nipple like a fountain. Nor did I imagine walking round my house with milk dripping from both nipples.
This isn't something that all women experience. If you shoot out milk, it might be a sign you have an oversupply of milk, which can make your baby irritable, gassy and feed poorly. I now only get fountains of milk occasionally, usually when there has been a longer gap between the feed.
8. You Don't Need Loads of Stuff
Before I had a baby, I imagined I needed to buy a breast pump and bottles and other stuff to help me breastfeed. You might find some products helpful, but you don't NEED anything. I wrote a separate article on breastfeeding products here.
The most likely reason you need to buy products is for expressing. However, remember, if you are lucky and don't have to rush back to work, expressing is optional. A lot of mums I know express milk—and good for them—but personally I hate expressing. Unlike breastfeeding, it doesn't feel good to me. Some women also get more milk by hand expressing than using a pump!
9. Breast Milk Tastes Sweet
Breast milk tastes sweet—a little bit like some lovely melted-down liquid caramel. It's nothing like cow's milk. I didn't really think about what it would taste like before I had a baby. And of course everyone tastes it!
10. Breastfeeding Is a Skill (But It's Easy If You Can Get the Hang of It)
Before I had a baby, I somehow imagined breastfeeding would be easy. It is natural, so somehow I would instinctively be able to do it. Or if it wasn't easy for me, it would be very hard and I wouldn't be able to do it.
However, it is not helpful to think of breastfeeding like this. Breastfeeding is a skill you and your baby need to learn. I needed help and support from midwives to help me work out how to latch my baby on. Many of my friends had much more difficult times. I also have a couple of friends who, for one reason or the other, never managed to breastfeed.
But if you can get the hang of breastfeeding, it is easy. At least definitely more easy than faffing around with bottles and sterilising. It can be tiring, exhausting and have difficult moments, but it is worth it.
What About You?
If you have breastfed, what did you find surprising? Please comment below with your experience, or if you agree or disagree with me.
How Prepared Were You for Breastfeeding?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.