Moms-to-be hear cryptic language when they ask veteran nursing moms about breastfeeding. "It's challenging," moms will say, or "It's a big commitment. It's hard." There are no specifics to this advice, just nods and generalized language about how difficult it will be in the beginning. However, these moms will always add that if you can get through the first few weeks, it'll be totally worth it.
Both parts are absolutely true. When all the initial challenges are over, breastfeeding is amazing and easy. But first, here are a few things moms leave out when discussing the challenges a new nursing mom may face.
- You might get a yeast infection...on your nipples. Yup, and it's not pleasant. And the baby can get it too. It's called thrush, and it's a luck of the draw situation. You may get it, you may not. And if you do, you may have it for weeks before it's totally remedied. The baby has to be treated with oral medication and a vinegar/water solution every 3 hours. There's cream for your nipples that has to be put on after nursing. You'll have to call your doctor to get the medication and sometimes, you may even have to take a pill or two.
- Clogged Ducts may haunt you. Sometimes, the milk doesn't move through the ducts like it should, resulting in a hard mass in the breast. This is called a clogged duct. It needs to be massaged out, and alternating heat and ice will help move the duct around so that eventually, it will dislodge. Unfortunately, sometimes the clogged duct can turn into mastitis, an infection that manifests itself with flu-like symptoms and requires antibiotics.
- Your body will not know how much milk to make. You may make too much or you may not make enough. But, after a week or so, your body will figure it out. You may have to 'block feed,' or nurse just on one side for a day to balance out the flow, but your body is adjusting. Just drink all the water you're supposed to, keep nursing, and give it time.
- It really is all about the latch. A bad latch can lead to slow milk flow, cracked nipples, clogged ducts, and frustration on the baby's part, which can then lead to the mother thinking she's not making enough milk. A good latch can help prevent the return of some of these issues.
- Speaking of the latch, a good lactation consultant will be your best friend. When you are dealing with difficulties like thrush, a bad latch, a clogged duct or under/over supply, your pediatrician and ob may not know how to help you. But usually, hospitals have lactation consultants who may meet with you free of charge and will talk on the phone with you to help you through any issues. A good lactation consultant will get you through everything. While you're at it, have a few experienced friends or familly members on speed dial. They're good for those questions at two in the morning.
- Here's one more golden nugget. When the baby is old enough to move his head and turn his body, nursing lying down is luxurious and spectacular. There's nothing like it. Nestling with a baby as he curls around your body and peacefully falls asleep is one of the best parts of nursing. These magical moments make all the other tough stuff worth it.