Boobie Traps: Part 1
Neighbors! How much breastfeeding advice have you received? Be honest - how much of that was actually helpful?
The second you announce your pregnancy, EVERYONE has so much advice to share. And, frankly, most of it is terrible!
“Enjoy your sleep now! You’ll never sleep again when the baby comes!” (Have you tried to sleep when you’re 36 weeks pregnant, rolling over is an olympic sport, and there’s a miniature human jumping on your bladder like a trampoline? Also, it’s biologically normal for babies to have erratic sleep patterns, and you totally will sleep again - I can help make sure of that!)
“You HAVE TO use cloth diapers. They’re so much better for baby!”
“No way, disposable is literally the only way to go. Who has time for that??”
“I hope you’re planning to make all of your purees at home. You can’t trust any of that store-bought crap.”
“Oh, you use purees? Hm. We did baby led weaning - it’s so much better for your baby.”
And when you tell people you plan to breastfeed? Look out! Everyone and their Great Aunt Trudie claims to be a breastfeeding expert.
Breastfeeding is such a nuanced thing and although it’s normal and natural and beautiful, it’s not always easy. Frankly, most people I encounter experience at least one struggle with breastfeeding (and I see a lot of breastfeeding people). It doesn’t matter if you breastfed 14 children or one; if you’re not a professional who is continuously keeping up on research, what you know about breastfeeding is likely out of date or just plain incorrect.
So let’s dig into some of these myths, or “boobie traps,” if you will. Come along with me into the land of breastfeeding and find out what’s legit and what is completely bogus.
Myth 1: Breastfeeding is easy.
Breastfeeding is a lot of things. First and foremost, it’s darn neat. The more you learn about the process, the cooler it is. Breastfeeding is beautiful and natural and normal… But easy? That’s often not the case.
Time for a little lesson: during pregnancy, your mammary glands prepare to produce milk. We often see an increase in breast size and tenderness during this time (due to lots of factors like those wild hormones). You will also likely notice your areolas growing larger and darkening in color; this makes a nice bullseye target for those newborns with just terrible eyesight. You also start producing colostrum halfway through your pregnancy. The thing that really kicks off milk production, though, is the birth of your baby and detachment of the placenta. This causes your progesterone and estrogen levels to steeply drop, while your prolactin levels remain high. These factors ramp up the production of mature milk, which usually results in the feeling of full breasts (or “milk coming in”) at 2-3 days postpartum. For now, milk production is hormone-based. Later on, it becomes a supply and demand system.
Ok, back to the myth - all this just happens, right? Shouldn’t it be simple?
Yes, breastfeeding is natural, but you still have to learn how. It’s not innate knowledge that anyone birthing a baby just has. “Back in the day,” breastfeeding was a part of everyday life. Communities lived together and watched as the people around them fed their babies. We learned by watching. Our births were attended by friends and relatives who had gone through it before and knew how to help.
Our transformation into a global culture has dramatically changed all of this. Many people have never seen a person breastfeed before. Discussions about birth or (shhhh) breasts are taboo. Before we even give birth, we’re inundated with ads for formula and testimonials touting its benefits (that’s not to say that formula isn’t an incredible invention and doesn’t have a place in our world!). We only hear the horror stories and challenges, or we find roadblocks at every level (anyone out there with anti-breastfeeding parents??). We have to go back to work so soon after birth. Sometimes our pediatricians aren’t supportive, or they’re not knowledgeable about breastfeeding. We get bad advice. We can’t get the professional support we need. We can’t get the community support we need.
In addition to all the cultural barriers we encounter, it’s not uncommon to encounter physical barriers as well! 10-20% of the population has inverted nipples, which doesn’t make breastfeeding impossible, but can add challenges. An estimated 7% of newborns have tongue ties (and many more likely go undiagnosed because many providers aren’t trained to recognize them), which can lead to poor latch and damaged nipples. Sometimes it’s just darn HARD to figure out how to position this bitty human to even attempt to latch.
There are SO many barriers that can interfere with the hormone side of breastfeeding, the mechanics of breastfeeding, and even the social side of breastfeeding. But honestly, most of them (maybe even all of them?) boil down to this: we just don’t have the village surrounding us like we used to.
So yes, breastfeeding is absolute normal and natural and beautiful, but no, it’s not always easy.
Ready for some unsolicited advice? (Like I said, everyone has advice!)
Take a breastfeeding class. Find a great IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) early and keep her on speed dial (is that still a thing? I don’t know how anything works anymore). But most importantly, give yourself grace, and give your baby grace. We’re all learning together!