POWERED BY MEDELA
What is normal when breastfeeding? It’s a question we get asked a lot. We speak to 4 milk-making mamas about their experiences, and bust 5 milk-making myths.
This feature is Part 2 of our Milk Makers Series in partnership with Medela, deep diving into all things breastfeeding – from preparation through to weaning. Read Part 1: The Starter Guide to Breastfeeding here and sign up to our newsletter for more.
When you are preparing to breastfeed, you’re given the ‘it’s-so-natural’ pep talks. Plus societal expectations make you believe it’s a motherhood rite of passage.
It really is made to sound easy peasy. So much so that you think you’ll just pop your brand new babe onto your boob and go off feeding into the sunset without any dramas.
But for many mamas (aka Nursing Ninjas), it isn’t all glossy and gorgeous. It is anything but easy. There can be latching difficulties, cracked nipples, milk supply changes, mastitis, fatigue and engorgement, just to name a few.
It can be physically demanding, emotionally draining, and mentally exhausting. You may feel overwhelmed by the constant demands of feeding your baby, feel like your body is failing, and start to question your ability to do it. *cue the mum guilt*
If you are struggling with breastfeeding, know that you’re not alone.
Many women experience challenges, and it’s okay to ask for help. Because it is possible for breastfeeding to become the magical experience you’re told about.
The most important thing is for you, as a new mum, to be made aware of the possible challenges. To know the full story – not be blindsided. And not be made to feel like there’s something wrong with you or your baby. Remember, this is all new to both of you, you’re doing your ‘breast’ [see what we did there…], so be kind to yourself.
“IT CAN BE PHYSICALLY DEMANDING, EMOTIONALLY DRAINING, AND MENTALLY EXHAUSTING. YOU MAY FEEL OVERWHELMED BY THE CONSTANT DEMANDS OF FEEDING YOUR BABY, FEEL LIKE YOUR BODY IS FAILING, AND START TO QUESTION YOUR ABILITY TO DO IT.”
WHAT IS NORMAL?
The number one question every breastfeeding mama wants to know … WTF is actually ‘normal’?
Here are some interesting feeding facts for those first four weeks.
- Newborns have between 4 to 13 breastfeeding sessions in a day.
- Each breastfeeding session lasts 12 to 67 minutes.
- Night feeding is normal (only 36% of infants don’t feed at night).
- 30% of babies always take just one breast, 13% always take both breasts and 57% mix it up.
- An average breastfeeding session removes 67% of the milk from the breast.
- It is normal for one breast to produce more milk than the other.
- Boys do drink more than girls. Baby boys drink on average 76ml more than girls.
- The average amount of milk produced in a feeding session is 54–234ml.
It just goes to show, ‘normal’ looks different for all of us, and what is ‘normal’ for you and your baby today may not be ‘normal’ tomorrow.
So take a load off your mind knowing that you are doing great – just go with the flow and take each day as it comes.
REAL MAMAS SHARE THEIR BREASTFEEDING STORIES
Breastfed her firstborn for 18 months, and her second and third children for two-and-a-half years
I didn’t really know much about breastfeeding, just that I wanted to do it. And I assumed the baby would just latch on, I’d have milk and it would go smoothly from there.
I was grateful I was able to breastfeed all three of my children shortly after their births and it was a positive experience in the first hours. However, the days that followed, mostly with my first, brought a lot of challenges I wasn’t aware of or prepared for.
The early days of breastfeeding my eldest daughter brought a lot of pain, stress and confusion, as so much of my prenatal education surrounded the birth. My milk came in very early and I was engorged with an oversupply, which was very painful. I didn’t really know if this was normal or not and just kept pushing through. My daughter really struggled to latch correctly, resulting in very sore and damaged nipples. I just kept getting on with it, really believing it was meant to be that painful.
Once out of hospital I saw a lactation consultant, and over the course of four weeks really had to work on establishing our breastfeeding, despite having a good supply of milk. I thought if I had this, everything would be easy and just as nature intended it to be. Thankfully, although a similar experience for my next two children, I was prepared and educated and this made the early weeks of establishing breastfeeding easier. I was very fortunate to continue and love breastfeeding my children from around the four-week point.
Currently breastfeeding her two-year-old
I thought it would be easy, natural and instinctual. I had an expectation that my newborn baby would latch and I would be able to feed her immediately, followed by a wonderful bonding experience.
But I found it really hard at the start, I had a difficult birth and my milk didn’t come in for a few days. I found it extremely distressing not being able to provide milk for my baby. And I remember crying and feeling so hopeless when they were discharging us from hospital, because my baby was crying for milk and I felt like I couldn’t do it without a midwife helping me.
I went to see a lactation consultant, but when I was home alone again I found it overwhelming trying to remember all the information. It did get easier and eventually it all clicked, but I felt like there was not enough to prepare me during pregnancy, and a lack of support during the newborn stage.
For mums wanting to breastfeed, I suggest finding a private midwife or doula that aligns with you, who will be there to support you throughout the journey. I found that different midwives and lactation consultants had different opinions, so I became very overwhelmed trying to implement their advice, then disheartened when another one would tell me I was doing it wrong. I think if I had the support of one midwife or doula, and consistent guidance I could trust and reply upon it could have been a better experience.
“REMEMBER, THIS IS NEW TO BOTH OF YOU. YOU’RE DOING YOUR ‘BREAST’, SO BE KIND TO YOURSELF.”
Breastfed her firstborn for 21 months and second child for 17 months
For the first three months, breastfeeding was great. But after that I just couldn’t keep up with my son’s demand. I remember trying to eat all kinds of food that would boost my supply. This worked for a few days but I still couldn’t produce enough. I would pump between feeds to try and produce more and then freeze it.
One night I was feeding my baby from the breast and I asked my husband to get some pumped breastmilk ready, because my son was still hungry. He said I only had two bags left and then my “stash” would be empty. I remember feeling defeated that I had failed.
So, I went to the doctor who prescribed medication to boost my supply and she also suggested formula. I felt unsure about using formula, but remembered fed is best. The tablets didn’t end up working enough to keep up with my son’s demand and we started mix feeding at five months old.
I felt so relieved after this, knowing my son was getting what he needed. With my second child, I tried breastfeeding and lasted two months before doing mix feeding.
Currently breastfeeding her 10-week-old
I didn’t think it would be easy, but I also wasn’t prepared for the challenges, pain and conflicting advice.
To begin with, an incorrect latch in the first two days caused severe pain and discomfort. I was advised to pump the injured breast rather than feed directly from it. Unfortunately the wrong size flange was provided at the hospital, and as I took it off after 20 minutes of pumping, blood poured out of my nipple. This created a blood blister which caused so much pain.
Because I had an emergency c-section we stayed in hospital for four nights which was incredible. We received such great care, but each night a new midwife came on with new and conflicting advice. Everyone had their own opinions. For example, one midwife recommended nipple shields, which honestly saved my breastfeeding journey! Another midwife then put the fear of God into me and told me to stop using them.
Breastfeeding did become easier, but I wasn’t aware of cluster feeding. At about five weeks (when I thought I had it together), the cluster feeding started and I was feeding every one-and-a-half hours. I remember sitting in my feeding chair at 1am bawling my eyes out and telling my hubby that was it, we’re going to formula. I felt like a failure.
The next morning I decided I wanted to make it to eight weeks. And just as I hit six weeks, it changed. There was no pain, no toe-curling latches, and I began to enjoy breastfeeding.
So, learn everything you can about different breastfeeding positions, latching, how to avoid mastitis (I found a rose quartz face roller amazing for massaging out lumps) and what products can help the journey (eg: lanolin, nursing cups, breast gel pads). And take people’s opinions and advice with a grain of salt. If something works for you, great. If it doesn’t, there’s no shame. It’s your journey, make it what you want it to be.
5 MILK-MAKING MYTHS THAT ARE UNTRUE
Myth #1: If you have small breasts, you won’t produce enough milk to feed your baby
Truth: The size of your lady lumps doesn’t matter and has no impact on your body’s ability to produce milk. Let’s have a quick boobie breakdown … your breast size is a mix of fatty and fibrous tissue in addition to the amount of milk-producing glandular tissue. But the real MVP? Your baby. They call the shots on milk production. And guess what? Whether you’re a small cup or large, it doesn’t change the milk game. It’s quite simple – nurse more, get more milk. Things like stress can tweak the flow, but breast size? Nope, not in the mix. Some mamas might have a roomier milk motel, affecting snack times for the little one. But keep ’em empty, and the refill’s on the way.
Myth #2: It is normal for breastfeeding to hurt
Truth: When starting out with breastfeeding, some discomfort as baby latches on is common, but OUCH moments? Not the norm. If it’s hurting, definitely check in with a health professional so they can check your baby’s latch and find out what’s going on.
Myth #3: Breastfeeding mothers should always use both breasts at each feeding
Truth: Your breasts ‘know’ how much milk they need to make, depending on your baby’s demands. If you go too long without nursing from one side, it might start to feel full – but you don’t have to worry about whether your baby is drinking from both breasts at every single feeding. The mama bod is something magic, she got this.
Myth #4: Breastfeeding a baby after 12 months is of little value because the quality of breast milk begins to decline after six months
Truth: Your breast milk is like a magic potion that keeps evolving over time. Its composition changes (not declines) as your baby grows. That is its genius way of keeping up with your little one’s ever-changing needs. Remember, a child’s immune system takes its sweet time to fully mature – we’re talking years here. That’s why breast milk keeps adapting, to continue providing immune protection and nutritional support. When food is introduced at six months, it’s not a diss to your milk, it’s just that baby needs a little extra grub to keep up.
Myth #5: Don’t breastfeed if you’re sick
Truth: Breastfeeding is safe and healthy for babies, even when you’re not feeling 100%. In fact, if you catch a cold or flu, your mature immune system creates fighters (antibodies and leukocytes) that get passed to your baby through milk. It’s like giving your baby a protective boost. Just be cautious if you need to take any meds – always check with your GP to make sure they’re breastfeeding-safe.
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