A Few Lessons From Eight+ Years of Breastfeeding

FYI, it's World Breastfeeding Week, which is most definitely a thing.  And who would've thought that I've never written a post exclusively about breastfeeding?

I've talked about it and reflected on it a bit but never just wrote out some of the things that maybe could help someone else out.

I've been blessed to nurse all five of my full term babies.  The first four weaned or were weaned all around the two year mark.  This newest little man is two months and God-willing will have about the same.  So I've got eight plus years of lactating under my belt and I think that makes it fair to say I know a thing or two about breastfeeding.  In honor of the week, here are some of the things I jotted down in no particular order that I've learned about nursing these little ones:

•Let's start with a happy one.  The oxytocin bond thing is real and beautiful.  To know that you are feeding your child with your very body and how Eucharistic that reality is?  It's pretty amazing.  That doesn't mean that every nursing is filled with fluffy feelings or euphoric rainbows - not in the least (hey, the Eucharist was attached to suffering and self-denial, right?) - but it gives a deeper reality and meaning than just filling your baby's stomach as an end in itself.  And that's pretty sweet to experience firsthand.

•There is something pretty awesome when that baby gets weighed and you think to yourself, I did that.  It's one of the reasons I think breastfeeding can be a significant in the life of women with body image issues, a puritanical background, or for those who struggled with infertility and the feeling of their body as broken.  To look at your growing baby and know that every pound they gained was from you and  that your body did that?  It has the potential to be incredibly healing and powerful on a spiritual and emotional level.

•It doesn't always come naturally.  Mothers need to learn and babies need to learn, too. Babies have a instinct to latch but they have to learn how to do it the most effective way possible.  It can be frustrating and difficult and make you want to give up.  Don't.

•A supportive husband is huge to success.

•Never ever go to your doctor for good breastfeeding advice.  Okay, okay, fine.  If your doctor has breastfed herself (successfully) or he has a wife that has successfully breastfed, then you can try.  But most pediatricians and OBs do not get adequate training on the biology of milk production or the nursing relationship.  I've heard and received awful information from the mouths and handouts of doctors.  Information that could've sabotaged my breastfeeding success.  If you need help go to a good lactation consultant (IBCLC) and to your friends that have successfully breastfed their babies.  I promise they know more than the doctor when it comes to this.  

•Wow, you save a lot of money.

•Color me surprised to learn that the milk comes out sprinkler-style rather than hose-style.  Who knew?? (And when you're engorged that sprinkler is pretty powerful!)

•Learning to breastfeed can be painful.  I knew that beforehand thanks to my sister preparing me but the actual learning curve was extremely difficult.  Yes, I know.  A perfect latch means that it shouldn't hurt but it takes some babies and mothers a while to learn that perfect latch or sometimes they have a tongue tie or flat nipples or a tiny mouth that makes a good latch very difficult.  In the meantime, baby still needs to eat.  Breastfeeding for the first two months of my oldest's life was excruciating at times.  I should've gotten more help but was already overwhelmed with first time newborn life.  I'm so thankful for the advice of my older sister to give it six weeks and just when you think you really can't take it anymore and will have to do something else, it starts to get better.  It is so worth it.  

•Having other nursing mothers around is a Godsend.  For advice, yes, but also to just feel normal and be able to nurse your baby and not feel the need to cover up or like you're some sort of weirdo.  That support is huge.

•Even so, learning to and being comfortable nursing in public is still a challenge.  It depends on the circumstances as to whether I will use a cover but I can still feel very conspicuous and self conscious even after five babies.  With my first I almost always left the room.  Now I'll nurse in public but it still feels like either I'm trying to make a statement or that I'm trying to hide when really I'm just trying to feed my baby.

•There is a weird phenomenon called D-MER (dysphoric milk ejection reflex) and it's "characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes."  I learned about this a few babies ago and I had no idea that this was a thing!  I only get a mild reaction but there are often a few moments during letdown where I get a weird melancholic feeling and then it dissipates.  It was pretty neat and a relief to realize this was an actual thing that some other women experience and not really anything to worry about or the sign of something deeper.  

•Some people just won't get it.  They'll make passive aggressive remarks or mock you.  You'll do what's best for your baby and (try to) get over it.

•Every ten minutes is normal.  So is every four hours.  So is feeding all night long (especially in those first few days!).  So is a baby that sleeps long stretches but then fills up his awake time with lots of feeding.  Every baby is different.  Normal doesn't always mean desirable, of course.  But it does give you freedom to relax that nothing is "wrong" with your baby if they don't follow the books.

•In fact, the books and standard advice can work against you.  I learned with my first that I am a superstar milk producer and that my body reacts very quickly to the demand of a baby.  But I still followed the advice of the books I read of  nursing both sides every feeding and switching every time.  I ended up with a gassy fussy baby who would spit up constantly, breasts that were engorged, and a fear of leaving the house for six months due to the constant leaking.  His nursing for a few minutes on one side would stimulate that side to produce more but he wasn't emptying the breast or getting the hind milk before I would switch him to the other side.  So my breasts kept filling but never emptying fully and he wasn't getting that more satisfying fattier hind milk.  I learned with subsequent babies to only nurse one side at a feeding and make sure it was empty before switching to the other side.  I later learned the fancy term for this is called block feeding.  For the first few days of nursing, it means that one side gets very engorged while I'm emptying that other side but I won't switch until that one side is mostly done.  It takes a few days but then my body figures out the right amount to produce and it's made nursing SO much easier and better for everyone.  (NOT everyone should do this, by the way!!  Don't do this if your body doesn't produce milk as easily!)

•A great book to have on hand that helped with nursing?  The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.  That one is great.  I think there are some other good ones out now but that's the one that helped me most with my first.

•Learning the whole supply/demand ways of breastfeeding and understanding how it works is really helpful for troubleshooting.

•What you eat can affect your milk and baby.  Every person seems to be different with this.  I've never had an issue with broccoli or spicy things but with the last two babies I've realized that chocolate makes them a bit edgy and restless.  I did give up dairy for I think a year with my first and that helped his issues…though in hindsight I think it was much more the overactive production and letdown that was the issue.

•Breastmilk is very versatile.  Ear or eye troubles?  Drop some milk in.  Stuffy nose?  Drop some milk in.  Infection?  Rub some milk on.  Older kid sick?  Put it in a sippy cup.  And it works.  You may feel like a crazy hippie lady but it works and saves you a trip to the drugstore and a whole lot of money.

So there's just a few of the many things I've learned about and through breastfeeding.  Not all by any means but just a few.  I could probably add about a few dozen more, I think, but I'll stop there.
What would you add?

(For more in depth info, be sure to go to La Leche League or Kelly Mom or Dr. Sears or an IBCLC.  This sure isn't meant to be a thorough treatment of the topic!) 


  1. so much good stuff here, Mary! I always struggle (or feel like I do) to make enough milk to help my babies hit their numbers, but then once my kids start solids they, wait for it, still grow slooooowly. I wonder if I'm actually making a perfect amount and I just have short, skinny-ish kids. tempted to give block feeding a go this time around because it would be such a relief to have such long rest periods for each side. Usually I'm a bleeding mess by week 3, IBCLC or no. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thanks, Jenny! That's EXACTLY how my kids are, too. I feel lucky that the first doctor we ever had never even used those growth charts because he felt they caused more anxiety and harm than good. As long as the kids were growing (even slowly) and were healthy, he didn't worry. It drives me nuts that those charts don't really take into account genetics. My husband and I are both smaller and we were both tiny things growing up so it makes sense that our kids aren't giant. Only do the block feeding if you know you have no trouble making milk, which it sounds like is the case. Makes such a huge difference and our last two babies have been SO much more content. I think that's a huge part of it. So excited for your little bambino!

  2. My favorite breastfeeding book was called Best Feeding. Much more succint (and therefore less daunting) than Womanly Art.

    I was really prepared for breastfeeding to be a struggle but I never had a single issue until I went to work part time when Lucia was about nine months and had to pump. I had trouble with pumping and I couldn't freeze milk because it was really sour when it defrosted and she wouldn't drink it. Everything else was a blessing though!

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Mandi! I think I actually have that one and it's good! It wasn't around WAY back when I started but you're right, it's a great comprehensive book. I've never heard of the milk changing taste, wow!
      Praying for you and so excited you're getting so close to meeting that little one!

  3. Some excellent advice.
    I was blessed that I had seen my mother b/feed my siblings, in fact she was still feeding her last when I was feeding my first. (18 mths apart) She was one of the pioneers of b'feeding when it was makings it's comeback, so I owe a lot to her, mostly that I've always felt comfortable feeding in public and that when a nurse told me an oldwives tale when I was in hospital with my first I knew it was wrong and walked down to the payphone and rang Nursing Mothers from the hospital.
    I've been b'feeding on and off now for 22 years, kind of amazing to realise that

    1. Wow, that IS amazing! I love that you had that background and family support. That is so helpful! My mom breastfed most of us as well. I was the longest at two years and according to her I didn't want to give it up…sign of things to come, maybe :) But just knowing that it was normal growing up made it the default choice for me before I even knew there was tensions (or whatever it should be called) about baby feeding. It just made sense to me. I'm grateful for her example!

  4. The sprinkler still makes me laugh... Even sometimes the baby starts to giggle. I also love when they pass out drunk on milk.

    1. Why did I never know that was how it worked? I guess I just never really thought about it or just assumed it was like a bottle…but nope!

  5. This is great.

    The one major thing I would add is that most (not all) breastfeeding problems are just stages or temporary problems.. Sore nipples, mastitis, thrush, biting, cluster feeding...most of these things are temporary, I think a lot of moms when they think about breastfeeding for 6 months or a year, they think it's always going to be as intense and difficult as it is in the early weeks. Nursing a 3 month old is almost always easier than nursing a 3 week old Nursing a 18 month old is easier than nurisng an 8 month old.

    1. Yes! Everything is SO transient while nursing. Every stage is just that and then it changes so quickly. I'm learning that applies to a whole lot in parenting, too. Definitely makes for a much more relaxed and peaceful mom, I think!

  6. Don't forget neon-orange colostrum! That combined with the sprinkler effect had me so freaked out.

  7. Ha, mine's bright yellow. And I don't think this happened with my first one but I started making it in the second trimester with the other babies!

  8. Thanks for mentioning D-MER. I try to mention it to new mothers because since most people feel relaxed from all that oxytocin while nursing (once they've gotten the hang of it), that's what all the books say you should feel and it is really alarming if you instead feel horrible. It really helped me when I learned that I was not alone in this experience and that it was in fact chemical, even though there aren't any treatment options as of yet.

    My best technique when D-MER hits is to sing Yankee Doodle at the top of my lungs every time the baby latches on (um, except at night). It's silly, but it distracts me and the D-MER is usually fading by the end of the song. I did something similar during the contractions in my last labor, so maybe it's just me, but it did help keep me from entering fully into the negative emotions!

    Thanks for spreading the word!

    1. * I meant to say MANY treatment options, not ANY.

    2. Ha, that is awesome! I think there's so much power in just KNOWING that it might be coming and that it's hormone related that diffuses so much of it. At least for me...but mine seems pretty mild.


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