Hi! My name is Krista and I recently talked about my experience birthing my son vaginally. And a lot of people still had questions about other "mom" things I experienced, so today I am going to talk about my experience breastfeeding, along with tips and information from Certified Lactation Counselor Molly Petersen.
1. Q: "What does it actually feel like to have milk come out of your body through your nipple?" —laurae486e9cb98
A: When the milk comes out it doesn't really feel like anything. In other words, you feel the squeezing or sucking on your nipple, but it doesn't feel like anything where the milk comes out. One thing that I naively didn't realize was that the milk doesn't just come out of one designated hole on each boob. It comes out kind of like a drizzling shower head. Molly said when a boob expresses milk, it looks like it's weeping – so there's a good visual for you.
Molly adds, "Inside the breast tissue there are these clusters of cells that produce breast milk and they're connected by all of these little ducts that then move toward the nipple. Most women have multiple openings of these ducts at the nipple and they're not always at the very end of the nipple. Some moms spray milk out in different directions and even spray out on the sides of their nipples."
2. Q: "Have you ever breastfed your husband? Or has he ever sucked on your boobs to see what breast milk tastes like?" —helloooofrom182838
A: No and no. True story: My girl friends and I actually tried my breast milk after having one too many glasses of wine one night. We all agreed that it tasted like the Fruity Pebbles milk! It was very sweet. We tried to get my husband to taste it, but he said thinking about it made him gag. 😂 Moral of the story: Get you some friends who will try your breast milk with you! 😉
3. Q: "How much did your boobs grow when your milk came in? Do they deflate after?" —laurae486e9cb98
A: Over the course of my pregnancy, my boobs gradually got bigger. By the last month of pregnancy, I was a full size up. When I squeezed my nipples, a yellowish ~discharge~ came out called colostrum. Sorry, folks, but by this point I think we know pregnancy/childbirth is far from glamorous, and discharge is the most accurate word to describe it! Molly said colostrum is the first milk your body makes for your baby. It is extremely high in calories and antibodies.
After I had my son, my boobs were like giant melons! I had cleavage nearly up to my collar bones. However, when I stopped breastfeeding, they shrank a lot. My boobs went through a roller coaster ride. Before pregnancy, they were tiny, during pregnancy they got a little busty boost, after childbirth they were full-on MILK JUGS (pun intended), and then after breastfeeding they deflated like popped balloons. It is common after breastfeeding for the connective and fatty tissues in your breast to change – and mine did.
And that's why I'll never look at balloons the same again...
4. Q: "Does it hurt or feel weird, like someone is biting you?" –Anonymous
A: I don't want to scare anyone, but I eventually developed severe nipple trauma from breastfeeding. My nipples became scabbed and were constantly bleeding. It got so bad that it hurt to wear clothes and when I pumped my milk would look like strawberry milk in the bottle because so much blood was pumping out with my milk. It was one of the most painful experiences of my life. So, long story short, I eventually had to quit. (Thankfully, my nips made a full recovery and never got infected.)
To figure out what happened to me and why, I explained my experience to Molly. She said, "In general, breastfeeding shouldn't hurt. However, there are some issues that can arise that can cause pain. If you're getting nipple damage or having nipple trauma, that is generally caused by a baby not having a good latch. There is also a small percentage of babies that may have a lip tie or tongue tie. Also, after babies are born, they don't know how to breastfeed. They have the instinct to do it, but they still have to learn how to do it properly. So, without early intervention, a bad latch can cause the nipple to get misshapen inside the mouth and cause it to rub against the roof of the baby's mouth or things like that. That's what causes soreness and trauma to the nipples. Working with a lactation consultation can help prevent those issues. Learn as much as you can and take advantage of the resources that are available to you."
(If you're wondering, I had a lactation specialist in the hospital help me once and then never had anyone look at my son's latch after that. I think, in my case, my son never properly latched and it eventually caused my nipple problems.)
5. Q: "I’ve heard that breastfeeding gives an almost 'euphoric' feeling? Is this common/true?" —rylanmichele
A: Breastfeeding definitely gives off a very nice feeling. I'm not sure if euphoric is the word, and I don't know if I have a word to describe it. It felt like a deep, deep bond unlike anything I've ever experienced before.
According to Molly, breastfeeding releases oxytocin – known as the love hormone – to the mom and the baby. "When the baby releases oxytocin, it has a calming effect and releases all the good hormones in their body. There's also dopamine that gets rolled into that feeling."
6. Q: "What does pumping feel like? Does it hurt?" —youcanhavethekidsbutigetthedog
A: Pumping kind of feels like there's a vacuum stuck to your nipples. It's an intense in and out "sucking." It doesn't hurt, but it's definitely squeezing your nipple tight into the little tube to suck out as much milk as possible. You are milking yourself and it's a weird experience, but neat at the same time because your body can literally produce food for your baby.
Enjoy this realistic example of a mannequin pumping:
7. Q: "Does breastfeeding change how you feel about your partner sucking your nipples during sex? I worry that breastfeeding would change that aspect of foreplay." —asunseri24
A: Not at all! When your baby is sucking on your boob it is a different kind of intimacy. When I am sexual with my husband, then I am in a different frame of mind and I don't think about my boobs being milk machines, lol. When I was currently breastfeeding, though, we really didn't do much ~boob~ stuff because I would leak milk if it was squeezed and it would just be...a mess. That being said, after having a baby with my husband – and him seeing nearly every ~gross~ thing you can imagine – you're closer in a different way. And, while it may be different, it doesn't forever ruin your sex life!
8. Q: "Can you feel your boobs fill back up with milk after the baby sucks it all out during a feeding or pumping session? If so, what does it feel like and does it hurt?" – Anonymous
A: If it's been a while since you last pumped or breastfed your baby, your breasts will start to get engorged and hard. Also, when they are that full of milk, they hurt and you need to pump or feed or somehow express the milk out. That's why women have to constantly pump or feed every few hours. I remember one time, when my son was staying with my mom and I had saved milk stored in the freezer for him, I decided to go an entire day without pumping. My boobs started leaking and hurt sooooo bad because the milk needed to be released. So, basically breastfeeding is a full-time job. THERE ARE NO DAYS OFF!!!
"Leaking can happen at any time because your body has a reflex that will release breast milk on its own due to hormones. If a mom sees a baby or thinks about their baby, it can trigger the hormones in your body that cause your boobs to start leaking milk. Leaking also happens when you have full breasts that need to be relieved," Molly explained.
9. Q: "What is it like to quit breastfeeding? How do you know when it's time to stop and does it hurt?" – Anonymous
A: Oh gosh, I did a bad, bad thing. I quit cold turkey. It was awful. My boobs literally felt like they were going to explode and they were hard as rocks. I did it because of the ongoing nipple trauma I was having and I just wanted it to all be over. Molly said when you quit abruptly, your body doesn't know that you've decided to stop breastfeeding, so it is still going to produce milk. "We recommend doing a step down method gradually, otherwise you can get very engorged and it's painful. It can also lead to blocked ducts or infections."
On the topic of knowing when it's time to stop, Molly said that while extended breastfeeding is not a cultural norm in the U.S., it is a very common practice across the world. "Feeding babies until they are three, four, or even five years old is popular in areas outside the U.S. If you're going to breastfeed, I recommend doing it for the first six months of life exclusively, then up to 12 months with solid, complimentary foods. After that you can continue for however long is mutually desired between the child and the mother."
I don't know if these are grapefruits or what, but they look hard and that is what engorged boobs feel like.
10. Q: "Did you ever breastfed in public and, if so, did you experience any criticism?" —sarahs4437336cf
A: Because I was working and going to school so much, I ended up pumping more than directly breastfeeding. I took my pump everywhere with me and I remember locking myself in the bathroom stall and pumping in-between classes when I could. When I was at home and people came over, it was a very isolating experience. Like, I was expected to go in a room alone and feed the baby. I was very young, so I didn't really know my feelings toward breastfeeding in public. I kind of just thought it was something that was frowned upon, so I didn't do it. If I were to get pregnant now, I would totally do it – no problem.
Molly adds, "Even though breastfeeding in public is protected by law, not every woman feels comfortable doing it. There isn't a way that we have decided to deal with it as a society, which makes it hard and lonely for some women."
11. Q: "Why do some women produce more milk than others? How do I know that my baby has had enough to eat or if I'm producing enough milk?" —lucym81891
A: I produced a sufficient amount of breast milk at first. But, over time, my milk supply diminished and my son's pediatrician said I needed to supplement formula in with my breast milk to make sure my son was eating enough. This was around the same time my nipples started getting really, really bad. I dreaded every feeding or pumping session. I also had a jam-packed schedule, so I think all those factors together made my body stressed and resulted in not enough milk being produced. But, I'm not an expert, so here's what Molly had to say...
"For the vast majority of women, their bodies are physically capable of producing enough breast milk to support their baby. However, we live in a world where there are multiple aspects that go into this. Breastfeeding is related to hormones, so if you are a mom who has a baby and also has to tend to three other kids or or you have multiple other stressors in your life, it's possible that those stress hormones will suppress your breast milk production. If you go back to work a few weeks or months after you have a baby, that's not how our bodes were physiologically intended to work when it comes to sustaining milk supply for your baby. So, if you're pumping – although pumping is great and allows mom more freedom – it's not going to be as effective as having the baby on the breast. In turn, this tends to take a toll on the breast milk supply. There are multiple things going on at any given point in our lives that may cause issues along the way."
Molly also said that it's crucial for moms to establish their milk supply within the first two weeks of breastfeeding. "During those first few days, your baby is teaching your body how much milk they need to eat."
12. Q: "Why does my baby's poop smell 'good' with breast milk, but smell like death with formula?" —sparksnicole5
A: Breast milk baby poo is definitely different than formula milk baby poo. When I breastfed my son it was more liquid-y and lighter in color. When he was formula fed, it was darker and more solid. As far as odor? IDK, maybe the breast milk poop wasn't as ~strong~. Molly said, "Breast milk is very easy for a baby's digestive system to break down. Formula is not quite as bioavailable to baby, so their system has to work harder to break it down. That may be why there is a difference in smell."
13. Q: "How did you balance breastfeeding and pumping after going back to work full time?" —zepponotzeplin
A: It was very stressful for me. Breastfeeding is a huge commitment and it is constant. If you're not with your baby, you have to pump so your milk continues to come in and so your boobs don't become engorged. If you're with your baby, they are on your boob every two to three hours at first. I think the main thing that helped me focus was just thinking of it as part of my daily routine. It was something that had to be scheduled in. I tried to find things to read or catch up on things I needed to do during pumping sessions.
14. Q: "I always hear breastfeeding isn’t as easy at it seems. What’s so hard about it?" —lizz419bb1ea5
A: I think it's not "easy" because it's a constant job. You have to be with your baby 24/7 to feed them or, if you work, you have to pump every few hours. In addition, it takes a lot of education to breastfeed properly and know the technique. Like now I realize my son probably never latched correctly and I didn't know it. It's hard because while it is ~natural,~ there's a learning curve and a lot of dedication that goes into it.
From Molly's perspective, she said that it can be hard because a lot of women don't have the support of understanding of it that we should have. "It's not expected that a woman is going to have to take off work or have time to pump or get lactation services. Lactation services aren't even covered by most insurances. The lack of systematic support is what makes it so difficult – and the fact that women feel like they have to do it alone. In the U.S. we don't have extended maternity leave, and women have to go back to work very quickly after giving birth. So, things like that makes breastfeeding more difficult."
15. Q: "Does the baby try to get to other peoples' boobs? Like, if the dad isn't wearing a shirt, would the baby try to bite his nipple?" —youcanhavethekidsbutigetthedog
A: When my son was hungry, he would have hunger cues, like turning his head with his mouth open like he's searching for a nipple. However, it wasn't like he was just out to get any boob. I'm sure if you put a boob or nipple right in front of a baby's mouth, they would suck out of instinct. But, I don't think they are constantly searching for it on their own without it being put directly in front of their face. In other words, he never tried to suck my husband's nipples!
These babies sure don't seem interested in dad's nipples.
And here are a few other answers to questions from the expert...
– Q: "Can you breastfeed with pierced nipples? Can women with implants breastfeed?" —zandraariels
A: Molly said yes to both! "If your nipples are pierced, you want to make sure you remove your jewelry because you don't want it to come off when the baby is nursing. As for implants, most that are done today are placed below the pectoral muscle. So, thats good for breastfeeding because it's not messing with any anatomy inside the breast tissue that's responsible for transporting milk to the nipple."
Q: "How do I tell if my baby is eating enough and how much is too much?" – Anonymous
A: Molly said, "You're supposed to feed the baby on their hunger cues and that is things like opening and closing their mouths, bringing their hands to their mouths, sticking out their tongue, and rooting – where they bob their head as if they are looking for a breast. Moms should feed when they see those cues, and it could be every hour to every couple hours for newborns. If you're exclusively pumping, we recommend pumping every two hours all through the day, around the clock. After that, it will be based on baby's cues, but you should always consult your pediatrician about it. It's also about counting diapers! Your baby should have 6-8 wet and 3-4 poopy diapers per day after they hit 3-4 days old. You'll want to avoid pumping for 3-4 weeks (if possible!) to help the baby establish a good latch and teach your body how much milk the baby needs."
Q: "How did you handle nursing when your baby started teething?! When they bite, do you pull them off the breast or continue through the pain?" —alih4ddff6404
A: The pain associated with teething is when a baby decides to bite. "Teeth can change a baby's latch, but the pain that comes from teeth is when a child bites. It sounds scary, but you can make it through and there are steps you can take to prevent it," said Molly.