7 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Breastfeeding

breastfeeding
Alexandra Grablewski
From your insane appetite to the truth about pumping and dumping, check out these seven real-deal things you probably didn't know about becoming a human milk machine before you strapped on your first nursing tank.
Dmytro Vietrov/ Shutterstock
Dmytro Vietrov/ Shutterstock

You've heard the horror stories about bleeding nipples, clogged ducts, and being used as a teething ring. Yes, breastfeeding can be quite glamorous. The truth, though, is that once you and your kiddo get the hang of it, nursing can be pretty freaking incredible. Or it can be a P.I.T.A.; it's different for everyone. But there are some universal truths -- the less talked-about realities that new moms might not be expecting because nobody's written a book called Breastfeeding Will Stain Your Clothes and Make You Eat a Jar of Peanut Butter in Two Sittings But It's Still Really Awesome! Read on for seven real-deal things you probably didn't know about becoming a human milk machine before you strapped on your first nursing tank.

Alexandra Grablewski
Alexandra Grablewski

You will become a human Dyson

While nursing our first daughter, my hunger was Out. Of. Control. Anything I could eat with one hand (the other one being perpetually filled with a newborn) was fair game: Burritos, bagels, bags of trail mix. Dairy Queen factored so heavily into my diet that I'm sure my breast milk was at least one-quarter cookie dough Blizzard.

Lactation consultant and La Leche League International director of media relations Diana West, IBCLC, says the reason my caloric intake rivaled The Rock's was likely a combination of my unenviable sleep schedule plus elevated levels of the breastfeeding hormone prolactin. "Reduced nighttime sleep can cause prolactin to be produced in higher levels during the day, causing increased hunger -- especially for carbohydrates," West explains. The lack of sleep also likely disrupted my insulin production, further causing me to behave like Cookie Monster on a bender.

But all those hoagie cravings have a purpose! "They're actually nature's built-in way of ensuring that nursing mothers get enough energy to cope with the reduced amount of sleep that can happen with taking care of a baby at night," West adds. Time to put DQ on speed dial.

Alexandra Grablewski
Alexandra Grablewski

You might not look like Gisele Bundchen when you do it -- but you do look beautiful

When Bí¼ndchen posted that Instagram photo of herself breastfeeding in 2013 while simultaneously having her hair, makeup, and nails done, new moms the world over let out a collective groan. Personally, my Glam Squad includes my ob-gyn, the Peapod deliveryman, and Caillou; the last time I got my hair blown out, Justin Timberlake was in *NSYNC.

The bright side of Gisele sharing that shot -- as well as other celeb lactivists like Pink, Doutzen Kroes, Miranda Kerr, and Jaime King -- is that it helps to normalize breastfeeding in general, showing it for the everyday act it is and not something to be covered up, shamed, or relegated to the ladies' room. And how much do we love Kourtney Kardashian for keeping it real when it comes to pumping? Nurturing a human with your breasts might not be glamorous, but it is a gorgeous miracle.

Alexandra Grablewski
Alexandra Grablewski

It doesn't have to be all or nothing

It's a scientific fact that breast milk rocks. But giving your baby a bottle of formula every now and then -- or even all the time -- isn't the end of the world.

When Washington, DC-based mom Rebecca Scritchfield returned to work after maternity leave with daughter number two, she found herself with out-of-town career opportunities but a low freezer stash of milk. Despite the societal pressure to exclusively breast feed, Scritchfield says giving herself "permission" to supplement with formula was a game-changer. "I treated myself the way I would treat a friend if they asked me if I thought it was okay," Scritchfield recalls. The result? "Total relief. Like ripping off a bandage. My life became more flexible. I could take three hours to work out and run errands, and not worry about being home in time for her to eat." The result: A well-nourished baby and one happy mama.

Alexandra Grablewski
Alexandra Grablewski

Enough with the pumping and dumping!

Your baby isn't going to turn into a pint-sized wino just because you had a Guinness with dinner. It takes the body approximately two hours to metabolize a beer, mixed drink, or glass of wine, and your milk takes on the same alcohol level as your blood (so if your blood level is 0.05 percent, your milk has the same alcohol concentration.) But -- and these are big buts -- newborns metabolize alcohol at approximately half the rate of adults, and the amount of alcohol that actually gets delivered to your nursing infant is approximately five to six percent of the weight-adjusted maternal dose, according to a 2013 Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology study. "Even in a theoretical case of binge drinking," the study authors concluded, "children would not be subjected to clinically relevant amounts of alcohol." In other words, it's not like your boobs are a college party and your milk is fishbowl punch.

If you're heading out with friends sans bebe for a few hours, you might need or want to pump for comfort or to maintain milk production. (Won't you be popular, with your BYO White Russians?!) But it doesn't work to "pump the alcohol out," West says.

"The reality is that nursing mothers have had alcohol since time began," she says, "and it's generally safe in moderation."

Learn key tips and best positions for breastfeeding, including how to get baby to latch and advice on burping.

Alexandra Grablewski
Alexandra Grablewski

Breast milk truly is magical

Maureen Burgess's baby girl probably wasn't thrilled the first time her mom squirted her in the eye with breast milk. But the alternative -- surgery to fix her chronically clogged tear ducts -- would have been way worse. "One of her eyes was always crusty and weepy," the Berkley, Michigan, mom, recalls. "We even had an appointment for her to have surgery. But I started squirting and massaging the eye with breast milk at each feeding or diaper change, and after a few weeks, it cleared up and we were able to cancel the surgery."

Why did it work? Breast milk is brimming with live cells that kill bacteria and viruses, plus it has anti-inflammatory properties, West says. In fact, when it comes to home remedies, breast milk knows no bounds -- some parents squirt it up baby's nose to help loosen snot; other rub it on the scalp to treat cradle cap or into the face to prevent baby acne.

Thayer Allyson Gowdy
Thayer Allyson Gowdy

The second time around is totally different

Any mom who has nursed multiple children* will tell you: It just ain't the same. Juggling more than one kid means there's no luxury of a feeding schedule, no time to rummage through your diaper bag for a nursing cover (if you even carry a diaper bag anymore!). I went from being a by-the-book breastfeeder who pumped and dumped after wine, avoided nursing in front of my dad, and used an app to track which side I last fed from, to an exhibitionist walking nipple who only attends playdates when wine is promised and greets FedEx at the door with my nursing tank unclasped and the baby zoning out to Access Hollywood. And you know what? Baby number two will probably be more relaxed and laidback because I'm more relaxed and laidback. With experience comes confidence. And even though our first child benefitted from milk made by organic produce, grass-fed meats, and no artificial sweeteners, while our current baby is getting a steady diet of Coca-Cola Zero and SkinnyPop Popcorn, she's absolutely thriving. Your second one will, too.

*Not at one time. That's a talent that deserves a medal all its own.

Alexandra Grablewski
Alexandra Grablewski

There's this thing called tongue tie...

Visit any breastfeeding support forum and you're bound to see multiple messages about tongue tie. In infants, a tongue tie occurs when the tissue attaching the tongue to the base of the mouth restricts the full range of motion required for feeding. "When the tongue cannot move freely, breastfeeding -- even bottle-feeding -- can be negatively affected," West notes. Fallout can include poor weight gain, reduced milk removal, chronically painful nipples, and sometimes a clicking or popping sound during feedings.

Suspect your bambino has a problematic tongue tie? Consult an experienced lactation consultant for a diagnosis; a pediatric dentist or Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT) may be able to help, too. Ties may be treatable with an in-office procedure in which the binding tissue is released with a laser or scissors, although the practice is somewhat controversial, says Jennifer Shu, M.D., a Parents advisor and the coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn. "Some doctors recommend a wait-and-see approach, while others are more willing to try the procedure to see if it helps breastfeeding," she says."

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