8 Moms Talk About What It’s Really Like to Breastfeed

Nursing isn’t quite as simple as you might think.

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Most moms-to-be are told this familiar mantra during their pregnancy—breast is best.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does recommend that infants should be exclusively breastfed for about six months after they are born. But for some women and babies, nursing just isn’t that simple.

How do you know if breastfeeding is right for you? It’s hard to have the answers prior to your child’s birth but hearing from moms who’ve already gone through the experience may give you some insight.

These eight women—some who breastfed and some who didn’t—get real about what it’s like to nurse, pump and adjust to life as a mother.

Medically reviewed in June 2018.

Taking a breastfeeding class can be beneficial

2 / 11 Taking a breastfeeding class can be beneficial

Although nothing can prepare you for the act of breastfeeding except, well, breastfeeding, many hospitals, OBGYN practices and support programs like La Leche League offer preparedness classes for both mothers and fathers.

Jaimi Sharkey, 32, who gave birth a little over a year ago to a baby boy, stresses that these classes were so beneficial to her. “I felt really prepared for the act of breastfeeding itself because I took a class before I gave birth.”

Breastfeeding classes can help couples learn more about latching and various nursing positions. They also offer the opportunity to ask breastfeeding questions. Remember, though, that every woman and every baby is different—just because you learn a proper technique in class doesn’t mean it will always work. After birth, one of your hospital’s lactation consultants can help you through any obstacles.

Reach out to your birthing hospital, OBGYN, a lactation consultant or La Leche League for class recommendations.

You’ll become familiar with clogged ducts and nipple issues

3 / 11 You’ll become familiar with clogged ducts and nipple issues

If you’re able to breastfeed, those precious moments spent with your little one can be very special. But they may not always be easy. Many women deal with uncomfortable issues, including clogged ducts and nipple issues.

Clogged ducts: Common during pumping and breastfeeding, clogged ducts become blocked with milk, preventing them from draining properly. This may lead to a condition called mastitis, categorized by fever, achiness and exhaustion, that can often feel like the flu. Treatment usually includes resting as much as possible, massaging the breast and taking medications such as ibuprofen or antibiotics. Most doctors recommend you continue to continue nursing, as well.

Nipple discomfort: Kristy Cummings, 36, a mother of three from Bloomfield, New Jersey, said she wishes she knew how sore nipples can get, especially during the first few days of breastfeeding. Nipple pain could occur if your baby isn’t latching correctly, your child comes off the breast without breaking suction first, you’re wearing bras that are too constricting or your feeding position isn’t ideal.

In addition to proper feeding techniques, Cummings swears by nipple cream to soothe the area. “The nurses at the hospital gave me nipple cream and now I recommend that to all of my friends who are planning to nurse.” Covering your nipple with a warm washcloth temporarily relieves pain, too.

And engorgement and leaking…

4 / 11 And engorgement and leaking…

In addition to clogged ducts and nipple discomfort, there will be some adjustments as your milk starts to come in.

Engorgement: It’s completely normal for your breasts to be heavier and larger when you’re breastfeeding. Engorgement is when breasts feel extremely swollen, hard and painful due to being overfull with milk.

Engorgement can happen at any time, but it’s most common three to five days after birth. Other symptoms of engorgement include warmth, redness, throbbing, nipple flattening and fever.

Talk with a lactation nurse about techniques to prevent infection, like massaging the breasts, improving your baby’s latch and implementing a pumping schedule.

Leaking: As your body starts to adjust to making milk on a schedule, another common issue is leaking. Breasts may also spray or drip too.

Combat the dampness with nursing pads that fit into your bra to absorb the liquid. Try wearing darker clothing, so leaking won’t be as obvious.

And be prepared for some leaking during pregnancy, too, says Katie Hall, 30, who resides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with her 3-month-old. “I started leaking around 20 weeks and had to wear the pads daily.”

As your baby gets older, they may get distracted

5 / 11 As your baby gets older, they may get distracted

One thing Sharkey did not know was that it would get harder and harder to nurse as her little one grew. “As your baby gets older, they become more aware of their surroundings, they get distracted and come on and off the breast or want to nurse for shorter periods of time,” she says. This can be frustrating, since some milk gets wasted, you might get soaked and it causes worries about whether your baby is getting enough to eat. These distractions can start as early as 2 months, since they’re able to see more clearly at this age, but usually peaks around 4 to 9 months.

You can gauge whether or not your baby is hungry by observing their body language—they may look aware and alert, clinch their fists or bring their hands and fingers up to their mouths. Crying is also a common sign of hunger, but that can mean your child has been hungry for a while.

If you find your infant is getting distracted while you’re feeding them, try breastfeeding somewhere dark and quiet and make eye contact with them. Squeeze in a nursing session when they wake, since babies tend to be calmer then. And if they just aren’t having it, you can try again later.

Talk with your pediatrician if you notice any weight loss or if your baby isn’t going to the bathroom regularly.

It can be very empowering

6 / 11 It can be very empowering

Some women feel a sense of accomplishment when breastfeeding their child, especially Sharkey. “Breastfeeding made me feel like a superwoman. Here I was feeding this baby all on my own—it was so empowering!”

In fact, one small 2017 study, published in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion, looked into this exact idea. Researchers interviewed 18 mothers, 4 close family members and 12 breastfeeding coaches who assisted these families. They found that those who felt they had enough breastfeeding knowledge, quality milk and a large supply were more likely to feel empowered by breastfeeding.

Jenna Ketchen, 31, of Boston, Massachusetts adds that breastfeeding is a good reminder to slow down and savor time with your little one. “I was able to provide something for her that no one else could, and as an individual who is motivated to do everything, breastfeeding often put me in a situation where I was forced to stop and slow down.”

Not all women are able to breastfeed

7 / 11 Not all women are able to breastfeed

And that’s okay. Here are some reasons that prevent women from breastfeeding:

  • Certain infections like HIV or active herpes lesions on the breast
  • Currently undergoing chemotherapy or receiving internal radiopharmaceuticals for treatment or tests
  • Taking certain medications
  • An infant has a medical condition like galactosemia, maple syrup urine disease or phenylketonuria

In addition, some mothers simply cannot produce enough milk, have trouble achieving a good latch or choose not to breastfeed altogether. “I wish moms knew that nursing doesn’t work for some women, says Emily Ann Carrigan, 30, of Augusta, Georgia, who gave birth to her first child about two years ago and had latching issues.

Lauren Cordy, 33, of St. Louis, Missouri gave birth 16 months ago and had trouble with milk supply and latching, too. Eventually the constant pressure to continue when breastfeeding wasn’t working affected her wellbeing. “My husband eventually said, ‘You can stop’ and he was so right. I was running myself ragged trying to get it to work and really, in the end, feeding your baby nutritionally balanced food is all that matters.”

It’s important that you talk with your lactation consultant, since some women are able to resume breastfeeding even after having these issue or conditions.

Formula is a great option, too

8 / 11 Formula is a great option, too

So, even if you began your motherhood journey with the intention of breastfeeding, don’t beat yourself up if you need to switch to formula. Formula contains a mixture of proteins, sugars, fats and vitamins that are essential for your baby’s health. No matter how your child is fed, the most important thing is that they are getting enough to eat.

Another formula bonus? You’ll be able to lean on others to help with feedings. “Adding formula helped my child get enough to eat, stay awake for feedings and gain weight back,” says Anna Dubose, 30 who gave birth around 20 months ago. “It also gave my husband the chance to help with mornings feedings, so I could get some rest.”

Dubose had trouble producing milk, which is what led her switch to formula. “It was not my original plan, but it worked for us. Women need to be reminded that they will do the right thing because they know their baby the best.”

And even though Jennifer Jovcevski, 32, of Rochester, New York, who gave birth five months ago was able to breastfeed, she adds that she wants moms to know that if you physically cannot breastfeed or you find yourself constantly upset and not enjoying time with your newborn, formula is a great option.

Breastfeeding and traveling takes a lot of planning

9 / 11 Breastfeeding and traveling takes a lot of planning

Before baby, vacations didn’t involving packing up a diaper bag, stroller, car seat, pumping gear, your own suitcases and oh, your newborn! Once you begin breastfeeding or pumping, your life is likely to feel chaotic when heading out of town.

Ketchen, who travels to see family and friends often, asks herself the following questions before leaving the house:

  • Do I have nursing blanket so as to not offend anyone when I breastfeed in a public place?
  • Can I get the window seat on the plane so I have an extra 3 inches of space on my left or right?
  • Did I remember my pump parts and backup parts? Do I have an electrical cord and a car charger with me?
  • Is there a refrigerator in the hotel room? And if not, will the front desk keep my milk cold without giving me weird looks?
  • Is Transportation Security Administration (TSA) going to give me a hard time again for the ice packs not being frozen enough? (Pro tip: you can print out the TSA policy and bring it with you on each trip.)
Pumping at work may pose some logistical problems

10 / 11 Pumping at work may pose some logistical problems

The logistics of pumping at work can be tricky, too.

“When I started pumping at work, it was a circus,” describes Carrigan, a high school teacher. “An IT man walked in on me the first week back, my students constantly came in to get something they forgot, all while I was hiding in the corner of my classroom during planning period.”

Try these tips to stay organized while pumping:

  • Keep nursing necessities in your bag at all times.
  • Wash and pack pumping supplies the night before.
  • Schedule your pumping time as a meeting on your calendar.
  • Stash extra nursing supplies in the car.

But remember to be flexible, as plans with a newborn often change by the minute. Stay calm and recruit someone to help you when you need it.

While rewarding, it’s going to be a lot of work

11 / 11 While rewarding, it’s going to be a lot of work

Although amazing for your child and rewarding for mom, breastfeeding is hard work—especially if you have trouble producing enough milk.

Hall, who had a premature little one, had her husband and mom help to manually express her milk, just to have enough for her baby. “I was pumping every two to three hours while I was tired, recovering from a C-section and struggling with a premature baby. But now I have two freezers full of breastmilk—enough for months!”

Jovcevski had trouble producing enough milk at first, too, which led her to nurse around the clock. “I breastfed my baby, then I pumped, then I rested for half an hour until I was back at it again. I did this 24/7 for weeks and it was so frustrating, because when I pumped, my milk barely covered the bottom of the bottle.”

If you can, nursing may be an enriching experience for you and your baby. Every mom-baby duo is unique, so your breastfeeding challenges and successes may differ from another mother. It can even be different from one child to the next.

As you embrace life as a new mom (whether breastfeeding or not), reach out to other mothers, family members and friends. Talk to your pediatrician, OBGYN or lactation consultant if you’re having trouble or feeling upset. Knowing that your support team is with you can make all the difference.

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