afraid to breastfeed? you’re not alone!
top ten breastfeeding fears and advice to get you latched on
So you think you want to breastfeed. You’ve read up on all the health and bonding reasons to do it (see Why Breast Is Best) and who will pat you on the back for it (the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, your mother-in-law, your baby). You’ve researched industrial pumps, nipple pads, and stomach-concealing nursing tanks. But, um, you’re scared. Never fear. So were zillions of moms before you. Here are some common fears—and some soothing advice.
- It won’t work. There are so many things to worry about in your third trimester! The fear that breastfeeding won’t work is high on many mental lists. Maybe the baby won’t latch on well. Maybe you won’t produce enough milk. Here’s the thing: there are lactation consultants both in the hospital and out to help with that latch. And you will know if your baby is getting enough because she will gain weight. If she’s not bulking up, you’ll know to seek help regarding your milk production. Help is widely available! Reach out early and often.
- It will hurt. Breastfeeding experts say when done right, nursing should not hurt. But there are—to be honest—a few exceptions. When your milk first comes in and you’re engorged, that can be uncomfortable. And the first few days and even weeks as your nipples get used to your baby and your baby gets used to your nipples, things can be raw and painful. But as you and your baby figure out positioning and your nipples get used to being sucked on, the discomfort goes away. It might even feel good; some moms say breastfeeding hormones leave them blissed out. There are other things that can hurt over the period of time when you’re breastfeeding—a plugged duct, or a biting toddler—but these are short-lived discomforts that can be fixed.
- I’ll feel stuck. Join the club. Yes, there will be moments when you feel like an on-demand cow, ball-and-chained to your baby. Surely you also had similar moments during your pregnancy. Welcome to parenting! When the baby refuses a bottle and only wants you, you won’t be the first mom to have a (mental) tantrum, and feel like you will never ever be able to do anything like travel, see a movie, move ahead at work, ever again. But guess what? This too shall pass! Soon enough your baby will wean. And by then chances are you’ll have at least a few moments when you actually wish you were stuck back in babydom. If you’re feeling truly miserable, reach out to other breastfeeding moms and/or a professional. There is always help, including support for if you feel you need to quit breastfeeding.
- People will see my breasts. You’ve spent your whole life covering your breasts in public. Now suddenly they’re out—no wonder you’re feeling exposed! Will someone find it gross? Will someone object? There is an entire industry of breastfeeding coverups made to help modest moms. Sometimes they work, but sometimes they’re awkward, draw more attention to you (hello, hot pink cover!), and mainly make mom and baby hot. Once you’ve been at it for a while, you’ll know that if you angle the baby right, no one will see a thing. Truly. Depending on the size of your breasts and what you’re wearing, babies tend to cover up any actual view, especially of nipples. If someone sees, oh well. If it bothers them, oh well. The baby is hungry and chances are your breasts are feeling pretty full. It’s as natural as it gets. Even the Pope says moms should feel welcome to breastfeed in the Sistine Chapel. So try to let go of this fear. It gets easier with time.
- My milk will leak. It might! And that’s ok. In the early weeks and months as your breasts are getting used to making the amount of milk your baby needs, things can get a little leaky. Factor in going back to work and setting up a pumping schedule, which can be hard to stick to if you’re in the middle of something. And leaks can happen—even through your nipple pads, even in meetings! You can grab a bottle of water and pretend you spilled (you wouldn’t be the first one to try that!), or you can make a joke, or you can not mention it. Whatever makes you comfortable. How many times have you seen your friends, family, and colleagues with sweat marks, tomato-sauce-on-tie post-lunch, or with a seed between their teeth? No one is perfect. What your body is doing is nothing short of amazing. Parenting helps us all be a little less self conscious; we need to let go of various social anxieties for the supermarket tantrums, the embarrassing stuff our kids share about us, and for the teen years. So if you leak, try to be Zen about it. Oh and: wear dark colors.
- It will make me sick. Breastfeeding can make you sick, but so can living every day—riding the bus, going to work, hosting playgroup. If we didn’t live life because it might make us sick, when would we ever leave our homes? There are a number of uncomfortable experiences that can happen in a breastfeeding relationship: you (and/or the baby) could get thrush. You could also get a plugged milk duct (ouch) that leads to mastitis (even ouchier). There are doctors and lactation consultants waiting to help you in the event of either. The good news? You will get through any breastfeeding-related illness and you will get better.
- I will get sick and won’t be able to get better because medicine can’t be in breastmilk. A legit fear, for sure. There are many medications that should not be used when breastfeeding, but there are others that have been studied and are ok. Whether you have a toothache, an ear infection, seasonal allergies, a headache, depression, or something more serious, discuss with your doctors to find the appropriate solution. You won’t have to suffer just because you’re breastfeeding. In the event that you have to stop breastfeeding in order to take a specific medication to protect your own health, that’s ok, too. You will still have given your baby the gift of breastmilk for whatever time you were able to.
- My breasts will never be mine again. They will! When you decide it is time to stop breastfeeding or your baby decides to wean, they will return to you. Now, let’s talk about sex. Your milky breasts aren’t going to make or break your sex life! One could argue that getting interrupted constantly by a needy baby is far more disruptive. Sex evolves during breastfeeding, just as it evolved during pregnancy. If your breasts have always played a big role in your sex life, breastfeeding can potentially be tricky; some women say they don’t want their breasts touched, by anyone other than the baby, during this phase. How you feel will be unique to you. If you have very sensitive nipples and are worried about breastfeeding because it could feel sexual, it may be helpful to know that the majority of women say the sucking and tugging a baby does feels totally different from anything else. Breastfeeding can release awesome feel good hormones, but it’s not sexual.
- My breasts will look different. Yes, they probably will, but they’re just two of a lot of things that change when you become a mother! Maybe you already noticed that your nipples darkened during pregnancy, and (whoa!) your breasts grew. During breastfeeding they will grow even more, when your milk comes in, and then settle down somewhat when you’re nursing exclusively. When solids start they may go down a little in size. When you wean, they will likely feel depleted. Given what they have been through, your breasts may look somewhat different, as does your body post-baby. Some women say elasticity returns over time. Some don’t. If you’re mourning the loss of your former perky self, think about the amazing service you provided. Round of applause for your breasts!
- I won’t want to stop. Oh the coos of a nursing newborn. The gulps and gurgles. The warm smell of that fuzzy head snuggled in. As frustrating and up and down as a nursing relationship can sometimes be, it can be equally hard to give it up. Moms of self-weaning babies report such sadness. Moms who wean their babies—even if they feel ready—inevitably experience loss. These babies grew inside us, ate from us, and weaning feels like the cutting of the last direct cord. Nurse for as long as you feel good nursing. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests breastfeeding for one year “or longer as mutually desired”. And know that these relationships last well beyond nursing. You have much to offer your baby beyond milk!