There are a ton of benefits to breastfeeding your baby. Benefits for them, benefits for you and benefits for the planet (and you can read about them all here>>).
But if it was all easy peasy everyone would be doing it and the formula makers would be out of business.
So what gives? What is it really like to be a modern breastfeeding mommy?
In this post, I’ll share what breastfeeding feels like for mommy – both what having a little human suck your nipple feels like and the emotional side of hormones etc.
I’ll also explain what life is like when breastfeeding is happening in the household – both the crazy early days and then later on when you’re well established.
And it’s a warts-and-all post – I’m sugar-coating nothing so you have all the information you need to figure out how to feed your baby.
Not medical advice: I’m not a medical professional and nothing in this post or on this site should be taken as medical advice. If you need medical advice, please seek it from your doctor.
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What is it really like to breastfeed a baby?
This post is based on my own experience of breastfeeding three babies and on conversations with other breastfeeding moms. You’re not me and my boobs are not your boobs and my baby is not your baby – so things might be different for you. I figure if you’re new to breastfeeding then hearing an experienced nursing mom tell you what it’s like might just be helpful.
Does breastfeeding feel good? Does it hurt? Will you ever sleep again? All these questions and loads more are answered here, so let’s get started.
Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing.
It’s a bonding experience like no other and incredibly rewarding. I whole-heartedly recommend that you give it your best shot.
I want to say that right away because some of the other realities of breastfeeding that I’m about to write are less cuddly and delicious.
Breastfeeding’s NOT super easy for everyone. It IS worth it if you can make it through to the good bit.
And if this post feels a little negative in places, stick with me! There’s good stuff coming I promise.
What does breastfeeding feel like?
OK, no messing around – let’s get straight into it. A baby suckling your breast is a whole new feeling – so what does breastfeeding actually feel like?
When you think about suction, you might imagine drinking a soft drink through a straw or using your vacuum cleaner. Is THAT what breastfeeding feels like? Not really. Well, there’s definitely plenty of suction but breastfeeding is a different kind of sucking.
It’s not like your baby is drinking your milk through a straw because when you suck a drink through a straw your lips and cheeks do most of the work and your mouth makes a small, narrow shape around the straw.
What baby’s sucking is like for mom
Your nipple isn’t like a straw with milk flowing out of it. Nipples are more like flesh sponges that your baby expresses milk from by pressing on the milk ducts round about. To do that, your baby doesn’t just suck your nipple, they suck your breast. So they actually have to have a big, wide open mouth to nurse effectively, not narrow or pinched at all.
And it doesn’t feel like a vacuum hose suckered onto your breast either because a baby doesn’t just suck, they take a huge mouthful of your breast into their little mouth and use their tongue to massage it and encourage the milk to flow.
All while sucking like crazy!
Your baby will take in so much breast that your nipple should end up at the back of their mouth, behind the hard palate. And if it doesn’t make it all the way back there, you might need to work on your latch because boy, is that going to cause some sore nipples. You can read all our latching tips here.
So, all of this means that breastfeeding feels like very strong suction combined with a gentle massage. Sometimes, it kind of tickles. It’s at its most intense when you latch your baby on to begin feeding.
What does latching a baby on feel like?
If you’ve never breastfed before, you’re probably wondering how it will feel to latch your new baby on for the first time.
Maybe you’re even terrified of your poor nipple going into that mouth like you’re feeding it to a snapper turtle!
But seriously, getting a great latch is super important because if your latch is poor, your nipples will suffer and sore nipples are the worst.
Latching is an experience in itself because the suction is especially strong at the beginning of a feed. That’s because your baby has to take your ‘resting’ nipple (which might be quite flat) and pull it up into a tall nipple shape AND also stimulate your let down.
To latch, your baby comes to your breast, mouth wide open, and quickly grabs hold, taking a big mouthful of breast as they do so. Almost immediately, they’ll be sucking HARD and breast flesh is delicate so you’re going to know what’s happening.
Those first couple of minutes of breastfeeding can feel INTENSE – even when everything is going well. Not that it’ll hurt, as such, but baby will be sucking very hard and you’ll probably be very aware of it for those minutes until the let down comes and they relax a little. If you have sore nipples, it will hurt. (More about that below.)
Does breastfeeding feel good?
Once the feed is under way, you’ll be less aware of your baby sucking away. You’ll still feel the suction like a pulling, tightening sensation – sometimes quite intensely, sometimes deep in your breast far away from your nipples. You might feel the fluttering of your baby’s tongue too, as it works to extract the milk but that’s just a gentle, tickling feeling. Does breastfeeding feel good? That’s kind of a personal thing – lots of moms love it!
Honestly, I am never able to forget what she’s doing down there but it’s not front and centre in my mind at all. You’ll be able to relax completely and watch TV or make a call or write a list of tasks to do later. Some mommies even master breastfeeding in a baby carrier so they can do it on the go.
Does breastfeeding hurt?
You might have heard that some breastfeeding moms find the whole experience so agonising that they quit and switch to formula.
So does breastfeeding hurt? Day to day, when breastfeeding is going well, it shouldn’t hurt.
You might feel intense suction even quite deep in your breast but there shouldn’t be any pain. If there is, something’s wrong and you should seek help.
Nursing might hurt to begin with
Nipples that aren’t yet used to breastfeeding get sore fast. This is why you have to try your best to get latching on right from the start. Between your inexperience and baby’s, there’s a lot of learning to do and if your latch is poor that will cause friction on your nipples – and pain.
Even if your latch is good, nursing could still hurt to begin with because your nipples aren’t used to it and it’s a lot of friction on in inexperienced nipple.
I promised no sugar-coating so I have to tell you that the early nipple soreness can be REALLY sore. Stinging-like-you’ve-grazed-it sore. I dreaded latching on in those early weeks – but with some help from a lactation consultant I fixed my latch and it got way better.
And this nipple shield was my best friend in the meantime.
See a lactation consultant if breastfeeding hurts
Maybe you need to work on your latch and that’s definitely something your lactation consultant can help with – but they can also check if there’s a deeper problem.
You also might be finding breastfeeding painful because your baby has tongue tie and can’t latch deeply enough, however hard you try. And if you are in pain a ways into your journey, get checked out in case you have thrush or mastitis.
What is life like as a breastfeeding mom?
So we’ve covered what nursing feels like but what if we get past the breasts themselves and think about what your life might be like if you breastfeed? It’s going to be different from your pre-baby life, that’s for sure, but how is being a new breastfeeding mom different from being a new mom? Does nursing make a real difference to your lifestyle?
What is it really like to breastfeed a newborn?
Breastfeeding a newborn is a wild ride. Starting when you’ve just given birth and aren’t at your most rested and continuing for who knows how long – until you put your baby into a routine or they fall into one on their own. (That second option does not happen fast, in may cases.)
New baby routine (or no routine at all)
A lot of newborns sleep a LOT – but they are born on a 24 / 7 lifestyle. They are born with no idea that night time is a thing and mommy might like to sleep and maybe they should too. They also have teeny tiny stomachs that empty fast so you can expect to be feeding throughout the day and night at intervals of 2-3 hours if you’re lucky. There might be days when you feel like your baby is no sooner done nursing than they are wanting to nurse again.
Formula fed babies also feed during the night and frequently during the day so that’s not going to disappear if you don’t breastfeed. Being a new mom is basically hard, relentless work and you are going to be tired and sleep deprived however you decide to feed your little one.
How will you be feeling as a new nursing mom?
After your baby arrives, you might find some pretty big emotions going on. I wrote about emotions in pregnancy here but it might still be a pretty big deal for you once your baby arrives.
Being tired doesn’t help and neither does the whole relentlessness of taking care of a newborn. You might cry a lot and feel upset and grumpy with yourself, your family and your partner. It can be a tough time emotionally.
If you find you’re crying all the time and feeling hopeless, see your provider in case you have Postpartum Depression. This awesome society has lots of resources to help new moms and their families with PPD.
Tiredness & sleep deprivation
Have you heard that your hormones help you get up through the night and keep going all day too?
Well, don’t expect miracles! Sure, hormones help a bit but getting up repeatedly in the night, every night takes its toll on anyone and you don’t really have any choice about it. The baby needs to feed and in the morning, life has to happen for the rest of the family too. You’re going to feel tired and probably cranky.
A supportive partner can make a big difference here – letting you stay in bed if it turns out that baby’s biggest sleep of the day is from 5am to 8am.
But there’s also loneliness. Again, this applies to formula feeding too, at least in part, but the truth is that it can be pretty lonely taking care of a baby after all the initial excitement of their arrival has died down. You’re living your 24/7 life, possibly sleeping at weird times and being ruled by a tiny human who doesn’t understand your basic need to get up and stop nursing now and again. Or be with other adult humans from time to time. Or even just wash.
This is multiplied if you ARE breastfeeding because when you’re feeding on demand your baby is gonna demand exactly when you wish they wouldn’t. Like while you’re out in public even though you haven’t got confident nursing publicly yet. Or when you’re due to meet a friend and you’re all ready to go – but baby is hungry again and you end up cancelling.
As a new mom, you have to make grown-up time happen or it won’t and you’ll be climbing the walls wishing for someone to talk to. For me, the best way was to get people to come to me. Then I could nurse in my own space and I didn’t have to go through the nightmare of getting out the door with a new baby.
Beautiful and snuggly
After saying that the early days of breastfeeding are hard going and exhausting and maybe even painful, I have to step back and say that it’s also the most beautiful experience when it goes well.
As a nursing mom, you also get to watch your baby grow and thrive on your milk. ‘I did that,’ you’ll feel as the weeks pass and they get bigger and bigger.
When you sit, baby in your arms, nursing and inhaling every moment with your precious baby, it is just as heart-meltingly perfect as you hoped it would be.
If you have older kids too and you’re not free to nurse all day while watching your favourite box set, check out this post for ideas on taming the baby plus toddler mayhem.
What is it like to breastfeed when it’s well established?
Let’s talk about the good bit!
So most of that was all about breastfeeding in the early days – when everything is new and a little awkward still. But time passes fast with a baby – what’s breastfeeding like a few months in?
SO MUCH EASIER.
This is the stuff people talk about when they tell you how ‘easy’ breastfeeding is.
Painless, a little less frequent nursing
Later in the exclusive breastfeeding period (say month four but it’ll probably be sooner) everything gets easier. You’ll start to see more of a pattern to your days and nights and you shouldn’t be feeling any pain any more. If you are, go get help – you’re worth that.
Sometimes, a growth spurt or development leap comes along and throws your little routine out the window (the 4 month sleep regression is bad for this) – and ruins mommy’s sleep all over again. But these usually pass and let you find your way back to at least a vague schedule. If you’d like a clear baby schedule instead of a vague one, check out this post right here.
This is when you start to enjoy the convenience that people love to talk about. No preparing bottles for you – unless you’re back at work and pumping, then there will be bottles to wash. Just latch on wherever and whenever – you’ll hardly think about it.
You’ll have figured out nursing in public so getting out will be easier and will be happening more often – yey social life!
And your up again / down again early milk supply will have levelled out and should be working great with your baby’s feeding habits.
This is the good bit. Sure, you still have to nurse at night and keep a burp cloth with you at all times but you should be more human and less zombie by month 3 or 4.
Some of this sounds pretty tough. Is breastfeeding worth it?
I know. It does sound a bit crappy in places, doesn’t it? But I said this would be a no-sugar-coating post. I don’t think it’s helpful to tell you that breastfeeding is easy when it isn’t for lots of moms.
For lots of moms breastfeeding IS easy and I sincerely hope you will be one of them.
But it can be hard emotionally and physically – worrying about your milk supply or doubting yourself because you can’t get past nipple pain – maybe even feeling frustrated that this ‘natural’ act is just not coming naturally to you.
For some women, it’s just not for them. For others, the early nipple pain or supply issues just prove too much.
I want to tell you that if you try breastfeeding and run into problems, getting help can make all the difference. A good lactation consultant got me through painful times with two of my babies because she could see what I was missing.
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