Breastfeeding 101

By Kelly

I was in the zone this morning.

Reading blogs and perusing my local newspaper online, I happened to look down at my four-month-old baby, happily nursing himself to sleep for his morning nap.

And I got such a big burst of joy, I thought my heart would explode.

I love breastfeeding. I love the closeness, the ease, the sweetness, the simplicity. It amazes me that my body can nourish my child. It makes me worship, to be honest.

But I’ll also be honest and say: It isn’t always this perfect.

Kieran is my fourth baby. I’ve nursed all of my children until they were at least one year old. The girls breastfed until they were almost two. (Which means I’ve been pregnant or nursing almost continuously since the year 2000. Good golly, Miss Molly. No wonder this body is tired.)

I feel like I’ve learned a lot along the way about breastfeeding. Permit me today to share a few of my hard-won lessons.

nursingphoto by Stephanie Precourt

Breastfeeding hurts at the beginning.

This is probably the most controversial point I have to make, because many lactation consultants insist breastfeeding should not hurt if it’s done correctly.

I beg to differ.

Maybe it’s because my babies have vigorous sucking reflexes. Maybe it’s my genetic make-up. Maybe I’m just a freak. All I know is, the first few weeks of breastfeeding are about as painful as giving birth itself. This is due to the presence of large, open sores that develop about day three and don’t heal until about week three. I get these despite the baby having a perfect latch. (Trust me on this one. I had two lactation consultants and three nurses check Kieran’s latch in May before we left the hospital, and I still had scabs in places where the son don’t shine.)

My best tip for this is to get some gel pads from the hospital – the kind often used on burn victims. They are blissfully cool on traumatized, and they will help your skin heal without scabbing (much). Lanolin and expressed breastmilk are also wonderful healing agents.

It does get better.

If you can persevere through those first few weeks of torture, you will get a gold medal and a million dollars.

Well, not really. But it will get better. Your toes won’t curl each time the baby latches on, you won’t break out in a cold sweat for the first 90 seconds of each nursing session. Somewhere along the way, it will become natural and easy and ohmyword I really love this.

Watch for lumps that are tender to the touch.

This seems obvious, but the first few weeks and months of breastfeeding can be so hectic, I think it’s good to state the obvious: If you feel a sore lump in one of your breasts, get thee to the shower and run some warm water on it while doing a gentle massage. And then nurse that baby as often as you can from the affected side.

The goal is to avoid the nemesis of breastfeeding mothers everywhere, the Mastitis Monster. I’ve had mastitis twice, and it is horrible. I shook so violently because of the fever, I was afraid newborn Teyla was going to have shaken baby syndrome. Twenty-four hours of antibiotics later, I was fine. But it was a miserable few days. Don’t mess around with a sore lump.

Letdown hurts.

At least for me.


Invest in a good nursing bra.

I wish someone had told me this years ago. I don’t normally spend a lot of money on underwear because, well, it’s underwear. But a nursing bra isn’t just underwear. It’s your companion, your advisor, your support. Wearing a bra that fits well and is easy to manage is a boon to you and your hungry baby.

Besides, you’re not really saving money if you have to buy six nursing bras over the course of a year because they are so cheap they trash easily. Trust me. I know.

Nursing pads can save you a lot of embarrassment.

Maybe it’s just because I have a bovine gene, but I do not leave the house without a nursing pad the first few months after having a baby. They are important if you want to avoid obvious golf-ball sized wet marks on your chest.

In fact, you might want to wear a pair of nursing pads anytime you’ll be away from your baby for a while. I will never forget a Sunday when my oldest was about 10 months old. We went to church and Sunday school and then my Mom’s for dinner in a whirlwind. It was a great lunch; a fellow teacher at the high school where I worked (a single male, it should be noted) was joining us that day, and he regaled us with stories for hours. It wasn’t until he got up to leave and I heard Natalie getting up from her nap that I realized the front of my (silk) shirt was dripping – literally – with milk.

I am Mommy. Hear me moo.

Don’t feel guilty if you can’t make it work.

I love breastfeeding. But I have many friends – many – who have tried and tried and sacrificed and prayed and tried to breastfeed their babies. And for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work. Maybe their milk supply is too low. Maybe the baby is always fussy and takes forever to nurse. Maybe they get repeated infections.

Whatever it is, I get it. I know they’ve tried. It’s OK. I don’t want them to beat themselves up for making a decision that is best for them and their baby.

Yet they still feel judged and guilty because they didn’t breastfeed their children.

Here’s where I say: That is crazy. Yes, breast is best. But we need to give our fellow Moms some grace here, especially if nursing is (mostly) easy for us. We are not all the same. Show compassion. Extend grace.

Enjoy your baby.

These days of nursing are quickly over, even if you practice extended breastfeeding. Having to stop multiple times each day to nurse a little one can be frustrating or tedious or even boring.

But it isn’t, really. It’s a chance to snuggle and savor that tiny person who just entered your life, to look into their eyes and see eternity. It is special and oh so sweet. Savor every second that you can.

OK fellow breastfeeding Moms. Chime in. What breastfeeding lessons can you pass on? Here’s your chance to share your wisdom.

Kelly blogs and nurses — often, at the same time — at Love Well.

28 Responses to Breastfeeding 101
  1. Stephanie
    September 22, 2010 | 12:38 am

    Kelly, this is so good. So true!

    I do agree with you about it hurting in the beginning- yes I think that some pain CAN be due to latch issues early on which can be fixed with the aid of a lactation consultant, but also, the soreness and cracking alone is something that you just have to get used to at first. And it’s been something I’ve dealt with every time in the beginning(4 times).

    Also, it might “get better” within the first week, or it could take until the first month or first 6 months!! You can choose what is worth it to you to keep at it. For me, I’m in it for the long haul.

    One thing that I must add is that you might have to change up your diet in order to help your baby feel better/ nurse better.

    It’s SO tempting to try to do everything else BUT inconvenience yourself in having to avoid certain foods, but it could make a huge difference. I wanted to keep nursing Gray even after finding out he had some major food allergies. So, for 2.5 years I cut out those foods from my own diet (dairy, eggs, nuts) so that he could nurse and be healthy. It was worth it to me!

    And you’ll probably hear it a lot, but dairy is a great 1st thing to eliminate from your diet if your baby shows signs of tummy trouble, sleep issues, ear infections, extreme reflux/spit up, etc. Trying it for a week or two might show a difference!

    If you do need to cut out dairy, I found this site: SO helpful in showing me which everyday foods and snacks were dairy-free!


  2. Jen
    September 22, 2010 | 9:59 am

    I’ve enjoyed nursing all 3 of my kids and I’m currently nursing my 3rd who is 10 months and I’m still loving it despite his 6 teeth! I hope to keep it up to one year then slowly wean him.

    With my 2nd and 3rd kiddos, nursing worked great…until we got thrush (once at 6 months, once at 3 months). Cracked, bleeding, terribly painful…really makes you want to quit (and I did with my 2nd). So even though nursing can be great for months and you feel like you know what you are doing, you can still have problems later on.

    I think the section about not feeling guilty is so important! Too many nursing moms make non-nursing moms feel bad, but I don’t know a single mom who isn’t doing what is best for their own family. No one else has the right to judge what you are doing with your body and your baby.

    I know I need to enjoy this closeness with my baby more…thanks for the reminder!

  3. Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths
    September 22, 2010 | 11:33 am

    Came across your post from Twitter.
    Well done! Am going to share 🙂

  4. gretchen from lifenut
    September 22, 2010 | 2:16 pm

    Excellent post with spot-on information.

    Letdown is really painful for me, too. I loathe the sensation, actually, but it’s all good once little guy is latched on. It’s funny what sets off the letdown trigger, too. If I sneeze many times in a row, here’s comes a giant avalanche of milk! So amazing (and weird) how we are wired.

  5. CH-Proud Mama
    September 23, 2010 | 10:45 pm

    I don’t mean to brag but I don’t remember my early breastfeeding days. All I know is he latched on with no problem but when he latched on it was painful.
    I just hope when we decide to have baby number two, it will be the same way.
    The lesson I learned is to use that Lansinoh Breast Cream two to three months before having the baby. It really makes a difference. It prevents dry, cracked nipples.

  6. Barbara Manatee
    September 24, 2010 | 10:38 pm

    I nursed all 3 of my kids and loved it. I had preemie twins and was determined to make it work. Our first 6 weeks were ROUGH though – they had trouble latching on and staying awake to nurse and they were low weights so we had to give them bottles to supplement anyways…hard to make it work. But we made it!! And the best advice EVER given to me was to tell myself “One more day. I can do this ONE MORE DAY…and if its still too hard tomorrow, its ok to quit.” and each day, I told myself that again…and next thing I knew, I’d made it a week, and another week, and a month…and then 2 months…and then it was easy!!

    My son (twin A) nursed for 8 months and he weaned himself – he wanted a bottle more than me so I just continued to pump (I was always pumping…long story) so he still got breast milk. My daughter (twin B) nursed till about 13 months. They both also took bottles and did have formula too (I just couldn’t pump enough once I went back to work) but I was so glad to have done as much as we did!

    I actually wrote a post about my last nursing session with my daughter (

    With my 3rd son, I nursed exclusively for 6 months (he did get bottles when I went back to work but it was all breast milk!). Then he nursed until he was 15-16 months old.

    I will say, I do remember a day when the twins were about 5-6 weeks old and I was at the end of my rope – it wasn’t working out well and I wanted to stop so badly but felt SO guilty about doing so. I remember crying ALL day long about the decision. My husband had a coworker who had twins and his wife had tried to nurse and it didn’t work out. My husband suggested calling her and hearing from another mom to it WAS OK to stop. I kept getting advice and encouragement from lots of moms cheering me on…but no one had said “Its ok if it doesn’t work out.” I had her number dialed about 3 times but never made the call…and while I realize now that it WOULD have been OK, I’m glad I gave it “one more day.”

  7. CH-Proud Mama
    September 25, 2010 | 9:28 pm

    Barbara, that is remarkable breastfeeding your children for so long. You go girl!

  8. Krista
    September 26, 2010 | 3:10 am

    Pretty much just amen and amen! 🙂 Yeah, it hurt like crazy for the first couple of weeks (not to mention the whole uterus cramps thing) and thankfully I learned with this one to start applying the lansinoh after he nursed every single time rather than wait until the sores started… I still got some, but not nearly as bad as with my first!
    The only thing that’s different for me is thankfully let down doesn’t really hurt, just feels really weird!
    Oh, and I’m really worried if I have more I will have to wear nursing pads the entire time I’m nursing! First baby 2 months and it was under control, this baby 6 months and I still have to wear them on one side. (how weird is that?) Next baby… yikes! 🙂

  9. Carrie
    September 26, 2010 | 10:48 pm

    I am nursing my 2nd child, a daughter this time, and I had difficulties nursing my son – he wouldn’t latch for about 6 weeks, but then he latched on and nursed the rest of the year – my daughter has had no difficulties until these last few weeks – about 3 weeks ago one of her teeth (she has SIX at 9 months old) opened up a sore on my left side, and then it healed after about 4 or 5 days of using Orajel on my breast before nursing on that side, and applying the Lansinoh cream afterwards, but now it’s opened up again, and it really hurts – so I appreciate the reminder that this will pass! I never had this problem with my son, though, and he had lots of teeth, too! Any tips would be appreciated!

    Thanks for this post – really loved the tips and wow – Kudos to commenter Barbara for hanging in there!!!

  10. Stephanie
    September 29, 2010 | 1:57 am

    These are great tips, Kelly! I agree about breastfeeding being painful in the beginning. It was the same for both my girls. It hurt like crazy for the first 2-3 weeks (despite a “perfect latch”)…and then it was wonderful.

    I also agree about the importance of good nursing bras (Bravado and Melinda G are my two favorite brands!).

    It’s also nice to have at least 1 nice nursing gown to sleep in (I recommend the Anytime Nursing Gown by Bella Materna).

  11. Jennifer
    October 5, 2010 | 12:39 am

    Soooo true.
    It hurts in that “kick the side of the bed” kind of hurt.
    But it’s the best hurt ever. I’m having a hard time weaning #3 because it’s just so special. (Had to wean 1 and 2 b/c I was pregnant with the next one =)
    ~Fellow Mama Moo (could feed Africa and would if they’d let me, but they won’t take my milk because I take an antidepressant)

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