When I meet with families, either newly postpartum or prenatal, I like to talk about how to overcome breastfeeding expectations. Not only breastfeeding expectations but also what to expect with those new days as a parent. It’s really quite unfair. Society tells a story of what those early days with a new baby will look like. You’ve seen the pictures. Perfect scenario, happy, well-rested looking families smiling and looking sweetly at the angelic, sleeping baby. But is this reality? Not really. At least, not any reality I have encountered. Families always manage to get it all figured out, but wouldn’t it be better if we knew about these things ahead of time? Read more about how new mothers perceive parenting here – improving breastfeeding support
Expectation- “Your Baby Will Eat At Regular Intervals”
Reality – yes, your baby will eat at regular intervals, but those intervals might change every day. In addition, the intervals may be a lot closer together than you expected. It is not uncommon to have a new family tell me by the time I feed the baby, change a diaper, and then another, then get them settled it’s time to do it all again. It can feel overwhelming. Cluster feeding is also normal, newborn behavior that takes parents by surprise. Cluster feeding is when your “eating at 2-3 hour intervals” baby begins to eat every 20 minutes or so for a span of time. Totally normal and expected for everyone except the new breastfeeding mother. How can you overcome this breastfeeding expectation? The best way to handle this is to follow the baby’s lead. They are the one who knows what they want. Keeping baby close, feeding on demand, and responding to cues is always the best choice. Keep in mind (and remind yourself often) this is usually a newborn baby behavior. Babies tend to move away from this as time goes by.
Expectation – “Babies sleep a lot, you will have time to nap, clean, catch up on household stuff.”
Reality – Yes, babies sleep a lot, but they are also awake every couple of hours to eat. So basically, the downtime is minimal. In addition, newborn babies can be very particular about where they want to sleep. You might be imagining your baby snuggled up in a cozy bassinet. The reality is they may only want to sleep in your arms, where they feel safest. Before the baby is born, parents imagine themselves spending the evenings watching tv, relaxing, catching up with each other while the baby sleeps. I can catch up on my reading and binge watch Netflix while I’m on maternity leave. The truth behind this is you may have very limited time in the early days. The reality is, you will likely find yourself holding a sleeping baby in one arm while you try to eat a lukewarm meal with the other. It will eventually grow more manageable as the baby is sleeping longer stretches and is more comfortable being part of the world. The more secure and safe your baby feels, the better you will feel.
Expectation – “Pump milk for someone else to feed so you can get more sleep.”
Reality – Pumping a bottle is not the answer to getting more rest or getting much of a break. Unless you really enjoy pumping (and let’s be honest, I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys pumping). It is giving you one more thing to do. Who needs more to do? The truth is, if you leave a bottle for someone else to give the baby, you will be missing a feeding which means you have to pump again. This is not necessarily easier in the middle of the night when you really want that bottle to bring you a consistent stretch of sleep. This happens for a couple of reasons; if you leave a bottle, your body is still expecting to feed a baby. Pumping is how you keep your supply going when the baby isn’t feeding at the breast. In addition, if you completely skip that feed (leave a bottle, no pumping) you will find your breasts filled with milk. This makes comfortable sleep virtually impossible. Many new families try to make this work, only to report I still had to get up anyway, so it was faster and easier to just feed the baby. This doesn’t mean you should never leave a bottle for someone else to feed your baby, just have the expectation pumping will replace that feed. Learn more about bonding without a bottle here – Bonding Without a Bottle
Expectation – “Breastfeeding is natural and easy.”
Reality – Yes breastfeeding is natural. However, it is probably one of the hardest things you will do. Even though it is natural for your body to make milk and natural for the baby to breastfeed, both the breastfeeding parent and the baby have to learn how to do it. During pregnancy, many families are preparing for birth, not necessarily for breastfeeding. Many families I talk to do the bare minimum to prepare for breastfeeding. The expectation is breastfeeding will be natural and somewhat simple. The truth is birthing a baby is challenging, and those challenges can make it harder for babies to breastfeed at the start. Sleepy babies, birth trauma, medicated deliveries can rough up your breastfeeding from the get-go. Let’s not forget to mention sleepy parents, lack of support, feeling tired and sore. The important thing to remember is this is all normal stuff, and you and your baby can bounce back and enjoy a successful breastfeeding relationship. Have your support system lined up before the baby comes. You will feel much more confident once your bundle arrives.
Expectation – “You will love breastfeeding.”
Reality – You may not love breastfeeding, especially at first. And that’s OK. Before the baby comes, you may envision yourself breastfeeding, feeling like a badass, and enjoying every minute of nurturing your little one. The truth behind this is you may not feel like that at all. It doesn’t mean you will always feel that way. It just may take you a little longer to get there. This may be one of the most common expectations out there and one of the most disappointing outcomes around. Read some real life advice about this from new parents – The Only Advice For Breastfeeding and Becoming a New Parent
We are failing new parents by not talking about how to overcome breastfeeding expectations. In turn, new families are caught off guard at how overwhelming the newborn period really is. Give yourself some breathing room to figure things out, recover from the birth, and learn all about your new baby.
I remember this from when my babies were born. I have talked to so many new parents through this period as well. Communicate with your partner, call a lactation consultant with any breastfeeding concerns you might have, and cut yourself some slack. You are learning how to overcome breastfeeding expectations and navigating through new territory. That takes time to learn.