Breastfeeding Tips: What No One Tells You

Breastfeeding can be a special bonding experience for a mother and child and has been linked to a host of health benefits. For the child, this can include better cognitive development, a lower risk of obesity and improved immunity. For the mother, this can include improved recovery from childbirth and a reduced risk for postpartum depression.

But just because breastfeeding is healthy doesn’t mean it’s simple. Here are some things to know to help breastfeeding go more smoothly.

[Read: Postpartum Fitness Tips.]

Pros of Breastfeeding

There are many benefits to breastfeeding, including:

— Promoting a healthy weight for babies

— Providing babies with antibodies to fight illnesses

— Decreased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS

— Decreased rates of chronic illnesses for both mom and baby, including Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases

— Serving as a bonding time

Cons of Breastfeeding

Although breastfeeding has plenty of amazing benefits, there also are potential downsides for the mom, including:

— The time commitment involved

— The chance of uncomfortable breast engorgement (a painful swelling of the breasts), nipple pain and mastitis (an infection of the breast tissue that can be caused by a blocked milk duct). Engorgement and nipple pain are common with breastfeeding, but mastitis can be serious if left untreated.

— A feeling of isolation because of the frequency of nursing and the extra work associated with breastfeeding or pumping

[Related:What to Know About Postpartum Psychosis]

7 Things No One Tells You About Breastfeeding

You may hear a lot about breastfeeding before you have a baby, but there are always some things about the experience that will come as a surprise. Here are seven things that no one tells you in advance about breastfeeding, to help you better prepare:

1. Your baby will not likely latch on right away.

“All too often when I’m teaching new moms how to breastfeed, (latching on easily) is their expectation,” says Jessica Small, a Salt Lake City-based labor and delivery nurse and lactation consultant and founder of the blog “Baby is learning just like you, so having patience and taking the time to learn a proper latch is key to your success.”

2. You may have some cramping or vaginal spotting while nursing.

You also may experience vaginal dryness due to hormonal changes. If needed, ask your OB-GYN for a lubricant to help with any discomfort.

3. Don’t expect breastfeeding to be your only form of birth control.

Although breastfeeding can prevent pregnancy in the first six months, you need to plan for another form of contraception when your periods start again.

“Fertility can return any time after birth, even if a woman is not menstruating regularly,” says Dr. Cielo Gnecco, an OB-GYN with Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Children in Orlando.

For this reason, many health care providers recommend using another form of birth control.

4. Your breasts will leak, sometimes when you least expect it.

Leaking may even occur during sex because of the release of the hormone oxycontin. Have some nursing pads handy so you’re not caught off-guard.

5. If you’re pumping, one size doesn’t fit all.

“There are different size flanges (a plastic part that fits over the nipple) for all shapes and sizes,” says Abrie McCoy, a Fayetteville, North Carolina-based International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and manager of care delivery for SimpiFed, which provides virtual breastfeeding and baby feeding support. “Measuring both nipples frequently to ensure you have the right flange size can make a different in the pumping comfort and output.”

6. Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt.

Although it’s common to have some pain in those first few weeks, talk with a lactation specialist or another trusted health care professional to learn how to minimize or avoid it.

“Certain issues, like sore nipples, engorgement and plugged ducts have pretty straightforward solutions if you promptly address them. You can soothe tired and sore nipples with balm, or relieve pain with heat, massage and showers,” McCoy explains

7. Your milk actually won’t come in until after you leave the hospital.

It takes approximately two or three days for your actual breastmilk to come in; what feeds your baby in the meantime is something called colostrum, which is a thicker, nutrient-rich fluid.

[READ: Checklist for Choosing a Maternity Hospital.]

Breastfeeding Tips

Here is guidance to help you with breastfeeding, from the sometimes challenging part of getting started to how long to breastfeed and how to stop.

How to get started breastfeeding

Have patience with yourself and your baby. Unless you’re a mom who has breastfed before, the process is probably completely new, and there’s a learning curve. Take a deep breath, and keep trying.

Ask for help from those in the know. This may include lactation consultants at the hospital where you have given birth (and may be able to meet with you after you leave the hospital) as well as organizations that provide support. As breastfeeding can be isolating, it’s terrific to have others you can rely on for help. Some health insurance plans may cover the cost of a lactation consultation. You also can ask your pediatrician for breastfeeding help and resources.

Moisturize your nipples frequently to prevent cracking. Small recommends moisturizing with lanolin and breastmilk or colostrum over expensive creams.

Seek help from your health care provider if your breasts are severely engorged or painful, if you have any breast redness or lumps or if you have a fever over 100.2 Fahrenheit.

Take care of yourself. So much of your time and mental energy is spent on your new little bundle of joy, it can be easy to forget about your own needs — but don’t! Eat healthy, rest when you can, drink plenty of water and keep taking your prenatal vitamins. That’s because the ingredients in prenatal vitamins can help with your baby’s brain development and eyesight.

How Long Should You Breastfeed For?

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that infants are breastfed exclusively for their first six months. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend breastfeeding along with other complementary foods until the child is two years of age or longer if desired.

Some women may have to stop breastfeeding due to a return to work or trouble with milk production. While it’s ideal if you can follow these breastfeeding guidelines, your baby can still obtain benefits even from just a couple of weeks or months of breastfeeding.

“Ultimately, the duration of breastfeeding is a personal choice that should be supported and respected by health care providers, family members and society,” Gnecco says. “A day or a couple of weeks are better than none. If you try and you aren’t able to, please don’t be harsh on yourself.”

Stopping Breastfeeding

The key to stopping breastfeeding is to do it gradually. Otherwise, it could cause engorgement of the breasts or the risk of mastitis.

“Your breasts don’t understand just with the thought to stop making breast milk,” Small says. “They are used to creating the supply that your baby has been consuming so unless your body believes your baby needs less, it is just going to continue making breast milk.”

Try to lower the number of times you breastfeed over a few weeks. For example, you can drop a feed every couple of days, Small advises, starting with the feed your baby seems the least interested in.

A few more tips to help with stopping breastfeeding:

— If your breasts are painful, hand express or pump just enough to help them feel more comfortable. Don’t overdo it, which could prompt them to think they should keep making the same amount they’ve been making.

— Work with a lactation consultant as needed to come up with a plan to gradually stop breastfeeding, McCoy recommends.

— Start formula gradually to help your baby develop a taste for it.

How Fathers Can Help With Breastfeeding

Fathers and any other partner not doing the actual breastfeeding can still have a role in supporting the breastfeeding mom. Results from a randomized controlled trial published in 2022 in BMC Health Services Research found that a father’s education about breastfeeding helped with the mother’s breastfeeding practices and the ability to exclusively breastfeed.

Here’s how fathers can make breastfeeding easier:

— Providing encouragement.

— Learning the ins and outs of breastfeeding. With this type of involvement, they can help mom adjust her positioning or latching from a different angle. “My favorite dads are the ones who are just as engaged in my teaching as the breastfeeding mom is,” Small says.

— Providing the mom with a healthy snack or water while nursing.

— Changing the baby’s diaper or getting the baby settled back to bed after nursing.

— Feeding the baby with any breast milk placed in a bottle.

— Washing bottles and breast pump parts or handling other chores to help free up the mom’s time more.

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Breastfeeding Tips: What No One Tells You originally appeared on

Update 06/07/24: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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