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Notes For My Sister On Having A Baby: What To Do When Breastfeeding Is Hard

OH FPC. You know your big sister loves you when she decides to have opinions about breastfeeding and publishes them on the internet. HERE GOES.

Breastfeeding: you should try it. And my reasons are: 

  1. It's free
  2. It's convenient
  3. It has potential to be the most useful baby-soothing tool you have

There are a whole slew of other reasons to breastfeed (most notably: it's the best food for your baby!) but those just happen to be MY top reasons, or, rather, the things that kept me going when it was hard. Which is what the rest of this post is about. Breastfeeding is hard. 

I'm sure it is not hard for SOME people, but I don't know those people. Every single mom friend I have has struggled with some aspect of breastfeeding, even the ones who've had a scandalously easy time of it. I mean, you can be the most pro-breastfeeding, hard core, exclusive, rah rah "lactivist" out there and still get mastitis. So I just wanted to give you a list of things you could do when it's hard, because it's worth it to TRY. 

  • Call me. At the very least I am always good for sympathy. 
  • Have other people to call. I did this with Jack and I was so thankful I did. I'd gone to some bridal shower right before he was born and met a woman who was a doula and lactation consultant. I asked her if I could call her if I ever had problems and I did, MONTHS later. Jack was probably four or five months old and I can't remember the specific problem, but I was worried about it, wondering if this was going to be the end, not sure if I should keep trying, not knowing HOW to try, and she is basically the one who kept me going another few months. The first thing she did was listen, sympathize, and completely validate my experience. The second thing she did was give me practical advice and things to try. Just knowing I had someone on my team, breastfeeding-wise, was incredibly helpful. It is really hard to build your own self up. 
  • Have a professional to call. We had so many problems with Jack at the beginning that we went to see a lactation consultant in her OFFICE. I will give you the number. The nurses at the hospital were nice, but gave me conflicting information, and I still wasn't sure what to do when I got home. Getting a pro to check me out and give me advice was so helpful. Like, it wasn't before I went to see her that I found out babies make a little soft, throaty "kuh!" sound when they swallow - I'd had no idea if Jack was swallowing or not!
  • Visit the Big Baby Box Store. The breastfeeding aisles are PACKED with stuff to help you out. Lansinoh cream is your best friend, and you can leave it on while the baby eats. Nipple shields get a bad rap, but they saved me with Jack (who was so tiny he couldn't quite manage a good latch) and Emma (whose latch was KILLER). There are gel pads you keep in the refrigerator, and though they didn't work for me, they help a lot of other women. 
  • Go to or Ask Moxie, my two favorite feeding-a-baby resources on the internet. Kellymom just has tons of good info and Ask Moxie is packed with real life experiences (and not just about breastfeeding, but EVERYTHING baby- and kid-related.)
  • Pump! I hate pumping. I'm pretty sure no one hates pumping more than me. But in the early days, pumping can be WAY easier than letting the baby eat, plus it boosts your supply, plus it allows someone else to feed the baby, plus IT GIVES YOU A BREAK. 
  • And if pumping is too horrible, try giving Baby FPC a bottle of formula every now and then, or every other feeding (which is what I did with Emma). This has potential to come with a side of guilt (see the end of this post!), but those intermittent bottles of formula allowed me to get to a place (ie: HEAL) where I COULD breastfeed near-exclusively for quite a while. 

Some random things to consider:

  • I know we briefly talked about a breastfeeding class and yes, it does seem strange to do that WITHOUT A BABY, but when I look back I think a breastfeeding class would have been WAY more helpful than a birth class. I didn't even know how to HOLD the baby. I think I could have at least picked that up in a class!
  • Some people have super huge problems with leaking. I didn't! But use those extra pads I gave you, or pick up some Lilypadz - I used those with Jack (the only time I had leaking issues) and they were AWESOME. 
  • It is worth it to buy good nursing bras. GOOD ONES. EXPENSIVE ONES. WORTH IT. The ladies at the U Village maternity store saved my life. 
  • Get some nursing tanks too. I know you, you'll like those.
  • Pain seems to taper off around six weeks. I know that sounds like forever. But it gradually gets better? And then you really do get to a point where it doesn't hurt. I have no idea how that works, but it DOES work, and if you can stick it out for six weeks, you're probably past the worst of it. 
  • If you have low supply, if you don't feel like your baby is eating enough, if she's not gaining enough weight, if THAT'S how breastfeeding is hard: call your people. There are a lot of things you can do. Call them! Don't be afraid! Do it! 
  • If your feet start to ache at night, it might be because you're sitting funny (with your toes pointed, boosting your lap higher) to breastfeed. Or maybe this was just me. 
  • Learning how to feed the baby while lying down in bed is, quite possibly, the best thing you could ever EVER teach yourself to do. 
  • If people around you are not supportive, call the people who are. It's worth it to try and make this work. 

Clearly this is not an exhaustive list. I'm hopeful the comment section will have plenty more tips and tricks and messages of encouragement. These are just the things I'm remembering off the top of my head, on a day where I woke up at 4AM to change a peed-in bed. 

And all that said, FPC, another huge HUUUUGE thing I want to tell you is that it is okay to not breastfeed. It is. It is okay. You are probably thinking, "Um, duh, I know that." But I think that when you HAVE the baby and you have REALLY TRIED to make breastfeeding work and for whatever reason (AND THERE ARE MANY GOOD REASONS) it is just not working, it can feel pretty awful. Mom guilt is like no other (and I know my guilt, right?) So anyway, my next post to you is going to be about Why It Is Okay To Stop (And What To Do Then).





Yes! Buy a good pump, a single if you are only having one baby should be okay. A double if you are having two. ;) You will probably need it at the beginning, to get your supply up, and in case baby has a nursing strike or can't latch well.

Don't be afraid to nurse in public! Although, depending on your part of the world-check out the local laws-some are not quite as permissive as they should be.

The U-shaped breastfeeding pillows are awesome for little babies. Then you can breastfeed, and use one (or two!) hands to hold a magazine to read through the endless hours of breastfeeding, if you aren't near a tv. And if you are sitting up, and happen to fall asleep too, your baby is still supported on the pillow.

I agree with Maggie-if you can make it to 6 weeks, it gets easier. MUCH easier. And past 6 months? It gets easier still. And if you choose to nurse into toddlerhood? Even easier. Don't worry about the's not so bad.

I have a fantastic book called "So Thats What They're For!", see if you can find it in your library, or online for cheap. Best breastfeeding book I've ever read, and funny too.

Ji Campbell

Great Advice, Maggie. What a wonderful sister you are! FBC, Congrats! I nursed all my babies and am still nursing my third one(5 month), but the first few weeks were so hard with each baby no matter what. It is so worth it, though. Oh, make sure you have a good rocking chair with a FOOT REST(That makes a huge difference!!!). It looks like this. I didn't have it until my first son was about 4 months old and hadn't realized why my back and arms were hurting so much. After I used it for a week, I felt so relaxed and baby loved the rocking motion. I strongly recommend it. Every night after bath, I sit on the rocking chair and nurse my baby with Pandora, it is the sweetest time! When I start the music, she knows it is the night time feeding, so somehow she eats longer AND sleeps longer. Good luck!

Amy J

I struggled, oh how I struggled. Low supply, constant pumping (I work full time). 1) Fenugreek. 2) Oatmeal. 3) Yogurt. After that: 1) More Milk Plus (NASTY, but it works). I made it to 14 months. And you can too! But you don't have to!


Yes to the lying down while nursing!!!

I was one of those people who had a pretty easy time of it. There was definitely pain in the beginning, but like Maggie said, it goes away. (I'm not trying to brag; I just thought you might like to hear that).

I liked disposable breat pads in the beginning while my supply got established, and then I loved the Lilypadz.


Kellymom saved my butt SO MANY TIMES.

Get a good nursing bra or four. It made a huge difference in my quality of life.

I never learned to nurse lying down and I survived.

Get a Boppy. Or, similar. Take it to the hospital.

That Medela wooden foot rest they sell? That is super ugly? It is a remarkable angle and quite nice. I liked mine.

Ashley // Our Little Apartment

Six weeks seemed like an ETERNITY when Gabe was a few days old, but by golly, it did get easier!

Great advice. I agree that a breastfeeding class taken WITH MY HUSBAND was one of the best things I did. Getting him on my side was HUGE. When I was crying because it was hard/hurt/whatever - he was there to Google breastfeeding videos with me or talk about what we learned from the class or just SUPPORT me because he knew how important it was.

Also, Gel Soothies SAVED MY LIFE. Or my nipples. Whatever.

Love this post.


Read a breastfeeding book before the baby comes. I liked (despite its name) The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. If nothing else, it makes you feel prepared.


I echo everything you said. KellyMom saved my sanity. Nursing bras...the who world opened up when I got a good one.

Professional help - I was so worried my 1st kid wasn't getting enough that I sat in the lactation consultant's office and cried. She weighed my daughter, had me nurse for 15 min, then weighed her again. She was up 2.5 oz. That moment, when I had proof she was getting food, was golden.

Here's the one thing that also saved my sanity - it think i read it somewhere on AskMoxie: For the first 6-8 weeks think of breastfeeding as your job. As in, it will take 8-12 hours of your day. By week 2 or 3 I was anxious because the house wasn't getting cleaned and I wasn't going out as much as I wanted. I felt like all I was doing was nursing my kid. When I read that advice, it put everything into focus for me and I relaxed about the other stuff.

I took everything one step at a time ("I want to breastfeed for 6 weeks", then at 6 weeks... "Ok, I think I can do this until 3 months", etc). I was able to breastfeed both my kids until they self-weaned at 18 months and 16 months. It was never my intention to do that, but it's just how it worked out for us.

Best of luck to your sister. She's a lucky girl.


I liked The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding too, like Taylor recommended. BUT! BUT! You have to ignore certain stupid parts. The books is VERY pro-staying at home. Which is good if you want to be a stay at home mom. But you don't have to be! And the book is very BREASTFEED NO MATTER WHAT! Formula will give your baby diseases! Which is also stupid. Formula is not bad for your baby. If breastfeeding doesn't work, it is ok!

I tried my hardest to breastfeed my son. I tried for 8 weeks, and it was horrible, and it just never worked. Then when my daughter was born, it worked great from day one. I breastfed her exclusively for 12 months. I didn't do anything different. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.


I breastfed both kids for two years each, and I could have easily quit the first month of both because of THRUSH. Yucky, ouchy, itchy...the Lactation Consultant was the best person definitely need her number and call her. Once I got past the thrush (which can take a month) it was easy sailing.


Great advice!

I'd just like to add- if you don't love it and feel all 'bonded' with your baby, that's okay too. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty because I disliked breastfeeding. Didn't necessarily have a hard time of it, but disliked it intensely.

Hopefully it will go smoothly for you and you will love the experience and your baby will be a good eater. But if not, that's okay too. You've got a great support system in your sister Maggie!


Great advice! At least labor is finite and ends in a day or so. Breastfeading pain is repetative and when you first start, you have no hope of it ending soon (or at least I didn't) pluss it's all wrapped up in a nice ribbon of mom guilt. But, it DOES get better. For me it only took 3 weeks. You can do anything for 3 weeks! "Breast rest" (pumping or giving a little formula) as my lactation consultant called it was also great. I loved gell pads, but it could have just been the placebo effect. Other advice: if you do get a plugged duct, mastitis, or any other illness, the best thing you can do is breast fead your baby. They are the best at getting things cleaned out and by the time you have simptoms, they've already been exposed and need the immune system boost from your breast milk. When I got mastitis for the first time it was after working hours for my lactation consultant, and I was worried about making my baby sick with my infected breast milk. It would have saved me a lot of internet research and delerious phone calls to nurse friends to know that your milk is allways safe.


Oh Maggie, this is wonderful! I will just echo how seeing a lactation consultant made a HUGE DIFFERENCE when I was really struggling with my first son. You can also have her come to your home which I highly recommend! For me it made a big difference to work with her when I was sitting in my own chair, with my own pillow, etc. Budget the money now (I think it was in the $150 - $180 range for a home visit) and if you don't need to use it then it's just more money to spend on fun stuff for the baby! The LC will also have equipment you can rent to help ease your mind that the baby is getting milk (I rented a scale for a few days and would literally weigh the baby before and after he ate to confirm how much he consumed...I know it sounds ridiculous now, but at the time it was a huge comfort when things were not going well).

And sometimes, no matter how hard you try, or how badly you want to nurse your baby it just doesn't work out - THAT IS OKAY! This happened with my first son, but I was able to nurse my second baby!!! Every baby is different so don't feel like if it doesn't work out you will never have the experience (if you want it). I also found no difference in bonding with my baby when I was using bottles. Whether you are feeding with bottle or breast he or she will gaze up at you and give you a delirious milk smile and you will fall in love with him/her and the baby will feel just as loved no matter how he is fed. NO WORRIES GIRL, YOU ARE GONNA BE AN AWESOME MAMA!!

Lastly, SOOTHIES in the refrigerator = HEAVEN!


Excellent advice! I never had trouble with leaking, but I LOVE lilypadz because I get super sore and they keep fabric from rubbing on my skin.

My only other advice would be to stay hydrated! Those giant water cups with straws that they send home from the hospital with you are great to drink from while you're nursing.


A lactation consultant sent me this link: (I think I had asked her about how many times I should be pumping at work), and I followed it to this one:, which totally changed my life. Before that, my son was nursing for maybe five minutes on one side, and I was getting backaches and cricks in my neck from sitting and holding him like they had instructed me in the breastfeeding class. Afterwards he was going for at least 15 minutes on the first side and at least a few minutes on the other, he stopped choking on my crazy fast letdowns, and I was able to fall asleep while nursing at night. Definitely check that one out if you're trying to figure out the best way to hold the baby while breastfeeding.

Also, I suggest you get a taggy blanket or nursing necklace so kiddo has something to fiddle with while nursing (as opposed to pulling your hair or popping your bra straps and getting distracted by every other thing).

Good luck!

Ellen W

Lactation consultants are super helpful - when I had any questions about what drugs - prescription or OTC were safe to take when breastfeeding I trusted her advice over the doctors and pharmacists. I loved the bravado brand bras and also the basic tanks with shelf bras especially at night when I had to use nursing pads and was tired of regular nursing bras. I generally loved breastfeeding and whenever I got crabby I reminded myself it really wasn't that long of a time period. I was able to go 10 months with my first son and a year with my second.

For me, I was more comfortable the second time around and was less self concious about nursing in public.

Chantelle bras

Breastfeeding is hard. While you're pregnant you hear 19000 stories of how terrifying labor is. But people don't tell you how hard breastfeeding.


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