Of the many things that cause me to wince when remembering the first days of motherhood (the pain of recovery! the sleep deprivation! the fear of killing the baby!) the struggles of early breastfeeding are most definitely on top of the list. The memories come back in a sequence of phantasmagoria, one more daunting than the next. There was the latching learning curve, resulting in weeks of sore, bruised nipples with texture akin to a piece of rubber. There was the absentee colostrum situation, which was mitigated by an emergency trip to the pediatrician, who awarded us with a bottle of formula and a tip to relax. (I still supplement with formula–no shame in that game.) There were the first experiences of breastfeeding in public, which resulted in me crouching underneath a swaddle in the middle of the Santa Monica Boardwalk with tears of exhaustion streaming down my face. I can go on, but we might be here all day.
Eight months later, I am happy to report that my daughter and I are now a seasoned breastfeeding duo that can easily get the task done anywhere we need, be it in a restaurant, an airplane, or in the middle of the street. (In fact, I recently found myself back in Santa Monica, breastfeeding while standing in the middle of the parking lot without a qualm.) My breasts, a subject of a love-hate relationship for almost two decades, have now been proudly displayed for half the state of California to see.
And yet, I still occasionally look back at those first weeks and wonder what could have made it all slightly easier. Are there any clothing items I should have invested in to prepare myself for weeks of feeling like a stranger in my newly-changed body? Any practical or emotional advice I could have benefitted from during this massive transition? I decided to poll a few fellow mothers to see what got them through those first months of breastfeeding, and what lessons they learned along the way.
The first thing I learned was that my experience was not unique. Most nursing moms find the initiation period of breastfeeding to be an extremely difficult time, flush with tears, hormones, and a constant desire to pull the trigger and call the whole thing off. “I think most women set out with high aspirations, picturing that breastfeeding will come naturally, when really, it is a learned skill with loads of variables,” says Elizabeth Myer, whose hurdles with early breastfeeding inspired her to launch Swehl, a subscription kit for breastfeeding that combines expert-led video content and a supportive community. “It hurt way more than the movies make it seem, at least at first,” seconds plus-size model Maxey Green, adding that it took time and patience for her to get into a breastfeeding rhythm with her baby. “I feel really fortunate to be able to have this bond with my son, but it is the most time consuming, exhausting and all-encompassing thing I’ve ever had to do.”
Given the hurdles of the first weeks, having the right accessories is an imperative starting point. “I believe a few things are true about those early days: accessories really do help, and new nursing moms will do just about anything to make breastfeeding work,” says Myer, recalling her days of never leaving the house without her nursing pillow. (On Swehl’s agenda for 2022: a Latch Kit that fits into your hospital bag and includes a colostrum collector and self-inflating breastfeeding pillow!) Her own go-to accessories included nipple shields, Mini Bloom Nipple Balm, My Brest Friend nursing pillow and the Haakaa Silicone Breast Pump, which was helpful for collecting milk in the early days without dealing with the many parts of the pump. Speaking of pumping, a hospital grade pump such as the Medela or the Spectra are indispensable in establishing milk supply, while a wearable pump such as an Elvie is an excellent option for a working mom on the go.
The Nursing Bra (or lack thereof)
If the bra fits…it most definitely won’t soon. (In fact, I remember waking up two weeks after giving birth and waking up my fiancé to proudly show him my brand new D-cup.) While my own nursing bra go-to is the Lively maternity bralette, Myer swears by Negative Underwear for all things postpartum. “Their nursing bra in particular is so soft, well designed and honestly, simple,” she says, rightfully noting that the too-technical gear just exacerbates the fact that you’re not feeling like yourself in those early days.