Moms get really worked up over the topic of breastfeeding. I never really understood it. Why does it matter how you feed your baby? Why to some moms feel so strongly about it?
Well, I get it now.
Before I go on, here's the thing. I think you should feed your baby in the way that is best for you and your baby. Fed is really best. I just needed to get that out of the way.
But I get it. I've been breastfeeding for five months now, and I plan to do it for as long as I can. Who knows, maybe I'll be breastfeeding for two years.
I love breastfeeding. It is absolutely awarding, amazing, a miracle, a bonding experience. But it is one of the hardest, most stressful things I've ever done in my life.
Nobody told me that. Nobody informed me how hard it would be. It's funny, because as my pregnancy went on, I feel like I started to get the message that it wouldn't be easy. When I started to see moms chat about it on the new mom Facebook groups I joined, I was starting to get a glimpse of what I might be in for if I decided to breastfeed. But nobody really told me.
So here's what I want to tell moms that are hoping to breastfeed that nobody told me.
First of all- You can do it. If all works out- like you have enough supply and your baby is latching- you can do this. It's worth it. But if you decide to do it- it's going to be really hard. And here's why.
It's going to hurt.
In my breastfeeding class I went to at the hospital, I learned some different feeding positions, and that it "shouldn't hurt if you are doing it right." Well maybe that's true, but guess what? You're not going to do it right at first. And it will hurt. Even if you do it wrong just once.
Getting your latch right is probably impossible for a brand new baby and a brand new mom. You might think you have it perfect. But about an hour after that first or second or third latch, you'll start to feel the consequences. And it hurts terribly. Sorry to be graphic, but your nipples will literally be chapped, cracking, maybe even bleeding.
If you want to breastfeed- feed your baby through the pain. There are products to help you get through the painful stage (like soothies). For me, this lasted more than a week (maybe two). Gemma still had a bad latch every once in a while even after we started getting it right, so the chapping continued and so did the pain. And then after that all stopped, clogged ducts came on and lasted on and off for about a month. I cried on and off for about a month, too.
When the pain comes on, and you're tired and you're in pain everywhere else because, hey, YOU JUST BIRTHED A BABY, quitting feels easy. But soon, the pain will subside, and you'll be thankful you made it through.
You'll be feeding all day.
I know all babies are different. But when I learned that newborns generally feed every three hours, I didn't really think that sounded all that bad. Feeding every three hours around the clock for a few weeks until baby can sleep longer stretches at night? I can do that. But nobody told me that newborn babies actually eat every 1-3 hours. Or maybe every half hour, sometimes. Gemma did, and for what felt like an eternity, I was parked on the couch every 1-3 hours, feeding for at least a half hour at a time.
Your baby might eat sooner than every 3 hours. She also might be super inefficient and take 45 minutes to eat. It also might take even longer in the middle of the night because you have to change her. When you calculate it, that means you'll be feeding 8-12 hours of the day, if your baby eats every 2 hours or so and you are feeding them for a half hour or more. And I think that's what a breastfeeding mom of a newborn's life looks like most of the time.
I felt like my only purpose was to nourish another human being. Sometimes that was frustrating. But I realized that for that season, it was my most important purpose. So I stuck with it through the monotony.
It's a lonely job.
Unless you have someone living with you that has breastfed exclusively to the same extent as you plan to (most likely, you don't), breastfeeding is a lonely job. I realized really quickly that my husband wouldn't understand. This isn't his fault- there's just no way he can.
When you're going through something difficult, or trying to figure something new and hard and demanding (like breastfeeding), it really helps to talk to someone that understands, or just vent about it to someone nearby.
1. Breastfeeding is weird to talk about for most people 2. If it isn't weird to talk about, it's hard to understand if you've never done it 3. The people I actually could talk to about it are people I didn't see much in the newborn stage when breastfeeding was it's hardests.
So it is lonely, especially in the beginning. And you're trying to learn a really hard, even painful thing that most people don't understand or can't help you with.
And it continues to be lonely when, 5 months down the road, when you want some dang sleep, you are still heading into your baby's room to feed her in the middle of the night.
But the loneliness is worth it, because it isn't actually all lonely. It is the most amazing bond between you and your baby. And that trumps the loneliness, but it doesn't make it not exist.
You're never off the hook.
It doesn't matter if you have the best breast pump in the world. If you leave the house to get some time away and leave bottles with the baby, you're not off the hook. First, you need to pump before hand to fill the bottles. Then, you need to pump after to empty your breasts and keep production up. And you'll possibly need to take the pump with you and pump while you're gone, too.
Sounds easy enough, but pumping ain't easy. I actually hate pumping, and it takes most moms more than one pumping session to fill up a bottle. So now, along with a baby being attached to you what feels like all hours of the day, you've got a machine attached to you, too.
Except it doesn't feel rewarding, because you have no bond with the machine, and it's noisy and it feels weird.
Going back to work is much more stressful
If you do have to go back to work while you are breastfeeding, you now have a whole new slew of things to think about. When will you pump? Where? Will you be able to pump enough- often enough and volume? Will your supply stay up?
I've cried about it. Because as hard as breastfeeding is, it feels devastating to think of having to stop because of work. After all this hard work, I'd like to continue for a while, thank you very much.
Most of my stress about going back to work has been related to breastfeeding and pumping enough. But eventually, my body got used to the pump and it started to produce enough. At least for now.
Nobody told me. Nobody told me how much time I'd spend sitting, feeding a baby, or how painful it would be, or how even when everything normalizes, it still feels lonely and really hard at times. Nobody told me that I'd cry when my freezer supply dwindled when I couldn't pump enough. Nobody told me it would be this hard.
But the bond between my baby and I that started immediately through breastfeeding whispered that it would be worth it. And somewhere in me told me I could do it. I could stick this out. Sometimes I still have to remind myself it is worth it to keep going. And when I'm feeding Gemma, her sweet little body snuggled up so close to mine always reminds me it is.
I'm so thankful for the people in my life that did understand, and that encouraged me to keep going.
Breastfeeding is extremely empowering, beautiful, magical, yet oh so difficult all at the same time. I feel strong because I am a breastfeeding mom. So I get it. I get why people feel strongly about it. I do now, too.
If this is something you want, mama, you can do it. And even though it will be so hard, it will be worth it.
You can do hard things. Don't let anyone tell you different.