Yesterday, I posted a link about the costs of breastfeeding. It really got me thinking about my experiences breastfeeding Noah. I was so very lucky to have the support of my husband, family, and friends during what was, I can honestly say, the hardest thing I have ever done. I was also lucky that my job as a family counselor, allowed me to make my own schedule. I stayed home with Noah during the day and worked in the evenings after my husband got home from work. It made it possible to nurse for the first full year of his life. This was great, because he refused to drink from a bottle after he was 3 months old. All that liquid gold that I pumped (and man did I hate that horrible pump) went down the drain. With that aside, it takes loads of support and encouragement to breastfeed, no matter how long you choose to do so. That first month is so unbelievably hard and you think about quitting a hundred times a day. I want this Brutally Honest post to provide a little insight into what breastfeeding was really like… for me. It could be the complete opposite for everyone else. I just know that, as prepared as I thought I was, I was nowhere near prepared for reality.
A little bit of background on me- I am a Type A personality through and through. When I was pregnant, I researched everything, read all the books and literature, cover-to-cover. I read What to Expect about 4 times; I read Ina May’s Guide to Natural Childbirth (with horror and appreciation); if it had a picture of a mother and baby on the cover, I read it. I also took the classes- Childbirth 101, Breastfeeding Basics (more about this little “gem” later), etc… And with all of this preparation, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how hard breastfeeding actually was.
Noah had to be the hungriest infant ever born. He breastfed for the first time just 20 minutes after being born, and he latched on instantly. I would have been so excited because you constantly hear horror stories about how some babies just can’t figure out how to latch, but I couldn’t get past the absolute and unexpected pain that came the minute he started to suck. And, let me just say, I have an incredibly high pain tolerance. Completely drug-free, all natural childbirth had just happened moments before. But this little baby could suck like nobody’s business.
In the Breastfeeding Basics class offered at the Women’s Hospital (just a few floors down from where I was currently suffering), a class full of incredibly pregnant women and scared-to-death dads were told that if you experience any pain while breastfeeding, you are doing it wrong. LIES!!! Noah was nursing so often and so effectively that my milk came in in full force in less than 36 hours. With that incredible efficiency came chapped nipples, cracks and bleeding, aches and pain in my abdomen (breastfeeding stimulates oxytocin which helps your organs and muscles get back to where they need to be), and a big fat lesson in how no amount of research can prepare you for what breastfeeding was really like.
Now, please don’t take this as an attempt to scare you or anyone else out of breastfeeding. All the pain went away after about 3 weeks and my boobs kind of got numb to it. And a few months after I stopped breastfeeding, all of the feeling and sensitivity came back. I just wish, in that stupid Breastfeeding Basics class, they didn’t lie about it. I actually wish that I could give the class myself. One of the first things I would do is throw away that silly fake boob they pass around so you can practice how to hold it while your baby latches on. Seriously- we have our own boobs. We don’t need a fake one to “practice.”
The class was presented in Power Point format. Each slide listing a different “Rule” about the best way to breastfeed your baby. Now, I will admit, I was extra sensitive and emotional and my perceptions may have been a little over-dramatic at the time. But the class is for pregnant women who are all overly emotional and sensitive. The “rules” they laid out were about alternating between boobs, making sure the baby is on each boob for no longer than 20 minutes, waking the baby up in the middle of the night to make sure he is eating on a schedule, etc… And with all of these “rules” came scary and intimidating consequences like, “your baby won’t get enough nutrition,” “your baby won’t figure out how to bond with you,” “your baby will pick a preferred boob and the other boob will quit making milk.” All of us soon-to-be new mothers were already anxious and scared, and now we were being made to feel like not doing it the way this Power Point says to do it will make us bad mothers. We have enough pressure from the media and the celebrities to make us feel like bad mothers. We don’t need a class in our hospital to place judgments on us too.
The truth is, every baby and every mother are different. Noah nursed every 90 minutes for 45 minutes each time. I literally had to plan my day in 45 minute increments because I had the “My Breast Friend” pillow strapped to my waist for nearly 12 hours a day (as a side note- the My Breast Friend pillow is the greatest invention EVER! I used it for the entire year that I breastfed and for a few months after that just to make it easier to rock Noah to sleep on rough nights. Buy one! Put it at the top of your registry! It’s amazing!).
But you develop a routine, you get to catch up on all of your favorite shows, you finally find out what kind of shows come on throughout the night (I watched a lot of HGTV and ABC News), and you get to watch your beautiful baby lay in your arms, fall asleep with a full belly, make the sweetest suckling sounds, and look at you with the warmest and most amazing look of gratitude and love. It makes me tear up now thinking about how those times are over for me as Noah runs (literally runs- the child went straight from crawling to running) and only lets me hold him and rock him when he is sick.
Breastfeeding is a choice. It should be made with all of the information possible; it should be made with both parents involved; it should be made with support and without judgment. I found it helpful to talk about my struggles with anyone who would listen. I really loved talking to other moms about what I was going through and hearing their stories and their struggles. You are not alone in this process- even though it feels that way sometimes.
And, while I can laugh about it now, when Noah would wake up during the night to nurse, I would strap on my nursing pillow, climb back into bed, get him all situated and happy, and look at my husband, all fast asleep and comfortable, and think about how bitter I was that he gets to sleep and I have a baby attached to me. Now, he gets up when Noah has “one of those nights” and refuses to sleep. It totally makes up for it!
Mothers, remember that you are so much stronger than you think you are. You are the best mother that you know how to be and that is enough. Love your baby and love yourself. You don’t have to be perfect, there will always be critics, and other people’s rules are crap. Follow your own rules, or don’t. And, most importantly, find supportive people to talk to. If you can’t find anyone, email me!