I am an avid breastfeeder. I breastfed my first two children beyond the age of two, and I am currently breastfeeding my third and last baby. When all is said and done, I will have been breastfeeding for the better part of a decade. I have breastfed through tongue ties, failure-to-thrive diagnosis, toddler gymnastics and a lifesaving surgery. I have missed many hours of sleep, cried in frustration, withered in pain, cared for bleeding nipples, massaged out blocked milk ducts, felt alone and considered quitting.
So many subscribe to the myth that women magically know what to do.
I logically know my experience is more the norm, but despite this, so many subscribe to the myth that women magically know what to do and it just happens. Breastfeeding is often seen as the “holy grail” of becoming a mother and any woman that is not “successful” tends to blame herself and feel like a failure. But I don’t blame anyone at all, because breastfeeding is hard AF and nobody really warns you. Images of the blissful mother easily breastfeeding a peaceful baby are a setup, because the reality is much more complicated, painful and messy. Breastfeeding didn’t come naturally or easily for me and I want share what I wish I knew before embarking on my breastfeeding journey.
It can be painful. Most moms-to-be tend to prep for labor and give less thought to what comes after. And my poor nipples where not ready for breastfeeding. If anyone tells you breastfeeding isn’t painful, you should slap them with sand paper. I spent the first six weeks with cracked, bleeding nipples and in tears. And the torturous cluster feeding made it worse. If my nipples weren’t hurting enough, my uterus was still contracting and breastfeeding only exacerbated that problem. Not to mention engorged boobs and massaging out milk duct clots??? And if you are so very unlucky to get mastitis, your boobs become firey balls of pain! I guess nobody wants to take pictures of that.
It’s big time commitment. It takes time and patience to establish a breastfeeding relationship with your baby. I just know some readers are grumbling about how this shouldn’t be an issue but it’s not that simple. For me, due to an undiagnosed congenital heart defect (CHD) and tongue tie, breastfeeding my first child felt like a sentence to spend weeks confined to a chair, holding a crying baby, dazed and clueless. It was frustrating and disheartening because that is not what I expected and I wanted to give up. On the other hand, time with your baby is a luxury that not all moms get. There are many reasons why a mom may not get the time she needs with her baby including babies placed in NICU, a mother’s medical issues, medication usage or having to return to work immediately. So no, not all mothers get to enjoy that time with their babies and no one should beat themselves up over that.
Your boobs no longer belong to you. Your boobs become a mechanism to feed your baby and your needs or modesty no longer matter. I’ll never forget my first night of breastfeeding when the nurse pulled my boob out, pinched my nipple and shoved it into my baby’s mouth without a word to me. Not to say that she handled it the right way but it pretty much set the tone of what was to come. There has been biting, chomping, nipple tweaking and more… And it’s annoying. My boobs managed to become overly sensitized and desensitized all at the same time and some days I wanted to detach them and give them to someone else so I could gain some personal space again.
It’s isolating. I felt like my life had been flipped upside down and everyone else’s life just kept going while I was stuck in my house, covered in spit up. Even once I get on my feet and ventured out of the house, I felt like I needed to go off to a corner to breastfeed so as not to make anyone uncomfortable. I breastfed in restaurant bathrooms, running cars, hallways and back rooms all while the event I was attending went on without me. Now with my 3rd kid, I will pop a boob out anywhere but not everyone has that level of comfort.
There are a ton of weird feelings. From letdown to nursing rage, I felt things ranging from painful to downright maddening. Letdown can be overwhelming, odd sensations are set off all over your body and many get aversions to their partner’s touch. But the worst feeling by far is nursing rage. Yes, it’s a thing and I got it with my first 2 children. They would latch and I would feel this visceral anger bubble up. I was scared and ashamed and I kept those feelings to myself because I didn’t know it is normal.
It’s an unpredictable journey. There are a myriad of things that can affect your breastfeeding journey including premature babies, inverted nipples, low supply, and simple stress just to name a few. As I mentioned, my first had CHD, making feeding very difficult for him due to low levels of oxygen and he needed to breastfeed more often and longer than an average baby. He wasn’t gaining weight and I was told I needed to supplement with formula. I know fed is best but that doesn’t make it any less devastating to hear those words when you had your heart set on breastfeeding. Fortunately, after much blood, sweat and tears and a lot of support we figured it out but everyone isn’t that lucky. Shit happens and we have to roll with the punches. That doesn’t make any mom a failure.
Why am I sharing all of this? Not to scare anyone off but to inform, prepare and empower because if more women know the truth about breastfeeding, more will reach out for help, not label themselves a failure and know they are not alone in their journey.
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