I am what you might call a lactivist... a lactation activist. I nursed my son for two years and I hope to do the same with my daughter. I fully believe that "breast is best" (at least most of the time), and I will gladly talk your ear off about the benefits of nursing. But would you believe me if I told you that I hated nursing so much that I almost quit?
It's true. With my first baby, to say that nursing was hard is an understatement. It was downright miserable. I'm fairly certain that if a doctor had told me soda was an adequate alternative to breast milk, I would have deluded myself into believing him... anything to postpone another dreaded nursing session. Most women will experience some discomfort in the early stages as their breasts adjust to nursing, but I had extreme pain for months on end. Months. To make matters worse, all I kept hearing from people is, "if you're doing it right, then it won't hurt."
But guess what? I was doing it right (according to three different lactation consultants) and it still hurt... a lot. It hurt while I was nursing, it hurt after I was done nursing and it hurt me to just think about nursing.
Every time my son latched, I felt like he had hidden razor blades in his mouth. It was the toe-curling, back-arching, bite-your-tongue-so-you-don't-scare-the-baby-with-your-screams type of pain. And while for most people, the pain eases up after the first few moments, for me, that blasted pain stuck around for the whole nursing session. But, the worst part of nursing wasn't even the nursing itself, but rather the period after a feeding. For about half an hour straight after a nursing session, I got what I not-so-lovingly termed "Fire Breasts," where I literally felt like I had fire coursing through my baby feeders. I would put my son to bed and lay on the couch crying until the pain subsided enough for me to finally go to sleep. It was a miserable aftermath to an already miserable experience.
This lasted for months -- months of bloody, blistered and raw nipples and months of searing breast pain. And yes, like I said, I was doing it "right." My son had a great latch and we had good nursing technique, but my breasts just had a hard time getting on board with the breastfeeding gig.
Thankfully, after about three or four months, the pain diminished and nursing eventually became comfortable. But during those first few months, it was awful. I hated nursing and not a single day went by where I didn't consider quitting. The only thing that kept me going was the absolute knowledge that I was doing the best thing for my baby. And because dang, y'all, formula is expensive.
But I'm not writing this to tout my ability to endure or put forth a holier-than-thou attitude because I stuck to it. (Honestly, I think I'm just really stubborn... and cheap.) My intent in all of this is to tell you not to be discouraged.
- Don't be discouraged if something so natural doesn't, in fact, come naturally at all. It can be challenging and painful, even if you're doing everything correctly.
- And don't be discouraged if your experience is different than what all the books say -- if you're not blissed out every time your nursing. Or, dare I say, if you don't even like nursing. It may be natural and beautiful, but that doesn't mean it's always enjoyable.
- DO be encouraged that for however long you nurse, you're giving your baby an awesome gift, both physically (the health benefits are undeniable) and emotionally.
So, get help when you need it (lactation consultants are your friend!), persevere as much as you can and know that eventually, it will probably get better. But if it doesn't and you have to quit? Don't be discouraged. You need to do what's best for your baby, and that includes having a healthy and sane mama.
A version of this piece first appeared on Best of Baby. For sass, sarcasm, and the occasional tug at your heart-strings, you can join the Best of Baby community on Facebook and follow along on Twitter.