Don't Be Fooled...Breastfeeding is Hard *AF
If you know me, you know that I am an avid breastfeeder for many reasons. 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, sickness, sleepless nights, toddler gymnastics and a lifesaving surgery. I have missed many hours of sleep, cried in frustration, withered in pain, cared for cracked bleeding nipples, massaged out blocked milk ducts, felt alone and considered quitting many times.
I logically know these feelings and experiences are more the norm but despite this, so many of us subscribe to the myth that every woman magically knows 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 am here to say that I don’t blame anyone a single bit because breastfeeding is hard AF and nobody really warns you about that. Those images of the blissful mother easily breastfeeding a peaceful baby with an almost ethereal glow are a setup because the reality is much more complicated, painful and messy than that. I can honestly say that breastfeeding didn't come naturally nor was it always easy and I want share a few things 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 just not ready for breastfeeding. If anyone tells you breastfeeding isn't painful, you should slap them with sand paper. I spent the first 6 weeks with raw, cracked, bleeding nipples and in tears. I was just clueless and no one told me about the torturous cluster feeding that my new baby seemed to be doing nonstop. If my nipples weren’t hurting enough, my uterus was still contracting and breastfeeding only exacerbated that problem. And did I mention the engorged boobs and massaging out milk duct clots to prevent mastitis??? And if you are so very unlucky to get mastitis, your boobs become firey balls of pain! I guess nobody wants to take any pictures of all of that.
It’s a very big time commitment. It takes time and patience to establish a breastfeeding relationship with your baby. I just know some of you are already grumbling about how this shouldn’t even be an issue because anyone that has a child should make the time for something this important. Well, for me, due to an undiagnosed congenital heart defect (CHD) and tongue tie, breastfeeding my first child felt like I had been sentenced to spend weeks shirtless, in a chair, dazed and clueless, with a crying baby in my arms. It was frustrating and disheartening because that is not what I expected it to be and I wanted to quit. On the other hand, time with your baby is a luxury that not all moms get. There are so many reasons why a mom may not get the time she needs with her baby including babies in the NICU, medical issues for the mother, medication usage or having to go back to work immediately just to name a few. So no, not all mothers and babies can get the time that they deserve and no one should beat themselves up over that. And I could write a whole other blog on the commitment it takes to pump.
Your boobs no longer belong to you. Your boobs become a mechanism to feed your baby and your personal 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 with not a word to me as I laid there in shock. Not to say that she was right in the way that she handled that but it pretty much was just the beginning of what was to come. There has been biting, chomping, nipple tweaking and more… And it is annoying. My boobs have managed to become completely overly sensitized and desensitized all at the same time and there were days I wished I could detach them and hand them over to someone else just so I could gain a little personal space again.
You should attend a class. No one really prepares you for all that happens once that baby is born. In the delivery room, the nurse popped my baby right up on my chest and told me I can start breastfeeding. Sure?!?! Because this just all comes naturally, right? I should just know how this works, right? And if I don't, I can just follow my baby's natural instincts, right? No, nope and not really. There are several different ways to correctly hold a baby while breastfeeding, a certain way your baby should latch on and a million reasons why you and your baby may be having trouble. I had not a clue about any of it. With local classes and time with lactation consultants, I was able to get help with all three of my babies and resolve a lot of issues.
It’s isolating. I felt like my life had been flipped turned upside down and everyone else’s life just kept going while I was stuck in my house, shirtless and reeking of 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 feed my child so as not to make anyone feel uncomfortable. I breastfed in restaurant bathrooms, running car, hallways and in back rooms. All while the event, meeting or gathering 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 the odd sensation of letdown to nursing rage, I felt a ton of things ranging from painful to downright maddening. The tingling sensation of a letdown can be painful and if in public it can lead to quite an embarrassing situation which I experienced in a Trader Joe’s. But for me, the worst feeling by far was 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 and it was scary and uncomfortable. I was ashamed and 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 happen 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, which made feeding very difficult for him due to his low levels of oxygen. This caused him to need to breastfeed more often and longer than an average baby. He wasn't gaining weight and I was being 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? I am not trying to scare you off from breastfeeding because with all that has been said, it is still a truly magical journey. I want to inform you, prepare you and empower you. I think if more women were prepared with the truth about breastfeeding, more women would reach out for help, not label themselves a failure because they didn’t have the blissful, ethereal experience and know that they are not alone in their journey.