Before my daughter was born, I thought that breastfeeding was going to be this natural and wonderful thing that just happened and made me have all these lovely feelings. And that’s been sort of true and sort of not true. On the one hand, breastfeeding for us was in easy in that after her birth, Ruby went straight to the boob and latched on very easily. This, I know, is a major battle won. What I didn’t expect? That breastfeeding (at least in the beginning) would be emotionally difficult for me.
Having a newborn is a huge life changer. I knew it would be, but I wasn’t prepared for the demands that would be placed upon me. Breastfeeding adds an extra layer to this equation. A newborn needs their parents, and especially mom if they are breastfeeding, 24 hours a day. They are these tiny little developing pods that demand constant attention. Sure, they sleep a lot, but these moments of slumber find a new parent starring in awe until they wake again and then you think, “Where did the last two hours go?!”
With breastfeeding being constant throughout the day and the night, I found it was a challenge for me coming to grips that there was a person who needed me and was constantly hanging off my chest. That, and, for some reason I found everything mildly terrifying. First, it was my milk coming in. Holy cow, that is a scary occurrence if ever I experienced one! It hurts like hell and it’s just this monumental thing. It took two days, lots of ice packs and my mother’s help to get adjusted to that.
Then, next hurdle: the breast pump. Yes, that scared me too! I didn’t want to pump for some strange reason, but was forced to become better acquainted with the thing because of Ruby’s gassy tendencies. So, I found myself pumping out the more watery foremilk before each feeding. Result? Not only was I tethered to my baby, but also to the pump. It started to become overwhelming for me. I was also pumping out bottles in an effort to build my milk stockpile...so there was added stress in that.
Between my sore nipples, constant feedings, and pumping, I was beginning to feel more like Bessy The Cow than Billie The Human. My boobs were always out...what the heck to wear each day felt like a challenge and I found myself complaining and complaining about breastfeeding. As the words came out of my mouth, I felt twinges of guilt--wasn’t I supposed to love breastfeeding? Wasn’t it supposed to bring my baby and I closer together? But I couldn’t stop myself, I was feeling a bit resentful.
That was when I started getting some dizzy spells. I couldn’t tell if it was anxiety or dizziness from not eating and drinking enough....but I knew that somehting had to give. I began scaling back the pumping and making sure that I was eating enough. Within a week, I also introduced the laying down nursing position at night so that both Ruby and I could nurse and sleep more easily. That meant I cut out pumping my foremilk at night. Once I did that, I realized that maybe her system was getting more mature and could handle the milk as it came out. (She mostly can, and anyway don’t all babies spit up?)
I also realized around that time that I already had a massive stockpile of milk, and I wasn’t even sure why--I work from home!! Only occasionally do I need to leave to work outside the home and I can pump that day for a bottle. I ceased the stockpiling. I found that once I did, like magic breastfeeding became a different experience. I began looking forward to it because I was no longer tethered to the breast pump. I do still pump first thing in the morning when I read that women produce the most foremilk, but other than that, we only pump for bottles same day.
The point in all of this? Well, breastfeeding is a journey unto itself. I totally see now why people say it isn’t easy--sometimes it really isn’t. I learned I had to be gentle with myself and scale back when things felt overwhelming, especially when it came to pumping. I also want to say to people that you WILL find a rhythm if you stick with it, which I really think is the challenge. Sometimes in parenthood things feel like they are going to be FOREVER and you have to keep reminding yourself “this too shall pass.” Boy is that easier said than done.
Most of all, I want people to know that sometimes you feel that loss of your autonomy very keenly; breastfeeding brought that front and center for me. Don’t beat yourself up if at first you feel like breastfeeding is just too much emotionally for you, that can also change. As you and your baby begin to bond, you may find you look forward to breastfeeding. You also might not, and it’s important to know how best to care for yourself because ultimately it will make you a better parent.
Also, support is KEY. I have a great book (sent to me by a friend) by La Leche League called, "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" which is a great resource. I also have a good support system in the way of friends and family that I can always call with either questions or just to complain and say, "Today is a bad day, my nipples hurt and I want to cry!" Having this makes each day easier, and in today's modern world if you don't have the support in live people around you, you can get it on the internet. So don't hesitate to find your breastfeeding tribe, even if it is a virtual one!
So what has been your breastfeeding experience? Were you like a fish in the water or did you feel like a fish out of water? Leave it for me in the comments section below. Through expressing your experience you never know who you may be helping!