In honor of World Breastfeeding Week 2020
Breastfeeding. The word immediately evokes a deluge of emotion and thought. Everyone has different opinions to share and a different story to tell. And for me, breastfeeding was HARD.
I’d like to begin today’s outpouring by saying there were many reasons I loved the idea of breastfeeding, but FED IS BEST. If you want to debate me on this, please save us both some time and instead read Cribsheet by Emily Oster cover to cover. Anyway.
Nursing my babe taught me a lot, about the amount of love I have for my child, my (many times unreasonable) tunnel vision, my (sometimes preposterous) determination, my pain tolerance, my breaking points, my anxiety, and most of all, the sensitivity regarding certain topics that I need to use when I approach fellow mamas.
Why? Let me tell you a little about my journey, all this aside from the usual and (somewhat???) discussed breastfeeding hurdles.
Day one, earth side and we had no problems with a latch. Every neonatal nurse (and lactation consultant thereafter) would put her finger in my child’s mouth and say “WOW, she’s got, um, intense... suction.” And she did. Three days in, my left nipple was completely lacerated, and a week in, there was a literal pit in the middle of my breast.
Creams, consultants, nipple shields, positions, pillows and more, I never healed because babe was a major cluster feeder. Every time I breastfed, which was a lot, I’d experience a pain truly comparable to labor until she finished. I remember our first night home from the hospital, my husband looked at me in sympathetic desperation as I sobbed on the bed at 2 a.m., saying “Maddie, you just can't put yourself through this.” But that determination I mentioned, well, I just couldn’t quit. And I didn’t.
It ended up that from two weeks old and on, every time I nursed my baby—which I kid you not, was at least 20 times every 24 hours—I would nurse my right side, pump my left side, bottle feed milk from the previous pumping session after she finished the right side. I did this for a month and a half until I had healed enough to try feeding again. And it was better.
But continue with the cluster feeding. I remember having friends who talked about how they could nurse their babies, then put them down for playtime and a nap. For a few hours. I yearned to know what that was like. I couldn’t leave the house because I’d have to nurse her, and long story short, that was hard for me to do away from the comfort of my bed. It was hard to have guests, because though I wanted to be, I wasn’t confident enough to nurse in front of others, so either my child was crying or I was leaving the room all time. But eventually, we made it through this stage, too.
Then, there came the breast refusal. She began refusing to eat but would cry and cry. Support groups had me bouncing on balls, bicycling her legs, sitting her up or laying her over my lap to try and get an elusive gas bubble. We finally figured out that it was because she missed the bottle. So then, we took bottles everywhere and I still had to pump in case she refused to nurse off of me. Our nighttime routine got more complicated, too.
Then, we entered the stage where she wouldn’t nurse unless I cradled her in my arms, only staring directly at her, no looking away, no phones, no TVs, no conversation, no sitting in the room with other people, as she continued to nurse what felt like constantly. This stage lasted until around 10 months. (Side note: through a little mental restructuring, I learned to very much cherish this time because it’s true, the days are long and years are short.)
We allowed these continuous trials on our sanity because the concern about her weight also never ceased. She was a long, skinny babe. Always less than 10% for her BMI percentile, with weight hovering in the low 30s-high 20s percentages. It was a constant worry for me to know how much I was producing, was it enough ounces, was she gaining enough weight? She emptied my breasts fast, in two-three minutes a side, but I always wondered if she was truly getting it all or just deciding she was done.
Looking back, it’s wild to relive this through memory and actually type it all out. And you know what? My girl is nearly 14 months and I’m still nursing. BECAUSE IT’S FINALLY EASY. It took almost one year to get on a regular feeding schedule where she nursed well off of both sides with no issues. And being here now, you’d best believe I am treasuring every moment with no intention of quitting any time soon.
But those first 11 months… it all came with intense anxiety and depression, so that when people would ask, “How’s nursing going” (which was all. the. time), or I’d hear about how much my friends in tandem journeys were producing, or the hardest, when I heard how incredible breastfeeding was from other mamas… I just cried, because my struggle was so real, so constant, and something I was facing every hour of the day, yet couldn’t stop.
But in the end, I realize the wisdom of what I learned and felt was critical. It was a long, hard lesson in looking past myself to know that everyone’s path looks different. Considering the fact that things may have been harder or easier for others was a good way to shape my conversations around motherhood with other current or expecting mamas. Because some women may have experiences like me, but many will have very different experiences, too.
If you didn’t breastfeed, then mama, I know you had your reasons, and I support you. If your breastfeeding experience went well, then mama, that truly is fantastic and I know you are grateful for that. If your breastfeeding experience was an unending marathon through straight-up mountains, then MAMA, I SEE YOU, and feel you on an inexplicable level.
Motherhood looks different for everyone and there is always a reason. If you’re a mama, and your child is fed, then that is what matters. If you can reach out to your network of fellow mamas for (and with!) love and thoughtful support, even better. And if you need it, count me in yours!
Be well and do good,