There is a big ugly lie being perpetrated to expectant and new moms everywhere about breastfeeding and it needs to stop. No, it’s not easy and it’s not natural. It’s fucking hard and frustrating. For most of us, it doesn’t look anything like the pamphlets and the tv shows that show a gorgeous, glowing mom with baby at the breast, smiling and effortlessly giving baby the best she has to offer. In real life it’s exhaustion, it’s tears, and it’s frustration and feelings of failure.
I was blissfully lucky when I had my daughter 2 years ago. She latched on like a pro and nursed often, but not too often. But when my milk hadn’t come in on day 3 even my dad expressed his worry about whether or not she was getting enough. Luckily enough my milk came in on day 4 and we had a relatively easy nursing relationship. This relationship was a 24/7 buffet, however, and I was still up every night feeding her well into her 8th month on the planet. Still easy compared to my next experience.
When I had my son 6 months ago, although my milk came in on day 2 and I had a healthy supply, he was in and out of the NICU and I was not able to nurse him but maybe once a day. He was a preemie so he had a hard time latching as well, and I had to enlist the help of a lactation consultant in the hospital. Complete godsends these women are. They helped us get a good latch going and I was so happy.
While he was in the NICU, I was attached to my pump and bringing bottle after bottle with me to the hospital. I made the mistake of trying to get a solid 6 hours of sleep at home 2 nights in a row and my supply dipped. I was getting mere drops into the bottles after 15 minutes attached to my pump and tears streamed down my face. I was convinced this was the end of my ability to breastfeed him and felt like I had failed. All for a few hours of sleep.
In the following days I pumped every 2 hours, day and night, even though my baby was not with me. I pumped at home, at the hospital, at my in-laws, in the car, everywhere. I was able to re-establish my supply after tons of work and felt good that I had gotten back on track. Then the jaundice hit.
He had ‘breast milk jaundice’ which is extremely rare and meant that something in my milk was causing his inability to break down the bilirubin. He was re-admitted to the hospital and put on formula when he got out. I pumped every time he was fed formula to keep up my supply, so my days were spent making bottles, feeding, cleaning bottles, pumping, cleaning the pump parts, repeat. After 2 days of that, we were finally cleared of these issues and allowed to resume.
I had heard rumors of boys being extremely hard to breastfeed. Boy, is it true. He wanted to nurse sometimes every hour, and I had a toddler to care for in addition to him. I learned how to nurse and walk, nurse and prepare lunch, nurse and change a diaper, and nurse and play with dolls. For days on end, and nights that seemed to go on forever, he was attached to me. At month 4, he was still eating every 2 hours all day and all night. I was sleep deprived, bitchy, and reaching for the formula. Through all of this, we were able to keep going, until I decided at 5 1/2 months that we were ready to move onto solids, and I was ready to give up the fight of nursing.
What I am lucky about, is that he had no problem transitioning between bottle and breast. If you would have added that and pain or cracked nipples, mastitis, I would have quit. I am a complete proponent of breastfeeding and was so happy to be fortunate enough to nurse both of my kids as long as I wanted, but the truth is even when it’s easy, it’s not. My advice to new moms is if breastfeeding is important to you, you need to commit 100% from the beginning, get a good pump, and the number of a lactation consultant. Surround yourself with supportive family members and friends, who will help you get through it, listen to the complaints and the crying, and tell you you can make it through. Because you can. It can be extremely difficult, frustrating, and painful, but if you can get through the first 2 weeks, it is absolutely amazing, rewarding, and bonding. It’s a gift I not only gave to my children, but one they gave to me.